This is a 3-part story – fictionalised real events
Life doesn’t stop with betrayal and treachery, it goes on with lessons.Sudha Ram Joshi
Mark’s flat was immaculate. Looking at the luxurious and stylish décor, it was hard to imagine he was a bachelor. My idea of a bachelor pad was bare necessities, sports paraphernalia and dirty shoes by the door. However, his was clean and contemporary like something out of an Ikea catalogue.
“Welcome to my humble abode,” he said as he took a bow.
“Thank you.” I smiled.
“Can I get you something to drink?”
I was so hungry I wanted food.
“Water.” And then quickly added, “please.” – I learnt the hard way that in this land of plenty, every request had to be accompanied with the word please, otherwise it becomes a command and ‘no one is your slave here!’
As soon as he set the glass of water before me, I began to cry. For reasons unknown to me at the time, I felt safe in Mark’s house; I felt comfortable enough to cry out loud; I felt he was non-judgemental. He saw my tears but didn’t ask for an explanation, he simply sat across from me and looked at me with eyes that exuded kindness. I had to tell him everything.
A banging on the door woke me up from my jet lagged slumber. I jolted upright, momentarily confused as to where I was until the sickening feeling returned – I was in the house of horrors somewhere in Essex. Everything that had happened in the morning came flooding back and I felt homesick, scared, regretful and in great fear. The banging came again accompanied by an irate voice, “open the fucking door!”
I eased myself out of bed, grabbed a bathrobe that was on a chair next to the bed and wrapped myself in it. I opened the door and the floodlights in the hallway nearly blinded me.
There was a strange curvy woman standing there, “What’s going on?” I asked.
“They need you downstairs,” she said and entered the bedroom. I followed her to get my phone. It was almost 11pm and I couldn’t understand why anyone would wake another person at that time of the night. I took my phone and made my way downstairs.
Sitting around the small kitchen table were three women, Sheeqs and two others I didn’t recognise. My village mates were not present.
“Hello,” I said groggily.
They chorused an upbeat hello that caught me off-guard. ‘What were they so enthusiastic about?’ I wondered. One of them offered me a cup of coffee, “you need to brighten up, girl,” she had a very prominent London accent. Sheeqs appeared to be in better spirits than the morning. “Hey, Kayla, follow me,” she said as she handed me a steaming mug of Kenyan coffee I brought. I dutifully followed her into the lounge. The room was dark but a few table lamps with red bulbs and 60s décor: it smelt of candles and cigarettes. In one corner sat a thin blonde woman who dragged out the word hello like she was about to die. In another corner was a young black woman dressed provocatively in lingerie, smoking and reading a magazine using her phone for light. There was an older white woman on the phone, sprawled in one of the sofas. I was told she manned the phone to describe the girls to potential customers. A lump formed in my throat and I couldn’t breathe. I fixed my gaze on the huge TV where Annalise was teaching some law students how to get away with murder.
I knew for certain what I had got myself into, but my system was in a state of shock and disbelief I expected to wake up anytime and find myself in my little bedsit in South C. I would wake up and discover I was never issued a VISA and therefore never travelled. This was just a nightmare. I would wake up with a premonition and wouldn’t pursue the damn VISA. I willed myself to wake up, but the nightmare continued.
“Tonight, you just watch the girls, but if a customer likes you, just roll with it!” Sheeqs said matter of fact.
“Wait, what? Watch? I think there’s has been a terrible misunderstanding…” I started.
“There’s no misunderstanding love, this is how it goes, just don’t use your real name….” I zoned out as she droned on and on about how I was expected to sell my body to make a living; what services I was expected to offer and how much I was expected to charge. A few months ago, when Stella speculated about this, we laughed it off: I thought the worst thing I could do to make a living was wipe drool and butts of old people.
“Fine,” I said. The shock in Sheeqs face was palpable. She probably expected me to slap her, protest or something – I could, but it would have been pointless. I was not in a dream I was in a nightmare that wasn’t going away. I had to be smart.
“Okay, today I’ll learn and start tomorrow,” those words came out of my mouth on autopilot, but all I wanted was to throw up – I’d never been so scared. The older lady offered me a lit cigarette; I took it.
The blonde, Candice, was my mentor despite being strung out. She slurred everything she said. I guess she had to be medicated to survive the night. I didn’t care – I had a plan.
Towards dawn, a well-dressed man came in and said he wanted me. I quickly told him I wasn’t ‘working’. The older woman said I exuded naivety and exoticism – “fresh meat,” she’d said, but I turned down everyone because I had a choice that night. I wasn’t that lucky the following several nights.
The English summer was in full swing, but I barely left the house of horrors. While the other girls lived elsewhere, I lived there plotting my escape. Of course, Sheeqs and my village mates kept all the money I earned “just until you get used to this!” they’d said.
“Don’t worry, you’ll have your cut once you get used to this,” Sheeqs reiterated as if I was deaf or stupid or both.
Two weeks into the trade, it became clear to the women that I was refusing to do most of what the customers wanted – the older woman must have rat told them. They’d had enough of my superiority. One morning, they asked to have a meeting. I agreed though I hated them with every fibre of my being. I wasn’t expecting it, but the first slap that landed on my face toppled me over and I hit the ground hard. I was not only beaten for refusing to offer premier services, but I was beaten harder for thinking I was better than them. “I’ve been in this country for years, you’ve been here 5 minutes and you think you are better than me!”. Thwack! I was beaten harder for refusing to shop for lingerie with the little spending money they gave me. I was beaten harder because I thought money grew on tree, “I don’t think that!” I said between sobs and blows. “Of course, you do!” bellowed Sheeqs as she rained blow after blow on my motionless body, “why else would you refuse to do this work when you have nothing else and your mother is expecting money back home!” It was a valid statement which only proved my stupidity and naivety in trusting people. It was my fault I didn’t do enough research on anything. I was more interested in securing that VISA and hopping on a plane, blindly into the mouth of a predator, than finding out about these women.
After the beating, they huddled together and decided I shouldn’t work or leave the house for the next week. However, once better, I was expected to perform premier services, or they’d call immigration, or the police, or my mother – I forget who – but the threats never stopped. The beating was my saving grace because they left me alone. That night while the girls watched TV and waited for customers, I slipped out of the front door and never looked back. I woke up the next day in a park and my only hope was to put my faith in a total stranger.
I stayed in Mark’s flat for several weeks. One day, he came home with a beautiful bouquet of red roses – I ended up in his bed. I am not sure how or why – was it to express my gratitude the only way I knew how, or did I like him? I might never know.
Despite my turmoil, I am not destroyed – I intend to name and shame these women, so someone else’s daughter doesn’t go through what I went through.
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Photo credit: Curtis Loy – pexel.com