WHITE

WHITE

She liked to look at the walls. She liked to look at the whiteness of the walls as he moved above her. She regurgitated the images she’d trapped in her mind, of the artisan who’d painted the walls. She imagined the man work – first, he felt the texture of the wall, noticing her coarse spots. Then he evened the roughness of the wall’s texture with a tool. With the centre of his palm he examined the smoothness. He set the tool down, stepped back to take in the breadth of the walls, his face dripping with contentment. He reached for the brush, dipped it into the prepared pail of paint, and got to work.
A moth nested against the wall as her legs were slowly spread apart. She felt a drip of sweat snake down her face. She did not wipe it. She closed her eyes and breathed in the scent of the man’s cologne, a scent she was acquainted with. He was tall and dark and had the physique of someone who regularly submitted his body to rigorous discipline at the gym. She worked her fingers into his skin as he parted her with his tongue. He was careful and gentle and she wondered if he took his time with his wife too, and what that would say of him.
She wondered if he would be gentle with her, under a set of different circumstances. Did he have children? How many? Did he love them? Did he have a daughter? How old was she? Was he sleeping with his daughter? Was he sleeping with other women too?
He reached into her essence with his fingers, nibbling at the entrance as her want built up, and then he was into her. She closed her eyes and swallowed her spittle, her questions, as her body shot for climax. He withdrew his fingers and brought his lips to hers. He was deliberate on what parts he touched, how he teased her nipples with the combed strands of his beards. He was bearded. She loved bearded men more.
He stretched her across the bed. His eyes were black. Like, blackly black. He asked if she wanted him to continue, or if she was tired already. She wanted to cry. She had not seen anyone, in a month, in a year, in her entire life, request her permission to do what he’d paid a handsome money for.
She tried to say yes, but her words caught in her throat, caught in a web of surprise and desire. She nodded.
He found a pack of protectives. He kissed her again. His face disappeared below her torso, and soon, he was causing her body to move. She held her breath as he split her open like a cave, shifting himself in circular, precise thrusts. She did not know how much time passed, and then there was a shuddering, anticipated release. His back arched then collapsed. She exhaled.
He stood above her, caked in sweat. He stood as though he could never have enough of her, and she wondered if every man who had walked in through that door shared the same sentiment. He fed his eyes for some minutes, then turned towards the bathroom.
Before he returned, she wiped herself and gathered the bedsheets. She folded them on the bedside table. The cleaner came in every morning, before dawn faded, and washed the sheets. A new one was laid.
She put on her undies and stood before the mirror. Her hair was ruffled. The bite mark she’d gotten two nights ago, from the man who attempted to ravish her was beginning to heal. The man hadn’t shared the sentiment that a prostitute could cry rape. She touched a finger to the reddened scar and sighed. Her handler had queried her, asked if she wanted him to sue the man for breaching the terms of his service. She’d shrugged as she exited the building.
“What’s the use? He’s never coming back.”
The creaking door had her turn as the man came out of the bathroom. The cologne had been subdued. He smelled of ordinariness and nature. She’d hung his shirt in the wardrobe. She helped him dress. She offered him water from the fridge and sat on the bed before he finished drinking.
He took the lounger as expected. The room echoed with silence. She felt the urge to twine her fingers, anxiety stepping into her skin. She wrapped her nightie around herself. He sat forward and said he wanted to talk.
She smiled. “Naturally. You paid for it.”
“Hmm.”
She thought of luring him words, but she would be violating the terms. The fourth clause in the contract stated – the client must not induce words from the server’s lips, and the server must ensure she listens as the client speaks.
Perhaps it was time to revise the clauses in the contract. She doubted most of her clients read the clauses before penning their signature. They all wanted sex, their ages and categories irrespective. It had been four years, and she’d been with married men, divorced ones, widows, spinsters, upcoming musicians, and the bigshot CEO.
They all talked – the only defaulter was her third client on the job. The man had asked for a second round, having been pleasured by two hours of sex. She reminded him of the contract. One round. Maximum of three hours in the room with the server. One of the three hours was for discussion, but this was optional. The client had thrown tantrums, and was dealt with. He did not expect that a prostitute would have bouncers tending her.
“I’m waiting,” the man said.
She smiled. She shook her head.
“What? They didn’t say, don’t say a word. Clearly you are permitted to talk.”
“My job is to listen. It’s what you paid for.”
“I paid for the sex. I don’t have to talk.”
“Then, perhaps you should leave.”
“I don’t have to, either.”
“Fine.”
The man smiled. “I’ve got you in a corner, haven’t I? You can’t walk out on me, otherwise I can file a complaint with your handler, which he is bound to tender to your employer, and should you be found guilty, your ranking drops. Means less clients for you. You need clients every night, you know.”
“How do you know all this?”
“I do my homework?”
She lifted her legs off the floor and sat in a yoga position. She did not remove her gaze from the man.
“How much?” the man asked. She did not respond. “How much do you still have to pay?”
She studied his expression. His bland face did not suggest what he could be feeling at that moment. Was he excited? Was he anxious? Was he desperate? Was he playing her? How much did he know?
“I don’t know what you are talking about.”
He smacked his lips. “Your father. He was a good man. He did not deserve to be framed.”
Her sight faltered. He knew about her father. He knew about the debt too.
“You don’t know me,” she said.
“Perhaps I would like to. I’ve racked my thoughts on why you would settle for this. You had everything going for you, and then, suddenly, this. Why, why, why?”
She held her reply. The clock chimed ten pm. His time was up. She picked up faint footsteps shuffling towards her door. The man stood, well aware.
“I want to talk,” he said. “I would like us to talk.” He reached behind his pockets and produced a card. “Call me?”
There was a knock on the door. The man pulled it aside and smiled at her handler. “I was just finishing.” He glanced at her and winked, then closed the door behind him. She heard him say, “Great sex, by the way. When can I book again?”
She sat stoic on the bed, her limbs feeling like logs of wet wood. The room quietened. The clock’s ticking rang in her ears like the chime of a church bell.. She slipped the card into her purse and dressed quickly. She packed her hair into an elastic band and switched off the lights.
Her handler stood as she approached. “Lola. Everything went well?”
“Everything.” She was smiling.
The two bouncers approached. “No episode tonight, guys?”
They were dressed in black denim and wore black baseball caps. The polo was customized with their agency’s logo, the cloth appearing overstretched as a result of their stiff muscles. She closed her eyes as she recalled the only time she’d been with the two guards – they’d taken her together, and she’d thought she would explode. But she’d handled that well, as she had everything else since the day her life changed. This, this man who was breaking into her personal affairs would not be a hard nut.
“I should go now,” she said.
Her handler led her out. “Say, Lola, when do we have that talk?”
She kissed him on the cheeks. “You really don’t want to talk, James. You just want to bed me.”
“Oh.” He laughed. “It’s not sex I want. I want to make love with you, but being your handler forbids that.”
“What is love?”
“Which is why we should talk,” James said.
Lola watched him through the side mirrors as she drove away. Traffic had thinned. Her fingers trembled as she gripped the wheel. She shaved the questions aside and focused on driving. It was the first thing Madam Amara taught her – focus, eliminate distractions. Her words flooded Lola.
“How old did you say you are, Lola? Fifteen? Sixteen? No, you are twenty-one. A twenty-one-year-old, and you act like a weakling. Because your dad drank too much and made some mistakes and threw his company into debt? You think you are the first girl whose dad drank too much? Or the first girl whose only parent committed suicide, leaving her with a huge chunk of debt to clear?”
Madam Amara slapped Lola. “You can do better. Do you think I hate you? No. I see so much in you. How much did the court give you to pay the firm? Sixty months? That’s enough time for you to build an empire, if you would be focused enough and not be a wuss. And stop shaking as if bit by the cold.”
Lola turned off the highway, towards her street. The suya seller at the junction hailed as she drove by. She parked with the headlights facing out, shut the gate behind her, and headed inside. The chirping of crickets ceased when she slammed the door. She poured a glass of scotch, set her purse on the slab, and read the contents of the card.
The man’s name was Bayo. Bayo Kolawole. Managing Partner, Fortress Trusts Ltd. On her laptop, Lola googled the firm. They were some brokerage firm with branches in six countries around Africa. She found the link to the company’s website, clicked on the Staff directory, and scrolled down. Bayo’s picture was framed in a circle. His profile described him as diligent to work, passionate (she’d seen that much with his sexual prowess), and vast in the field of insurance and numbers. His smile seemed harmless.
She headed for the shower. She threw her undies in the bin at the entrance to the bath. She set the water to mildly warm and applied the olive soap – armpits, knees, face. She dressed in silk pants and a tank top.
She went to the other room. The musty smell of abandonment filled her breath. The shelves and drawers were layered in dust. She pulled one of the drawers and scanned the files. The file was at the end. She wiped the dirt on it with her palm and placed it on the table. She arranged its content, separating pictures from documents. She held the first picture to the light and caught herself sniff; the pic had brown dots crawling all over it, like yeast growing on stale bread, and she wondered why she hadn’t taken the courage to visit this file in years.
She checked another photo. It was one they took in the hospital, after her mother’s mastectomy. Her dad sat in the armchair, staring out the window. Lola held her mother’s left hand. Even now, she recalled how everything felt so distant then, how it felt as though the judge had slammed the gavel, how when her father said, “We will be fine, everything will be fine,” it felt like how watery tea would feel on the tongue.
She set the pictures aside and skimmed the documents. She saw what she sought. She replaced the pictures and documents, returned the file as it was, and shut off the lights. She rang Bayo.
“Let’s meet. Tonight. My place.”
She made green tea while she waited. The walls of the kitchen were decorated with posters, family posters. Not that she fancied the idea of a husband and kids. She’d given up on that dream after the seventh man. By then, she’d lost enough of herself to hope for such. She bought the posters because she did not want to look at the walls, the white walls.
Her phone chirped.
“How do I get in?”
At the gate, she stepped aside as he buckled off his shoes. He wore a branded polo tee, and denim. He smelled of rain – a light drizzle kept the night humming – and aftershave. He did not look like the man she’d had sex with two hours ago.
“Nice place for a prostitute,” he said. He waited, as if expecting a comeback, or a frown, or a biting remark. “You aren’t angry.”
“Would you like some tea?”
“No.” He sat at the bar. She joined him. “What made you change your mind?”
“Because I know why you wanted to talk. I know why you booked for a night with me. You didn’t just decide to pick an interest in the rankings of professional streetwalkers.”
“Hmm. Enlighten me.”
“You knew my father.”
“As a matter of fact, I did.”
“But there’s more.”
“Hmm.” He glanced at a bottle of Chardonnay. “Can I get some wine?”
“Serve yourself.”
After a minute, she said, “What you said, did you mean it?”
“The great sex thingy? You’re good at your job, no questions.” He set the glass down with a jerk that made Lola jump. He did not notice. “Seventy-eight million. Quite a huge amount.”
“He was your friend,” Lola said.
“Yes. But I was not your father’s keeper. I talked to him about his drinking problem. Everyone did. After your mother died, he lost it. He was never coming back, Ololade. It’s only a pity he had to put you in trouble before he jumped.”
Lola sniffed. “How convincing.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You killed him, Bayo.”
He did not blink. His expression didn’t falter. He sat stoic as if he didn’t have stimuli in his body.
“What have you been drinking, Lola? Why would you even think of such?”
“Because I have evidence.”
“Evidence that he was stealing from the firm. Evidence I planned to confront him with before he was killed. How do you think the theft was executed, Lola? You think someone framed him? You bet. But he created the loophole for the framing to be perfected.”
She reached across to slap him. He caught her wrist.
“What do you mean he was killed? He jumped. He killed himself.”
“Oh, but he was killed.”
“Who? Who killed him?”
“Amara.”
Lola felt life drain out of her. Bayo steadied her on the seat as she absorbed the shock.
“Amara? Madam Amara?”
He nodded. Amara was in need of another worker for her sex business. Her second top-earning girl had been mysteriously found dead in her apartment. Amara scouted for a replacement. Through a friend, she got to know about Lola, who was in her second year in university. Then she found out about her father, and the funds he was stealing to fuel his drinking lust. She played it out perfectly. She leveraged on the leak her father had caused, stole from the firm, and framed her father. She knew he would be jailed, and Lola would be tasked with the burden of paying back the firm. When her father jumped off the bridge, it made things easier.
“How do you know all these?”
“I was minutes late,” Bayo said. “I’ve shared apartment with the guilt ever since. I might not have known enough about your father, but he would never steal such an amount.”
“He was only trying to be a good dad.” She was sobbing now.
“I know. It’s why I came to you.”
“You could have sought alternative means to reaching me. You didn’t have to…”
“I couldn’t think of anything else.”
She stood and paced. “But, Madam Amara? Why?”
“How do you think she gets all her girls?”
“And no one knows about this? Not the government?”
“I know at least five head of states who patronize her girls. It’s deep-rooted, Lola. If she died, it would disrupt, to a certain amount, the country’s economy.”
His hands crested on her shoulders.
“I have a plan,” he said.
Numbly, he undressed her, laid her on the floor. She did not think about the sex. She did not feel like a woman. She felt like a prostitute. When he was done, he spilled everything. He had an encrypted file that contained more than what they needed. She would get the revenge, he said. He would help her. Her father’s name would be cleared.
She poured from the Chardonnay bottle and gave him a glass. She poured herself tea. He wrote down a hotel’s name on a card and slid it towards her. “Friday night,” he said.
She heard his car drive off. She locked the door, slid to the floor, and wept. Then she shredded his card, the hotel’s address, cleared his name from her call logs. She gathered all the glasses at her bar, took them to the kitchen, and squirted liquid soap in each of them. She ran water and rinsed everything. It was midnight when she went to bed.
The next day, she resumed at the parlour an hour earlier. Her handler was waiting.
“You are early,” he said.
“I checked the rankings. I’m fifth. First is the target, and then.”
The man who booked her was fair-skinned. He looked fragile. She watched him get out of his clothes. She switched the lights from fluorescent to neon. There was a knock at the door. It was her handler. He apologized and excused her from the room.
“What’s wrong?”
“It’s Bayo. He’s dead. Poison.”
She swallowed. “Do they think it’s me?”
“Naturally, you might fall as a suspect. They found your number in his call history. You didn’t say anything about calling him.”
“I’m sorry. He wanted more. And he didn’t want to violate the contract of service.” She looked at the floor. “I enjoyed him too. I didn’t think it would be wrong.”
“Let’s worry about that later. Right now, Amara wants to know if you are fine. She could reschedule your client.”
“No, no, I’m fine.” She glanced at the door to the room. “He’s hungry. He should be fed.”
“Whatever. You are getting a break after this.”
She returned to the room. Her client stood unclad. She closed her eyes. She’d expected this – the suspicion. She’d gone ahead with adding the poison to Bayo’s wine, knowing Madam Amara would protect her from legal harassments. But her time was ticking. Amara would have someone on her, to ensure she was clean. She could handle that. Her plans were in motion already.
For now, the fair-skinned client led her to the bed and got to work. Lola did not close her eyes. She looked at the walls as he moved atop her. The wall was white. The wall was too white.

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