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The cover of Work Naija: The Book of Vocations anthology. Design by Michael E. Umoh.

On 30 June, we published Work Naija: The Book of Vocations, an anthology of writing and visual art that explores the idea of work. Edited by Otosirieze Obi-Young and introduced by Rotimi Babatunde, it is the second anthology in the Art Naija Series. We are republishing a few pieces from it.

*

Brothels are built with bricks of Religion.

—William Blake.

WE COME from the dead darkness of Regina Caeli Junction into the loudness of the three-way intersection that strides Cofi Road. Lights from buildings draw broken lines, putting an end to the long tail of darkness. It has an ironical way of echoing: “God is light, devil is the dark.” Adjacent to this road are two churches sitting side by side like quiet judges. The road spreads widely, accentuating variegated poses of too many girls in too little clothes. It’s 12 a.m. and they are Awka Sex-workers of Cofi Road.

My plan is to dress to be them. But even my gown that is several inches shorter than me, selected after hours of rummaging, supposed to make me belong, ratted on me. Maybe it’s its blackness in this place where colours battle and different songs play too loud that I wonder how the girls hear the pssssst! that follow their shaking breasts and buttocks. I can’t even hear the kor-kor sound of my long heel hit the tarred road. None of the girls is wearing long heels. That is one question I forgot to find an answer for. Do you feel the heels will intimidate your customers? But the answer is in the way the girls are dressed in beat-down but quite colourful wears. Wears including short shorts, too slim sleeveless tops, excessively short tight gowns, everything too showy, too exposed so that only their shadows shelter their nudities. A stare will fire your desire and fan off your virtue. Yet they are not glamorous. Maybe because they are not here to intimidate, but to please. Maybe because what they wear is enough for the customers—no other person is considered. Maybe because what they wear are work-clothes. Never mind that they don’t work in these work-clothes.

I am walking with Kudi. We walk like we are doing census. The girls are grains. They far outnumber the twelve joints too engaged with music and men and women. Kudi says hello to one. She reeks of power, would later tell me her name is Plecious. I doubt if her name is Precious. She stammered before producing this name. Yet when the name falls from her mouth, what I hear is Plecious. Lambdacism. For now, she ignores us. But Juliet doesn’t. Not friendly either. She asks Kudi why he dey hello am? Dis wan you carry na stone? Kudi asks her if she is into threesomes. She masticates and grinds her gum too actively like its bone, looks away. We leave the runway.

We enter one of the joints, the one walled by a yellow tarpaulin and Davido’s voice. An attendant comes to our white plastic table. He walks past me and stops before Kudi, bends towards Kudi’s ears, shouts with his hands and lips. He wants to know what we will want to have.

Opposite our table a girl stands from the midst of three men. She leaves, returns with another. One of the men sips beer with his legs apart, shifts his blue plastic chair. The girl smiles too obviously as she pulls another chair very close to him. Her smiles are wider as the man holds her fleshy arms and whispers into her ears. The two men begin to dance, spray money and play with the girls like here is the bedroom. The third man still sits, sips his beer, nodding to the Wizkid song playing. There are other women behind and I wonder why they sit alone. Later, Precious would tell me that they hunt for girls too. But not every female sex-worker is ready to sleep with a woman. Except the right kind of money is involved.

Kudi leaves to meet the girls outside, like a customer. I don’t observe the cars parked before the joint till a mighty stomach comes out from the green Mercedes, trousers unbuckled. Then a bald old man stands to handle the trousers. He is followed swiftly by a young girl. The man enters the joint, joins the men and women who are now saying, “Welcome, welcome, Dike.” His partner, the girl, joins other girls to ask for more.

The girls don’t only fear STDs and STIs; they fear ritualists. Kudi tells me this as he sits, says he talked to the attendant too who tells him of this fine girl that disappeared. A few days later, a headless girl was seen in a bush. But now most of the girls wear juju; it helps them detect bad people.

“Did you ask the girls about the juju?” I ask.

“I only bargained prices na, like a customer. Most of the girls start from 10K to 7K, then 5K.There’s a quickie. 3K.”

PLECIOUS

A MAN comes from behind and holds her butt. I observe how she takes the hands off, shakes her head and left hand. I come close, hear her telling someone to come pick her from where she stands near the high tension. I believe this call till Kudi tells me later that she had been making the same come-pick-me-from-near-the-high-tension call when he approached her. As she talks to me, there’s this thing she does with her hands like she wants them to be her witnesses, especially when she says she is a student at Igbariam, says she needs money to sort out issues before NYSC. I ask her how many customers she can have in a day.

“It depends. It depends.”

Been with a woman?

She smiles. The bright light from an opposite joint reflects on her white teeth, opposes her black skin. I ask her if a customer has ever said nice things about her smile. She ha-ha-ha-s.

“Hope you protect—”

“Some men come and cry like you are Jesus. They’re not nice, they don’t say nice.”

“I hope you protect yourself?” I ask again. She bends towards a passing car, waves. The way she uses her hands, her body parts, she knows her body is power.

“Some old people wey get money o no like condom.” I don’t know why she switches to pidgin.

“Any brothel around?”

“We get homes.”

Breeze blows. It parrots my next question on how they cope during rainy seasons. Precious says business is better at cold times, except if it’s raining. Then she gets a hotel room, agrees with the manager from genesis. The manager sends customers, gets some cut. The manager can also help her with a lodger who wants romance.

It’s 2:16 a.m. when we leave. I don’t know why I forgot to ask of juju; maybe Precious’ juju made me forget to remember. Or maybe it’s her smile like the country is her own. A free country with no bad history.

Download: Work Naija: The Book of Vocations

 

About the Author:

Adachioma Ezeano is finishing up a postgraduate course in English Literature at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka where she researches on Female Dependence in African Fiction. She teaches English Language and Literature. In 2014, she conducted a short story competition for secondary school students in Enugu State. She has two reviews in 9jafeminista, another in Critical Literature Review, and flash fictions in Deyu African and elsewhere. In 2014, she participated in Writivism.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, an academic, literary journalist, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Transition, and in an anthology of the Gerald Kraak Award for which he was shortlisted. His work has further been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2016 and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop. He is the curator of the ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016), focuses on cities in Nigeria. The second, WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. He studied History and Literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is currently completing a postgraduate programme in African Studies, and teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. He has completed a collection of short stories, YOU SING OF A LONGING, and is working on a novel. He is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. When bored, the boy just Googles Rihanna.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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