By Chiedozie Omeje
Isoken leaves Benin with Amanze in search of a better future for herself and her family, unknowingly getting caught up in a sex-trafficking ring.
(!) MATURE CONTENT: contains graphic depictions of sexuality, strong language, and mature themes. Not suitable for readers under 18
(c) All Rights Reserved.
Content used with permission from the author.
I saw and I held all colors and penis sizes between my virgin thighs from the first morning I arrived in Italy with Amanze.
My name is Isoken.
I knew what work I came to do in Italy the first night I arrived with Amanze and she said nothing when a man in her living room grabbed my breasts and slapped my butt. She stared down the protest in my naïve eyes and shook her head with a smirk that emphasized how helplessly choiceless I was. “Tomorrow, you will make Antonio happy.” That was all she said to me before she turned to Antonio in discussion loaded with a mixture English and rapid-fire Italian about a “new cargo” she brought from Nigeria.
The next morning, Antonio clamped my mouth with his wide palm and raped me sour. I felt like a nut with worn out threads. I was a virgin yet Antonio had dug me through with his monster rod. When he finally pulled away and saw his rod dripping with blood, his eyes twinkled with a devilish shock and dampened with ecstatic pleasure. He reached down and tenderly wiped the tears I was choking on and he whispered some soft Italian as if I would understand.
Luna chuckled from the other side of the bed when Antonio left. “He said he has met the other girls too and you are his preferred one. But don’t get used to it. I was his favorite when I first arrived.” She chuckled again and in a little while, she was snoring lightly.
I didn’t know whether it should make me happy that a man who raped me thinks I am his favorite rape victim. This was not what my mother agreed with Amanze. I didn’t know which confused me more, the pain of rape, or the trust Amanze betrayed.
This wasn’t why Mama released me to her when she came to Benin to ask that I follow her to Italy. Papa is dead and I still think that was a mistake. Mama was sick and shouldn’t be. Edosa will need capital to open a workshop after his apprenticeship, and Adesua was our family’s only hope of having a university graduate. These dreams required money, and Amanze appeared like she had it, or could make someone have it. So, I followed her to Italy. To work, as she said.
Later that morning, Amanze walked into the room with a ward of currency notes more beautiful than Naira. She threw two notes at me where I still lay crying on the bed. “Antonio is happy.” She said to me. She dropped a quarter of the remaining notes with Luna where she sat making up. “Get her the right things to wear.” Luna nodded undistracted.
I still don’t know who Luna was except that she was almost beautiful if not for the shiny scar that spread over the right side of her face. She has a knowing half-smile that remained on her face even when she slept, and a smoothness that comes with rare experience and skill. With only a glance, Amanze had instructed her to take me to her room after last night’s incident. It was a level of eye language only possible with a pair that have come to understand each other.
The following week, Antonio came back with two of his friends. When they left, Amanze rushed into the room and set a tray with a cup of tea and a ward of the same beautiful cash on the bed where I lay crying.
Two days later, a man came. Clearly, he was a Nigerian from the way he rattled some unadulterated pidgin with Amanze, and laughed at some jokes in the Nigerian fashion where the whole body convulses in unrestrained laughter. He exchanged pleasantries with every girl in the living room and he addressed me as “my sister.” The way he said the words made me feel safe and I planned to beg him to help me send a message to my mother. His name was Femi.
The next day Femi came into the room I shared with Luna. I thought he was making his normal round of greetings, and I was determined to ask his help. I was yet to say a word when he started pulling off his clothes. About fifteen minutes later, he was wiping the sweat from the marathon he ran on me.
“Thank you, my sister” he said before his boyish face disappeared out the door.
Amanze rushed into the room almost as soon as Femi was out. “Our brothers don’t pay much” she said and dropped a roughly squeezed note on the bed.
A month had gone since I came to Italy with Amanze and I hadn’t heard from Mama. I had fallen ill in the third week. That week, Amanze had come with a man into the room I shared with Luna. He was clutching a briefcase under his left armpit. I feared for what I thought was about to happen when Luna held my shoulders reassuringly.
“He’s a doctor. You’ll be fine from now on, Ice.” Luna has said before she swept out of the room with Amanze in a suspicious smoothness. Somehow Luna managed to reduce my name from Isoke to Iso, and to Ice. She grew fond of me for reasons I don’t know and wasn’t interested in knowing. I only became curious when I noticed that my closeness to Luna made Amanze uncomfortable.
“I am Dr. Toti.” The man said before setting his briefcase on the bed. He took out a syringe from it, and gestured for my arm. I didn’t trust him yet I gave him my right arm. He pushed the colorless content into my vein and in a second, the world disappeared.
Four years later, when Amanze announced we would become film stars, I was the only one among her girls who knew immediately she referred to adult films. She kept her eyes on me, searching for a familiar protestation. She managed to convince herself somehow that any revolt must always come from me. I was the smart one, the stubborn girl, her only problem. Unlike her other girls, I know… and knowledge is bad for a business where humans are the stock you have in your show glasses.
I was one of Amanze’s stock.
Amanze runs a business that only thrives on control and obedience to orders. It was only about two years ago it made sense to me why she hated anyone who used their brain for anything other than to obey orders. I was always that girl who used her brain. The girl that asked questions. The girl her friends in the business nicknamed White Feather.
But she put up with me, because I was a contraband beauty. She put up with me because like cocaine, I was on demand. She put up with me because I made her money. A lot of it. I was her unwilling asset, but an asset nonetheless.
I learned later that, if the case was different, Amanze would have carved my meat into cubes for Ramsay, her dog. That’s a gory image to paint of a human being, but I had heard stories. And for someone who anesthetized me and cut out my womb, I believed all the stories I had heard and would hear about Amanze.
I like to flatter myself by thinking I am the only person that wielded the guts to negotiate with Amanze. She did not negotiate with any of her girls, yet she had an artistic way of making us think we could, throwing in her orders as casual suggestions we could discuss and, in the end, we did them feeling we took part in making the decision.
It was this same card that had worked for her over the years which she pulled on us that evening when she called us together to announced that we would be taking roles in adult films. She said it like we should have been excited. She said films paid better. The girls had all been happy at the prospect of more money. I was the only girl not phased, and her eyes had never left me.
She waited for my objection. I did not give her the pleasure of being right. I did not look away either. I kept my face expressionless and relaxed. It disarmed her when I didn’t react in any way. She knew she needed a better reason than the prospect of more money to pull me in on her games and I enjoyed it whenever she made attempts to bring up these better reasons, because those were the only times I felt like her equal. She disliked this, and she cloaked it by phrasing her sentences like she was addressing everyone and not just me. What I found most amusing was when the other girls went along with her drama without knowing they were playing roles in a game intended to get me to agree.
“Aside the money, you girls should think of the move into film as a business adaptation. Business hasn’t been so good in the past weeks and we know why. But this is your time to make even more money if you trust me and follow my lead.” Amanze preached this, holding her palms together like we had a choice. She implored our trust as if she stitched some pieces together after shredding it the night she had brought us into Italy.
“How much have you made this week?” she asked Pink, the girl who was most excited.
“Not a dime. And I don’t think anyone has, except the Holy Grail of course.” Pink replied gesturing in my direction. She took a sip from the glass of wine she was holding while the other girl laughed, some out of jealousy. I laughed too. Holy Grail was the name the girls gave me because almost every man that visited the house wanted a taste of my skin. It still baffled me the kind of things that made people jealous.
“My point exactly.” Amanze said, ceasing the opportunity when she saw me smiling, “Most of you girls work hard but you don’t reach the minimum return that earns you a commission. This proposition to go into film is what you need especially this period that the pandemic has kept our clients away. You can always stop after the crazy virus from china blows off, if you so wish.”
“If we survive, you mean?” I whispered loud enough to ensure she heard me. The girls broke into uncontrollable laughter, spilling their wine on each other.
“On a lighter note, yes, if you girls survive the pandemic.” Amanze tried to laugh along as she said this. She lifted her wine from the table and emptied the content down her throat. The glass came off her lips with a crimson stain. She returned her gaze on me. This time, she was not laughing. I did not look away.
March was the month I became a film star. A star that should not twinkle. It was the same month that Luna left the house according to what Amanze told us. She said Luna’s papers have been perfected and if we worked hard, we would be like her. I don’t know if the other girls believed such a lame story, but I know Luna wouldn’t leave the house without saying goodbye… even to me. It broke my heart to think about it and maybe that’s why I don’t believe Amanze.
Luna told me of her quarrel with Amanze the night she proposed that we go into adult films. “It pains me that money can buy everything, Ice. It shouldn’t. Money shouldn’t buy everything.” There were stubs of tears hanging down her lower eyelids, a stub of regret more like. The pain was obvious in her voice. She sounded like someone who lost something dear to her. The way she laid emphasis the word money; it was almost obvious she sold something money shouldn’t afford. I felt an uneasiness wondering if I have sold the same thing too.
As if she could read my mind, Luna confirmed my fears to me. “The morning Dr. Toti came to see you, we lied to you about the surgery he performed on you. But I know if there was anyone smart enough to notice that every one of the girls eventually had the same surgery, it would be you.” This time, Luna’s tears were flowing. It was strange seeing Luna this way. She was always strong. If she is crying, whatever she did to me and the other girls must have been a terrible thing.
“What did you people do the me?” I asked trying hard to stay calm.
“We cut out your womb.” She replied with more tears. “You were pregnant. A prostitute shouldn’t be pregnant.” I shot out of the bed heading out to meet Amanze. Luna grabbed me before I got to the door. She threw me on the bed, clamped my mouth shut and showed me the danger in confronting Amanze – her burnt skin.
“My womb was taken too.” She said releasing me when she noticed I have calmed. “Among the girls, you are the only one smart enough to understand what I am about to tell you. Please don’t let your pride deafen you that you act out of place. Promise me, Ice.” Luna pleaded with a fresh stream of tears coursing down her cheeks.
“What do you want to tell me Luna?” I asked propping myself up on my elbows.
She wiped her eyes and drew closer to me. “Listen very attentively and mention this to no one if you love your life.” She waited to be sure I understood the gravity of her message before she continued.