The house where I live is at the top of the hill. You can’t miss it; it’s the white three-story mansion that is bordered almost all around by the slums. Except for the side that faces Muthaiga and which has a private driveway. It’s a beautiful house it actually looks like a castle. The kind a girl dreams about living in and living happily ever after. I wish it was. Appearances are deceiving because that is a castle of nightmares.
My name is Carol. I started living here two years ago when I was ten. My parents died in an accident and there was no one to claim me. Mama Salma said that she would take me in. No one argued, well no one would dare to. Mama Salma supports half of the slum I used to live in, in one way or another.
“Carol you are going to be very happy with me. All my girls are happy. You are so pretty, in a couple of years, you will be beautiful. Yes, you will do. Yes, you will do very nicely,” Mama Salma told me. It’s a good thing I didn’t know what she meant else I would have refused to go with her.
We walked to the edge of the slum with Mama Salma. She with her beautiful fashionable clothes and me with my hand-me-down second-hand clothes. A Mercedes picked us up from the edge of the slum and drove towards a gated compound just next to the slum. The gates opened themselves as if by magic and I only discovered later that they were called electric gates.
As the white mansion neared I was caught up in amazement at the lawn and the compound the likes of which I had only seen on TV. The mansion was big, a massive three floors. The inside was even more impressive. It was painted in shades of red and cream and the floors were marble. It was beautiful. I almost pinched myself to see if I was dreaming.
I was taken to the second floor. The pretty lady who took me there smiled and opened for me a room. “This will be your room,” she said. I was stunned. I asked, “I will be sharing this room with other children?”
“No! It’s just you. We need to get you out of those awful clothes. You need to get clean and then we will de-lice you. We can’t have you not looking beautiful. Come let me show you the bathroom.”
I wondered what it is about beauty that attracted these people. I had noticed that all the people I had met had been either handsome or beautiful. People told me I was pretty. My daddy actually used to tell me I was beautiful and when I would grow up I would turn heads.
I was short. I had pretty brown eyes, a light brown complexion, and long natural hair. I hadn’t started blooming yet. My breasts had not come out and neither had my hips. I was a rose about to bloom. Looking back at when I was naive and innocent, I realise that there were people ready to take advantage of that innocence.
After I had been bathed, (I found this strange as I had not been washed since I was 4) the pretty lady who had introduced herself as Natalie, went out and when she returned she had some beautiful dresses and sandals. “Pick one and wear it,” Natalie said.
I was unsure of what to choose. I had never had new, new clothes. All my clothes had been bought second-hand from the market or handed down to me by my cousins. I choose a yellow sundress and some pretty red sandals.
Natalie sat me down after that and told me there were rules to be followed in the house. The first rule is that I was never to go anywhere unaccompanied by someone from the house. The second was that what happened in the house was private it was not for telling strangers. The third was that I should never try to run away or break any of the above rules otherwise I would be punished. The fourth rule was that I was not to leave my room without permission. Natalie asked me whether I understand and I said I did.
Natalie said with a sad smile, “you don’t have to stay here. Do you have any relatives that you can go stay with? You have one chance to leave and that’s right now.”
“I don’t have anywhere to go,” I said.
Natalie sighed and then said, “Well now that you’re here to stay I’ll be taking care of you.” She reached for the telephone, dialled some numbers, and said, “Please bring some food for Carol. Some chips, chicken, and soda will do. Plus ice cream for dessert.”
Natalie looked at me and told me, “If you need me press three. That’s my number. Enjoy your food.”
I was left in this room that was big enough to fit our old house plus another two. There was a big bed in the middle of the room. It had a pink bedspread, pink frills, and even a mosquito net. I thanked God for these wonderful strangers who had taken me in and had given me luxury that I had never imagined. At home, I used to sleep on a mattress on the floor because there was only one bed, my parent’s 3 by 4.
For the next two weeks, I never left my room. I watched TV on a big screen TV that was brought to my room. I ate, showered and relaxed that’s all I did. In fact, I started adding a bit of weight to my bones.
One day when I was watching TV Natalie came and ordered me to take a bath. “We are having special guests tonight. They all want to see you. They have heard how pretty you are and they want to see you for themselves,” she said.
Natalie took me to the bathroom and this time again she washed me and then braided my hair into cornrows. She oiled me with some fragrantly smelling oil and sprayed some perfume on me. When we returned to my room there was a lacy dress that did not seem to have any lining. Wear that, I was ordered. I was puzzled but I was too frightened to speak. Natalie had this expression on her face. I can’t describe it but I felt scared. There was no underwear and when I asked for some I was told it doesn’t matter. She gave me a glass with some juice and told me to drink it. It tasted funny but since I didn’t want to argue I drank it up.
We went downstairs through a lift that was at the end of the corridor. I was taken to a large room where there were many chairs and a sort of stage with one seat. I was told to sit there. There were men in the room, but no women except Mama Salma and Natalie. Natalie came and stood by me. The men were drinking. I was young but I knew the smell of alcohol.
I sat there feeling so uncomfortable. I was wondering who these men were and what they were doing there. And all these men were looking at me. They were around 20 of them. Some old and some young. They all had one thing in common. They all looked rich. Having lived in a slum you can tell when someone had money. You can look at their face, nails and hands and clothes and you can tell.
After a while mama Salma stood and clapped. She smiled and said, “Welcome gentlemen. It is our honour to host you again at our lovely abode. Today we have a tasty morsel for you. We have managed to acquire into our family a young untouched girl. She is a virgin and she is up for sale. We will start bidding at 250,000 thousand Kenya Shillings. Gentlemen, come look at the merchandise. Isn’t she beautiful?”
At this point, I was shaking. I looked around; I thought they were talking about someone else. But when the men started walking toward me with leery grins I realized I was in trouble. I was in deep deep trouble. I couldn’t believe that this could be happening to me. I started feeling dizzy and my heart was racing. I tried to stand and run away. Natalie held me down to the chair. For some reason, I was feeling tired and my muscles were not obeying my commands.
When the first man came and started touching my face and caressing it, I fainted!
When I awoke I felt groggy. I was shaking and I couldn’t understand why. Then I looked down and saw that I was naked, just covered with a sheet on my bed. Then I remembered what had happened in that room. I started crying.
Natalie came to me and told me to hush. “Why are you crying? Crying will not change anything. You are very valuable. Do you know how much your virginity is worth? She paused and chuckled. There’s a man who will pay 100,000 dollars to be your first lover. And you had better make it worth his while.”
I trembled. I couldn’t understand what was going on. Who were these people? Why did this man want to take my virginity? Growing up in a slum and having to sleep in the same one room with my parents I knew what sex was. Sex was something grownups did together. So why did this man want to sleep with me? I understood that losing my virginity was sleeping with a man.
I was puzzled by this. I asked Natalie, “Why are you doing this?” Natalie smiled and said, “My darling one day you will learn that sex makes the world go round. It is a currency. It is power. Whoever controls it is powerful. Always remember that. There are many men who want sex and are willing to pay a lot of money for it.”
For the next two weeks, I was a prisoner. I was not allowed to leave my room. There was a security guard posted outside my door so that I could not escape. Every day twice a day there was a woman who came, scrubbed me down with some portions, and massaged my skin with fragrant oils. My skin was glowing and became so soft.
I cried and pleaded with Natalie to stop what was going to take place. She didn’t listen. I spend my time crying and praying for salvation. None came. It seemed that there was no hope for me.
One morning a hairdresser came to my room. My hair was natural. She put chemicals on it and straightened it. Then she put curls in it. She cleaned and painted my toenails and nails with clear nail polish. She tweezed my eyebrows and did a facial for my skin.
I was then washed in the tub and massaged with fragrant oils and lotions. I was made to wear a white dress and white sandals. There were flowers put in my hair. I was so frightened because I guessed that the dreaded day had come. I tried to plea for salvation to those who were attending me but no one was moved.
Later a man I was told was a doctor came to examine me. He checked me all over and then gave me an injection. I found out later I was drugged to make me relax and not be tense.
A car came for me. Natalie came with me. I was taken to the other side of town. We passed through the slum on the way out and I looked at my former neighbourhood. I wished I could go back there to play and stay. I couldn’t believe that a couple of weeks ago I was there. It seemed like a lifetime ago.
After about an hour we reached our destination. We had been stuck in jam for about 30 minutes. I had tried to plead again with Natalie but she wouldn’t listen. At some point, she got annoyed and told me in a harsh tone to shut up. I shrunk into my seat and kept quiet.
When we arrived at the destination I was surprised. The biggest, grandest house I had ever seen was Mama Selma’s house but this was bigger and grander. From the outside, it was painted orange and cream. The driveway was long, with gardens and green lawns stretching beside it.
When we reached the house a man dressed in uniform came and opened the door. He ushered us into the house. I later found out that this man was a butler, apparently rich people have people who open and close for them their front doors. They also welcome their guests. It seemed that there were no other servants; I found out later that they had been sent away.
We walked through a large corridor filled with paintings and sculptures. I was taken upstairs to a room with a huge bed. The ceiling was something I had never seen. It had a mirror that reflected back the images in the room.
A man came to greet us. He was not young or old. I couldn’t estimate his age. He was tall, white, had grey eyes, and slim. When he reached us he smiled. I remember at that time I thought he had a kind smile. He kissed Natalie on the cheek and then looked me over. He put his hand on my face, cupping it and looked into my eyes. He said, “My name is Anthony. We will have a great time together so relax. We are going to have some fun together.”
I must have looked so scared because he chuckled. Then as if satisfied he let go of me. He whispered something to Natalie and she left. I was left alone in the room with this stranger. He went to a sideboard where there was food. He offered me some but I refused. He took out a cigarette from his pocket and lit it. It smelled funny and I knew it was bhangi. In the slum, many young men smoked this kind of cigarette.
Natalie came back into the room. She carried a tray with drinks on them. She poured some into a glass, came to me, and said, “Drink this. It will help you.”
I took a sip. It was bitter. Natalie forced me to drink it all up. She then took me to the bed, untucked the covers and made me sit on the sheets which were white. She said, “I know this will be hard but you have to go through with it. Anthony is a good man. He will not hurt you like some of the others would have. If he tells you to do something do it. Mama Salma will not be happy if you don’t make him happy.”
Natalie left. Anthony came to the bed. I don’t want to talk about those next few hours. All I can say is that I have never felt so much pain in my life. Anthony hurt me. He stole away my innocence and broke something in me. I think he broke my spirit. He used me over and over. I cried and screamed, I fought but to no avail. Anthony was stronger than me. He did what he wanted with me.
I stayed at Anthony’s house for two days. On the second day, the doctor from Mama Salma’s came to examine me. He cleaned me up inside and gave me another injection. Apparently, this was to make me sleep.
When I awoke I was at Mama Salma’s house again. The first thing I saw was Mama Salma and Natalie standing near my bed. They were talking and laughing. When Mama Salma saw I was awake she came towards the bed.
“Child you did such a great job. Anthony was very impressed with you. Now you belong here. You get some rest we will talk later,” Mama Salma said. She leaned over and gave me a kiss on my cheek.
At that moment I felt something I had never felt before in my life. Intense hatred. It burned in me, I can’t explain it but I hated this woman with everything in my being. I turned in bed and looked the other way. I hurt everywhere; I felt I hurt even deep into my soul. My body felt like it had met a battering ram. I forgot it had.
Mama Salma and Natalie left the room. I saw at the door a female guard. This time she stayed inside. Mama Salma wanted to make sure I didn’t do anything harsh. Maybe she thought I would jump out of the window. Believe me, that day and many other times after that I thought about it but I guess am a coward I couldn’t go through with it.
I stayed in bed for a week. I cried and prayed. I thought finally that God didn’t care about me. He abandoned me in that house. In that house, the gods that were worshipped were money and sex. I stopped praying. I didn’t pray for the next 6 years. I refused to eat anything. I wish I could say I didn’t drink anything but I was overwhelmingly thirsty. I thought, “If I don’t eat I will waste away and die.”
Mama Salma wisely stayed away. Natalie came to check in on me periodically. She would talk to me like nothing had happened. It was only once that I saw a crack in her mask. She told me, “You have to be strong. Don’t let them break you. The biggest revenge you can have on them is not to break. They want to break you. That’s their purpose and plan” she didn’t say who “them” were but I understood.
The doctor would come every day. He would ask me to part my legs and then he would check my privates to see how they were healing. He used to put some kind of medicine to help me heal up, at least that’s what he said. The first day he had come, the time when he drugged me to take me back to Mama Salma’s he had stitched me up. I had gotten torn up pretty bad because I was small, not old enough to have sex.
I used to play the memories of my childhood in my head like a tape. To try and forget what had happened. I would focus on the happy times I had with my parents. My parents had wanted many children but unfortunately when I was born the doctors at Pumwani botched up the c-section and so my mum couldn’t have other kids. I would play pretend in my mind that they were still around and that we were having fun the way we used to. Sometimes I could pretend for up to an hour but when I moved around the bed and the pain started again I couldn’t hold on to the fantasies.
After one week Mama Salma came into the room with Natalie. She said, “No more sleeping girl. It’s time you came back to the land of the living. I hear you are refusing to eat. You will eat or you will discover that crossing me will be the most painful decision you will ever make. Natalie give her a bath and then bring her downstairs.”
Natalie sponge bathed me and dressed me up. She took me downstairs taking the lift. It was painful to walk but I had to. The tone Mama Salma had used told me I would be in very big trouble if I didn’t obey her.
We went to the first-floor dining room. I had never been there before. It looked like something I had seen in a movie about what a dining room should look like. There were serving dishes on the side of the room and there were some women in uniform standing there dishing out food.
In the room were about twelve beautiful women. They were different. Some were short, others tall. Their complexion range was from dark black to a lady who was white or something close to it. They stood in groups talking and laughing. They all got quiet though when I entered. They looked at me from top to bottom. I felt shy because I had never felt such hostile eyes on me before or maybe I had never noticed. Then just as suddenly they started talking again. I got the feeling that they were discussing me.
Natalie led me to a chair somewhere in the middle of the huge table that had been set up with dishes, forks and spoons. Later on, I was told that the cultured word for this was cutlery.
Natalie asked, “What will you eat?”
I didn’t know what they had on offer so I just told her to get me whatever was there. She went off to get me food. I was left there at the big table hoping that the ground would come and swallow me.
“Hi.” I heard a cheerful voice saying to me. I had to turn and look at this person addressing me. The lady addressing me was a short, plump but very beautiful woman with a chocolate brown complexion. She smiled and then sat down.
“They are all jealous of you, she said. Nodding her head towards the other ladies in the groups. No client has ever paid the amount that was paid for you.”
I didn’t know what to say so I just shut up.
“My name is Bubbles. Your name is Carol, isn’t it? At least that’s what I heard,” the lady said.
I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted to get on with my mal because Mama Salma had forced me. I wanted to go back to bed. I didn’t want to have some small talk with this lady.
“I am so sorry. I’m bubbling that’s why I’m called Bubbles. I heard what happened to you? There are some sick men out there.”
Just then Natalie came back with some soup and small rolls of bread. I wondered if that was all they were going to give me. I ate the food before me with gusto. I was really hungry. When I was done I thought Natalie would take me back to my room. She told me to wait for the second course. I didn’t know what that meant but I soon found out.
Natalie went off with my bowl and the plate. In the meantime Bubbles who had gone to get a glass of wine took the opportunity to get back to where I was sitting. Frankly, I did not want to talk to anyone but my parents had taught me not to be rude to grown-ups so I didn’t tell her I wanted to be alone.
“You know you are the first young girl under the age of eighteen to be brought here. The girls here,” she swept the room with her hand, well they usually come here when Mama Salma makes them a proposition they can’t refuse.” I didn’t know that word “proposition” and I didn’t want to talk so I just listened.
“Many of the girls here came on their own. Mama Salma is pretty good at getting what she wants. She offers money, a good life and a life of luxury, now which girl would refuse a deal like that.” Bubbles laughed, yet when I looked at her she looked sad. I don’t know what was going on in her mind.
Bubbles said, “anyway Mama Salma decided that since there was demand she would start a new sideline of supplying young girls to willing buyers. It seems there are quite a few men who wouldn’t mind paying a lot for underage girls. I guess you can say you were the experiment. She seems very happy with how it has gone.”
At that moment Natalie came back. She didn’t seem too happy with Bubbles talking to me. “Bubbles take your gossip somewhere else. And if you need to get drunk don’t do it in my presence.” She clicked her tongue at Bubbles. Bubbles stood up and left.
“Don’t associate with that one. She is a gossip and a drunk. Don’t listen to anything she says. She is just a bitter girl. Now eat. Mama Salma is coming in soon and I want her to find you haven’t eaten. What did I do to be rated a babysitter?”
I sat there and stared at the plate. It had some kind of pilau, some chicken, vegetables and some kind of coated brown food that I couldn’t tell what it was. I took a bite and realized it was fish. Now there was something I loved. I dug into the food and ate everything.
Natalie had by then gone to drink wine with some of the other ladies I had seen. They kept looking at me and then they would sneer or say something in hushed tones. I felt so alone. I wanted to go back to my room, actually, I wanted to get out of this place. I couldn’t believe that when I came here I thought I would be safe. That someone would take care of me. To realize that I was just a pawn to be used was to me even at that tender age very painful.
After about half an hour Mama Salma came into the room with a tall, dark, handsome man. All the ladies hurried to chairs around the table and sat down. Mama Salma was dressed in a red satin dress that clung to her breasts, hips and thighs. It had a slit at the side that ran up to mid-thigh. She was wearing red shoes and had a red big handbag to match. She had on some red lipstick and some blue eye shadow that made her look, in my opinion, very scary.
“I would like to thank you all for being available tonight. I will release you in a couple of minutes. As you can see am on my way out. I just wanted to have a formal welcome to our new housemate, Mama Salma said. “Stand up Carol.” I stood up, holding on to the table so as to balance.
“I want you all to treat Carol nicely. Don’t bully her or play those tricks you usually play on each other. I will be very unhappy if I hear that you have done anything to her. Treat her like your beloved sister. Carol here will be making me a lot of money and I want her taken care of,” Mama Salsa said as she smiled.
”From tomorrow Carol you will start your lessons. I pride myself on having the most beautiful girls but they must also be intelligent and behave like ladies. I don’t want any of my girls to embarrass me. Tomorrow Carlos here will start teaching you how to speak proper English. He will also teach you some French, Spanish, Italian and German. Those are the languages our customers speak and so you need to learn some of that. That is all. Girls behave yourselves. Some of you are getting drunk on the job and I promise there will be some disciplinary action if you don’t stop.”
Mama Salma and Carlos went out. After a few minutes, the atmosphere changed. The girls broke out dancing and laughing. Natalie came for me and escorted me to my room. She explained to me that the girls needed to get ready. Their clients were coming to pick them up. It seemed Mama Salma did not like the men to sleep inside her house so they came picked up their choice for the night and then left with them. Later on, I heard this is what she did so that if by unfortunate chance the police raided her house they would not find any men there. The house was apparently called, “Ladies of Distinction Modelling agency.” She had listed her house as a business that trained and acted as agents for models but that was just a front.
In my room, I felt like I was in jail with no bars. I hated this place but I couldn’t leave. Well at least of my own volition. I sat on my bed and wept. I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring but whatever it was I was scared to face it. In the dark, this is the poem I composed.
A big plastic smile on my face.
Inside I am crying for my innocence.
Used to be happy but now happiness is just a word I hear.
I have everything material but nothing emotional.
I am dead inside.
I was a fragile flower.
But then I was cut and crushed by cruel hands.
I am broken inside yet outside I function.
I don’t believe in God because a loving God wouldn’t let this happen to me.
I hate men.
They are all pretenders.
They pretend that they are nice, loving and caring.
They are not, they are beasts that crush innocence,
And wear blood like it’s a trophy for sport.
One crushed my delicate flower.
Others waited in the wings to stomp out the good in me.
I hate, I hate with a passion what I have become but I am a prisoner.
I can’t escape my capturers they have conquered my mind.
Told me I am nothing and that they have made me something of value.
Put a price tag on my flesh.
Invisible chains hold me to this place.
I am fragile, broken, and old in knowledge yet still a child.
Am a woman in experience but a child in mind.
Am fragile yet I haven’t broken.
Scattered yet held together by will
And a plastic smile.
This house, Mama Salma’s house was my prison until I was 18 and I escaped with the help of a client who fell in love with me and wanted to save me. But that is a story for another day. I have seen things and been done to things I can’t explain. Shameful, horrifying things that give me nightmares. But I am a survivor. A fragile beautiful doll that’s beautiful and whole on the outside but broken and ugly on the inside. This is my story, a story of shattered dreams.
For all the young girls, young boys and women being held as sexual slaves all over the world. We pray for you every day and hope that you will be saved from your bondage. May you find freedom. May you find love. May you never give up hope that one day you will be free. May your voice never be silenced. May your story cause others to take action to save others like you. Trafficked! (Stop Human Trafficking)
Rayhab Gachango 2010
How Madam Salma’s story began – The beginnings: fragile
Fragile was part of a series of stories that started with Invisible the story of a boy Njuguna who sells groundnuts on the streets and followed by Hopeless the story of his younger brother Kamau.
Trust Me – When A Crush Turns Out To Be A Monster
Modern-Day Slavery: Horror Stories From Job Seekers In The Middle East