Patricia looked down at herself in dismay, and struggled with the top of her low neck blouse, trying her best to conceal her overflowing cleavage. The elastic band of the neckline of her cotton blouse stretched half an inch and snapped sharply back into place.
Her hand dropped sharply to her side and she stood straighter at the rebuke. Clara who had invited her and the other three girls who stood in the room for a night of party looked at her in annoyance. Her face was contorted horribly in anger.
“How many times will I tell you that it is for your own interest to let your assets show during the party, ehn?” Clara asked, her hanging lower chins quivering in anger. She moved with effort around the room, her squat four feet five inches looking like a cannon ball as she rolled past each girl, checking for any flaw to point out. Patricia looked at her ‘assets’ once again and tried to ignore the brown shadow of her areola peeking past the neckline of her blouse.
“Sorry. I..,I didn’t know,” she said, biting down on her lower lip. Clara said nothing. She checked her wristwatch again.
“Wetin dey do this Paw paw sef?” she asked no one in particular in Pidgin English. Patricia remembered that the guy Clara called Pawpaw was the light complexioned driver of the Toyota Camry that picked her from the campus. She looked at the other girls. They hadn’t said as much as a word to her since she squeezed into the car with them that evening. She wanted to ask a lot of questions. She wanted to bond with them. If anything, their fates seemed intertwined that evening. One of the girls with rows of white beads on her neck caught her eye. Patricia tried to smile, but got an unfriendly stare instead. Oh well! She thought, looking back at the thirty five inch plasma television in front of her. Can’t say I didn’t try.
She was nervous. Tonight was the first time she had decided to join the hordes of girls who left the campus every night in search of money. Money that came from one night stands with men they didn’t know. Runs was what the girls called their trade, but Patricia and her best friend Onyinye liked to call it prostitution.
“I am now a prostitute.” She whispered almost in awe to herself.
“What?” Clara was coming towards her, her phone held out in front of her. Patricia looked at the phone, wondering how fast it could be turned into a weapon. Clara didn’t seem too pleased at the moment.
Clara regarded her in puzzlement for a second before turning away with her phone again. Patricia let her thoughts go back to the threat of her hostel manager.
“If you don’t pay for your bed space, tomorrow, I will personally see that your belongings are thrown out of this hostel.” The heavy set dark complexioned man who before then had been receiving her tokens of meat pies and bottles of Coca-Cola seemed to have had enough of petty appeasements. He wanted his money. After all, she had gone through the ‘backdoor’ and acquired the space from him instead of applying legitimately for a bed space from the Dean of student affairs.
She had left the man thirty minutes later, but not without a firm assurance that she was going to pay the money she owed him the following morning. With very little money in her account and her parents in a difficult financial situation, contacting “Big” Clara was the only option she had. Her bunkmate was a regular of the fat woman who came to campus every Friday for runs girls. It had taken her less than an hour to make the transition from a decent, religious, first class student to an over made up, scantily dressed runsgirl. She thanked her stars that Onyinye had to go home that weekend. It would have been difficult explaining to her friend that she could no longer accept the loans she had been giving to her from the beginning of the semester. It was time to be responsible for own financial needs.
The door opened and Pawpaw entered the hotel room. Clara shuffled towards him, shaking the phone in her hand at his lopsided grin.
“Why you like to fuck up like this, ehn?”
“No vex. Na hold up.”
“Which kain hold up?” Clara asked, her nose going up in disbelief. Pawpaw looked ready to defend himself again when Clara’s phone began to ring. Patricia could see him mentally wiping his forehead in relief.
“Good Evening Ben.”
Clara seemed to have undergone some sort of transformation. Gone was her usual brusque manner. She sounded cultured and well mannered as she spoke to someone on the phone.
“Oh yes of course,” she said, turning from the window where she was to stare at Patricia and the other girls. She walked towards them, inspecting their clothes as she spoke. “Trust me. These girls are the latest state of the art types on campus.” She laughed at her own ingenuity as she looked them over. She nodded to herself in satisfaction before walking back to the window to continue the conversation in hushed tones. Patricia felt bad for herself. She wondered what type of people she was going to meet that night. If they found any humour in Clara’s statement, then she was in for a terrible experience. Oh, shut up! A voice said inside her. Like prostitutes now have a choice.
After one more loud cackle, the phone conversation was over. Clara turned to them. “Time to go and meet our friends.”
For some reason, she was all smiles now, but instead of this to relieve Patricia, she found herself panicking. She looked down at her chest again. She would have given anything to have her breasts covered in that instant.
“So it is time for you guys to leave now,” Clara said, shooing them towards Pawpaw who stood at the door grinning like an idiot. Clara shoved him out of the way when they got there, and he bounced to the side with a wider grin.
“Big mummy, take it easy now. Abi shey na because ah no be state of the art babe.”
Patricia followed behind the three girls, their heels clicking loudly on the marbled staircase of the hotel as they walked down to the lobby and to the Toyota. Pawpaw managed to hurry ahead after exchanging a few words with the doorman of the hotel.
They drove in silence. The ride to Ikeja seemed to take forever. Patricia could not wait for the night to be over. At last, they parked in front of an imposing black gate and drove inside a big compound when the gate was opened by a security guard.
“What did I tell you?” Clara turned backwards to ask them. Still pondering her sudden change of status, Patricia was thrown off balance by the question. The other girl beside Patricia, who had been almost invisible except for her heavily lashed eyes from which large gobs of mascara hung untidily, sat up suddenly.
“Anything we get, you get ten percent.” She said in a businesslike manner.
Clara beamed with pride as she observed them. “Good girl. I am so happy you remember that. You see, I am not a nice person when people try to cheat me, so remember that.” She removed her phone from her bag.
“They are here,” she said simply into the phone. She nodded and turned to the backseat again. “Get out, wear your bright smiles and make money.”
Patricia followed the girls out the car. She wanted to ask Clara if she was leaving them all by themselves with strangers they had never met before, but the look on Clara’s face was hostile despite the smile there. Her teeth were bared like fangs. So Patricia changed her mind and hurried along, determined to survive the night.
They knocked once, and the door was opened. A tall, handsome young man with a glass of wine appraised them quickly with a smirk before turning to the crowd behind him.
“They are here.”
The announcement drew hoots and shouts from the men inside the house and Patricia knew now that there was no turning back. She stepped into the house and put on her best smile, even if it shook a little.
“Please, come in young ladies.” A voice said in the background. The other girls walked past her hesitant figure, almost rushing into the living room. Patricia was surprised to count only three men in the living room. They all looked fairly young, but judging from the bottles of champagne and fumes of expensive perfume, Patricia could see that they were successful. The one who had called to them to enter the living room was sprawled on a gigantic cream leather sofa, and was already winking at the girl with the heavy lashes and she began to move towards him. Patricia bit down on her lower lip as the man who opened the door pulled the girl with the rows of beads on her neck towards him. She could not help feeling left out as she found herself standing in the middle of the room without a partner. There was only one man left, and he sat on a high bar stool at the end of the room, nursing his drink. He didn’t seem to show any interest in her, and she didn’t know if to walk up to him and offer her “assets” to be valued. She looked down at her shoes, feeling awkward.
“Ha, there is still one left.”
Patricia looked up from her shoes and saw the one who had spoken. He was the one who had opened the door for them. He had managed to pause in his groping of the girl with beads to smile at the man at the bar, making not so discrete gestures towards her direction. The man ignored his friend and looked at her instead. Patricia tried to study him, but he was too far for her to make out his features. Suddenly he was on his feet, walking away.
“Send her upstairs,” he said curtly as he marched towards a staircase just close to the bar.
“Come with me.” The man who had the girl with the beads stood up and led the way for Patricia to follow, and she walked behind him on rubbery feet, wondering why she had to be the one who ended up with the recluse. The journey up the carpeted staircase didn’t take long, and they stopped before a door. The man with her knocked once.
Her escort nodded at her, and turned back towards the staircase again, leaving her staring at the door. Drawing a deep breath and making a quick prayer to God not to abandon her on her adventure of sin, she pushed down the door handle and stepped into the room. The room seemed to spread out before her in a picture of elegance and she stared in awe at the life sized paintings on the wall. The man who was to be her “client” for the night reclined on the chaise at the far end of the room, his drink in his hand as he watched her.
“Hi,” she said. It wasn’t so bad if she showed courtesy, regardless of how low she had sunk that night. He didn’t bother to answer. He raised his drink to his lips, his eyes never leaving her face. Okay, where do we go from here? Patricia thought, moving towards the bed. As she moved closer, she was surprised to see that the man was actually younger than she had made him to be, and even more handsome than the man who had opened the door for her. His brooding clear white eyes were set on a face that was square. He had high cheekbones that gave him an almost aristocratic air and a strong neck that the collar of his shirt opened to show.
“My name is Patricia.”
Patricia almost kicked herself as she remembered that she had made plans to come up with a fake name.Jade had been her pick. She had always heard tales on campus on how girls gave fake names to the men they met during their nighttime business. I am such an idiot, she thought, sitting on the side of the bed that was close to the lounge where the man sat.
Since a conversation didn’t look like a near possibility, she reached for the hem of her blouse and began to pull it up.
Patricia dropped her hands, looking up at the man. “What are you doing?” he asked, a frown darkening his handsome face.
“I..I am undressing.”
“I didn’t ask you to.” He managed an amused smile. “At least, not yet.”
Patricia pursed her lips, looking at the blue rug on the floor. Does he want a conversation now?
There was a long pause, and Patricia was beginning to wonder about her escapade. Suddenly, his voice cut through the silence. “You are a pretty girl Patricia.” “Thank you.”
“So,” he said, reaching towards a stool beside him to deposit the glass in his hand. “Why are you in this business?”
“What?” Patricia asked, feeling very much like a prostitute now. She wondered if the other girls were being interviewed too.
“You heard me Patricia.”
There was something almost paternal about his tone. She fiddled with her fingers on her lap, feeling very much like a child caught doing something bad.
“It is personal.”
“Well, if I am going to be taking you to bed barely ten minutes after knowing you, then maybe I have already crossed the line to personal. So fill me in.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Not too much. I will be satisfied with just an answer to my question.”
“Well, I need money.”
“Everyone needs money Patricia.”
Patricia looked at his expensive leather loafers and his gold wristwatch. What could he possibly need money for?
He laughed at her appraisal. “Everyone has problems, regardless of who they are.”
“I need money to pay for my bed space in my hostel on campus.”
Another long pregnant silence. Patricia fiddled more with her fingers.
“What about your parents?”
“They can’t afford to help me at this time.”
Patricia looked up at him and caught him studying her with narrowed eyes. “So you figured that the only way to raise that money is to lie on your back for a stranger you don’t know?”
“I had no option.” Patricia thought of Onyinye. I overused my option, she corrected herself inwardly.
The man cocked his head. “Really?” he asked with a look on his face that suggested that he didn’t believe her.
The room was quiet again. Patricia didn’t know what to do. How come nobody told her that interviews were part of runs. She was fast developing a new respect for those girls she used to condemn with gusto before
The man began to reach for a small book on the table beside him. Patricia looked at him in confusion as he pulled out a fountain pen from his shirt pocket. What is he doing?
“So Patricia, what is your surname?”
“Ayodele,” she said, almost hyperventilating. “A-Y…”
“Please stop, I can spell Nigerian names. Thank you.”
“You have a means of identification, don’t you?”
Patricia looked at him, befuddled. “Yes.”
“I have my school I.D card.”
“No, not that.”
“I have a national I.D card.”
“Okay, that will do.” He raised his head to check what he had written. “Here.” He said at last, handing over a slip of paper he had torn from the small book. Patricia looked at his hand in surprise. It was a cheque.
“Don’t you want it?”
She shook herself out of her inertia. “Thank you.” She said, quickly plucking it from his hand. Her eyes almost popped when she saw the amount on the check. He is giving me three hundred thousand naira?
Patricia bit her lower lip. What if it was a fake? She had heard stories of how men gave fake checks to runs girls.
“Don’t worry, it is genuine,” he said as if he read her mind. “Check the back too.”
She turned the check over and saw his spidery looking signature at back of the check. Please pay bearer,the words above his signature said.
“But..” she began, thinking of Clara and her ten percent cut.
“But what Patricia?” the man asked, putting back his pen in his shirt pocket. She looked down at her breasts. The man followed her gaze with a look of confusion on his face.
“You still have to sleep with me.”
The man seemed to do a double take. “Sleep with you?”
“Please don’t take it the wrong way. I am grateful for this.” She held the check gingerly in her hand. “But I have to give Clara her ten percent cut.”
“Who is Clara?”
Patricia was surprised that he didn’t know Clara. “The woman that brought us here.”
There was understanding in the man’s eyes. “Oh, you mean your handler.”
“Yes.” Patricia said in a small voice, looking down at the rug again. She thought handler was quite a nice term for the fat woman who brought them there. The woman was a slave driver! She heard the rustle of new notes.
“Here, take this.” In the right hand that extended towards her were several notes of one thousand naira. She opened her mouth in wonder as she took the money from the man. “But this is a lot.” She held the money in her hand, unable to believe her good luck.
“It is okay. I hate to see you run into problems with your … em…handler.”
Patricia nodded and transferred the notes into her bag. Then, she sat looking at him, wondering if she still owed him s3x.
“How long have you been doing this?”
They were back to their interview.
“Today was my first time.”
Patricia felt the need to defend herself. He didn’t sound like he believed her. “It is true. I have never done this before.”
“Are you a virgin?”
“No.” she said looking away.
The man sighed and reached into his brown leather wallet. He pulled out a card from it and gave it to her.
“Stay in touch after tonight.”
Patricia held the card, feeling dismissed.
“I guess this means that you are done with me.”
“Yes Patricia you guessed right.”
She didn’t know whether to be happy or sad at the dismissal of this handsome stranger who had just doled out huge sums of money to her. She stood up from the bed and smoothed down her top. The neckline of her blouse dipped dangerously again and she quickly plucked it back up.
“Thank you very much.”
“No problem Patricia.”
Patricia moved towards the door, swinging her bag to her shoulder. The toothbrush she had packed there rattled against the can of her body spray, and she could not help feeling embarrassed.
“And Patricia…” the man said when she got to the door. She stopped to look back at him. The glass of wine he was just lifting stopped halfway before his lips. “Just go straight back to campus, even if you don’t see your friends downstairs.”
She nodded and began to turn the door handle.
“And..” his voice reached her again. “Keep my card from your handler. I don’t pass out my private numbers around so much
“Okay.” She turned the handle.
“Oh by the way…” Patricia turned to see his stunning smile. “Maybe one of these days, I might take you up on your offer.”
Patricia nodded, blinded by his gorgeous teeth.
“Goodnight,” He said, raising his drink to his lips again.
Patricia nodded at him again, giving him a small smile of her own before stumbling into the passage. She floated on air as she went down the stairs, still in shock over her good fortune. Downstairs, the living room was quiet. There was no one there. She remembered the man upstairs telling her to go back to campus. She thought about the girls.
“Oh well, they weren’t even friendly to me anyway.” She said, floating again to the door. The security guard gawked at her breasts as he opened the gate for her. She gave him a frown and walked off in a huff out of the compound. The road was as busy as ever as people sparkled brightly in their fancy cars. She quickly flagged down a cab.
“One thousand.” The taxi driver barked sharply. Patricia looked at the new Naira notes in the bag under her arm and smiled at him.
She slipped into the cab and the man sped away into the night. As the breeze teased the strands of her hair, she brought out the card the man had given to her. She gasped in surprise. The taxi driver looked curiously at her in his rear view mirror before turning back to his driving.
“I can’t believe this. How come I didn’t recognize him?” she asked herself, still staring at the card. Her first experience of “runs” had become the night when she met the most sought after bachelor in town. The much talked about Tola Opanuga, heir apparent to a business empire had given her his card. Maybe one of these days, I might take you up on your offer, he said as she left the room. She closed her eyes in embarrassment. Oh God, hope he never remembers this night if we ever meet again, she thought, settling back in her seat and watching the city fly past in a combination of several blinking neon lights and girls with miniskirts on street curbs.
It wasn’t the usual face of the city she was used to seeing. She sighed as a girl pouting at a slow driving car shook her mammoth sized breasts at the driver. Things were different in the city at night. As she drove towards the campus, she was no more the sheltered girl from a middle class family living in Abeokuta. She had lost her innocence and things would never be the same again.