The black Mercedes pulled up at the back of the club and Lelethu was ushered through a side door marked PRIVATE. This was not the dingy staircase down to the basement and that tiny stage with the pole right in the middle. This was a door that looked inviting, welcoming even. The driver tapped the door once.
“Come in,” a man’s voice answered.
The driver pushed the door open and Lelethu found herself in a room with a leather couch and a desk. There was another door on the far side of the room. But there was no music, or stage. No party. Suddenly Lelethu wished Pholisa was there with her. Even the man didn’t look like he sounded on the phone.
“Hello, gorgeous, I’m glad you could make it,” he said coming forward. He was short and chubby and balding. He held out his hand to shake hers.
“I thought you said there was a private party,” Lelethu said extending her hand. But instead of shaking her hand he took it in his and kissed it gently, making Lelethu blush.
“Oh, but it is. This is just my office. Let me show you around.” He opened the other door for her and she found herself in a dimly lit, red-carpeted passage.
“Follow me,” Steven said.
Lelethu turned to look back down the passage, but they were alone … The driver had gone.
She had no idea where she was. As they walked down the passage, she tried to count the doors so that she could find her way back out if she needed to, but Steven was walking too fast.
“This will be your room,” he said suddenly, stopping in front of a door on the left and opening it for her.
Her room? She was going to have her own room? Like a proper star?
The lights were turned down dim in the room, but Lelethu could still make out a red leather sofa on one side, a mini fridge next to it, and shutters to the far right. And in the middle a raised, small stage with a pole in the middle.
There must be a mistake. Surely this was not her room. Hadn’t he said there would be no pole-dancing. She was too good for that. That was for those other girls, he had said. The cheap ones.
Steven closed the door behind them. Her heart was in her throat now.
“You’ll be dancing privately for my closest friend – he only gets the best – on your very own stage. Like a real star,” Steven said softly.
And then he saw her staring at the pole.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. You don’t have to use the pole. It’s just some girls … they lack imagination. But you, no, with your moves and your body you won’t need the pole to turn the men on.” He laughed then. “Just the sight of you in these will be enough, don’t you think? I’ll give you some time to change.”
He pulled a pair of silky red panties and a lacy bra out of his pocket. She imagined his chubby fingers feeling them, and shuddered.
She had been fooled again. This time by the soft, sweet words of a complete stranger. And now here she was, in this room, and she didn’t know how to escape. She knew now what would happen should he leave her in here. The next thing some fat old man with a big belly and reeking of alcohol would come into this room and there would be just the two of them. And nobody would hear her scream. She needed to get out of here. But she had to keep calm. She couldn’t panic.
“I’m sorry, Steven, but I don’t think I can do this,” she said quickly. Perhaps she could appeal to him.
“Just think of all the big money you’ll be making, darling. Isn’t that what you want? Besides, you’ll be a favourite here, with a body like yours,” he said, holding her chin and lifting her head up to look at her.
And then he was at the door.
“Get changed – you’ll be starting in 20 minutes.” As the door began to close, he turned back into the room. “All my best girls were like you at first – nervous and shy. But then they’re fine. I know you can do it.” And then he was gone, closing the door behind him. She heard a click and knew that he had locked the door.
There was no escape now.
You can do this, she told herself. Don’t panic. Perhaps when the ‘friend’ came in she could rush past him out into the corridor. But then what? She didn’t know how to get out of the building. And what if Steven caught her? That kind of man had bodyguards and pimps.
Slowly, she started to take her clothes off.
Then she heard the door open. She spun around, but it wasn’t a man – it was Lolly.
“Hey, lightweight,” Lolly teased. “Steven sent me to help you.”
“I can’t do this,” said Lelethu quickly.
“Darling, Steven doesn’t like the word ‘can’t’. Listen, it’s not that bad really. You don’t have to have sex, you know. You just have to swing your hips, take off your bra and twirl it in some old toppie’s face. And the money is really good. Here …” she held out the flask of whisky. “This will make it easier. You’ll need it. Tonight is going to be crazy.”
Lelethu took the flask and gulped the whisky down.
“Do you know how to swing the pole?” Lolly asked, walking over to it and doing a twirl. Lelethu shook her head. “Stay away from it then; do what you do best,” Lolly said. “Good luck,” she called, and then she was gone.
Lelethu wanted to call after her, to stop her. But there was no time. She could already hear heavier footsteps in the passage. She hadn’t even changed, was still in her jeans when the door opened and a man walked in. Lelethu instinctively took a step back, away from him. She felt the cold steel of the pole behind her. The man was at least in his fifties. Older than her friends’ fathers. And he was fat. His belly spilled out over his trousers. Not even jeans, some old-fashioned beige pants that made his legs look like thick sausages. She couldn’t look at his face, all she knew was that he was sweating. She could smell it from where she stood. And that his little piggy eyes were half buried in folds of fat.
He slumped onto the couch.
She stood there, motionless.
“What you waiting for?” his voice was hoarse. “Turn the music on.”
He indicated to a corner of the room. Lelethu turned. The man must be a regular here. He knew the routine. She saw the CD player in the corner and walked slowly over to it.
“Not the sexiest clothes,” he commented, and chuckled, “But then you’ll have them off soon enough.”
Lelethu glanced over at the door. Had the man locked it when he had come in? Was one of Steve’s bouncers waiting outside to make sure she couldn’t escape?
She switched the CD on. Rihanna’s ‘Pour It Up’ came on.
“I’m looking forward to the extras. Steve said it would be worth the money.”
Extras? Had this man paid Steve to have sex with Lelethu?
And then instinct took over. She leapt across the room and yanked the door open. She fell out into the corridor, in time to see the back of a big man turn the corner at the end of the passage. If he was the bouncer, then now was her chance. She ran down the corridor in the opposite direction, flying past a series of shut doors. Were there other girls behind those doors, entertaining guests?
At the end there was a fire escape. She didn’t think. She just flew down the metal steps two at a time. There was a door at the bottom and it was open. As she stepped into the street the night air hit her. It was dark, an alleyway behind the club.
“Well, well, well, nank’uBeyoncé,” a man’s voice said. Lelethu froze. She hadn’t escaped. She had walked straight into another kind of hell. She just didn’t know it yet.
As the man came forward out of the shadows Lelethu recognised his heavy build and sneering face. It was one of Matchsticks’s skollies, Whitey. Everyone in the community knew him. Matchsticks used him as a driver – he had a laugh like a hyena. She backed up against the rough concrete wall, but it offered her no protection.
The only thing she could do now was to keep running down the alley. As Whitey came forward she pushed past him.
She could hear Whitey walking fast behind her and then she heard the sound of running feet. She was too afraid to turn back and look. At the end of the alleyway she could only turn right, into another alleyway, this one full of rubbish.
And then he was on her. She turned just as Whitey reached her and kneed him as hard as she could below the belt. He gave a yell as he doubled over. But it was no use – there was nowhere else to go … In the dark ahead of her was a solid wall. It was a dead end.
She was trapped. She ran and hid behind a rubbish bin at the end. She took out her cell and typed just one word.
She hit ‘Send’. That was all there was time for before Whitey was up on his feet again, making his way down the alley towards her. And then her phone rang.
With her phone in her trembling hand, she hit the green button and screamed with everything she had.
Whitey kicked the dustbin away and yanked her up by the hair and smacked her. Her phone flew out of her hand and landed in pieces far off. Lelethu screamed for help again. Another hit landed on her face, and she slumped to the floor.
She heard more voices now and running feet. But the men who were bearing down on her hadn’t come to save her. No. It was the gang – Matchsticks’s gang. And they were drunk. Whitey pulled her up again and shoved her into one of the other guys.
“This bitch kicked me – make her pay,” he gave the order.
Lelethu looked up at the man she had been thrown into. Her lower lip torn and bloody, her eyes filled with fear and tears. Her eyes pleaded for him to have mercy on her. His face was grave, something she couldn’t read. He looked like he was asking her what she was doing there. Or was it anger? It was Masi.
“Please, bhuti,” she whispered into his face.
“Ta-Whitey, let’s leave her – she’s not worth it,” Masi said dropping her to the ground.
“Voetsek, Max, nobody hits me and lives to talk about it,” Whitey snarled, his yellow teeth almost glowing in the dark. “Fuck this bitch now! Or nd’zokubhodisa,” he said, whipping out a knife.
Masi turned and looked at the blade. Whitey was mad, everybody knew that. He would kill them both right there in the dark corner and nobody would ever find them.
Masi swore under his breath and turned to Lelethu. He picked her up by her top and ripped it. Whitey laughed his hyena laugh. “Fuck her, fuck her!” he kept shouting.
Masi slapped Lelethu hard.
“Masixole!” she cried.
The last thing she saw was his face, with his fading scar. He turned his face away from hers and obeyed Whitey.
Tell us: How do you feel about Masi now?