By Frederick B. Philander
MARTHA and her niece enter a well-known sleazy dock bar with regular foreign male customers hanging around and in conversation with a few prostitutes shamelessly showing off their bodily assets.
Emma is astounded at what she observes for the first time in her life.
“I have heard about prostitution, but never this,” she whispers to Martha, both seated at a table.
“Just ignore them. We are here to enjoy a drink, nothing else. These are the women that give this town its bad name,” Martha says ordering drinks.
“I’m sorry to disappoint you Auntie Martha, I don’t drink,” Emma makes clear her disdain for alcohol.
“Oh, I forgot, you come from a very conservative community. Anyway, I’ll have a brandy or two. Just don’t tell Dottie, okay?” Martha says.
“Cross my heart and hope to die, I won’t,” Emma replies.
“Good girl,” the old lady says ordering Emma a soft drink.
With a brandy in hand Martha proposes a toast.
“Let’s drink to you and your future with your work at the factory. Cheers,” Martha says gulping the first of a number of brandies still to come.
Much later the same evening the two, Martha obviously drunk, are dropped off at home. Emma helps Martha to undress in her bedroom and returns to the kitchen where she finds Dottie all dressed up seated at the table and smoking.
“Guess what, Dottie?” Emma exclaims.
“What?” Dottie asks.
“I got a job at a factory,” Emma responds excitedly.
Not very much taken and with expected reservations Dottie replies.
“Lucky for you, but no thanks for me. Fish cleaning is not my cup of tea. Not to mention the low wages, hu-uh. I’ll rather stick to my night job as an ‘entertainer’.”
Martha overhears the conversation from her bedroom.
“Is that what you call prostitution nowadays, an entertainment?” Martha spits poison getting up.
“Ag, go sleep, old fart,” Dottie says.
An angry Martha staggers into the kitchen.
“Over my dead body. This is my house, whore. You don’t tell me what to do around here,” Martha rightfully defends herself.
Conscious about Emma’s presence Dottie confronts her mother, getting up.
“I am what I am because your husband, my own father sexually molested me as a child. You knew all about it, but you did nothing,” she explodes and taking a seat. “I am so glad he is dead and so would I be when you die.”
“Stop this fighting, you two,” Emma orders both women in a raised voice specifically turning to Dottie. “Tell me, what does an ‘entertainer’ do?”
“You wouldn’t like to know. Go to bed, Emma. You have to be up early to go to work. Leave this flirt alone,” Martha says getting up from the table.
Regaining her composure from family conflict referee to house guest: “It’s alright, Auntie Martha. I’m on my way,” Emma says getting up and walking away watched by Dottie.
“With that cute little bud of yours you will be able to make a lot of money as an ‘entertainer’.
“You should consider that, Emma,” Dottie says also getting up. “You should seriously consider that.”
As an act of defiance, Emma switches off the kitchen light and leaves a laughing Dottie in the dark.
In the bedroom she changes into pyjamas, goes on her knees to pray and creeps into the blankets and falls asleep.
Today is payday, the third monthly wages, which a smiling Emma accepts as a fish factory worker. Neatly dressed she receives her pay packet from Henry in his office.
“How about dinner tonight, Emma?” Henry suggests after handing Emma a brown envelope.
“Thanks but no thanks, Henry,” she replies.
“Still playing hard to get, hey?” the manager says with an offended expression on his face.
“I suggest you stick with your wife and seven children. Be a good husband and father to them,” Emma says waltzing out of the office and exiting from the premises through the main gate.
Outside the gate a surprised Emma notices Martha among some other women, who have come to collect their husbands’ pay, stepping up to her.
“Auntie Martha, what are you doing here? Surely you haven’t…” Emma tries to say.
“Don’t worry I didn’t come to collect your money. I have rather bad news for you from home,” the old lady says evasively moving away from the other women.
“What is it. Tell me,” Emma anxiously inquires following her aunt.
“Your mother telephoned and told me that your eldest brother was arrested,” Martha gets the news off her chest.
“What for?” Emma persists.
“She didn’t say, only that you must send money to get him out of jail,” the older woman says gesturing for them to move on to a waiting taxi in the street.
“But I only got paid half of my monthly salary because of the loan I made earlier this month to buy you some medicine,” Emma reminds Martha.
“I understand, but family is family. Yours are now in need. Come, let’s go to the post office to wire some money. Your mother sounded very upset and desperate,” Martha says as they get into the taxi.
It’s evening. A down-hearted Emma sits at the kitchen table monotonously juggling a coin dropping from her hand. All dressed up in black and ready for the night’s action, Dottie joins the frustrated rural girl.
“I am really sorry about your brother’s mishap back home,” Dottie says sitting down and touching her cousin’s hands.
Pulling free from Dottie’s hands and leaning back in the wooden chair.
“But how could my brother do a thing like that, smoking dagga in public?”
Emma asks with a worried frown on her face.
“How do you know dagga was involved?” a surprised Dottie exclaims.
“Henry gave me permission to call my mother from the office,” the girl says dejectedly. “I didn’t even know my brother was smoking, let alone dagga.
Because of him I don’t have any money left for the rest of this month. I just don’t know how I will survive.”
“Cheer up girl. Never fear when cousin Dottie is near,” Dottie says pulling a N$100 bill from a wad of notes in her bra. “Taraaa. This should help you along real fine. Just make sure the old lady doesn’t get to know about this money. Take it.”
It is Emma’s turn to be surprised.
“Where did you get all that money from?” she asks.
“Where this comes from, there is more for the take,” Dottie says referring to the rest of the money in her bra. “Listen, cousin, why don’t you come with me tonight. You will not be disappointed, I guarantee you.”
“Sorry, I am working tomorrow,” Emma replies holding the note in her hand.
“But one night outside this dump of a house will do you a world of good.
“I might even borrow you some more money if you decided to come with,” Dottie dangles her carrot to the uncertain girl.
“I am not so sure I want to…” Emma tries to resist, but Dottie has other ideas.
“Stop being a spoil sport. You will enjoy meeting some of my friends instead of being all cooped up in here. Go on, go get dressed,” she orders the younger woman.
“I think you are right. I’ll come with you,” Emma says in a totally changed mood. She gets up and enters the bedroom.
“Got you hooked little farm girl,” Dottie says to herself, satanically laughing lighting a cigarette. The devil works in mysterious ways…
To be continued next week.