Uncle China came out to look for us. I saw him walking towards Doctor’s car and shifted in my sit. Rotimi didn’t see him and continued nodding gently to the music with his eyes closed.
Uncle China knocked on the window of the driver’s side. I pretended I just saw him. Rotimi switched off his stereo then pressed a button to roll down the window.
“Oti yewo?” – have you checked her, he asked the doctor.
“Rara sir,” – no, Rotimi replied.
“Kilewan shey ninu oye?” – So what were you doing in the car with the AC on?
“Uncle C, my car no be clinic o.”
Uncle C bent down to look at me. I decided to look distressed, but in the darkness of the cabin I couldn’t be sure he saw the look I’d conjured up for his benefit.
“Amaka, oya, let’s go upstairs.”
I was shocked. He still wanted to take me to his bed? Or was he just showing the younger man who is boss?
Rotimi also got out of his car as I did. Uncle China slapped him playfully on the back and pinched his skin. The younger man coiled away and they both laughed at a joke they thought was private. I got it. I also got that ‘have you checked her’ meant have you touched her. I made a mental note to ask Mama if Uncle China knew I speak Yoruba.
“Doc, are you coming?” Uncle China asked.
Rotimi looked at me as if he expected me to decide for him. I wished he wouldn’t.
Uncle China pressured him: “You this young man, when I was your age I was fire! You are about to tell me it’s getting too late, abi? Ok, it is a command; you are coming upstairs!”
Rotimi was smiling sheepishly. He shrugged and that settled that. Images of Kike’s man and Charles Alfonso Paraku canoodling in bed filled my mind. But before I could feel my heart break and be overwhelmed with despise for what my life had become, Uncle China turned to me and added to my confusion. “You, you won’t play o,” he said.
My mouth was dry as I asked “Play what?”
“The water game,” he said. He slapped palms and snapped fingers with Rotimi. They both knew what the water game was. In my mind I was thinking, why upstairs? The pool is downstairs.
Uncle China led the way back into his big house, I followed behind, after Rotimi casually placed his hand on my back to urge me on. What was I getting into?
At the foot of the stairs we ran into a party waiting for the host. They were mostly men but a few of them had girls clinging possessively onto their arms. They were pretty girls who looked decent and clean, and then there was Mama, standing alone holding a half drunk bottle of Moët by the neck and looking worse for wear. I hoped she knew what the water game was.
We went upstairs and it quickly became obvious that not everyone was invited to that side of the party. Thugs working as bouncers held out their hands as if they were stopping gate-crashers from joining us.
We got to the now familiar landing and joined up with another gathering waiting for us. Men outnumbered women ten-to-one. I looked around for Mama but she wasn’t with us. I found Rotimi instead, standing at the back of the crowd, looking out of place.
Uncle China ushered his guests through a double door into a large lavish parlour. The room was freezing. Grown men jostled for chairs - invariably there weren’t enough for everyone. Girls sat on their men’s legs as servants brought dining table chairs to make up for the shortage.
I looked around for Mama but couldn’t find her. Had she been bounced? Rotimi was again at the end of the room, far from me. I wondered if he was avoiding me. Someone placed a chair behind me and I dutifully sat. Playful boisterous banter filled the room. I looked around and found that I was the only girl sitting alone. Uncle China was talking to a couple of fat-bellied men and Rotimi was accepting a bottle of Star from a servant.
I studied the few girls who had made it past the bouncers. I recognized something in them.
They were silent, concentrating on looking good, constantly touching their braids and arranging their outfits. They had the pensive disposition of cattle brought to slaughter. They knew the fate that awaited them and they were mentally preparing themselves for the task ahead. Getting paid for it doesn’t mean the sex would come naturally; you may not like the look of the man, he might have an odour that does not agree with you, your body may simply not be in the mood for sex. But you have to do it, and you have to pretend to enjoy it. You have to fake an orgasm, and when he’s done you have to clean yourself up and be reminded through pain and bruises of how you just sold your body against all that society has thought you is right to do.
They reminded me of me, of the several nights I’d sat like them, with strange men, getting my body prepared to sleep with them. I pitied them. I pitied myself.
Uncle China was in the middle of his parlour asking everyone to listen.
“Gentlemen,” he said, “oya, put your money down.”
The men dug in their pockets and threw bundles of cash onto the floor. Money, lots of it, quickly spread out at Uncle China’s feet. I looked at the other girls; they were looking at the money. I looked to see if Rotimi would also join in. He was holding his beer in one hand and his other hand was in his pocket. Our eyes met and he winked and smiled.
Uncle China used his feet to gather the money together. He looked at a man in white danshiki.
“Captain, I don’t see dollars here o!” he said.
Captain relished the moment. With everyone watching, he stretched out on the armchair he had commandeered and reached into his trouser pocket. He took his time probing then he drew out a bundle of hundred dollar notes. He flung the cash at Uncle China who tried to kick it like a ball but missed and managed to fall ass first onto the pile of cash. The men laughed.
Money has a spirit. I didn’t know what the water game was but it didn’t matter. I was fixated on the little hill of cash on the floor, a few feet from me. If NEPA took light right then my hands would be one of the first to reach the money. I looked at Rotimi, he was looking at me. He widened his eyes and shook his head in the manner of ‘whew.’
Uncle China was helped to his feet by a bouncer with a crude dagger tattoo on his exposed bicep.
“Ok, we are ready now,” he said.
“What of your own money?” someone asked.
Uncle China gave the man a dirty look then he hissed. “Man-o-war!” he shouted. A thug that answered to the name picked up a beer carton and ran to his master’s side. Uncle China gave him a nod to do the honours and Man-o-war emptied bundles of cash onto the heap on the floor. The men cheered. Rotimi was smiling and shaking his head.
“Oya, go and bring them,” the host told his boy.
The thug marched off and a little while later, through the double doors we had come through, Mama strolled majestically into the room. Behind her, in heels and nothing else, a string of lepa girls followed, walking like models. Wait o! They were models! I recognised the first one, from a billboard, then the next, then the next!
Mama stepped aside and gestured for the girls to continue. They walked in a neat row down the middle of the room, sashaying to cheers and stares. They were hot. They were all shaved, their hairs were done and not one of them looked at the money.
Man-o-war held a Ghana-must-go bag open for Mama. She reached inside and fetched white T-shirts which she handed out to the models. The girls slipped into the T-shirts as bottles of Eva water were passed round to the men. A moment later I learnt what the water game was.
No one gave the command to begin but the instant music started playing and the girls started dancing the men charged at them pouring and sprinkling water at them.
A sick kind of laugher filled the room. The men were like boys playing a schoolyard game that made them ecstatic. I searched through them for Rotimi; he didn’t have a bottle of water. I looked at Mama, her eyes were bloodshot and she had somehow managed to find another bottle of Moët & Chandon which she was now gurgling from.
This strange mad frenzy continued, with servants handing fresh bottles of water to men turned to boys, until the water ran out. The girls kept dancing throughout, wet from their hair to their toes.
The music died and the dancing stopped. The men grumbled and the girls wiped water from their faces.
Uncle China took the floor and clapped for the girls.
“Oya, who is the winner?” he said, and a few men pointed and shouted their preferences. A particularly buxom girl seemed to be the favourite.
The girls pulled their wet T-shirts tight against their bodies showing off the outlines of their breasts. Nipples peeped teasingly.
Uncle China went from girl to girl asking his guests if she was the winner. The girl on display would then turn left and right, throw in a wiggle or two and hope for the loudest cheer. It all felt so unreal.
It was the turn of a yellow girl I recognized as the face of something or the other. She stepped out of the line of girls and did an ass-popping number that sent the already excited men wild all over again. She tuned round and went down low, exposing the crack of her bum to me. I was suddenly disgusted. Not at her, I’d do more than that for that pile of money on the floor - I assumed the money was for the winner – but I suddenly took great exception to men of means making us debase ourselves for their sick amusement and for money that to them was nothing. Why can’t you just give the girl the money? You can throw it on the floor, so it’s nothing to you, why not just help her and give it to her? Why must she expose herself and have water poured over her and fuck your lazy old cock that needs Viagra and 15 minutes to work?
I picked up my purse and stood up. It was time to leave. Uncle China saw me and shook his head. I stood there long enough for him to get back into the swing of his debauched party then I walked away from the madness with my head held high.
Downstairs I realised I didn’t have a ride home and Okadas do not operate inside VGC so getting to the gate where I’d find a bus or a taxi to take me home was going to be a long thing. I was still contemplating my next move when Rotimi caught up with me.
“Not your kind of thing?” he asked.
I turned to him, half glad to see him and half angry that he’d been there - he was one of them, looking at those girls like that.
“No,” I answered, sounding a little more angry than I intended to.
“I knew from the moment I saw you that you’re not one of them,” he said.
I looked squarely into his eyes wondering how best to respond.
“No, I’m not,” I said, “they are models; me, I’m just a prostitute.”
He tried to laugh at what he thought was sarcasm.
“I came here to fuck your friend. I didn’t know he had a party. I am a prostitute. I sell my body for money. I’m a student, my mother doesn’t have money. I sleep with men for money, and if you have some I will sleep with you too. Are you happy?”
And with that I left. I banged on the gate till a security man rushed to open it for me. Rotimi didn’t call my name. He didn’t run after me. I stepped outside and started walking in the direction I thought led to VGC gate.