I once lived a floor above a hooker. She’d step out every night donning garish clothes, with painted lips and tottering on the highest of heels. Most nights, because we had perennial water problems, she would ask me to close the tap to her reservoir tank in the middle of the night when it was full. She never offered me sex. I never asked. But she offered me one vital thing one evening; a review of my writing.
I was a closeted writer back then, working in a medical lab, miserable, cornered by life and perpetually living in one dimension. I was unpublished, insecure about my writing and terrified that I didn’t have the chops for it. Then she saw something I had written as she stood at my door one night, smelling of cheap perfume, her lips red like a leopard’s kiss, and she marveled at what I had written. Her confidence in me, coupled with many other events, started a snowball effect that led me to where I am today, sharing an office with Fred’s rat-mauled stress ball.
I had a pal – Victor – who would sometimes visit me and see her hanging her clothes on the line in our common courtyard, her shuka clinging to her wet naked body underneath. He would look at me suspiciously and say, “Are you sure you haven’t nini-d her?” She was a light Kao chick with thick long legs and even a thicker kao accent. Straight outta Kitui. I never quite desired her. Hookers, as professionals, have never done it for me. Never been with one. This is not a proclamation of ethics, it’s just a statement of fact.
It’s not that I have avoided it because of my sound Christian upbringing, that I would feel shame and attract disrepute to the untarnished history of my great grandfathers who were recruited by white Adventists who stumbled upon them in the fields herding cattle while wearing little else than staffs in their hands. This is not even about morality, or principle, it’s about interest. It has never intrigued me. Never appealed to me. Hookers appeal to me as much riding a horse with no underwear does. I’ve never looked at a hooker and thought, “Wow, I want to put my pecker in her hands.”
And I’ve had loads of opportunities. There are times that I have travelled, and I have found myself back in my hotel room after a whole day out with a feeling of overwhelming boredom or loneliness, and I have craved someone to talk to because I don’t believe in spending quality time with myself. Because honestly, if you left me alone with myself for an hour and I was bored I would end up shaving every hair off my body. I have gone down to the hotel bar to have a Chivas on the rocks and maybe start a conversation with someone more interesting than the mini-bar up in my room. In hotel bars you avoid the sunburnt odiero traveller who will bore you with mundane – and sometimes ignorant – questions, you avoid the salesmen who wipe their mouths with a napkin after taking a sip, and the mothers staring longingly at the pictures of their children on their phones. You speak to the hookers.
How the hell can you spot a hooker, you ask? I can spot a hooker six seats away when I’m at a hotel bar. As luck would have it, more often than not, I stay in pretty decent hotels when I travel, which means that they somehow manage to regulate the type of characters they allow through their doors. And hotel bars are the best place for hookers to get business, because where else will you find bored regional sales managers who dab their lips after taking a sip of second shelf whisky?
And so I can pick out even the most sophisticated hooker in a bar. They all have that predatory look. That forthrightness with their body language. When you approach a hooker seated in a bar, most of them will turn their bodies into you when they talk to you. There is never overt coyness with them and if it’s there, it’s lurking behind a very thin veil that you can blow off with a sneeze. Also, these girls can tell what will translate into a business transaction in the first five minutes, and once they realise that Chocolate Man here just wants to talk, they begin looking over my shoulder to pick someone who will translate into business, not someone who needs a hug.
And I love talking to hookers. I constantly do when I travel. I did at Sabina Joy. In Uganda, I killed a small snake in the house of a Congolese hooker who lived three houses away from mine. Hookers are multi-layered. They are complex and they have excellent people skills. Nobody can read you faster and more precisely than a hooker. They can quickly align need and value, which is something insurance salespeople can learn from them. In fact, I think these big insurance companies should elicit the services of a hooker during team building sessions; those people can do with lessons about people, negotiation and closing.
Also, the beauty of talking to hookers is that they don’t judge you. They have listened to much more macabre shit; yours won’t move their needle. Unsurprisingly, a good number I have engaged with are much smarter than the loudest people I follow on twitter. Or the people I meet at corporate cocktails.
I find them intriguing, misunderstood and dismissed. I would kill to write a hooker’s memoir.
Like I’d meet her every Saturday for brunch and with a voice recorder running between us, and I’d ask her, who – not what – she did over the weekend and she would start by saying, “So this guy paid me 10K to have me tickle his feet with a feather.”
“Oh, did he bring his own feather or did you have to go out and look for the feather?”
“He came with his own feather.”
“Hmm, a man prepared. Was it a feather from a cock or a hen?”
“Uhm…how the hell would I know Biko, what does a feather from a cock look like?”
“I thought you said you grew up on a farm?”
“I did, but I’m sorry I wasn’t spending my days staring at feathers! If I knew I’d meet a man who would want his feet tickled with feathers I would have paid MORE attention to all the different varieties during my time on the farm! I’m sorry I have failed you Biko!”
“Jesus! You don’t have to be so snappy!”
“I had a long feathery night.”
“I understand, I’m just trying to get details here to give your story more texture.”
“Fine. Next time I will ask him if the feather came from a cock or a hen or a turkey or a goddamn crow!”
“Come on, calm your tits, Vero, why so cranky! Wait, you said crow, crows have black feathers, was this particular feather black?”[She sighs and looks at me with empathy]
“OK, fine. It was a feather. So how long did you tickle his feet?”
“Well, it was -”
“Wait, did you start with the right foot or left foot?”[Eye roll] “I think it was the left foot, Biko.”
“Great, left foot. You were saying…sorry…”
“Yes, so I tickled him half the night.”
“Wow. He didn’t ask for anything else?”
“Was he laughing the whole time you were tickling him?”
“No, he was sort of telling me a story about his dad.”
“His dad? What about his dad?”
“That he abandoned them when he was a child, and he has been debating whether to look for him or to let him die and get buried in the cemetery that is his memory.”
“‘In the cemetery that is his memory’, how poetic. Did he use those exact words?”
“No, those are mine. I was reading books on the farm, you know, not distinguishing between cock and hen feathers.”
“Haha. Let it go. Did you advise him to look for his dad?”
“He wasn’t paying me for my counsel, he was paying me to tickle him.”
“Good point. Did he break down and cry at some point?”
“I don’t know. This is the kind of story that sounds like it would end in tears – yours or his.”
“Haha. You are just as sick as all these strange men I meet.”
“Thanks. What tribe was he?”
“Biko, how is his tribe important?!”
“It just is. Please I told you that you have to furnish me with all these details, you need to focus and pick such details. I’m sorry if this sounds mundane to you but big stories are built from small details, Vero, I keep telling you that! Do you want us to write a memoir or a f-kn brochure?”[Sighs and looks away] “A memoir”
“Good! Now what tribe was this farm boy?”
“I don’t know.”
“Didn’t you pick an accent? Was he Kisii? He was Kisii, right?”
“Biko, I don’t remember really…wait, he picked a call and spoke in his mother tongue. He was Luhya.”
“I knew it! I just knew it! When you mentioned a feather, I just knew it!”
“Hahaha. Calm your tits.”
Look, I can do this the whole day. And then continue again tomorrow. But I have to finish this story.
I remember rather fondly one hooker I met in Zanzibar’s Stone Town, circa 2010? I was there for work and on my last night I roamed around, went to Forodhani and ate a shawarma and then took a cab to this place where I was told there was a nice bar I could review. The bar – a rooftop bar – was dead when I got there but then this hooker started chatting me up in that Swahili of theirs. It was just lyrical.
She had a lovely face and these big gorgeous eyes. I remember during that time I was in great physical shape, before it all went south around 2013. I was doing 200 pushups and 100 sit-ups daily. I had biceps you could grow beans on. I felt strong, I looked fit and I looked good, and the problem was that I knew it; and so did this hooker. She kept touching my biceps and calling them “misuli,” which wasn’t cool. I think Swahili is the least seductive language, after Somali. And Kikuyu. No, actually Kikuyu is the least seductive language, followed by Somali.
Regardless, I didn’t want her to stop talking. Hehe. She said things in Swahili that I suppose meant that she wanted me to carry her and take her away to a land where ducks float in water and lovers feed each other mvinyo under the palm trees. Hookers play on your vanity. They smell it. If you have a pot belly they will probably say, “You know, when I first saw you walk into the bar I loved how you carried this belly. There is something so debonair and self-assured, something so sexy about how you disrobed your pot belly of its power, how your confidence made you look so light with this bad boy here.” You would think you were the shit and you’d not renew your gym membership.
Anyway, so this hooker asks me to go back to my hotel, and I lie that I can’t because I have travelled with the wife, who’s tired and asleep in the room. She makes a pouty face and suggests that maybe we should go back to her place and I laugh and say no, maybe next time. She then says that she will not charge me a dime, that it’s free. On the house. Of course, because I would like to save some money. But I ask her why? And she says, because “nimekupenda, umenifurahisha, na ningependa unipe mbegu zako.”
Listen, if I ever fail as a writer, if things never work out for me as a man and I end up sitting on a big stinky manure-pile of wasted opportunities in my sunset years, I will take solace that at least one hooker with too much eye shadow had craved my mbegu!
Where is this story going?
It’s actually going back to last Friday. So I leave Explorer Tavern at about 11pm. At that small roundabout on Ole Odume road I see those chaps who sit holding these the banners written “Spa, Massage.” I always see them and chuckle at how inconspicuous they are, because everybody needs a spa and massage at midnight, right? That’s what people who come from bars at 1 am really need. In fact, the guys holding up those banners look like they haven’t got the faintest whiff of what a hot-stone massage is.
I said, screw it, there could be a story here, so I swung the car back around and went to that massage and spa place to see what kinda guys these are who give massages at midnight. The place is just there on Ole Odume road. (“It’s just there” hehe, so Kenyan eh?)
In the parking lot is a red plate 4×4 (well, hello), a snazzy sports car and some random cars. I’m led by a kabuti-clad security guard up a gaudy flight of stairs with blinking blue neon lights. Upstairs he presses a buzzer and someone peeps through a hole and the heavy grey metallic door is opened by a hot chick with big hips wearing a short skirt and black stockings. Yes, spa and massage indeed.
To my right is a big, dimly lit lounge with seats running against the wall. Music thuds. Several girls in uniforms and long weaves sit there, smoking and drinking and laughing. They look at me like fresh produce. I feel like coriander. Before me is a notice board with lots of city council permits and a massage menu; they offer a Swedish massage, a deep tissue massage (you get to choose the tissue, I guess), there is sijui a four-hand massage, a body on body massage (I wonder what that is) and various other types.
“Hii four-hand massage ndio gani?” I ask the hostess.
“Hiyo ni ya ma-dame wawili,” she says with no humour.
Inside there is a guy in a leather jacket; decent chap, spectacles. Maybe the red plate guy. She asks me what massage I want and I tell her that I’m actually looking for my pal; tall guy, brown sweater, white shoes. She says, there is a tall guy in one of the rooms but he doesn’t have white shoes. Oh, maybe he changed his shoes in the car, I want to tell her but she won’t get the joke. She urges me to go inside and have a drink but I say, “Naah, how about I come back later? But if my pal shows up here, because he said would, I will come back and have a massage. In fact, how much is that Swedish massage?”
“Three thousand,” she said and she asked me for my number, and for a moment I was tempted to give her the number to this CEO whom I have been trying to interview for months and who’s just playing hard to get; he isn’t telling me no, or yes, just toying with my feelings.
I almost did actually, I think it would be hilarious if he constantly got spammed with messages telling him that there are new girls from Mombasa and there is also happy hour (but only for the girls from Sagana) and he is welcomed as one of their esteemed and dedicated clients. Haha.
Hopefully his wife would find that message then he would try and convince her that he is still dedicated to the work of the church.
Ps: Registration of the 6th Writing Masterclass is now open. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to secure a slot. We will have it from 9th to 11th March. We sit in a room and we tear into your work. And you can’t cry.