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Sunday, 4 November 2018
The Unwanted Stranger...Flash Fiction by Bertha Mukodzani
‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’
The man clenched his jaw. He circled me as he scanned my body, examining my arms, thighs, chest and behind. This unwanted stranger, who had not uttered a single word since he slithered into my bedroom, carried himself like he owned the air I breathed. Something in his eyes and the way his mouth contorted told me I disgusted him. Why was he even here?
‘I suppose you will do,’ he finally muttered.
His voice was soft. Too soft for a man, I thought. His dull green eyes resembled the colour of frogs bundled in the corner of a riverbank. When he leaned closer, I wilted under his gaze.
‘Don’t be scared. I don’t bite.’ He grinned, the wrinkles under his eyelids deepening. The scar sliced horizontally across his forehead shifted towards his hairline.
Pivoting on my trembling legs in the middle of the room, I gathered my nerves and glared at him. ‘I am not scared, Sir.’
‘Then we have nothing to worry about,’ he said with a smile.
His teeth were flawless. Neat rows of pearly whites. From the look of his clothes, shoes and accessories, he was from a wealthy background. He looked and smelt better than the others. The kind of man who could hand out a big fat cheque without wincing. Not that it mattered or changed anything. I did not know my worth; I was not to know.
‘Nice hair,’ the man said.
I jerked my hand towards my head covered with a triumphant carpet of long, brown weave. ‘Thank you, Sir.’
Adrenaline coursed through my veins at the thought of what was coming. Even though I had spent the entire morning steeling myself for this man’s arrival, seeing him undress me with his lecherous eyes made me realise just how unprepared I was. This was indeed happening, and no pep talk would quell my anxiety.
‘This will be a quick one. I have a meeting with my boss around lunchtime. After that, another briefing with a colleague. Can you imagine? What a drag.’
It amazed me how the men Derek sent my way expected me to care about their lives. They griped and grumbled, sharing their problems as if it was part of the package. As if my grasping of their world somehow legitimised their presence. But I knew my place, so I put on my usual Oscar-winning performance.
‘I wouldn’t know, Sir, but it sounds interesting. You must be a very important man, Sir.’ I forced a smile.
Derek Thomas insisted on perfection.
Nausea rose in my stomach when the man unbuckled his belt, dropped his trousers, and laid bare what was underneath. Oh, God, why me? My chest tightened, and I struggled to breathe.
Using a blue handkerchief, the man wiped glistening sweat from his forehead and tucked a wisp of ginger hair behind his ears. ‘Don’t worry. I am a simple man. Just take your clothes off and turn around. I will be done in a jiffy, as they say.’ He gave a nervous laugh.
There was nothing simple about this man. Or any of the clients I had seen, for that matter. Hesitantly, I turned around as instructed. To my surprise, the man paused. Had he changed his mind and wanted to talk instead? Alas, my hope was in vain; he then ordered me to bend down. With fearful bewilderment rising inside me, I did as I was told and primed myself for what was coming.
Grabbing me by the waist, he thrust his manhood into me and rode me like a horse. To avoid wailing, I gritted my teeth and ignored his hot breath and the perspiration dampening the small of my back. I willed my mind to wander. Back to my childhood, living with my parents. Back to the time I used to play skip with my friends in the school playground. I imagined myself inside my mother’s kitchen, sampling her fried, pumpkin leaves and sadza. My happier days, when life was simple. There was nothing I would not give to go back and undo all the things I had said to my parents when they tried to teach me right from wrong. If only I had listened to their ancient stories, which at the time seemed far-fetched. I felt a wrenching inside. A sadness so encompassing I wanted to die. I had brought this upon myself. All of it.
A jerk and a groan later, it was all over. I came back to reality, watching the wretched man clean himself dry with the handkerchief he had used to wipe his face. Then he quickly got dressed.
‘Mind if I smoke?’ he asked, already dipping his hands into his pocket.
Shivering like a reed, I shook my head.
He drew a cigarette from a shiny silver case, inserted it between his lips, and lit up a match. Smoke billowed around the room as he took a drag and released. Despite feeling the comings of a headache, I kept my face choreographed to his taste.
‘I’m Patrick, by the way. You are?’ He ejected another puff into the air.
‘You already know my name, Sir.’ I dodged his eyes.
‘Yeah, yeah, I know your business name. I meant the name your parents gave you.’
If this was business, then I was Oprah freaking Winfrey, I thought. ‘I am Maka. Short for Makanyara.’
Patrick dipped a nod. ‘I don’t know what that means, but it sounds nice. I dare say it’s pretty. And, well, enterprising.’ His compliment curdled into mocking.
I managed to feign another smile, despite the loathing in my heart. According to Derek’s word, I was to conceal my emotions, withhold opinion, and avoid getting personal with my clients. My utterances were restricted to casual pleasantries, unless the men insisted on more. I was a robot.
Patrick ambled towards the window, opened it, and tossed the burning cigarette on the lawn outside. Then, he walked back to where I sat curled around the contours of my plump, fluffy pillow, unable to move. He glanced down at me, tossed a wad of notes in front of me, and sauntered towards the door. As he reached for the handle, he turned around and beamed. ‘I shall be requesting your services again. I think I like you after all. Something about you.’
With those words, he slammed the door behind him.
Despite his smile and his voice, Patrick had a hard look about him. He reminded me of the previous client who slapped me across the cheek for refusing to be tied to the bed pole. That nasty man had made a complaint to Derek and removed himself from the register. I welcomed his departure, but he left a yoke around my neck. For a month, I wasn’t allowed to take advantage of my weekly chaperoned shopping. The only time I tasted the sweet smell of freedom, though tense and awkward it was.
I collapsed on the bed face down. Unable to contain the pressure in my head, the throb between my legs, and the ache in my heart, I sobbed. I sobbed for my sorry little life. For what I had become.
I was about to take a shower when another intrusive knock struck the door. Patrick must be returning for some item he had forgotten in my room, I thought. I sprang to my feet, shifted my eyes around the room, lifted the pillow, rolled back the rug, scanned under the bed and checked behind the door. There was nothing that belonged to Patrick. As I darted out of my room and towards the front door to allow him back in, something dawned on me. Without making a sound, I peeped through the keyhole and saw two men in black uniform standing on the other side. The men had portable radios stuffed in their pockets. One of them held what appeared to be a notebook. A diary, perhaps. I had heard stories about the men in uniform who patrolled the neighbourhood and made impromptu home visits. At the time, I did not pay close attention. People said a lot of things, especially my fellow immigrants. ‘Don’t do this. Don’t say that. Always carry this.’ It was as if I were a child. Looking at the two men outside, though, something in my stomach churned.
With my heart pounding, I tip-toed back to my bedroom, slipped under the duvet cover, coiled my body up in a fetal position, and held my breath. The tapping persisted, sending disquieting vibrations into my stomach. It had been years since I ditched my nail-biting habit, but my thumb found its way into my mouth, my teeth tearing at the fingernail. After moments of quietly begging the good Lord to put an end to the incessant knocking, my head went into a spin, and an ache shot across my forehead. I suppose my nerves could only endure the terror for so long before my body went into a violent protest.
After what seemed an age, the knocking stopped. I crept out of my room, teetered towards the front door, and pressed my ears against it, listening for movement. Any sound to alert me to danger. To satisfy my mind, I peered through the window in the living room and inspected the driveway. I exhaled, and my thrumming heart rested when I saw no car and no shadow of the two men. Sinking into the couch in one corner of the room, I covered my face with both hands and stilled my body, digesting everything. Then I let the tears seep through my fingers. When was this going to end?