an old drawing of a blue, orange and green striped fish, with a bale underside and red fins

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The Professor of Loss

The Professor stormed into the brothel’s reception hall in the evening and kicked away our singing radio. It flew through the air, slammed against the wall, and shattered to pieces on the cracked floor. It ended the music, ‘One Love’, to which Roseline and I danced, holding hands as we cavorted around the floor, our hips and backsides jiggling. He’d been away since morning, giving us a bit of liberty to play around. As he scanned the cash register, checking customer ledgers, I shrank like a burnt plastic bag, horrified. But Roseline looked unscathed, wearing an I-don’t-care expression as her mouth worked on her chewing gum. She crossed her arms on her chest, sitting on the torn couch and staring at The Professor.

 

‘Abigail and Roseline, you are both fools,’ he roared, pointing two middle fingers at us. ‘You haven’t made any money since morning, and you’re making so much noise. What a total waste of employees!’

 

‘Sir, we’ve b-been waiting for customers to come,’ I said. ‘But we haven’t seen any men. Sorry, sir.’

 

‘Shut your mouth, Abigail. Why does this brothel make money only when I’m around to service our female customers? How many men have you satisfied today? Answer me now, fools!’

 

‘Stop calling us fools,’ Roseline yelled, frowning, her red lips sparkling under the white bulb. ‘We made plenty of money for you yesterday, and now you’ve broken my precious radio.’

 

I cringed at Roseline’s audacity. She’d done this job for eight years, and I hoped she wouldn’t lose it. There was no job elsewhere in this shabby city of Lagos.

 

The Professor tramped across the floor towards her, huffing. ‘Look here, Roseline, if you dare talk to me like that again, the devil in me will roast you dead.’

 

‘I don’t fear your powerless devil,’ she said, springing to her feet and pointing at his face. ‘Oh, you thought I would melt in the corner because of you? Think. Again.’

 

I was the one melting in a corner instead. I hoped The Professor wouldn’t slap her face as usual or push her into the street so that she became homeless.

 

I scuttled towards him. ‘Sir, please forgive her. Roseline, please, I don’t want to see him beat you the way he used to.’

 

‘Abigail, go and sit down,’ Roseline told me. ‘He can no longer do that shit to me. If he acts stupid now, I’ll invite the Lagos hoodlums to strangle him.’

 

I stepped backwards and wondered where she’d got her sudden strength and boldness from, my heart pushing and pulling my chest.

 

‘I’m glad I haven’t married you yet,’ he told Roseline. ‘You’re not good wife material.’

 

Roseline shot him a bitter chuckle. ‘Who wants to marry a devil?’

 

The Professor had promised to marry her. She was thirty-five years old, and I was twenty-four. I’d worked for him for only three years. When he brought me here, he made me the same marriage pledge, adding that if I worked well, he would pay me well and offer me posh brandy and whisky every day. And as his wife, I’d be taken on holidays to the Seychelles or the Maldives.

 

Roseline and I were really working well, but The Professor was an unreliable chameleon. He refused to pay us, owing us for months, despite the huge money we made for him. Every time we asked for our pay, he would scratch at his tattered beard, saying there was no money. So, Roseline and I depended on secret tips from customers. I’d never sniffed any brandy and whisky from The Professor, and it had become clear that he was unwilling to marry sex workers. Roseline and I hated his aggression, quick temper, and stinginess.

 

He sighed, adjusting his weathered red necktie. ‘Now I see you’ve lost your mind and your manners, Roseline. I’ve told you several times that I don’t want you and Abigail to become friends. If I married you two, you’d gang up and kill me. I’d feel safer if you were enemies.’

 

‘You can only be safe if you pay us the backlog of wages you owe us,’ Roseline shot back at him. ‘You’ll be in for a shock if I don’t get my hard-earned money from you tonight.’

 

The Professor said nothing. As I took a broom to sweep up the broken pieces of the radio, he simply swung around and walked towards the hallway to his bedroom. 

 

He used to be a university professor, but later he started to work as a pimp in this ratty brothel he founded in Lagos. He lived here, having sex with everybody, and smiled at the month-end when he saw bundles of cash in his big polythene bag. The brothel was a bungalow with four big bedrooms, a kitchen, a toilet, and a bathroom. He lived alone in one room while Roseline and I slept in two different rooms, which also doubled as the chambers for serving our customers. The Professor called the rooms the Operating Theatres. The fourth room was rented out to lodgers who wanted to spend the night alone.

 

**

 

The next day, The Professor and I sat down in the reception hall, waiting for customers. We heard Roseline slam her bedroom door so loudly that the roof rattled. She dashed into the hall in high heels, holding her suitcase, and announced that she was leaving. My neck buckled, my heart splitting, so I held my chest.

 

‘I won’t beg you to stay,’ The Professor growled, tightening his belt as he stood. ‘Get out of my house.’

 

‘Shame on you,’ Roseline screamed back at him. ‘You’re such a filthy bastard.’

 

‘Don’t talk to me like that. Don’t you know I’m the best-educated man in all of Lagos?’

 

‘Educated indeed! You returned with a doctorate degree from America and decided to stick your erudite dick into the orifices of numerous women.’

 

She talked as if America were a champion of morality, as if a dick with a doctorate were more discerning than one with a basic education.

 

It’s true that The Professor went to university in America, got a PhD on a programme in accounting from a place called Dakota, and returned home to teach at the University of Baobab in Lagos. It was after he was sacked from the university for inappropriate behaviour – exchanging sex for high marks, groping students’ breasts – that he decided to establish what he called a plush brothel. He felt ‘Dakota Brothel’ sounded classy and appealing as a business name. And since Dakota sounds like ‘harmony’ in Igbo, he built a brothel on the outskirts of Lagos, where he harmonised the sexual desires of women. People used to call him Professor Rex at the University of Baobab. But when he started to run Dakota Brothel, he became Professor Sex, the provider of intimate pleasures to sex-starved women.

 

‘I won’t miss you one bit, worthless rag,’ The Professor told Roseline.

 

I knew he was pretending. Given the way he’d recoiled when Roseline made her announcement, her departure pained him. She was the cash maker of the brothel, after all, the magnet that attracted the best customers.

 

Roseline clucked like an angry hen. ‘You debase yourself doing all sorts of rubbish for money.’

 

I stood up and gripped her hand. ‘Roseline, don’t go away, please.’

 

‘Abigail, leave me be. I pray you’ll find a better place soon so that you can abandon this slob too. Just let me go.’

 

She kept lifting her suitcase up and down, threatening to go. But I held her elbow tight.

 

‘Get out of here,’ The Professor snapped. ‘Everything about you just stinks. Wasted harlot!’

 

Slowly, with her head tilted to the side, she said, ‘You are going to suffer.’ I saw no tears on her face, which was garnished with red lipstick and mascara and a thick powder foundation, ready to go into the world. ‘A better man will marry me.’

 

‘Who’ll marry you?’ The Professor snorted cynically, raising the muscular hands he often used to bash us. ‘I’ve used up your body. It’s no longer delicious; it’s full of thorny bones. You won’t be showing any wedding pictures for the rest of your wretched life.’

 

‘You’re a total arse!’ she yelled.

 

Then she broke free from my grip, slammed the door, and departed. The Professor unsealed his fisted fingers like the spokes of a giant umbrella and waved her good riddance. 

 

I yearned to chase after her.

 

*

 

The Professor, being an accountant, loved to keep documents and accurate records. Customers would queue up in the large reception hall and fill out forms, stating how many minutes they would like us to work on them. He kept a stopwatch and rang a bell to signal it was time for another sex-hungry customer to go in. 

 

At the end of every month, he prepared an income statement.

 

DAKOTA BROTHEL

Statement of Profit and Loss for the Month Ending DD-MM-YY

Income from Sex with Men XX
Income from Lodging XX
Income from Sex with Women     XX
=====
TOTAL INCOME XX
(Less Expenses)
        Condoms (xx)
        Viagra (xx)
        Taxes (xx)
        Depreciation of Fixed Assets     (xx)
        Miscellaneous Costs (xx)
=====
PROFIT / (LOSS) XX / (xx)
=====

 

He would smile if there was a profit. But if there was a loss, perhaps because of low patronage, Roseline and I were in trouble. He blamed us for everything, beating us silly. The day I refused to make my body available to the customers because I was ill, he beat me even more until I gave in. ‘No Disappointment, No Discrimination’ was the slogan of the brothel, boldly handwritten in red on the signpost outside.

 

*

 

Aside from running Dakota Brothel, The Professor was a Man of God, an ordained pastor who owned The Church of Pleasure, located ten streets away from the Dakota. All the customers of the brothel were members, and only St Christopher’s Church nearby dared to outnumber them.

 

Every Sunday, The Professor wore his wide-lapel brown coat and preached the sermon, leaping around the marble altar he built for himself and God. Carrying a leather-bound Bible with dog-eared edges, he told his devotees that their sins were forgiven. He stressed the beauty of sexual intercourse, as his black shoes thumped around the altar. With his thick fingers, he listed the advantages of lovemaking to include good blood circulation, pleasure of the highest order, and the fulfilment of the heavenly mandate. He also advertised the services of Dakota Brothel to be lodging, sex, and leisure.

 

He would tell the worshippers, ‘You see, sex is not a sin, and has never been. Even God himself enjoys good sex every day. How do you think he creates babies? When his angels become pregnant, he transfers the babies to us humans. Did you know that when God created Adam, he first moulded his penis?’

 

The congregants would clap, nodding and glancing at one another.

 

‘Did you also know that when God conceived the idea of Eve, he first sketched her genitals with a dark pencil on white cardboard in the Garden of Eden?’

 

At this, a ripple of murmurs would run through the entire congregation.

 

‘This shows that God adores sex. And you know that Jesus Christ has already died for our sins, so when you patronise the services of the Dakota from Monday to Saturday, you should come here on Sunday for cleansing, forgiveness, and salvation. You’ll never go to hell if you always attend this church after lovemaking, and make sure you pay your tithe because it’s your only visa to heaven.’

 

Sure enough, after every church service he prepared the week’s income statement, which he totted up after four weeks to ascertain his monthly profit or loss.

 

THE CHURCH OF PLEASURE INTERNATIONAL

Statement of Profit and Loss for the Month Ending DD-MM-YY

Revenue from Tithes XX
Revenue from Offertories XX
Revenue from Baptisms Conducted XX
Revenue from Burials Conducted XX
Revenue from Weddings Conducted XX
Revenue from Sex Counselling XX
Revenue from Special Prayer Requests         XX
Special Donations Recieved XX
=====
TOTAL REVENUE XX
(Less Expenses)
        Petrol (xx)
        Power Generator Repairs (xx)
        Printing of Church Brochures (xx)
        Depreciation of Fixed Assets     (xx)
        Sundries (xx)
=====
PROFIT / (LOSS) XX / (xx)
=====

 

It delighted him that Nigerian churches and charities were exempted from taxes, and his church always made a profit, so he would smile.

 

*

 

After Roseline’s departure, The Professor became a more daring proprietor. He began to offer more services as if Roseline had held him back. One day, three kidnappers were looking for a place to hide their hostage so they could extort money from his relatives. The Professor readily offered them our lodging room for a huge sum.

 

The kidnappers stripped the unfortunate man naked, tied him with a thick rope, bound his hands behind his back, and shoved him into a corner of the room. His knees were bleeding; they must have manhandled him before bringing him to the brothel. In a display of compassion, The Professor brought him a loaf of bread and tepid water in a glass cup. The hostage refused to drink, his eyes bloodshot, his face puffy, and spat at the kidnappers instead.

 

When they put a mobile to his mouth to have him persuade his family to bring the ransom, he refused to speak. They pounced on him, clubbing his head and kicking his buttocks with their army boots.

 

The Professor pleaded with him. ‘Mister, ask your family to bring the money to buy your freedom.’

 

The captive shook his head, sweating. ‘Let them kill me,’ he choked.

 

‘We know you have the money,’ a kidnapper shouted, slapping him. ‘We saw you with money the day you returned from New York City.’

 

‘Just kill me,’ the victim insisted.

 

After about an hour of this, he slumped on the floor and died. They gripped his shoulders and shook him vigorously, The Professor sprinkling him with water, to make him stand up again, but no effort yielded results. Spotting a business opportunity, The Professor offered the kidnappers a portion of the fenced backyard to bury the dead man. Of course they paid him for the grave, and he negotiated an additional fee for the Christian burial prayer.

 

Then the leader of the kidnappers said he wanted to relax after so much fruitless hard work.

 

‘What kind of sex do you like?’ The Professor asked him.

 

‘Oh, I just love a woman with a welcoming mortar that will tolerate the pounding of my pestle,’ the kidnapper replied.

 

‘She’s available,’ The Professor said.

 

He asked the man to go to reception, fill in the form, and pay the money to me. And then The Professor ordered me into one of the Operating Theatres where the kidnapper and I groaned for about ten minutes before we came out.

 

After the kidnappers left, The Professor called a ritualist in the city and they both exhumed the buried body of the hostage in the backyard. The ritualist paid The Professor a handsome fee for the corpse and carted it away.

 

Week after week, Roseline’s former customers kept coming back to ask for her services. When I told the men that I was as expert as Roseline in bed, they would shake their heads and say that my breasts and buttocks were not as meaty as hers. Disappointed, they would turn around and leave. A customer once told me that no other woman understood the gymnastics of lovemaking better than Roseline. I just shrugged. Even if I killed myself trying to satisfy these complaining customers, The Professor would never hand me a plaque or a trophy as commendation.

 

Growling like a starving dog, The Professor was not happy that he was losing customers. So he cursed Roseline from time to time, ‘That smelly woman, that godforsaken garbage will stop urinating – all of her downstairs will be sealed shut. Any penis that tries to enter her will flatten on impact. In fact, gonorrhoea and syphilis and AIDS will join forces and kill her.’

 

*

 

One bright morning, we noticed construction workers digging the foundations of a new building opposite our Dakota Brothel. The structure expanded every day and within three months it was finished, a two-storey building. It embodied modern architecture to include stone-coated roofing sheets, aluminium window frames, sliding doors, marble-tiled floors, and external halogen bulbs with excited moths that fluttered around them at night.

 

The Professor was unfazed until the construction workers put up a neon sign outside the building, brandishing the words ‘Liberty Hotel’ which dazzled like disco lights. The Professor flinched, tormented, and beat his chest in shock. It became clear to him that a bigger competitor had come to the market. Instead of having sex in a shabby bungalow, Lagos people would prefer a lush two-storey property. Liberty Hotel was painted a silky white, and the glass windows gleamed in the sunshine. It had air conditioning, which would make lovemaking in the hot weather far more pleasurable.

 

Dakota Brothel didn’t offer restaurant services, but the Liberty had a colourful eatery with city-trained chefs, including a modern bar with authentic gins, red wines, and champagnes. After sex, customers could go straight to the bar to drink brandy and whisky. To crown it all and hit The Professor right in the scrotum, there was also a bean-shaped swimming pool, in addition to a table-tennis court, a snooker table, and a gymnasium with treadmills and exercise bikes.

 

The Professor’s eyes popped out one evening when we both saw Roseline wearing a purple bikini and welcoming a customer to Liberty Hotel. I wondered how she’d managed to get in there. She stood on the veranda and smiled at the oncoming customer. They kissed for about a minute before she sashayed in, leading the way, and The Professor’s fingers trembled in distress. He scratched at his moustache, frowning and sweating and gnashing his teeth. He jumped up to thrash a moth that was repeatedly butting against the windowpane in our reception area, but the poor insect escaped unhurt.

 

‘What’s that shameless woman doing in that useless hotel?’ The Professor asked me, his voice quaking.

 

‘I don’t know, sir,’ I said, opening my palms to emphasise my ignorance.

 

‘I wonder who owns it,’ he said, and thrust his hands into the air, his teeth chattering. ‘Abigail, I’m in deep trouble. Bollocks!’

 

I would find a way to sneak into that hotel and greet Roseline, my good friend.

 

*

 

The Professor lost customers for many months and earned no income. Even those headed for the Dakota would divert to the Liberty as soon as they saw the magnificence of the new building, the ambience created by the calm demeanour of dedicated gardeners tending the blooms, and the flashy cars that lined the lawns.

 

Aside from Roseline, there was Barry, a young, svelte man with lustrous chest hair and a glossy, clean-shaven head. Barry, just returned from Las Vegas, had a smooth, fair complexion that most women would pay any amount to stroke. Who wouldn’t? Whenever he caught my eye on the street from beneath his thick eyelashes, even I struggled to withstand his charm – his groomed beard, his silken lips, his toes and fingers with the nails painted a sparkling yellow.

 

It became obvious that Lagos women no longer desired to sink into a worn mattress with a sixty-year-old accountant who smelled rancid from fusty cigarettes. Barry was charismatic and experienced, and he used German and French perfumes that left a week-long trail, making him irresistible wherever he went. And we also learnt that he had a variety of sex positions. Compared with him, The Professor was an amateur.

 

The Professor decided to do something drastic to counter this calamity. He rushed to the nearest mall and bought me a scarlet bikini, several bright lipsticks, and hair and nail extensions, so I could look like an experienced sex worker. The Whore of Whores, he branded me.

 

He also bought me some bleaching creams because he imagined customers would prefer me with skin the colour of a ripe banana. Home-made yellow custard, according to him. I felt sad that I had to change my skin colour in order to keep my job, but I had to play along. I needed to send money to my siblings back home as my parents were dead.

 

‘Abigail, you mustn’t allow Roseline to win this competition,’ he told me. ‘You should swing your hips at the approaching customers to lure them in.’

 

‘I’ll do my best, sir,’ I said.

 

‘Listen, that nasty woman is your arch-enemy, our rival. Do you hear me?’

 

I nodded, even though I would never consider Roseline to be my competitor. When I was new at Dakota Brothel and my younger sister had needed money to pay for eye surgery, Roseline gave me the money from her savings, no questions asked. I would only present myself in the best way I could and let the customers decide which business they wanted to patronise, the Dakota or the Liberty.

 

*

 

When the baiting for customers began, Roseline and I would wear our bikinis, our hair extensions rippling down our backs, and stand opposite each other along the street. I smiled at her and she smiled back. When I saw a man coming, I would bare my breasts and hold his gaze, cracking the chewing gum in my mouth, my red lips sparkling like fire from the mouth of hell. Roseline would do the same, and the man wouldn’t even look in my direction. She would wave at him with her index finger, flaunting a magenta fingernail, and the man would turn and follow her instead. I wasn’t surprised though: her breasts were bigger than mine. No man could see them or her meaty thighs and bouncing buttocks, and not be enticed.

 

The Professor was worried and confused. Even his devoted church members stopped attending. One hot afternoon, however, a fifty-year-old widow sauntered into the Dakota and wanted The Professor to service her. His happiness returned as he was delighted to screw the first customer after several months of nothing, but his enthusiasm was short-lived. The woman refused to pay after their intense lovemaking session, saying she’d wanted the service on credit.

 

‘I’ll pay you in one month’s time,’ she said, and nodded as if it were already a done deal.

 

‘One month?’ The Professor asked, his voice rising. ‘One month?

 

He unveiled his palms and hammered her temples with slaps. He shoved her outside, hissing aloud like a miscarried fart.

 

*

 

The problem must be spiritual, not natural, The Professor told me. Something invisible to the human eye was affecting his business, and only a powerful ritualist could neutralise it. So, he called the ritualist who had bought the dead body of the hostage and told him to prepare a charm to attract customers to the Dakota. The ritualist agreed, saying it was a simple case.

 

At midnight, he brought the charm – a huge elephant’s tusk painted blood red – and buried it in front of the Dakota. He promised the sacrificed tusk would attract customers whose riches were as vast as elephants, starting from the very next day.

 

The following morning, I put on my scarlet bikini. Across the street, Roseline came along in a more alluring yellow bikini, wearing sunglasses, her figure a Coke-shaped bottle of beauty. I winked at her and she winked back. Within a minute, two men fluttered towards her like hungry butterflies, without even so much as a glance at me. They all went upstairs, laughing. 

 

I stood on the street for a while. When the sun became too hot on my bleached skin, I returned to our reception.

 

The Professor sprang up from the tatty reception couch. ‘What’s the problem this time, Abigail?’

 

‘There’s no problem, sir.’

 

‘That’s not true. Roseline has defeated you again?’

 

‘No, sir.’

 

Maka chi,’ he swore. ‘It’s high time I called in assassins to eliminate her. I can’t continue to lose my customers.’

 

I said nothing, shaking my head.

 

He exhaled loudly, staring at the ceiling, which was sagging down into the room. He scanned the walls with their peeling paint. He was too stingy to redecorate the brothel. Money was meant to be earned and not spent. Every time he wanted me to cook yam for him, he would first assess it centimetre by centimetre with his yellow measuring tape before cutting off a fraction.

 

‘Actually, Abigail, I think I should repaint our brothel with bright colours, equip the rooms with new furniture, install air conditioning, and plant flowers, instead of killing Roseline.’

 

I shrugged. ‘Well, you might be talking sense now.’

 

About two hours later, I heard him screaming in the backyard. On arrival, I found him slumped on the ground. His chest rose and fell, his eyes bulging. He’d dug a deep hole, a mound of red mud and a muddied shovel lying beside him.

 

I held his hand. ‘Sir, what is it?’

 

‘My box of savings has been stolen, millions of naira gone,’ he wailed, his eyes already moistening with tears.

 

‘What? You buried your money in the ground?’

 

The Professor nodded, sobbing aloud. 

 

Roseline had once told me the man was a penny-pinching accountant. He despised keeping his funds in a bank because he didn’t want to be charged for banking services. Only a man from the devil’s womb would mock his American education this way. 

 

*

 

The Professor went missing a few days afterwards. I wondered if our competitors at Liberty Hotel had kidnapped him. Day after day, I stood in front of the Dakota, looking around and waiting for him, but he didn’t return. I searched all the rooms, yet he was nowhere to be found. Later that day, I saw Roseline on the street and went to her to explain. She told me not to worry and assured me he would return.

 

When I became hungry, having no money to buy food, Roseline gave me a little cash. But she also introduced me to some of her wealthy customers, and I serviced them on the cosiest of beds at Liberty Hotel. The men offered me mouth-watering tips, so I bought fried rice and chicken and brandy and cigarettes. Honestly, being a sex worker had never been more dignified and profitable.

 

After three days, something began to smell around Dakota Brothel – a dead-rat smell. I called Roseline, and we searched everywhere for the offensive odour. I recoiled in horror when I saw The Professor’s corpse dangling in the backyard, from the leafy mango tree behind our bungalow. I’d explored the backyard previously but hadn’t looked up at the thick branches of the tree. He was already decomposing, his black belt gripping his neck. Despite his nastiness towards us, Roseline and I wept as if we’d been robbed of valuables. His stench worsened my grief yet further.

 

‘Roseline, why are we even crying so much?’ I asked her, covering my nose. ‘This was the man who maltreated us.’

 

‘I know, Abigail, I really know; but I loved him in some way,’ she said, wiping her cheek. ‘Sometimes, the one you love is the one who hates you.’

 

For me, looking at his dangling, lifeless body reminded me of my mortality, and I couldn’t hold back my tears.

 

*

 

A month after the burial, Roseline revealed to me that she was the owner of Liberty Hotel, and that she would also like to buy Dakota Brothel from The Professor’s relatives. She intended to demolish the weather-beaten bungalow and build in its place a white mansion, in the same style as Liberty Hotel. I squirmed with surprise, sitting and facing her inside the vastness of her white-painted office, full of light.

 

‘Where did you get the money to build this fine hotel?’ I asked, placing my astonished hands on her glossy mahogany desk.

 

She sighed, narrowing her eyes. ‘I scaled the backyard fence at midnight and carted away The Professor’s savings box from the ground many months ago.’

 

‘You did what, Roseline?’ I gasped, trembling.

 

‘Shhhh,’ she said, placing a finger on her lips. ‘Now, promise me that no one else will hear about this, otherwise – ’

 

‘Yes, yes, my lips are sealed.’

 

‘Good. I keep secrets. Even The Professor couldn’t find out the owner of this hotel, despite asking everybody. Many customers told me he’d sidled up to them and probed.’

 

‘He asked me too, but I didn’t have an answer.’

 

‘I’d spied on him as he dumped his cash into the box, so I began to plan. But his shattering my radio was the final straw.’ 

 

‘Really? I still can’t believe what I’ve heard.’

 

She stood up from her leather chair, pranced across the room to the glass window, and clicked it open. Pointing towards a faraway street, she said, ‘Look, I’m also going to buy that sinful Church of Pleasure over there and convert it to an orphanage that will care for sick and needy children.’

 

‘That’s marvellous, Roseline,’ I exclaimed, springing to my feet to hug her.

 

*

 

I accepted the position of Assistant Executor from her. In truth and all honesty, she was indeed the Founding Madam of the company, its Managing Prostitute. I swung into work immediately, servicing many customers a day. She paid me more than the amount we’d agreed on, showering me with multiple allowances and encouraging me with words of motivation and praise – perks I’d never imagined could exist.

 

One cold Sunday evening, I met her smoking on the balcony. ‘Thank you, Roseline, for saving me.’

 

‘My pleasure, Abigail.’ 

 

She lit me a cigarette and we smoked together. From where we stood, the sky looked dark, hiding the stars. It was soft as cashmere and suffused with clumps of soot and smoke, hanging low with threatening rains. I hoped her generosity would continue to unveil my talent for customer service, allowing me to send my siblings back to university.

 

*

 

I left Liberty Hotel after three years and moved to the other side of Lagos, where I established a hairdressing salon that occupied about a thousand square feet of floor space. Knowing a little about client service, I decided it was important to equip the business with first-rate hairdryers, rollers, scissors, straighteners, heated curlers, shampoos, combs, tongs, conditioners, and spongy towels that ensured good absorbency. 

 

Besides, keeping my employees satisfied was my utmost priority, having learned such professional conduct from Roseline. I paid my fourteen employees very well, salaries and allowances that compelled them to work as if they were the co-owners of the business. They included my personal assistant, five hairstylists, two security guards, two cleaners, a receptionist, two salesgirls, and a bookkeeper, who also doubled as my cashier. 

 

Always busy with satisfied customers, the salon also traded in high-quality weaves and wigs. Roseline became a regular customer for my hair-braiding service. One day, after getting her hair done, she strutted into my office, her spool heels pummelling my marbled floor. Her braids fell freshly all over her shoulders, cascading down her back.

 

‘Abigail, I’m super proud of you, so thrilled with the milestones you’ve achieved at your new business within a short time,’ she said, pointing her car key at my premium leather chair. 

 

‘Ahh, I appreciate it, my good friend,’ I exclaimed, placing two hands on my chest. Overwhelmed with towering self-esteem and dressed in my business management outfit – wool pencil trousers and close-fitting plaid suit – I got up from my chair and capered towards her. We faced each other as I held her two hands. ‘Roseline, my gratitude to you remains unending, you know that.’

 

She winked at me and I winked back, so we both burst out giggling. We then hugged, and bade our farewells, waving at each other, and the secret of The Professor’s stolen savings stayed buried between us.


ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

 graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, where he has also been a fully-funded researcher and an Associate Tutor in Literature and Creative Writing. A fiction fellow at the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation for Creative Writing, he won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa. His writing has appeared in Granta, Ambit, Magma, The Massachusetts Review, Transition, Prairie Schooner, among other publications. He lives in England.

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fiction

January 2014

The Dispossessed is Szilárd Borbély’s first novel, although he has been active – and widely acclaimed – as a poet,...

 

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