City of Lies: A Tale of an almost lifetime
CONTENT WARNING: The following story contains references to mature subjects. If you are not above 18 years old take consent from your parents before reading this
We were used to dry spells. Those long yellow days which lay waste on the dirt roads like unending afternoon slumber. The cows would begin flaunting their ribs and thorny acacias would claim the countryside as the grass gave up the fight. The leafless trees would look like twisted brown monsters with many arms. We would finally be able to recover the objects that had fallen down into the well, an old aluminum bucket, a sickle and a couple of wooden spoons. Jack liked to climb down into the dried up well; he was the adventurous kind, but not me. I thought the well was a portal to underworld. I was scared of many things – snakes, spiders, darkness and those tiny dark brown centipedes that came with the first rain. But this year I did not have to worry about the centipedes or the flies. The rain had not come yet. The elders were predicting a drought.
Drought meant long holidays from school and empty days with nothing to do. The men of the house would spend days in the front yard playing cards since there was no work at the farm, until the food started becoming scarce. Then the families would start to move away. My best friend Renee was sent to live with her cousins. Nancy’s family, which lived in the house next to us, moved to the city, I heard that her father managed to get a job as a janitor in the city. I wondered, what is it that the janitors did? Because the only skill people in our village had was farming and rearing goats. Our family stayed put. My mother was of the opinion was that me and my brother Jack should be sent to live with her brother, Uncle Simon. But my father was adamant, he had full faith in our village and he believed that the rain would come in time, even though the witch doctor who was called in to bring rain had given up.
My father was, strong and determined, would never give up on the people or things he loved. Jack, my brother, was like him. After finishing school Jack stuck with the family and the farm and endured many droughts like my father had done and his father before him. Jack followed the family tradition. But I could not have waited to leave that place. I wanted to explore the world and make a living for myself, live a good life and make a name if possible. I dreamed of becoming a fashion designer making the pretty dresses featured in the glossy magazines that Aunt Jillian brought from the city. Aunt Jillian was my father’s sister who had moved to the city before my birth and my earliest memories of her are when she used to visit bearing a lot of gifts – nice dresses, chocolates and magazines. She always came alone, although my mother said that she was married to a big man in the city. I once asked aunt Jillian about her husband but all she said that he was a very important man and was very busy. As we grew up, aunt Jillian’s visits grew more infrequent. The last time she visited was when I was fourteen. Two years later we heard that she had died in the city because of some mysterious disease. That was one of the reasons my father distrusted the city.
I announced my decision to go to the city three months after the news of aunt Jillian’s death had reached us. It seemed that family had to have one representative in the city and I was willing to take aunt Jillian’s place now. As expected, all hell broke loose in our household. My father stopped talking to me and my mother told me, between bouts of crying, horrible stories about girls getting kidnapped and sold into flesh trade in the city to make me change my mind. She even threatened to commit suicide if I went away. I returned the favor by crying and blackmailing my folks into letting me go. I was tired of the village and the drought and I did not want to be married off to some poor farmer who looked up to skies every day and hoped there would be enough to feed his family. I had seen how hard my mother’s life had been and I did not want to live that life. My mother was a strong woman, physically and emotionally. She would have been what they call voluptuous in her youth, but now had grown into what we call a very big woman. She could easily crush someone with her arms. And she was strong willed, enduring with stoic resilience, all the hardships of being a poor farmer’s wife and mother of two children. However there was a constant look of dissatisfaction in her eyes, which not many people could read. In contrast although aunt Jillian had died early, it seemed she had lived a good life. Whenever she came home she was always happy and smiling and had so much money that she brought gifts for all of us.
I had decided that I would go to the city and work for two years to save money for college. A guy named Odumbe from the neighboring village promised to take me to the city and help with finding accommodation and job. I had heard that he had sent six girls to the city. My mother finally gave me the money to go to the city after I had slit my wrists. The day I went to the city was a kind of an anticlimax. I had expected to be ecstatic. My dreams were finally going to be true. I was a little nervous as well; I knew nothing about the city life. Aunt Jillian never talked about the city and there was no other source from where I could know what to expect. But as the day of my departure dawned, I felt profound sadness fill my heart. I knew I was going to the city but I would be coming back, just like aunt Jillian had, and more frequently than her, yet I felt as if I was leaving my home forever. I tried to absorb as many memories as I could from the walls which had witnessed my childhood. I wanted to grab at them and hug them, and to tell them that they were as much the part of my childhood as were my family. When Odumbe came to pick me up, my mother held me close to her bosom and for a moment I felt that she would not let me go. And truly, as she opened her arms to release me, I could feel the reluctance as if she wished she could just keep on holding me and preventing me from leaving. My father and brother did not come out of the house to bid me farewell. My father had not been talking to me since I had decided to leave for the city. I did not understand why Jack did not see me off. I got into the van with a heavy heart.
But soon enough my gloom was replaced by anxiety and excitement. The van took us to a bus stop in a nearby village. From there we took a bus which would take us to the city. There was one more girl with Odumbe. She looked elder than me and wore a very short dress and lipstick. My parents would not have allowed me to step out of the house if I ever wore lipstick, and the short dress was out of question. Actually her short dress was making me uncomfortable and I could feel the stares of the men in the bus that were directed towards her.
“I am Rose, she said.”
“Rose. That is a unique name. I am Chastity” I said.
“Well,” She said, “my real name is Mary but I would be called Rose in the city. What would you be called?”
“Ummm. Chastity?” I said, unsure of what she meant.
She gave a hearty laugh as if I was a child who had just said that I wanted to be the president when I grew up and her laugh was to convey the message that I should set some realistic goals for myself.
“Sweetie,” She said, “With that name you would never survive in the city. You need a new name. Let’s see, you are young and cute, we will call you ‘Honey’.”
So thus I got my new name.
Why would I need a new name and what was wrong with a nice Christian name like Chastity was something that I would later understand. The city was stranger than the wildest dreams I ever had, we passed on roads as wide as a field and there were more cars on the road than there were people in my village. The towering buildings loomed over us like watchful sentinels ushering terrified children and reminding them of the rules of living in the city. The city was full of people, walking on the roads, talking on their cell phones, rushing somewhere, eating at the roadside joints and rushing past us without a blink as if we did not exist. This was the first thing I realized about the city, and it came to me as a shock. Here, people did not acknowledge and sometimes did not even notice other people. While our bus waited in traffic I saw a shabby man in tattered clothes, probably a beggar or a drunk, on a pavement, that small strip of land beside the road where pedestrians were supposed to walk in the city. I could have mistaken him to be asleep. But the way he lay there, sprawled on the ground, I was certain he had passed out, or dead. But what stunned me was the fact that the people just walked around his motionless body. Some actually stepped over him like crossing a small brook or jumping over a big stone. No one cared to check if he was alive and to pick him up and take to safety. In the village you just had to say that you were filling giddy and four people would carry you to your home and half the village would pour in to know what happened to you.
“This is Mike.” Odumbe said, introducing us to a lanky young man as we got down from the bus. Mike seemed to be in his early thirties and had a wide conniving smile which showed two rows of stained brown teeth. He had bloodshot eyes with thick red veins visible in the whites of his eyes. Something about his presence was uncomfortable as if by his mere presence he had touched me in unmentionable places. Odumbe handed us over to the Mike and went away, probably to catch a bus back to the village. Mike took us to a waiting car. We got into the back seat as he positioned himself behind the wheel. Then before starting the car he turned back and smirked, patting the seat empty next to him with his palm. He wanted one of us to go and sit next to him. Rose got down and sat in the seat next to him after a long awkward wait to see which one of us took the fall. As we drove off, I saw Mike’s hand touch Rose’s bare thigh several times as he changed the gears.
It was almost midnight when we reached our destination. Mike took us to a place with congested diminutive dirt roads encroached upon by crumbling, shabby buildings. We drove deeper in to the by lanes till we reached a dead end. At the end of the road was a building with exterior blackened by dirt and grime, most of the windows were broken and boarded up. It stood a little apart from the other buildings in the alley, as if the other buildings, not in a very great shape themselves, had decided to keep distance for the fear of some disease. There were a couple of cars parked in the tiny, crammed compound. We went up the rickety wooden stairs which creaked like a groaning old woman. There we were allotted a room. I had started from my home dreaming of mansions and brightly lit rooms, an image which the word city evoked. What we got was a gloomy room with barely enough space for two metal beds without any space between them. We were told to keep our bags below the beds. Rose and I would be sharing this room. The window to the room was boarded up like the ones we had seen from the street. But the shocking part was that the door had been ripped off its hinges and taken away so there was no way to close the door. I felt naked as I lay on the bed later and cried.
“It is okay.” Rose tried to comfort me, “We will be out of this place soon. As soon as we start earning we will get an apartment and move out. I promise.” I hugged her and cried some more, in just a day she had transitioned from a stranger to an elder sister, the one that I never had and the one that I needed in this shocking reality of the city.
I got up wiped my tears and went to the bathroom at the end of the corridor. It was dark, filthy and stinking. As soon as I opened the door, vomit swelled up in my throat. Somebody had defecated in the toilet and left without flushing it down. I put my hand to my mouth and rushed to my room. I fell on my bed panting, still struggling to keep the insides of my stomach from spilling out. I narrated what I saw to Rose and she stoically answered, “You will get used to it.”
‘Used to it?’ I thought, Was this the reason I had come to the city? Where was the city of aunt Jillian? I wished I knew about her family. May be they would take me in. I made a resolve to find them. Meanwhile Rose went and investigated the toilet. She came back with disheartening information that the flush was broken and there was no water. I wanted to pee very badly but I could not make myself go back to that foul place.
“Come on.” Rose said, “You can’t hold it forever. You have to go sometime and I can tell you that the toilet is not going to be cleaned anytime soon.”
I persuaded reluctant Rose to help me find another place to relieve myself. She was not comfortable about leaving the room until Mike came back in the morning as he had promised. She also wondered whether it would be safe to leave our luggage unattended in a room without the door. But as time went on she pitied me as I struggled to avoid wetting myself. We tiptoed across the corridor to the stairs. The building seemed empty and we saw no one else in any of the rooms along the corridor. That seemed really strange. We checked a couple of floors but the toilets were as bad. Finally we went outside in the compound. As Rose kept a watch for anyone walking in on us I went behind one of the parked cars, crouched and urinated. I shuddered with relief as I relieved myself awkwardly behind the car. After I came up to Rose she asked me to keep the watch and went behind the car to follow the suit. It should have felt really dirty to relieve myself in the compound behind a parked car. But somehow it felt very brave and adventurous thing to do and Rose and I giggled our way up towards our room.
When we reached our floor we heard some noise on the floor above us. We climbed up the stairs to investigate. The noise was coming from one of the rooms at the end of the corridor. A rectangular patch of light spilled from the room into the dark corridor. At first the sound seemed like someone talking or laughing but as we went nearer we realized that someone was moaning. I wondered if there was another girl like us there and that she was sick.
“Hurry, let’s go and check. That girl might need our help.” I said.
But Rose held my arm and put a finger to her lips, signaling me to be quiet. There was a mischievous smile on her face which I did not understand. She winked at me and continued tiptoeing towards the room. I followed her with a puzzled look. When she nearly reached the room, she stopped and peeked inside from a distance. She held up her hand to stop me as she continued to look inside and then signaled with her hand to come closer. As I went near her she put her arm around my neck and pulled me closer turning my face in the direction of the room. Inside was a naked girl lying on the bed and a naked man lying on top of her and thrusting is pelvis violently between her legs. The man was panting like a dog and the girl was moaning loudly. It was a strange feeling that took over me. It was a mixture of curiosity and disgust. I had never been exposed to sex before and though I realized that they were having sex, I did not know what or how were they doing it and why the man was moving is buttocks back and forth. I wanted to close my eyes and turn away in disgust but for some strange reason I kept staring until Rose pulled me away and we ran our way down the stairs and into our room. We were out of breath as we flung ourselves onto our beds.
“That was awesome.” Rose said and closed her eyes. I wondered whether she had drifted off to sleep or she was thinking about what we had just seen. When I closed my eyes, the scene played itself vividly in front of my eyes. I saw myself lying naked in place of that girl and a heavy man with no face thrusting his buttocks over me. For the first time in my life I was aware of a strange tingling sensation between my legs.
My first time was not as I had expected it or thought about since the time I hit puberty. I never met my knight in a shining armor. No cute boy, in his teens with raging hormones, courted me awkwardly. Nor did any strong man with deep voice take me for his wife and deflower me gently. Instead it was five filthy men who had not showered for days and who reeked of alcohol. They held me down and violated me repeatedly the whole night. Their touch was gruesome and later I felt so dirty about my own body that I wanted to tear off my flesh the way my clothes had been ripped away, and burn it along with my tattered clothes and shreds of my dignity. This was the way we were prepared for the life of prostitution. Once we were broken in, they made us, it was six of us including me and Rose, stand naked in front of a group of guys and walk, turn around and display our assets. This way they made us used to our nakedness, so much that sometimes we quit wearing clothes even when we were alone.
Then our routine started. A routine in the face of the city dwellers, yet alien to them apart from our short encounters of lust and decadence. We slept during the day, getting up in the evening and painting our lips dark red and our eyelids gold. We had regular taxi guys who transported us to night clubs where we pretended to be regular girls, fooling no one. One look at any one of us would be enough to know what services we were soliciting. Yet everyone, the waiters (who were in on it) and the patrons alike kept up the pretense. The girls, regular patrons, saw through us like we were invisible. Some turned up their noses in judgment and sometimes downright disgust. The guys on the other hand, saw through our clothes, touched us from a distance, compared shapes and sizes, like buyers comparing tomatoes for freshness and juice. They approached like they would approach a regular girl, smiled, made a small talk and asked us to dance with them. And then leaning into us they whispered into our ear, “how much?”
Some were nice, some shy, some were show offs, some bragged about their prowess in bed, some wanted to experiment and some wanted to do it in a group. There were foreigners looking for an ‘exotic’ beauty and local men looking for a quick good time. All of them touched us without asking us first. We were there and we were theirs to take. Once in a while there came someone who could really make you go weak in the knees or maybe talk to you after you are done. Someone who wanted to know how did you get into this “line”, as they called it, and why would you continue doing it. But we weren’t allowed to fall in love. For them we were a piece of meat and for us they were a pile of money. That’s what we cared about. We had to pay Mike and his pals a fixed amount every month whether we had one customer of twenty. It was very little left to save after paying Mike, spending on food, clothes and cosmetics and sending money home.
Why didn’t we leave? Don’t know. Could we leave? Yes, we could. We were not restrained by chains, there was no one watching us and no one would follow us to catch us and bring us back to the business. The supply of girls was virtually limitless, new dreamy eyed girls arrived into the city every day brought in by Odumbe and many others like him and handed over to people like Mike who made money buying and selling pussies. Maybe we were used to this life now and deep in our minds we thought or knew that there was nowhere else to go.
The trees rushed past as the bus trampled the empty road. Big buildings had given way to small houses which had given way to stretches of empty land with farms and trees. Not much had changed in six years since I had moved to the city, nothing except me. My dress was an expensive one and so were the gifts I had in my bag. For my father I had bought a fedora, I still remember how much he loved the one which Uncle Matt had. For my mother I had bought a hot water bag, her knees and back gave her trouble in winter. There were gifts for my brother Jack, his wife and my childhood friend Nancy and my sweet little niece Janice. My father had never spoken to me since I had left but my mother had told me that he wore the shirt I had got him during my last visit. Jack had started speaking to me on my last visit after I had brought for him a tweed jacket and a watch from the city. When anyone in the village asked me about my life in the city, I told them that I was married to a very big guy. My father knew what it meant, my brother knew it. I wished that I had known too.