A wise man once said the only constant thing in life is change. But that man forgot about another constant – Pain. Pain is constant but varied. There is a hierarchy of suffering. However, whoever is in charge of the rankings is yet to publish it. So every man carries his pain assuming it’s the worst kind and in the case of a conceited fellow, the best kind. Omotinne arrived at Madam Venice’s doorstep with a lot of baggage and luggage. She arrived with a righteous indignation inflated by educated lower middle class experiences in Nigeria. Her bubble would soon be burst.
The first few weeks of Omotinne’s stay at Madam Venice’s was hell. It didn’t take long for Omotinne to realise that there was no league of the oppressed. Every man was for himself. The other girls had already established a system. There were seven of them in this house. Omotinne observed as the other girls deferred to Amaka.
Amaka was a victim of abuse. Her batterer was life itself. Amaka had been born with a hole in her heart. A condition that would send her parents tumbling down the stairs of poverty. A fact they constantly reminded her of. Amaka had been working as a sales girl at a bar one of Mama Venice’s boys constantly patronized. He didn’t have to work her for too long. She was almost a willing victim. What was she picking in Nigeria anyway? It seemed that the fact that Amaka had had a difficult life prepared her for all the indignities of prostitution, she did her job with a vigour none of the other girls possessed. Coupled with her devil-may-care attitude, she came prepared.
Mama Venice the ever astute business woman recognized the established hierarchy and used it to her advantage. Amaka was her eyes and her ears in the ring. She was the one who knew when a girl was getting tipped extra by clients. She knew when a girl was talking too much to anyone. She knew when a girl was no longer prostituting but now making love.
It also didn’t take long for Omotinne to realise she had had an easy ride in. The other girls initially tried to help her settle in but soon grew impatient when she wouldn’t accept her new life
“You are here crying like a bush baby. No be aeroplane carry you come Italy? What of those of us that crossed the sea and almost died to get here only to start another sufferhead. Do you know how hot a desert is? Have you had to survive on your own urine. How many times were you raped before entering this land. How many people did you watch die of thirst and hunger?”
“My boyfriend tell me say he don help me find house girl work for here. Say the people wey employ me go pay for my visa and everything. I get here na prostitute he dey make me do. Until I pay Madam Venice every kobo wey in use carry me con here with interest.”
“My sister don’t come here and be thinking your own is the worst. Wait till another person opens their mouth. My own brother use me as collateral for moni wey him borrow. When im no pay back, Mama Venice bring me con here to work for the money wey my brother collect. After she don sell my kidney for Libya.”
“Na different way them take carry everybody. Shebi them tell me say with 50k they fit help me arrange travel for Europe and job na in I follow them come”
The other girls laugh
“Na stupidity and greed kill una. How you sef go wan take 50k travel come obodo oyinbo”
“My sister na ignorance”
“Abegi you no dey hear about all these scams for radio and tv. No be ignorance, na greed kill una.”
“We hear the jingles my sister but we hoped that wouldn’t be our portion”
“You that you are here didn’t you hear the jingle abeg madam I-too-know no start today.” Amaka said with a sneer, sending every one of them tumbling down their momentary high horses.
“My own is different.” Omotinne wanted to say to them all. But she didn’t know how it would seem to the other girls who had almost perished on the Mediterranean.