Rehema sat there on the floor with her knees drawn and her hands clasped around them, staring straight ahead of her. It had been weeks since Trishan visited her and she told him about her past. She would never forget the expression on his face when she finished her story and just before he said that he had to leave. She wanted him to stay so badly and had begged him to but he left. It was as if he couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
After he left, she had closed the door and leaned against it, allowing the tears to run down her face. The hurt was deep. Maybe it had been a mistake to tell him about her ordeal but she felt compelled to tell him. But, she strongly felt that he had to know the whole sordid truth and so, she told him. Maybe it had been too much of a shock for him and that was why he had reacted the way he did.
She spent the next several weeks feeling miserable and wishing she hadn’t told him anything. When she saw his aunt, she didn’t mention anything. She tried to put on a bright face and act as if nothing had happened but inside, she was hurting really bad. And it hit her that she wouldn’t be feeling that way if it weren’t for the fact that she was in love with him. She hadn’t meant to fall in love with him and it wasn’t only because they were from different backgrounds but he had a girlfriend. His aunt had told her so, maybe because she sensed that there was an attraction between them. Whenever Trishan and she were around each other, they exchanged frequent and lingering looks.
She knew that he visited his aunt every Saturday and there were times when she thought it best to stay away. So, that day, she was pleasantly surprised when he dropped by to see her and to offer her some of the cake his aunt had given him. If only she hadn’t told him about her past, they could have spent a pleasant evening together. Now, she was probably never going to see him again. The last time she spoke to Savitri, she had told her that he hadn’t been visiting lately. It was probably because of her. The last thing he wanted was to see her.
Should she be upset with him for the way he reacted? What would she have done if she were in his shoes? The opposite? Would she have stayed? Would she have reached out in compassion and friendship? This was how she had expected or rather, hoped that he would have acted but he didn’t. She knew why he had acted the way he did. He was repulsed by her being with those other men. She saw it on his face. He probably thought that she was damaged goods. Tears sprang to her eyes now. I’m not damaged, she thought, I’m unbroken, strong and healed. My past didn’t defeat me and it doesn’t define me.
Her faith was what helped her through those dark moments and she knew that it was God who provided the way of escape. And it was He who had encouraged her to come to London to begin a new life. And then, she met Trishan. She thought about when she had run into him and his girlfriend at the train station. It was so good to see him in spite of everything but she wished he had been alone. She knew that the woman with him was his girlfriend. It bothered her to see them together and it hurt that he barely said a word to her. She remembered the hostile expression on his face when he had looked at her. Then, he walked past her, leaving her standing there, staring after him, forlornly. She closed her eyes now and sighed heavily.
Her eyes opened again when she heard the doorbell. She wiped her face in her sleeve before she got up and went to answer the door. Her heart leapt in her chest when she saw who it was. She opened the door. Their eyes met and held for several minutes before he said, “Hello.”
“May I come in?”
“Yes.” She stepped aside for him to enter. After he removed his shoes, they went into the living-room.
He stood backing a painting and facing her. A tense expression was on his face. She remained standing. “I came to apologize for what happened the last time I was here.”
“I guess it was too much of a shock for you.”
“I’ve read about human trafficking but I’ve never met someone who was in it. Yes, it was a huge shock for me. I never once imagined that–“
“That I was a human trafficking victim. Looking at me, you can’t tell.”
“Yes. Looking at you, no one would guess that you once lived in a brothel and went to local bars to solicit men for sex.” He felt the anger and jealousy rising. “Just how many men did you sleep with?”
“How often did you sleep with them?”
“I was forced to sleep with them daily until my debt was paid.”
“How long after you started sleeping with them did you manage to escape?”
“A month after.”
“So, for an entire month, you were having sex with these men?”
“Why couldn’t you have escaped before you slept with them?”
“I would have if the opportunity had been there at that time.”
“It’s too bad that it wasn’t.”
“I’m thankful that I did escape. Not many girls were able to.”
“Did you ever get sick?”
“If you’re asking if I ever got any STDs, the answer is no. All the men I was with wore condoms. I guess they didn’t want to take any health risks. As soon as I returned to Kenya, I went and got tested for STDs, HIV and AIDS. The results were all negative. I was clean. When I came here to London, I got tested again and the results were the same. I’m not a health risk and I thank God for that.”
“I guess you didn’t have to worry about getting pregnant since the men wore protection.”
“No. I didn’t have to worry about that. Only one of them didn’t wear any protection.”
“I thought you said they all did.”
“The six did but the seventh one didn’t.”
“I thought you said that you slept with six men.”
“I did. The seventh man watched.”
“Yes. He used to sit in the chair and watch. He was an older man, always well dressed. I think he was rich because he paid me much more than the others. He didn’t want to have sex. He just wanted to watch. It felt so strange having someone else in the room, watching us like he was watching a porn movie.”
In a flash, Trishan was standing in front of her and seizing her by the shoulders, he cried, “Stop it!” His eyes blazed with fury as they met her startled ones. “I don’t want to hear any more about you and those bloody men. It makes me crazy and sick with jealousy.”
She stared up at him incredulously. “You’re jealous?”
“Yes! The thought of you having sex with them makes me insanely jealous.”
“But, there’s no reason for you to be,” she told him. “I-I hated being with them. It sickened me every time I had to get undressed and into the bed. I hated every minute of it and there were times when I wanted to die rather than to go through with it but God wanted me to live and He provided an escape for me. I wish that what happened to me never did.”
“I wish it didn’t happen too.”
“I wish I could erase the past.”
“So, do I. That afternoon when I saw you at the train station, were you on your way to meet someone?”
He stiffened. “A man?”
“No. My co-worker, Sondra. We were going to a cooking class at Borough Kitchen.”
Relief washed over him. “I thought you were going to meet a man.”
They were staring at each other, both of them breathing heavily as the air became emotionally charged. Their faces were close and their bodies were almost touching. His eyes dropped to her parted lips and he swallowed hard as desire raged inside him. “Rehema…”
“Trishan…” she whispered, watching transfixed as his face drew closer.
The ringing of the telephone startled them and he released her. He raked his fingers through his hair as he tried to compose himself.
Rehema’s hand trembled slightly as she picked up the receiver. “Hello?” It was her mother calling from Nairobi. “Hold on, Mama.” She put her hand over the mouthpiece. “It’s my mother,” she told Trishan.
“I’d better be leaving,” he muttered tightly. “I’ll let myself out. Goodbye.”
“Goodbye, Trishan. Thanks for stopping by.” She watched as he strode briskly out of the living-room. When she heard the door close, she removed her hand from the mouthpiece. “Sorry, Mama. I had a visitor. He just left.”