The clientI met him at club Fly So Fly where I had ceased being a butterfly having suffered a broken neck after falling head first from a stripper pole, an incidence I had seen coming- I have terrible eye-hand coordination by the way- and just like that I fell from a remunerative stripper to a mere call girl. He sat there, hunched over his drink, studying it like it held within its sparkle the solution to a profound mystery, twiddling the glass before taking a quick draw, withdrawing his lips slowly from the glass. Savoring his drink, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a phone, its brightness illuminating his face. He looked sad, aloof, like he had been forced to sit there by a power he couldn’t resist, unlike everyone else who seemed to have merged into the atmosphere of the club. He wasn’t interested in the strip entertainment on stage even as Caramel Baibe, my best friend and star attraction at Fly So Fly danced seductively before him, bending over and shaking her well-endowed posterior at his face. He neither looked up nor even acknowledged her efforts. Not a smile. Not even a note tucked on her G-string. There was an edge of enigma in his very composure that drew me to him. It was like he was present and absent at the same time, the phone’s brightness bringing his face to life before the semi-darkness at the corner he sat in swallowed him, to a point I felt like he was a mere blur, a muted interruption projected to this den of debauchery. Being that it was my night off and I had come to while away time out of sheer habit, I decided to explore this enigmatic character. “Name’s Shiz,” I whispered as I slid on the seat next to his. “Shiru,” I added. The music kept playing and the ice cubes in his drink moved to the slow beat. “I haven’t seen you around you here before,” I offered. “You must be new in Mombasa,” I added, taking a sip from my glass. Caramel cartwheeled across the stage, jumping on the pole monkey-like, sliding all the way to the bottom before throwing her legs wide open like an umbrella. Men gasped and stared. Mister Enigma didn’t even venture a look like the rest, hoping to catch a glimpse of something that would set his blood boiling. I figured it was a waste of time conversing with this wall, and I slid from my seat, drifting away to my world. Suddenly, he gripped my wrist with an ice-cold hand, pulling me such that his face was looking down on me like a huge hammer about to strike, brown eyes boring into mine intensely. Even in the smoky, semi-lit room, his eyes didn’t betray any emotion. I imagined they were the kind of eyes which would perceive everything from a glass of wine, to a dying human to a blossoming flower with the same vacant look. Then, as suddenly as he had gripped me, he let me go, fishing inside his pocket to push a card in my hand. “Come to this address. Tomorrow. Nine O’clock,” and with an ill-fitting smile he turned and resumed his earlier position, thrusting me out from his cold, enigmatic halo into the warmth of the club. “Name’s Nathaniel,” he mumbled. Later on as I told Caramel about him, thoughts of my daughter’s impending cataract surgery crossed my mind. I needed the money and I thought Caramel was being histrionic by warning me against going to Nathaniel’s. “I saw his eyes, Shiz,” she said, wriggling to push her tight jeans over her thighs. “Those were not the eyes of a human being.” In retrospect, I wish I had listened to her. Nathaniel was far from being human. *** When the tuktuk dropped me at the address on the card at exactly eight-fifty-five in the evening, I smiled to myself as I observed that it was an unusually early time for a booty call. Then again, the earlier the better; I could be done with him and swing by the club to make some extra money. I didn’t imagine he would afford my all-night fee, time that I’d probably, if he did pay, spend sleeping. It was an average address tucked somewhere in Nyali away from the conundrum of traffic, covered with a warm splash of jungle-green and beige painting, a perimeter wall gathering it protectively. A mango tree towered behind it. Looking at it with its high roofs on either side, flat in the middle, it was hard to tell whether it was the house that influenced the owner’s hunched manner or vice versa. I sighed, as I reminded myself why I was there against not only Caramel’s advice but my own instincts. I had to do this, more for my daughter than myself. I came from a well-to-do family, my father being a famous pastor in Mombasa. The mere thought that a pastor’s daughter who ought to have been, by default, anointed with holiness and probably a member of the church choir waiting for a proper husband to take her virginity, had turned, to use my father’s words- to a harlot- was enough for my family to disown me. It was as if my gravitation to explore the other side of a life that my parents spat malediction at was contagious and my younger sisters would catch the Jezebel fever. My mother called it so. Religion was a deterrent to my curiosity about sexuality and the extent to which one could derive pleasure, pain or both from sex. Thoughts of not only the amalgamation of energies as two bodies met in desire but the penetration of the consciousness during love-making made me ever more curious. For my troubles, a commodious church plumber anointed my young womb with seed at seventeen, something I was too ashamed to disclose to my fastidiously religious parents. The disownment sadly included my daughter as well. Nathaniel’s presence interrupted my nostalgia. I didn’t hear him approach. He was just not there one minute and there the next. I didn’t even hear the gate opening. “You came,” he said, a smile appearing and disappearing so fast that it looked like a twitch. He led the way without as much as a welcome and I followed obediently. Something told me to turn back and leave. Half an hour later with my incredibly high pay safe in my purse and a fresh shower on his insistence, Nathaniel stood at the foot of the bed exploring my body, first with his eyes then his unusually cold fingers. He had asked me to strip and lay on the bed- a perfectly normal order for a call girl- while he remained fully dressed in a white shirt neatly tucked into gray cotton pants. His fingers felt like a huge spider crawling on my body looking for an appropriate place to build its web. It filled me with an eagerness to be explored further, a yearning to be turned into a safe which he would try to crack open with every touch. “Turn,” he said. I tried to be all sexy on him, asking him if I should unbutton his pants and show him heaven. For the pay he had given me, I’d have done anything to make it worth his while, but his stern eyes knocked the sexiness off me like a bad habit. I turned and lay on my stomach, legs slightly apart. I could feel the AC cold between my thighs. Nathaniel’s fingers were colder as they traced invisible contours on my back for minutes on end. “Sleep now,” he said, eventually. He had paid for a whole night and his order left little room for negotiation. “Another bathroom is that way, first door to the left” he added, pointing to one door as he exited through another. He didn’t sleep in the same bed with me, and while i had long familiarized myself with sleeping in beds that weren’t mine, Nathaniel was an unexpected character and thoughts of him forcing himself on me later kept me awake. I had met every imaginable character in my line of work and such incidences were wont to happen. They happen to call girls every time and we still manage to look beyond these horrors and find ourselves staring up the same faces that abuse us. I woke hours later to two surprises. One was a naked Nathaniel lying next to me with a knife pointed at my jugular. “Don’t. Move!” he whispered, edging the knife closer, supporting himself on one elbow to rise and stare more closely at my neck. His fingers pressed my throat slightly as if to quell my rising heart rate. “Do you know how easy it is to kill someone? The slightest puncture to your jugular and you bleed out in minutes. You actually feel your life departing from you.” I panicked. I asked God to forgive my evil ways and promised to never be a call girl again. Promised to even go back to my father’s house and beg, beg for forgiveness. “Did you sleep well?” he asked, turning my chin with his finger, his eyes holding my fearful ones, trance-like, before swinging his legs to get out of bed. His eyes both scared and comforted me. “Same time on Friday,” he added, placing the knife on the bedside stand as he walked out. The second surprise was the way the bed in its coziness seemed to have a life of its own; hugging me so dearly that I imagined even if Nathaniel was to intend harm upon me, the bed would protect me. I was anxious to get back to it. *** Friday evening found me outside Nathaniel’s address; a lone figure dressed in a jungle-green skirt which stopped mid-thigh, trying to be one with the perimeter wall. This time I saw him approach, fully dressed in a suit and tie as if in readiness for a business meeting. I wondered how he managed to dress this way in spite of Mombasa’s fuming night air. His rules were rather direct. I was required to take a shower before he joined me in bed. Just like the other day, he paid me as soon as I was in the house. Meeting me in the bedroom, he asked me to drop my bathrobe and remain standing. I let the robe slide down my body, covering my breasts in a show of shyness before dropping my hands. This time I hoped he’d do more than just explore my body with his fingers and eyes, and I hoped he’d do it in that addictive bed. I had waxed earlier and was certain that the nude image the discarded bath robe had peeled from was more resplendent than anything he’d ever set his eyes on. Nathaniel didn’t even show any interest as he left me standing there wondering what to do next. Closing my eyes, I imagined all sorts of things, like how he might blindfold and lead me into a chamber where he’d torture me into submission. I imagined him doing inconceivable things on my body. The AC made my skin quiver and for a moment I wanted to jump on the bed and roll myself in the white linen. “Lie on the bed,” he whispered, squeezing my shoulders with soft hands which felt warm against the cold breath of the AC panting above the window. I expected him to drop his robe and claim his money’s worth, to crawl on the bed, tear my thighs apart and do what all clients do- treat me like a piece of purchased canvas meant to absorb their desires regardless of pain and still manage to show up the next day, canvas wiped cleaned of the previous night’s horrors. I closed my eyes and the bed sucked me in; soft, sleep-inducing linen caressing my back. Nathaniel was slowly turning into a blurry image holding a tiny container from which something thick and cold was pouring on my breasts and I could feel it trace its way down my stomach, his lukewarm tongue in pursuit. The bed continued to suck consciousness out of me and the last thing I felt was a sensational mixture of the thick, cold liquid and his tongue on my inner thighs before getting lost in another dimension. I woke, probably hours later to find a naked Nathaniel holding the muzzle of a gun against my inner thigh, prodding gently. “Say if I was to fire this gun,” he said, moving it upwards to my crotch, “what are the chances of you surviving?” Silence. I heard the unmistakable click of the gun. My whole body grew cold. “And if at all you survived,” he said calmly, “would you ever be the same? Would you still offer your body like a canvas for men to paint their desires on?” A sigh escaped my mouth. How did he spell out my thoughts as if I had spoken them out aloud? Had I spoken in my sleep? Did this penetration of my consciousness include reading my unspoken thoughts? “There’s breakfast in the kitchen,” he said, getting up and placing the gun in the bedside locker. “Take as much time as you wish. See you same time tonight.” My neck had grown stiff. It was only after he had left that I managed to breath and move, drawing the white linen all over me as the bed sucked me in caringly. Minutes later as I walked from the bathroom, someone called me from behind a locked door. “Who’s there?” I asked, looking around to see whether Nathaniel was close by. “It is us,” the voice whispered. “Why are you whispering?” I whispered back. “Because we are imprisoned here.” “Imprisoned? Like abducted? And who is we?” “We are imprisoned souls and spirits.” “Nathaniel, is that you?” I asked. “Shhhh, don’t shout his name!” “Is this some lousy joke?” “It’s not. He is not who you think he is. Nathaniel…Nathaniel is a timeless spirit that thrives on holding souls hostage. He seeks immortality.” I remained quiet, not sure how to appropriately react to that. “Your soul is next,” Silence. “You are the key, the web,” “To what?” I managed to ask. “His immortality!” “Listen, I have no time for your sick jokes,” “It’s a joke until it isn’t.” Shaking my head, I turned towards the bedroom to leave. The words that were uttered next froze me. *** I was pacing in the bedroom engulfed by thoughts that I had come to the end of my line, fear numbing my left hand as the words I had heard kept echoing in my mind. Sweat kept sprouting in my palm. Intending to wear my own clothes, I found myself wrapping the bathrobe around myself tighter as my mind interpreted the effort to put on my own clothes as an overly tedious endeavor. Staring at the bed, the words came floating back in bits. “You are the key to his immortality…you are from a unique lineage…your daughter… he shall come for her and sacrifice her… you shall be forced to partake of her blood before he slits your throat…stay away from that bed, it’s the portal to his rituals…help us to help you…help us to help you…help us…” I backed away from the bed which regarded me calmly and rushed down the corridor to knock on the door whence the voices had come from. “Come in.” The room was so dark I felt like I was walking into a solid black wall. Striking the wall socket, the fluorescent tubes coughed to life to reveal an empty room with no furnishings. “Hello,” I said. “We see you, but you cannot see us.” My heart was beating in my ears and propelled by nothing else other than the fear of what I was witnessing and the thought that my daughter was in grave danger, I stumbled out of the room, ran through the corridor and collapsed into the yawning sunlight in the yard. *** I’m not certain how long I ran barefoot on the hot tarmac before I saw the security response truck parked under a shade, the uniformed driver sitting with his legs crossed on the steering wheel. I must have cut a horrific sight- a seemingly scared, sweaty, barefooted creature cutting through the tranquility of Nyali in a bath robe in spite of the heat- because he jumped from his seat like he had seen a ghost. He stared at me, minutes on end as I struggled to piece together the unbelievable story of spirits talking to me and a man who was out to get my blood. “Are you deaf?” I asked. “No. I’m trying to process your incredulous information, ma’am.” He was among the few good men I had met, and he agreed to accompany me back to the house to collect my clothes. Again, a surprise awaited me. *** My life transformed completely since that day. I ceased being a call girl. Nathaniel was by my side; has been for a year now, forever holding me trance-like in his intense stare. That day, accompanied by the security guard, we approached Nathaniel’s house only to find a shadow where the house had been, the mango tree still looming, solo. I went back and forth countless times, retracing my steps, working with the picture I had in mind of the several times I had come there. There was no way I would have been mistaken; the house had been by the road. No way. “This space has been unoccupied in years,” the guard had offered. “There was a house, once. It burnt to the ground, killing the man who owned it.” I kept muttering to myself, hoping that at any moment I’d wake from my dream. I returned later in the evening, and the morning after that, and the evening again and the only thing that changed was the direction of the shadow on the empty space. Nathaniel has become a constant feature in my life, appearing and disappearing as he wishes. My daughter’s surgery went well and Nathaniel means her no harm, thank God. He says he harnesses energy through my eyes and that one day I’ll just keel over and depart from this physical world to become one with him. Then, he says, I’ll have the power to visit the physical world as an invisible being.
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Abu Amirah is a Mombasa-based writer, and a student of Psychology. He was shortlisted for the Writivism 2016 short story prize and was mentored by Yewande Omotoso during the Writivism online mentoring program ( 2017). Having attended the Miles Morland Foundation writing workshop in Bulago, he has just finished working on his first short story anthology. His piece “Rock Bottom” won the Kalahari Review Igby prize for nonfiction in October 2017 and has also been published on Munyori journal. He does the weekly column “Swahilific: Diary of a campus girl” in Mombasa’s premier lifestyle blog www.lifeinmombasa.com. He is one of the founding editors of Hekaya Initiative.