Sunday service had just ended, and a close friend, Okey had a surprise for me. I was to join him on a short visit to Mabushi, one of major slums in the centre of Abuja which I have heard about but haven’t visited before. Mallam El-Rufai had succeeded in clearing and demolishing the slums in Abuja metropolis but some relics and slums still cohabited with the main city. This ghetto like most slums had a life of its own and thrived since it’s hidden from the sight of most inhabitants of the city. But before we negotiated Mabushi flyover along the express way to Gwarimpa, Okey told me whom we’re visiting; a prostitute! Then it was too late for me to make a detour, so I joined him in this missionary journey of sorts!
We had bought two lunch packs for the prostitute from a fast food restaurant at Jabi area of Abuja even though we hadn’t had our lunch. My friend was upbeat about the visit having visited earlier while I looked on in amazement and anticipation, but not without some reservations though. Somehow, I was concerned about the safety of embarking on such a journey knowing how uncouthly women of easy virtue could be. What if someone that respects me sees me at a brothel? How would I defend myself? What if the lady turns around to blackmail us in order to frisk some cash from us?
I emboldened myself and decided not to think about the worst that may not happen. Afterall, Abuja is replete with seemingly innocent streets that house prostitutes of different hues and shapes at night. I remembered my experience at Gimbiya Street and Port Harcourt Crescent in Area 11 where many hotels are located. That first Friday of July 2007, I had gone to check a friend who was visiting from Lagos at one of the hotels. When I was done around past midnight, I needed to get to my church for the night/prayer vigil. With my Bible safely in my hands, I stepped out of the hotel’s foyer and walked along the street which was bestridden by ladies who could turn a saintly man into a heathen overnight. I tried not to look sideways, but their cat calls inundated my ears. As bold as they can be, one of them will not even bother that I dressed like a reverend gentleman and my Bible was not hidden from her view.
“Bros, can I join you for the night?” she nudged. I ignored her, but she won’t let go.
Then her colleague in a hushed tone nudged to her in Igbo, “Ifuro na obu Bibulu?”. Her visual acuity must be so high to have noticed my Bible and wondered why on earth she’s trying to woo a guy with a Bible.
I felt amused and didn’t know when I responded back with another question, “Ibu Bibulu obu njo?” though jocularly. I had a right to carry a Bible in a secular society like hours and Friday nights are one of the days that Bibles are seen with Christians.
“ Mba ooooo!”, she responded with a resounding laugher and I couldn’t help but chuckle without feeling a sense of moral superiority over these ladies of the night. “Bros, make you pray for us oh!”,she requested as I left the scene and went my way for the prayer vigil.
I then realized that prostitutes like all men deep within have a sense of fear for God, but what I can’t still tell are the real reasons behind their decision to stand by street alleys and corners at night displaying their natural wares that stoke the concupiscent tendencies in men. They have past the stage of feeling embarrassed for to find them guilty is to condemn men that patronize them, and I bet a macrocosm of men may be found guilty in some sense. So when one points a finger at them at night, three other fingers may rise up in their defense. So these girls adopt a nocturnal lifestyle that suits the dark tendencies in men, and brazenly stand boldly without veiling or shrouding their faces!
I long ago learnt that prostitutes have consciences way back in Benin City during my NYSC days.The first night I moved into the Central Hospital’s Quarters where I served , I saw a row of girls standing by the fence, cat calling and wooing passersby. I was mortified to say the least for I realized that for the next 11 months, I will be greeted by the sight of prostitutes every night. Worse still, they regaled the air with raunchy stories that filtered into our bedrooms at the dead of the night because they were visibly loud and didn’t care a hoot. It took me some weeks to adjust and accept the reality of being a neighbour to prostitutes at night. Sometimes when Policemen raided them, they ran into our quarters for safety, only to re-emerge once the police van is out of sight.
One of the nights while on my way from visiting a corps friend, I decided to ‘talk some sense’ into one of them that I easily recognized. She was standing all alone that night, and after mulling over the matter, I decided to stop and preach to her. I told her how dangerous it is for her to live that kind of life, and the spiritual implications and all. But she seemed unmoved and looked on without a care. And no sooner had I started my sermon than the Police van screeched and stopped, and two officers rushed and grabbed me. I had no alibi with which to plead my innocence. For all they cared, I was negotiating a night’s contract of wanton pleasure with the prostitute. My head became fussy and my imagination ran amuck. “How would I explain this to my fellowship friends and colleagues at work who had seen me as a Christian guy?”. But the unexpected happened, and an advocate ‘sent from heaven’ rescued me.
“OC abeg make una leave am oooo. Na pastor him be ooo. Na preach him dey preach to me abeg ooo”
My ears were stunned when I heard her rise up in my defense. I was touched by that singular act which made me know prostitutes also have tender consciences and are open to truth. The Policemen reluctantly released me and I was not kicked and neither did I receive the butt of their guns before they let me go without any warning. Save for the prostitute who became my advocate, I would have slept in the police cell that night, and could’ve been arraigned in court for a contrived offence that I didn’t commit. Don’t ask if I preached to her again before I left Benin City , and I still owe her at least a thank you note, that is!
These few encounters with prostitutes emboldened me as Okey and I stepped out of the car and meandered through Mabushi village. Having lived in Abuja for 2 years, I never knew that amidst the grandiose streets and well-trimmed neighbourhoods of Abuja , people still lived in abject squalor and deprivation in the FCT. The shacks in Mabushi are made of wood and mud houses abound. The area smelt from the decay of refuse that lined the meandering streets that we negotiated on our way to Abigail’s (not her real name). We obviously looked like strangers in this dingy neighbourhood and everyone we passed seem to know where we were headed: the brothels!
Abigail was not in her room when we arrived. Her neighbour after much pressure agreed to inform her that her ‘customers’ have arrived. She had wanted to ‘collect the lunch pack’ on behalf of Abigail. Abigail soon arrived, spotting a tight-fitting gown that had nothing to accentuate or flaunt. Her face seem to have suffered sun-burn ostensibly from repeated bleaching, and her skin looked wrinkled and cranky. She looked stale and there was no crease of joy and fulfillment on her face. She was excited to have us visit her, and her peers seemed to envy her such that one of them brazenly wanted to wrest one of us from Abigail.
In her words, “How only you go carry two customers like that? Abeg release one to me jari…na business we dey so!”
Abigail countered,” Nobi dat kain business dem come for ooo!” Normalc returned and we continued our chat with her.
Her response really touched me. We spent sometime talking with her and she opened up about her family in Benue State . She already had two children from a man who was supposed to have married her but eloped and left her in emotional shreds. In a bid to fend for her kids, she decided to come to Abuja to eke out a living, only to end up in prostitution. She had left her kids with her dad in the village, but her family still didn’t know what kind of work she was doing in Abuja . To them, she’s trying to make ends meet like any serious mother would sacrifice for the welfare of her children.
While we talked with her, men hung around the huts of her ‘co-workers’;some one of whom had children that lived in the same shacks with their mothers. I wondered what would be the lots of these kids who watch different men go into to sleep with their mothers for mere lucre. They inadvertently are facing the abuse of their moral innocence aside the travails of poverty and want. For Abigail, life has been hard for her and its obvious prostitution has not elevated her economic status, or rescued her from the whirlpool of poverty she’s stuck in. From our chat, she desired a change and would even love to follow us to church.
But Okey and I had a lot to grapple with considering that not too many women would feel comfortable should they see a ‘prostitute’ sit beside their husbands in church on a Sunday morning. We were wary of inviting her to church considering that she feels so unwanted with battered ego and self esteem. If we are able to pull Abigail away from the brothel that she calls her home, have we got the wherewithal to provide her with a decent apartment and a source of livelihood that will wean her away from her ‘source of income ‘? Even if we do, how can we help her deal with the memories of her past and the remembrance of all the men that have depended on her for satisfying their sexual fantacies? Do we have the support system and institutional framework that will guarantee a holistic rehabilitation for Abigail?
Questions pummeled my heart as Okey and I stood up from the bench she had generously provided us to sit on. And before we could pray with her, she excused herself to grab a ragly- piece of cloth to cover her head feeling it’s disrespectful to God for a lady to leave her head open during prayer. Her Amen was reverberated, and she thanked us profusely, requesting us to call her on phone regularly and keep a tab on her.
As we walked back to the car, I remembered the encounters Jesus Christ had with prostitutes. He didn’t care what the mainstream opinion was and he sometimes rose in defense of whores and harlots as society have labeled them. He even alluded that many prostitutes would make it to paradise at the expense of some religious zealots and hypocrites. And when some Jews gathered to stone a prostitute to death, he dared anyone who was sinless to cast the first stone. No sooner, their grips weakened and the stones dropped willingly to the ground. All the men seemingly were guilty and it’s possible some of her accusers might have been her distinguished and corporate clients who turned their back on her when the chips were down. No mention was made of the man with whom she was ‘caught in the very act’. Her acquittal by Jesus was one that shocked her to the marrow. Instead of condemnation from the Messiah, she heard the greatest affirmation and charge that transformed her life: “Neither do I condemn you. Now go back home and sin no more!” He didn’t doubt her resolve for the Messiah had no need to become her advocate a second time for he knew that after godly sorrow, comes true repentance and ultimate conversion and total transformation.
In silence, Okey and I drove back to my apartment and we eventually had our lunch. The streets of Abuja still looked innocent and oblivious of the paradox that the city personified. For many of the Abigail’s ilk still bestride the city, and who knows if they are waiting for someone that will speak a word of release backed up with affirmative action that will help them truly go back home so they can sin no more!
The author,Obi Felix is a Physical Therapist and writer based in Abuja,Nigeria
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