Total Reading time: 3 mins

Call me a whore and I will pay you a passive smile. I won’t shove my fist onto your crooked nose, and I won’t loosen my tongue in an argument. Growing up in the backwaters of Makoko, I detested the only cloak I could possessꟷpoverty, and watching Mami wield her weaponry of persuasion and flattery, I learnt to slither into circles to make ends meet. After much practice, I also had men calling to me in our shack-like home.

“Smack your lips like this,” Mami had taught in Yoruba. She cleaned the traces of lipstick that had smeared beyond my vermillion. “Good. Now, if Uncle Dee calls you his wife, you laugh like you’re shy,” She covered her mouth with her hand, jerked her head in a phony childly chuckle and curtseyed Yoruba way. “Try it. Very good. I’m sure he’ll give you some money which we can use to pay your school fees and then buy fish and garri.” I groaned, tired of the sour tinge the soaked cassava granules always left in my throat. I wished to have some orange juice and chicken Mami sometimes got from her patrons. “Can’t every day be Christmas so you can make Jollof rice?” I moaned in Yoruba, my lips pulled in a pout. “Mami, e gbo mi.” I pulled her hand, seeking that she looked at me.

Mo n gbo e.” Parting her clove-shaped lips in a simple smile, she reassured me that she heard me. She pulled me onto her lap. “Every day can’t be Christmas.”

“I want it to be.” I wrinkled both my nose and brows in contest. I wanted to have the life Mami worked so hard for, though within I wondered at the emptiness that surrounded us. Would Mami be happy if my father were alive? Surely she would as we would have better lives. Not the type that made me stutter in fear and shame. Once I had whimpered from school, recounting how some girls mocked me for Mami’s profession and hugging me, Mami had told me it was none of their business. “Will we stop it? Stop the men from coming here?” My twelve-year-old eyes red with tears searched Mami’s for some promise. She gave no response and when Mami passed years after, I realized the very venture I detested became my fount of comfort and allure. I possessed security, but shame like dissatisfaction drilled into me deep as the wooden foundation of my Makoko home. How was it that I had the life I desired but loathed the very same?

Baby. The irony of the endearment scratched at me as the short strands of sixty-year-old’s beard did. I ignored the urge to snigger and refocused on Chief who like my other patrons, accorded me endearments they didn’t their wives. Silly. “Baby, what’s on your mind?” Seated in his Peugeot 504, he pulled me towards himself. He picked one of my one-million braids hanging over my shoulder like the curly tendrils of a sweet pea. My gaze swept his face and responding, he held his head in excitement. I continued brushing his chin in careful swipes. An avalanche of superficial blandishment poured and I felt submerged in the untrueness of it all. What was the joy of been the whimsical source of temporary pleasure? “Maybe I should send you to Paris because I am not understanding this mood you’re in today.”

My eyes blinked in elation. “Oh, Chief!” I wanted to wrap my hand around him but for the first time, both his beer belly and our age difference, stood like an effigy between us. What kind of life was I leading, servicing men old enough to be my fathers? I felt disgusted as I would had he puked from drunkenness. My hesitation provoked Chief, and in displeasure, he dismissed me with half my pay.

I entered my Mercedes Benz and drove home. The high-rise buildings of Dolphin Estate spread across a section of Osborne Road in a fashion that spoke of affluence. In only ten years of business, I had been able to acquire a unit there.  Awilo Logomba’s Je m’apelle played from the stereo as I remembered my former overstuffed home in Makoko, just across the Third Mainland Bridge. Paddling canoes from house to house, as all structures had been erected on water, I had also learnt to swim. Mosquitoes and leeches had been our constant companions, crayfish the only protein we ate.  Many times I had seen mothers cry for inability to care for sick children, and once, I saw Mama Chichi, my neighbour, lose her infant child to the beastly malaria disease. Both I and Mami had wept for her, and returning to our home, Mami whispered, “You see why we have to do what we do?” It wasn’t exactly a question as I saw Mami’s eyes dwindle with the shame of a mother showing her daughter the way about a man. Fourteen at the time, and bulging with feminine sprouts, I assured her that I understood.  What wasn’t there to understand?  We were incapacitated by life, underprivileged by our circumstances of birth, location and social connections. I swore that day, to make something out of nothing.

But years after, I wondered if prostitution was the only way out of poverty. Biting my lips as I approached my house on Bedwell Street, I resisted the urge to cry. Through my earnings I had obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of Lagos, but my outlook to life remained devoid of satisfaction. I had toured the world but not once had this aching void been filled. Were Mami still alive, would she understand how I felt?  Did she feel same way even after moving from Makoko to Obalende and then opening a fabric shop in Balogun Market? Oh, God what’s this inside my heart? I knew God couldn’t hear my prayers as I wasn’t His favourite, but I prayed still. One time during the Easter, Toke, a friend who came visiting from London, had insisted that I follow her to Church and I did, teasing.  Toke had been just as I was, but had abandoned the practice. I had called her spirikoko, a Nigerian colloquialism meaning spiritual, and laughing, she said I too, would see the light.  “Soon. It’s my prayer for you every day.”

Smacking her arm, I told her to stop preaching to me. “No dey form give me.” I chuckled as she did.  Maybe Toke had been right.  Maybe what—who I needed was Jesus.  I was tired of the endless chase for wealth.  Tired of wrecking homes so much, I was sure I could never have my own. Lifting my telephone from my bag, I dialed Toke’s number in quick, rubbery punches that let out dulcet tones. A ring and I cried like a child.  “I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” A pause to hear her sigh in relief and I continued.  “I don’t know what I want.”

“You do.” Joy coloured her voice and in the same minute, she led me to Jesus. “You know what I will start to call you? Samantha. I call myself that because like the Samaritan whore, we both have met Jesus and He has shown us His loving mercies.”

“Oh, please do.” I placed my hand over my mouth, my eyes burning with repentant tears, my heart afloat with peace.  “Call me Samantha.”

5 thoughts on “Call Me Samantha”

  1. Victor Chukwunenye Igbokwe

    “You see why we have to do what we do?”

    This phrase really strikes me so hard. I think this is usually the affirmation we give to justify our actions. Unfortunately this is a fallacy many have come to believe to be true. We really just need to hold on to God to guide our actions and decisions else we fall into the deep race of chasing ephemeral happiness. However, we are consoled that we have a merciful Savior who never looks down on us whenever we truly and repentantly return to Him just like Samantha.

    Thank you very much for sharing this wonderful piece, God bless you

  2. God has a bad case of ‘ I love you’ for us. Yeah, we mess up sometimes, but we should never stop chasing after him!

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