He has told the fifteen year old prostitute that he doesn’t want to see her again. She won’t listen. She has chased him all over the cheap hotels of Rio de Janeiro. His love, she insists, is all she needs. What does a fifteen year old girl know about love?
Two weeks have gone like this, going to the port to inspect the machines that will be shipped to Nigeria once he gave his I-say-so at sunrise and returning to a different hotel, a different room to find her already there at night. The same questions – ‘How did you find me? What do you want?’
Always the same answer, ‘You.’
And he would remind her of her age but she will counter his point with and-you-are-twenty for she had seen it in his documents on their first night together. And so he would be forced to beg her to leave him for the sake of his integrity, for the sake of his job, how would he explain her to his employer if he were to be reported? It wasn’t even a real job, just industrial training with a mechanical engineering equipment supply firm back home in Nigeria, this could ruin his chances of ever being retained after graduating from school. But of course, her English could only go so far, so she would be chanting ‘marry me, marry me, marry me’ louder than his gentle explanation and so he would have to abandon the room for a walk, a drink maybe.
In the bulb-lit streets of Rio he sees dreams. The streets are warmed by the dreams of deprived children. A rush of wind at the rush of an imaginary Ferrari. Giggles of big-eyed, lighter skinned invisible girls that tickle the air. A thunderous applause from the ocean. A whiff of vanilla. What was the time? The first person he asked would lead him to another, then to a bar he has never been to before. He had found the fifteen year old prostitute in just such a bar as this.
He looks at the dancing girls and sees his problems. Somebody has given him some sort of vodka. As he tells the bottle his problems until its volume shrinks. Alcohol is an unstable thing. He saves the palaver of the fifteen year old girl for last but the bottle finishes before he can exhaust half of his list, he needs another one.
Why did he start drinking? Yes, that’s a good problem to exhume, as the prostitute reminds him every encounter, he is only twenty, after all. What drives a twenty year old boy to grow an iron liver?
By now everyone has dropped pretence; the bar has become a club, the bartenders now speak only in Portuguese, the girls now cling closer to the boys and themselves. The tourist must now spend money. He had always tried to save it, which was why he lodged in a cheap hotel. That was why that first night he picked a fifteen year old girl.
Or perhaps he did because he wanted to know what being with a female close to his age would feel like. He had been sleeping with a forty-nine year old woman with the key to his future. He had walked into her office in Maitama five months ago, a virgin with a failing degree. Her firm didn’t take students for industrial training; they only made exceptions for students with second class upper and above. He was third class so far. She gave him his CV and thanked him for his bravery. He could see it then, as the doors of her office were about to shut on him forever that she was the only one who could save him from a deprived future. He groveled, called her ‘mummy’ – an appellation that scarcely fell out of his mouth ever since he lost his parents in a car crash. He promised to do anything she wanted. Extra lessons for her children. Her laundry for free. She chuckled behind his CV and asked if he was really a Tiv man.
He said yes. He was born and bred in Benue State; he had never been outside of Nigeria before. When she made her intentions clear he found himself begging again, that he was still a virgin and she laughed, still behind his CV. ‘So you bleed every month? You have your hymen intact?’
She gave him her long term plan for his future after the first time in her sheets. She had requested his statement of result from his department, he would barely make it to second class lower by graduation but with her, this was no problem at all, there were a dozen universities in the UK that offered pre-master programs and after his masters he could go for a PHD. She had only one cardinal rule; no messing about with other girls.
This is why his boss cannot know about the fifteen year old girl. This why she cannot know about Sister Margaret in his campus fellowship choir. This is why she must not know about Corper Stella, his neighbor in the off-campus apartment his boss had rented him in Makurdi. He had promised fidelity to his savior but ended up between the laps of other women trying to cleanse himself of her, her worn flesh from the firmaments of his mind. And these other women, reluctant at first would not let him go. He had not considered himself physically attractive, for some reason orphans do not have time for vanity. Till his boss had him he hadn’t considered his virginity to be anything of value, he was too poor to afford friends that would laugh at him for still being ‘fresh blood.’ Now the store in suburban Makurdi could only survive by the meager sums he sent to his grandma every month. She was getting sicker and sicker and whenever he insisted on the phone that she went to the hospital she would say in their native Tiv ‘leave me, oh, me that I am dead body, worry for yourself eh, you still have years ahead of you. If you want to make me happy find one girl that would give me grandchildren.’ And they would break into laughter on either ends of the line, but he would be reminded how sorely he needed this job.
His musings with the bottle carry on seamlessly into his dreams. He is not done with them by morning. Morning in Rio always finds him in some bar. Anywhere but with the fifteen year old girl. Once at the feet of Jesus. He never returns to the same hotel.
He finds the hotel he has entered this morning is the first one he lodged in when he came here. He has exhausted all the cheap hotels in Rio. The receptionist chuckles at the sight of him. Rumors of the fleeing tourist and the persistent prostitute have kept tongues wagging in Portuguese. People now say ‘as persistent as a Brazilian prostitute.’ He doesn’t pay attention to the cheery yellow man, just collects the keys with one hand and nurses his aching head with the other. Orders for his box to be sent up to his room. Like the prostitute, it has been chasing him all over Rio.
After a shower he stands naked to study this body these women can’t live without, to wonder what mystery lay beneath his flesh. A pastor had told him his problem was in the water, marine spirits resided in places near water and possessed him, inspiring lust in women. Wasn’t Makurdi by the banks of the great River Benue? Wasn’t Rio near the Atlantic Ocean? The pastor advised that he moved to Abuja once he returned to Nigeria and invited him to their church in Wuse for a special deliverance service. He had slammed the phone down in anger that day.
Now in this mirror bathing him, probing him with reflected sunlight, he finds he doesn’t belong to himself. He belongs to his boss, those women and alcohol. He pulls on his boxer shorts, walks out of the room to the patio and stares at the beach. He has seen laborers with cement blocks at the construction site of a new hotel on the painted street of Rue Primiero de Janeiro; maybe they’ll need an extra hand. Or maybe he’ll hunt these public schools all over the city for vacancy. The adult classes would need English teachers to prepare them for the World Cup coming up in a few months time. He’ll find a temporary place to lodge in, no more hotels. He’ll move deeper into the heart of Brazil after a month, after the manhunt for a fleeing Nigerian would have resolved into an unfortunate tale about a missing foreigner. Then grow out his hair and beard, get new clothes, get a phone with the cheapest international call rates to his grandma in Nigeria, wire all his Nigerian money to her and tell her of his mandatory one year program abroad. She wouldn’t dare die while he was so far away, she’ll wait for him.
When the prostitute saunters into the room at dusk she finds his clothes and documents intact, but he is gone.
TJ Benson is a short story writer, creative photographer and Spaghetti enthusiast whose works have appeared in online and print journals like Kalahari Review, Munyori Journal, the 14th issue of sentinel magazine, Paragram Uk, Contemporary literary review India and more recently Transition Magazine. He has completed a collection of photography and poetry titled ‘Self’, a collection of prose-poetry and parables ‘The Devils Music’, A collection of afro-sci-fi stories titled ‘We Won’t Fade into Darkness’ and is currently at work on a novel ‘The Madhouse’.