Aunt Jessie watched the girl shudder, breathing heavily as one tear cascaded down her cheeks. She wiped her red eyes and looked at her, finally saying.
“Why doesn’t he want me? I – I was there for him. I gave him my heart, my body and soul, but it wasn’t enough for him. There had to be someone else. I wasn’t good enough for him, no matter how much I tried.”
She sobbed a bit, Jessie bringing her another tissue to wipe her face with.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Emma,” she comforted her.
“I got piercings for him, his name is tattooed on my lower back, but he didn’t appreciate any of it. Why didn’t he? What’s wrong with these men?”
“That’s the way the world works, my dear. Those we desire seldom have time for us, while those who we should have will never fully have us.”
“That’s true,” she said, “that’s so true. I remember when I met him, he was all I could think about, but I had suitors better than him ask me out.”
“Including Damian,” Jessie stated, smiling at her. Her face glowed under the fluorescent light as she smiled back at her.
“Yes, including him. Of all of them, he was the one who I treated the worst. Now, here I am, wondering how to get him. I should have started with him, I should have. Maybe I wouldn’t be – be this person. Hmm, I’d probably be married with a few kids, living in a nice house and feeling very comfortable.”
“But you wouldn’t be excited, would you?”
Emma laughed as she went on.
“Wow, do you get me!”
“I do. I was like you a long time ago, chasing excitement and danger, only to come back to peace and security.”
“And how was Mr Peace and Security?”
“Reliable and steadfast, as a man should be. Very romantic too. He was a gardener, so he would always come back with a flower for me at the end of the day. Our house was littered with them.”
“What was wrong with him?” Emma bluntly asked to which Jessie showed a half-smile and said:
“Bored me to death.”
“There it is!” Emma celebrated, clapping her hands.
“So helplessly boring. It was always what I wanted, always my comfort first. It was wonderful at first, but it then became suffocating. You know, I once asked him to get me the biggest bunch of flowers if he wanted to get lucky that night, so he collected hundreds of them and had someone deliver them to me, along with a poem of the same.”
“Imagine that! Oh, he tried and tried, but I didn’t see it that way. I always had something new he should have done, and he did it. Never asked why, never said no. In fact, he’d agree with me just to get me to shut up, so I always had my way, until the day he said ‘Enough’.”
“Oh no. Really?”
“Yes. He said he was tired of this and wanted something new in his life. Said he was tired of not being appreciated and wanted out. He’d been saving some money and wanted to take me on a trip, but he changed his mind.”
“Hmm, who was she?”
“Wow!” Emma exclaimed, wide-eyed and jaw on the floor.
“Yes! She helped him pick out every flower for me, helped him gather the hundreds and was the one who composed the poem.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“I’ll never forget that day. How happy he was to leave, how eager he was to be with her. I couldn’t even look at him on account of my tears, but my pride wouldn’t let me beg. So I let him go.”
“Must have been hard.
“It was at first, but I got better. I realized that men go where they are appreciated, and I clearly couldn’t do that for him. I wish I had, just a bit more, but I’m over it. That’s why I’m here, eager to help others in their quest for love.”
“Hmm, will you give me an extra serving of that help? I could sure use it,” Emma scoffed.
“Well, you never told me how things went with Damian.”
“He – I don’t know what to do with him. I thought he’d be more eager to see me, but he just kept asking more questions, like…”
“Like you committed a crime?”
“Yes! He just wants to know more and more about me.”
“You know, he’s not just interested in you, Emma. He’s suspicious of you.”
“Put yourself in his shoes: this girl who turned you down harshly is all of a sudden interested in you? Why is she? Why now?”
Emma couldn’t answer immediately, so she merely shook her head.
“The men of faith don’t just go for more than a pretty face. They want to know your heart. The minute they find something’s amiss, they’ll run for the hills. You can hide for a time, but eventually, they’ll see your real face.”
“But I am trying to change! I want to be with him now!”
“Of course you do,” Aunt Jessie said, rolling her eyes, “and he probably wants to be with you as well.”
“You think so?”
“I know so. But how would he feel if he knew where you just came from?”
“What do you mean?”
“The guy you’re crying over. The one you left Damian in church for.”
“I – I don’t know what you’re…”
“You don’t have to lie to me, Emma. We all try to get the one that gets away when the chance avails itself.”
She looked down, fidgeting with her dress.
“I – it was just this once. I had to try.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything about anything anymore.”
“I believe you,” Jessie stated, smiling at her. Emma shrugged, exhaled and shook her head, asking.
“What should I do, then?”
“For this one, you’ll need more than just that dress. You need doubt.”
“A seed planted in the right place within the mind will make anyone second guess themselves.”
“What are you saying?” Emma asked, frustrated at her proverbial prose.
“He doubts you, but what if you could make him doubt himself? About his intentions, about you. What if he stopped trying to figure you out because it really shouldn’t matter?”
“How will you do so?”
“Don’t worry, my dear. You’ve been generous with your payments so far, I won’t let you down. Go home now, I’ll sort it out myself.”
“Watch the trend.”
“Watch the trend. Goodnight now, Emma,” she said, standing and walking to the back of her shop as Emma picked up her coat and stepped out of the shop, looking at the ever-increasing queue before she walked past them, up the stairs and onto the dimly lit alley, bumping into a man vigorously ramming a prostitute from the back.
“Watch it!” he yelled, wiping the sweat from his forehead as he went on, leaving her to pick her bag. She went past them, towards the dim orange light ahead of her, the cacophony of grunts and screams slightly irking her with every step she took towards the light.
As soon as she stepped onto the street, she breathed that fresh night air in relief, knowing that whatever that old woman was going to do would help her. She crossed the road to the parking overlooking the water, looking for her car for some time before she exclaimed:
The flashing neon lights in the first rundown stone building on his left were just calling to him. more of the women strutted past him in impossible heels and skirts gripping their bodies, all offering him the same thing.
“I’ll suck you off for 200?”
“500 one shot.”
“750 for two. That’s a discount.”
“I’ll let you finish on my face if you want.”
He was tired of saying no thanks to them, so he walked in to find a completely different setting. A clean, modern aesthetic of angular furniture with contemporary art dotting the walls of the reception he now stood in, where a bespectacled lady smiled at him.
“Hi!” she greeted enthusiastically.
“Um, hello?” he murmured, still enamoured by the pristine room.
“I know, not what you expect, is it?” she went on.
“No, not at all.”
“So, are you here for the early bird special?”
“Yeah. Look,” she said, handing him a brochure, which he read with his jaw on the floor, something she picked up on.
“Ah, you’re not a regular here, are you?”
“How did you know?”
“You’re shocked. That’s why,” she said, to which he chuckled.
“Yeah, I just happened to be around, and…”
“You wanted to get away from the girls out there?”
“They’re so extra, my gosh!” he lamented, much to her amusement. The dimples in her cheeks brightened his day as he watched her laugh at him.
“Ah, I know. Man, this place is amazing.”
“So, what is this place?”
“You didn’t read the brochure well enough?” she teased him.
“I did, but is it, really?” he asked her. She was taken aback by his genuine curiosity, and then it dawned on her.
“You’ve never been here, have you?”
He shook his head slowly, eyes on her triangular desk as if in shame.
“Hmm,” she went on, “okay. There’s something I haven’t seen in a while.”
“Everyone’s been here. At least every one I’ve met. It’s like a rite of passage.”
“So, I’m going through some form of puberty again, right?” he said, laughing.
“Like a rite of passage – never mind. What do you mean by everyone?”
“Hmm, why don’t you sit down and I’ll explain everything. Would you like some coffee as you wait?”
“Mmm, will you be long?”
“A few minutes. I promise,” she said reassuringly. Satisfied with her answer, he walked past the white partitions and into the waiting area, decorated with black leather seats surrounding a red table, ahead of which was a blank wall with only one door.
“What’s in th-” he began questioning but not before her curvy frame adorned in white jeans and a striped t-shirt sauntered towards him with a mug in hand.
“Here you go,” she said, placing the mug on the table, enough for him to peep down her shirt for a second. Their eyes met and she smiled at him as he quickly looked away.
“I’m sorry,” he apologized.
“Don’t worry, I’m already used to it. You were saying something?”
“Yeah, I wanted to know what was behind that door.”
“Whoever you want from here,” she said, handing him the brochure.
“Wait. I get to pick?”
“Anyone. It’s a private thing, one on one for an hour, only partial nudity for the bronze package. The silver one, you get full frontal and you can touch. The third, the gold option, is a show. You can have her from the tease show to the bedroom.”
“Oh,” Damian gasped, blinking rapidly, “and these are the rates?”
“Yup. 2000 shillings for the bronze, 3,500 for the silver and 6,000 for the gold. But, if you want to go all the way, you could try the platinum package.”
“Well,” she spoke, her hand on his, “you can choose more than one girl for more than two hours. Plus, you’ll go through every previous stage, kind of like a build-up to the grand finale. Also, if you wish, you could share with others.”
“You go with other people and you share each other. You can stop and watch, you can actively participate and sometimes, you just watch and make yourself…”
“Okay, I – I get it,” he interrupted, his eyeballs nearly bulging out of their sockets. His demeanour was both intriguing and confusing, as she found herself asking him.
“Why are you here? Really?”
“I – I just wanted to get away from those.”
“I know, but why are you on the street? Haven’t you heard about it before?”
“I have, but I didn’t think it existed. So, I just needed to ascertain the rumours.”
“Hmm, and so far?”
“More than what I thought. Expectation and reality do not match, at all,” he said, laughing with her.
“Hmm, so I don’t suppose I can convince you to try one of these.”
“You’d do that for me?”
“Of course I would. Every guy who comes here just wants to bust a nut and get the fuck out of dodge.”
“Oh,” he gasped at her brazenness, more as she went on.
“Some want a show, some want one, two or even four, some want to watch others do it, but at the end of the day, everyone goes home happy,” she said, watching his face twitch with a hint of disgust but his eyes twinkling with curiosity.
“You know what?” she said, moving closer and eyeing him, “I’m not supposed to do this, but I could sneak you in.”
“Really?” he asked, inching closer to her.
“Only if you don’t tell anyone,” she whispered. He slowly nodded, watching her stand and walk towards the door, stretching out her hand towards him.
He stood up, held her hand and stepped through the door.
The carpeted floor scrunched with every step he bumbled in the darkness, his guide pulling him farther in till he wasn’t sure where he was. Then, they turned left to a blue-neon lit room with groups of white leather seats dotted with suited men, their ties loosened by the scantily clad beauties snaking their bodies on the white stages in the middle of each cluster of seats. They threw notes at the women, who merely moved in silence to the backdrop of pulsing lights and a low thump, which seemed familiar to him.
“That looks like…”
“Ssshhh, no talking,” she hushed him, her finger on his lips, “yes, it’s one of the clubs on Boulevard.”
“They’re behind the clubs?”
“Yes. This is the first one. No full nudity, just a dancer.”
There were three of them, but the one in the middle caught his attention. She wore a stern look that never faced anyone but the stage she was on, watching her movements as if she were grading them, studying her surroundings as if she were in danger. Yet, at that moment, her eyes, an alluring lilac, met his own and held onto the gaze, a smile breaking out on her face as she went on, leaving his heart in shambles.
“How – how much is it?” he asked her, still fixated on the vixen before him.
“Come on, let me show you what else we have,” she said, pulling him out of the room and into the dark corridor. He felt a slight descent as they progressed to the next room, a bit more lively than the previous one, welcoming them with flickering lights that jostled on the walls of the corridor.
They got into the sights of cream leather seats filled with more men, bigger-bodied than the previous lot, waving notes at the women who had only underwear on, a sight Damian was not used to.
“Oh,” he said, gawking at the dancers.
“Easy, sweetheart,” she said, pushing his jaw back up. He watched them dance provocatively to the fast-paced music, some grinding on the men while others stuck to the stages, teasing them one piece of clothing at a time.
“This is…more,” she said.
“Clearly,” Damian said, unable to take his eyes off them, especially the buxom one who walked his way, rubbing her hand on his shoulder.
“Hey, handsome,” she said.
“Um – hi?”
“No, Crystal, he’s a window shopper today.”
“Is he now?” she went on, edging closer to him, her hand sliding lower down his chest as she spoke.
“You like what you see?”
“I – I don’t, um – I like – ”
“Easy, you’ll give him a heart attack!”
“No worries, Fiona. Maybe next time,” she said, winking at him as he adjusted his trousers.
“Come on,” she said, pulling him into the dark corridor.
“Ok, so what’s next?” he asked enthusiastically.
“That’s all for today. Like I said, just a sneak peek. Now you know what to expect. Let’s head back,” she spoke calmly but firmly, something Damian appreciated as she led him back. As they passed the first room, he stopped for a while to see his woman, but all he met was another in her place.
‘I have to see her first,’ he thought. They walked back into the waiting area to find some three men standing at the counter, smartly dressed as if they were going for a job interview. One of them squinted at him for a while before being attended to by Fiona.
“Okay. I have to get back to work, but you’ll consider it? Now that you’ve…”
“Yes, I most definitely will,” Damian interrupted her as he waved goodbye, walking past the men, one of them peering at him as he walked by and onto the cold street. As soon as he stepped there, two more women walked his way, prompting him to cross the road to the cars parked by the cliff, enjoying the view of the water underneath the moonlight. The images were still fresh in his mind, more so of that woman, that muse that still danced in his mind.
“What a girl,” he said to himself, imagining her with him at that moment, right before he heard his name being called. He turned, his face going white as he called back: