“The invasion took Haraya by surprise. We could not protect ourselves; it was so unexpected. One day, a beautiful garden of Eden and the next, a war-wracked city. Years later, we found out the truth. Our Ekoki neighbors on the east helped the invaders; jealous of God’s constant grace over us.” Elder John, the parish’s oldest, said and shook his withered head, bending as he concentrated on the floor.
Gerald sat next to him on a pew after an evening service, trying to understand what happened to Wilderness.
“Foreigners invaded Haraya, once secured by the beautiful mountains, which protected her and our neighboring communities. The Otuma people in the north-the desert dwellers, accessed the land they could not enter before the invasion. Created by God as thieves and liars, we knew them for what they are- desecrators of lands. They leave everywhere they touch wretched.” Elder John turned to Gerald looking him in the eye, “beware the Otuma people, son, do not deal with them.”
Gerald nodded in solemn agreement.
Elder John looked away and forward, as if he was watching the story play out in front of him again. “Over time, our land of forests, lush vegetation, and loving families changed. Like the foreigners who invaded us, we turned greedy. Our people became corrupt and self-serving, forgetting the reason for the peace we enjoyed, but the corruption didn’t start after the invasion. No, it started before; small and festering like an ugly wound.
“The people of Ekuma in the west were aware of the change in Haraya. Our pastor is from there, you know, Pastor Josh.” The elder said, pointing to the pastor’s office. “They appear high and mighty, like white-washed sepulchers. We called them our sister community and enjoyed inter-marriage and good trading relationships with them. Now, Ekuma strains to touch us from afar; treating us like lepers, not wanting to be tainted with the degenerative effect of the invasion.” Elder John spat on the floor of the church, and Gerald wondered if the act did not desecrate the house of God.
“Ekuma stayed safe and content in their land; buffing up their security to keep out foreigners. They kept their children innocent and religious, and their church bells ringing, while we suffered. Ahhh…” He waved his hand with force as if he swatted away an errant fly.
“Our poor lived off the land. Farming, hunting, doing menial work, and serving the rich. We, the underprivileged, couldn’t beat the system, and couldn’t join either.” Elder John said and remained silent for a while, looking off into space. Gerald waited in hope. The story couldn’t have ended.
The Elder shook himself, as if coming out of sleep. “In 1969, it became clear the government would care for some areas, not all. The reports submitted to the people stated that because of the dearth of resources from the land, the government could no longer support the maintenance of specific communities.
“They provided management incentives for the community heads to enable them to manage themselves. The rich supported their residential and business sites, while the poor communities remained in squalor. In the end, Wilderness, called Zion, degenerated.
Elder John smiled. “A peaceful place, once home to prayer warriors and God-seekers who gathered to worship and seek God’s face for Haraya. The first government-appointed Community leader wept as he changed the name to what it is now, but in hope.”
Gerald went to bed that night, understanding in part God’s heart for Wilderness. The next day, as he walked the streets, he took a position over Wilderness. He passed dilapidated buildings, children meant to be in school hawking their mothers’ goods, and he prayed.
Gerald continued to pray and speak the word of God as he passed the brothel. Men hurried out after a night with girls who did not understand. He also prayed for the girl, God’s choice for him, and walked faster.
Back at the parish, he laid Wilderness before God, Zion, and spoke to his father in heaven about the time for its restoration.
On the next Thursday, at noon, Gerald prepared to go visiting. He changed twice, nervous. Frustrated, he looked around and stopped at his reading table; his bible lay on it. Gerald smiled at himself and knelt where he stood in worship.
“I’m sorry I act so unrighteous, Father. Thank you for the opportunity to do your will. You sent me to her. Help me choose what to wear and what to say. Help me stand as your priest and king in this matter. Open her eyes to you and not to me. I exalt you over today’s meeting in Jesus’ name.”
He stood and walked to the wardrobe, opened it, and as he flipped past clothes, he spotted his favorite black t-shirt, hanging on a pair of blue jeans. He took them out. Once dressed, peace settled over him like a warm shroud on a chilly night. His mission was all about God and designed by God, and he found rest.
The question was, would she remember him the way he remembered her? It flashed past, wanting to nag, but he smiled, looking up.
“That’s why I got you, Father. Thank you.”
Winners’ lane bustled with people. Most of the residents were small-time farmers, traders, and of course, the area boys, who milled about transacting their kind of business. People hustled until almost midnight each day.
Gerald got out of the taxi and closed his eyes, maintaining his place before God in his mind. Unsure what to do next, he stood in the same spot until someone tapped his shoulder from behind. He turned, and three young men stood behind him, their identities undeniable. The one with a scar moved closer.
“What are you looking for, butter boy?”
Gerald looked around and, seeing no one available to help, left his fate to God. “I’m here for someone.”
Alpha wagged a condemning finger in Gerald’s face. “Who are you looking for in the ghetto? You boys are here again to use our girls’ and run? Boys, beat him.” Alpha said, as he hissed and turned. One of the younger boys kicked Gerald’s leg, and he went down. Another boy lifted his leg to kick Gerald in another part of his body he knew would hurt when they all heard someone shout.
“Snake, this is another one. Leave us so we can finish him.” Alpha said, his tone quiet.
Gerald tried to turn from Alpha to the owner of the voice, whose heels clicked rhythmically on the once tarred road. Her form appeared before him; her face was not in his line of vision. The pain robbed him of breath, and the will to move.
“Help him up.” She said.
Gerald yelped as pain shot up his leg on his way up. He gritted his teeth as he looked up, and his eyes widened. It was her.
She looked at him, with her head cocked to the side, eyes almost in slants. “Aren’t you a pastor? What are you doing here on a Thursday?” She said and folded her arms, waiting.
“I came to visit someone.”
Amara smiled. “You did? One of the girls catch your fancy?”
Gerald nodded. “Yes, you did.”
Amara’s smile fell off her face like a curtain falling off a wall.
“Boys, I’ll deal from here.” She said and turned to Alpha, her meaning clear. He nodded and gestured for the others to leave with him. They left Gerald, dropping the support they offered, and he staggered a little before he regained his balance. The pain forcing tears.
Amara looked at him with a half-smile. “I’m sorry, but I don’t attend to customers anymore. I can recommend some girls you might like. Someone like you would like them young and supple, or are you one of those deep ones who doesn’t care about age or size, as long as they are women?” She said, a wry smile on her face.
Gerald met her gaze, no expression in his. “If you won’t listen to me, I leave.”
Amara walked around him. Once she stood before him again, she said, “Come.”
Gerald followed her into the brothel and straight to the bar area, walking with a limp. When they got to the bar, Amara walked in and gestured with her hand to a seat.
“So, on our way to the bar, none of the girls caught your attention?” She asked and turned to him.
Gerald shook his head. “I need some water, please.”
Amara nodded and called to the barman for water. “They will serve you water. I need to talk to our madam about your request. Give me ten minutes.”
She left him there, not waiting for a reply. Someone walked from the window area towards him. He recognized the girl who introduced herself as Nma the last time. She sheathed her body in a short dress. Gerald expected a lot of men paid her the attention she craved.
She stood before him. “Hello again. I hoped you would come with Josh yesterday. I missed you.”
“Do you always call him Josh?” He asked.
Nma smiled. “I call him Pastor Josh to his face. What do I call you, Pastor Gerald?”
“No, I’m no pastor. I’m assisting Pastor Josh.”
“Well, Assistant,” she said, moving between his legs and sitting on the painful one. “Let me show you a good time.” She said, as she massaged his head.
Gerald gritted his teeth to stop the yelp, which almost escaped his lips. He got up with a wince and moved her body to the next seat. The strength of her perfume could give him nasal injuries.
He smiled at her. “Thank you for the offer. Quite a perfume, strong and catchy. I’m here for the lady who brought me to the bar. I’ll wait for her if you don’t mind.”
Nma looked down and then up at him, presenting him with a smile, which didn’t quite reach her eyes, and fake lashes.”I’m always available, honey. This body and the perfume are yours for free. All you need to do is ask, anytime.” She stood and twerked away, while he sat down again to wait, not noticing.
Amara walked back into the room, looking at him with her customised slight head tilt. “My name is Amara. Our boss asked me to introduce Nma, who just left you as the last alternative. What’s wrong with her?”
“Nothing is wrong with her or any other woman here. I’m here to talk to you.”
She moved closer to him. “Look at me,” she said, trailing a hand over her body from shoulder to hips. “What can’t another woman give you?”
Gerald’s mouth dropped open, a slight opening. Was she flirting with him? “I want you,” he said. Once the words passed his lips, he realized his mistake and shook his head. He tried again. “I’m here to talk to you, I mean.”
Amara leaned into him. “Are you here to pick my brain about the pros and cons of prostitution?”
Gerald sighed. “Can we go somewhere private where we can talk?”
Amara smiled. “If I go anywhere with you, you pay, whether we study scripture or know each other.”
She turned and walked away. “Follow me.”
They exited the bar and Amara turned left, moving down the hallway. She stopped in front of a door, opened it, and stepped in. Gerald followed her and halted at the entrance. It was a separate world from the one in the brothel. It reminded Gerald of the Alice story.
He stepped in and from the soft scent of incense to the cleanly painted walls and sparse furnishing, Amara’s other side was clear. The decor looked simple but well thought through. Gerald relaxed, impressed.
“Sit,” she called out from behind the curtain.
He sat on the chair and looked at the odd items on her table. Madame Bovary, the Penguin version, lay near a tablet placed face down. He looked at her and back at the table. Did they belong to her?
She stepped out from behind the curtain, carrying a sealed bottle of water and a glass tumbler on a tray. She placed them beside Gerald and sat on the bed, looking at him.
Gerald smiled. “Are you reading Madame Bovary?”
Looking at the book, she smiled and nodded, “have you read it?”
“No. Do you read often?”
“Any chance I get. Some of my loyal customers own library cards. With their help, I can borrow books from the Library in the Central whenever I want. However, I don’t think we are here to discuss reading, are we?”
Gerald liked her straight-forward manner. “No, we are not. Just to talk.” He said with a smile.
“Sure, as long as we don’t talk about God.”
He nodded. “Fair enough.”
He remained quiet for a while as he prayed about his opening.
“You are on the clock, man of God,” she said, looking at the clock hanging on the wall.
“I knew you as a child.” He began.
Amara laughed. “Not possible. We are from different worlds.”
“Some years ago, you saved me in front of your mother’s shop from some young boys who threatened to beat the devil out of me,” he said, smiling. “Your mother gave me money for transport, and you made sure I got home safe. I never forgot the incident. Do you remember?”
Amara turned away, as if in thought. When she turned back, her expression was blank. “I don’t, but how are you sure I am the girl from your past?”
Gerald looked at the mark on the side of her face.
“Oh, the mark,” she said, nodding.
Gerald bent his head in disappointment, thinking of the next thing to say. He planned the story of his salvation at her hands as his starter.
“How is your mother?”
“I understand your comment about the separate worlds we come from, but are we all not similar underneath?” he asked.
Amara laughed, long and loud. “Similar? Did you say similar? Where did you go to school?” She asked.
“In London and Switzerland.”
“My complete education, or the lack of it, stopped on these streets. So, please do not insult me by comparing us. How long are you paying for?”
“How much is the charge for an hour?”
“Why would you be paying for an hour? What are we talking about?” She asked, and when he kept looking at her, she continued, “the cost for an hour of my time is 5000 haras.”
“Isn’t that steep?” He asked.
The sides of her lips turned up. “What, for a prostitute? No, I warned you to choose someone else. This prostitute does not work anymore, a fact I spelled out to you. When I do work, I do not come cheap. So, can you pay Mr.?”
“My name is Gerald, and yes, I will pay, and keep paying.”
Amara looked at him, leaning forward as if to ask a question, but leaned back again.
“Am I boring you?” He asked.
“Your money, your headache, Mister; however, I can teach you a little about pleasure.” She said, leaning forward again and moving close to his seat. “Listen, if your conscience is the problem here, don’t worry. God doesn’t come this far. I promise you pleasure you’ve never experienced before. What do you say?” she asked, smiling.
He smiled, covering the heavy, steady thump of his heart, and picked the book. “What books do you like?”
She sighed, moving back into the bed. “I like mystery, sci-fi, and erotica to keep me updated.” She said and smiled again, her look intense.
He nodded, standing up. He was uncomfortable, and it was moving to a level 10 mark. “How long has this session been?”
She looked at her bedroom clock. “Thirty minutes, give or take.”
“May I transfer the amount for an hour to your account?”
She smiled. “Why not?”
She provided her account details while he made the transfer on his phone. He showed her the success notification and turned towards the door. She got down from the bed and followed him. She bumped into him as he turned to speak to her, and he held her hand to steady her.
“I will keep coming here for you. I want to understand what happened to the girl who saved my life.” He said, looking into her eyes.
She removed her hand from his and turned away. “If she is the reason you are coming here, don’t bother. The girl you remember died and went to hell. It will be difficult for me to attend to you again. As I told you earlier, the madam of this place wants me to stop work.”
“Then, may I take you out sometime?”
“For what reason? Do you like me?” She asked, looking into his eyes.
He nodded, looking back at her.
She looked away. “Well, I don’t like you. You church types think we are here waiting for you to come and save us.” She looked back at him, her eyes narrowed, a bit of anger flashing. “Newsflash, this one is ready for hell. I’m waiting for the bus, if the accursed place exists.” She went back to her bed, gesturing for him to leave with her hand.
Gerald looked in the pocket of his jeans for a pen and the small notepad he always carried. He wrote his name, address, and phone number. He tore the page out and placed it under the book, where she would find it.
“I will visit you again. I am neither here to transform you, only God can, nor am I here out of gratitude. You are a major part of my life. If you gave up on God, God did not give up on you. He will always love you, accept it. Take care.”
He left her room, not turning back as he limped into the street. His body’s response to her shocked him. Gerald took his time with women, getting to know them before desire built up. He wondered whether the sudden need resulted because of her location and work. He needed help with this one as sure as the night came after the day.
Gerald went to a bookstore the next morning and bought books in the genres she had mentioned, but no erotica. He asked the Holy Spirit for help with his purchases and took the books straight to the brothel in the taxi he hired.
Amara stood outside the brothel, talking to the same area boys when Gerald arrived. He got out of the cab and waited for her to finish. Alpha nudged her, nodding towards him, and she turned. She looked at him and the bag in his hand and turned back to the group, not saying a word. He waited. Five minutes later, the discussion group separated. Amara walked up to him and stood, not speaking. Gerald smiled as he lifted the bag of books in his hand. “I brought books.”
Amara looked at the bag and back at him, not saying anything.
“Can we go somewhere to talk?” He asked.
“What makes you think I want to talk to you? You might be one of those crazy people whose madness is not yet full-blown.”
Gerald laughed. “Come on.”
She turned away from him for some seconds and turned back. “To take me out, you will double the money for my time. Is it alright with you?”
He would pay her from his foreign account after today; he didn’t have enough in their local currency to continue transacting with her. “Sure, why not? Where to?”
She smiled at him and asked for five minutes.
Ten minutes later, they sat in a taxi headed towards a cafe outside Wilderness. The location looked a little different from Wilderness but appeared cleaner and saner.
Gerald raised a brow when they got there, following Amara to the counter where they placed their coffee orders. Gerald ordered black coffee, while Amara ordered a Macchiato, before they went to find seats.
Amara looked at the bag in his hand. “Did you bring me anything?”
“I told you I bought books for you.”
Amara smiled at him. It transformed her face, making her look younger. Gerald smiled back; grateful his purchases elicited such a reaction. He handed her the bag, observing her face as she took out the six books he bought her, one after the other, and read the blurbs.
A server brought their coffee and left.
She looked up. “Thank you. Do not pay double today; I am so pleased.”
“I’m happy too.” Gerald said, praising God.
Amara sighed. “I wish I had friends who read. My dream has always been to read with people. Are you acquainted with any reading groups?”
Gerald shook his head at the question before a thought crossed his mind. “I am not aware of any such groups, but even if I did, you would read their choice for the period, not yours. So, what if I become your reading partner?”
“Do you like to read?” She asked.
“Yes, I picked books written by my favorite authors for you. What do you say?”
“Well, I don’t want to waste your time or anything, but if you insist.” She said, smiling at him.
Gerald nodded. “How do we go about our reading?”
He smiled as she tilted her head. “We’ll need to meet often. Is three times a week too much?” she asked.
“Perfect. You can add more days.”
Amara smiled, her eyes widening. “Do you mean it? What if I said five days a week?”
Amara pumped the air with her fist. “Yes! What time every day would do? I am good at noon, and we can read or discuss the book for an hour.”
Gerald nodded, drinking his coffee. “It works for me, as well. When do we start?”
“How about tomorrow? I will not hold you to the agreement on the payment we discussed.” She smiled. “I’m not supposed to take money from you, but a girl has got to eat. So, you will pay me the hourly rate?”
“Fine, I understand. We start tomorrow?”
Amara nodded, drinking her coffee, and looking at the books again. She picked one and gave it to him. “Why don’t we start with this one? I like the storyline. Do you have a copy?”
He looked at the book and noted the name. “No, but I can get it. Where do we meet for our discussions?”
“This place is alright. I know the owners, and I am comfortable. Is it convenient for you?”
Amara leaned forward. “Why me?”
Gerald leaned back into the comfort of his seat.
She continued her queries. “Why are you interested in me? Why not a younger girl, smarter or among your class?” She stayed in position, watching his face.
He leaned forward, close to her. “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you, but please trust this; everything I do with you is with a sound mind. I want us to be friends, and not because you saved me all those years ago. I promise you, the more we meet, the more you will know me, and I hope you will want to relate with me as well.”
She looked like she wanted to say something but thought against it, as she tilted her head to the side, still watching him. Looking down at the book, she smiled as she continued to drink her coffee. Gerald shook his head at the wisdom of God.