Don’t Get a Nipple Piercing, but if You Must, Don’t Get It at Freddys!
By the time you get to Freddy’s, you’re as high as a kite. The marijuana you have just smoked in your hostel room is kicking in and your steps are featherlight. You feel like you are walking on the clouds, and it should be a good feeling, except your bladder is full and you can feel it leak a little each time you take a step. It always does that. You sigh heavily as you go in. One thing is for sure, you have lived. The door is low so you almost hit your head. Your eyes do a quick scan as you enter; you catch the toilet sign.
You rush in.
Apart from the small toilet, there is one large room that has been divided by a cardboard to make an extra room. A fresh cloud of smoke hovers over everything. The lights are neon blue – dark enough to hide a person’s face as well as their sins yet bright enough for a person who cares enough to see you. The heavy smoke, the low roof, and the lighting make the room look smaller. At the moment, there are four people. A man in a tight luminous suit sits on the bench to the right. He is deeply engrossed in a conversation with two girls, one of who has long, pink braids and a ring of gold coated bangles on her left arm that make so much noise whenever she moves. Once in a while, he says something, and the girls burst out in a loud laughter and high five. He acknowledges your presence as you leave the toilet with a slight nod and the girls look up briefly, they don’t take any interest in you. Opposite them, a heavy man with a clean bald head and a bushy beard is sitting with a bag of coloured beads on his lap, he’s working on a necklace. You wonder who among them is Freddy. As you stand there, unsure of who to approach, the bald man speaks up.
“Freddy ako na customer,” he says, pointing at the other room with his mouth. He is not even looking at you.
You don’t care. You’re so high, nothing can bring you down. You notice the sound of a tattoo machine from the other room, the voices struggling to stay on top of the noise. You decide to wait.
You must have fallen asleep for a long time because when you wake up, the girls are gone and the door to the other room is slightly open. The sound of the tattoo machine has been replaced by heavy music. It’s Shaggy’s ‘Church Heathen’. You are impressed. You wait a few seconds for your head to stop spinning before you go in.
The small man you find in the inner room smiles widely at you as you get in. It’s as if he is compensating for his companions’ unwelcoming attitude. You ask if he’s Freddy, he nods and smiles; the smile does not leave his lips. You tell him you found him on Instagram, that you were not sure you had gotten the location right. He laughs softly, his eyes dancing from one corner to another. You want to say something about not expecting him to be this small, but you decide against it. He reads your mind.
“Is me!” He jokes as he motions you to sit. His voice is soft. You note how comfortable you are in his presence and decide that he is harmless. You don’t need to put up a guard around him because he is too soft to ruin your life. You smoked your first blunt at a boy’s house – he was a stranger you had just met at the club, on the night of your best friend’s birthday party. The boy had a silver coated tooth, shaggy hair and had parted his eyebrows. The first time you slept in a cell at Central Police Station, it had been because of the same boy. Come to think of it, the uber driver who reported you both for wanting to run without paying him his 700 shillings was also a man. You broke up three weeks later, but you still keep his number because you don’t know anybody else who will give you free weed.
At home, you have always lived in your younger brother’s shadow. Your parents seem to belong to him, it seems that he only lends them to you occasionally – especially when you don’t need them. Perhaps if you were half as charming or talented in basketball as he is or in anything at all, you would stop being invisible. But you are broke, awkward and semi-alcoholic and none of his charm has rubbed off on you despite years of living in the same house.
Yes! Freddy. To break the silence, you ask if he is also a DJ. He looks at you suspiciously then sighs when you point at the pile of records on his table. There’s also a picture of him on the wall behind him with a DJ set.
“Is me, again.” He laughs.
He was a DJ all right, but he tells you that he has not played for a while. You ask how long. Two years. You say you think he must have killed it back then. He asks why. You shrug your shoulder and say that he just looks musical. You both laugh.
When you tell Freddy you want a nipple piercing instead of the navel piercing that you had come for, you don’t know what has come over you. You wait for him to tell you it is a bad idea, to try talk you out of it, but he says nothing and gestures you towards a different chair next to a raised surgery bed with a lamp hanging over it. He reaches over your shoulder to switch on the lamp. He asks you to remove your shirt and sits across you, on the seat you had sat on earlier. You hesitate a little because you had not anticipated this. He explains that he needs to approximate what jewel size to use. You unbutton. It’s too late. You can’t back out now. His face is blank as he brings out the different jewel sizes, placing them on your nipple. He finally picks a medium length nipple earring and sets it aside. He picks up cotton wool dipped in surgical spirit to clean your nipples. You hold your breath. When he’s done, he is blushing, and his cheeks are full of colour. It is then that you notice that your nipples have become hard and big under the scrutiny of his eyes. He sighs nervously and looks away.
“I was wrong about the size.”
Ugh! He has to change the jewel.
You think you see some longing in his eyes and suddenly your whole body becomes aware of his presence. To change the topic, he asks about your septum piercing as he works on the tools. You don’t want to, but you tell him about that night in Beijing during a summer camp when you went out with a friend and got really drunk. You tell him you don’t remember anything else only that you woke up in the morning in that friend’s room and with a septum piercing. You wait for him to judge you. He looks at you for long before he bursts out in laughter.
“That’s not the best part,” you say, “my friend had a tattoo on his chin!”
The pain that cuts your chest is like a hot dagger. Pain so foreign that it throws your body into confusion; it freezes your brain. As you sit there watching the needle cut through layers of thick skin and nerves, you weep like a child.
“Jikaze Ras, tunamaliza,” he soothes.
When he’s done, he holds your breasts tenderly and wipes off the blood with a fresh cotton wool. Before you leave, he takes a picture of your chest, without your face, he also asks for permission to post the picture on his socials. You don’t object. You’re too embarrassed. You really hope you won’t see him again.
A week later, you find yourself back at Freddy’s. Your nipples are hard and sore with pus. He makes you lie down as he inspects them.
“It’s an infection,” he declares this malaise as he reaches for surgical spirit. He offers you a blunt. You ask him where he bought it from. Firul’s, the beard guy who also apparently doubles up as a drug peddler.
Since you stopped calling the boy with the silver tooth for weed, you have jumped from one peddler to another. A friend has recently introduced you to a woman in Ngara who’s often overly kind to you as if you remind her of her children. Sometimes when you start to get lightheaded, you want to ask her if she has children. The only problem is that her place is risky. The police regularly waylay customers leaving her premises.
As your head gets lighter, you ask Freddy about the graffiti of Bob Marley on his wall. He tells you about his adoration for Marley. You talk about his albums with the Wailers, his children, his wife, his death. You say it’s cancer that killed him but Freddy thinks America was behind it.
“Big people like Marley don’t just die,” he says.
You talk about Damian, his son, and of Lauryn Hill as well. You confess that ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill’ was a hard album for you to listen to at first. He asks why. You shrug and say you had personal reasons. You talk about Queen Latifah. You like ‘Trav’lin’ Light’ because she went out of herself, out of her comfort zone to make a beautiful album with amazing vocals. He likes ‘Black Reign’ because he feels she wasn’t trying too much. You bring up the violence around rap culture in America and the politics around it. He says Black rappers are more successful because they rap about the real stuff – guns, poverty, dope, police brutality.
“Ain’t no white boy who can make it without endorsement.”
You roll your eyes.
“Why, what has he got to rap about when he lives in Beverly Hills and drives his mother’s Bentleys?”
You mention Eminem, and he jumps. Eminem had to be endorsed by Black rappers since rapping about his Mama troubles wasn’t enough. That’s why he can only beef with white boys like Machine Gun Kelly.
“Whose rapping career by the way,” he adds, “started and ended with the diss track.”
Despite all that, you both agree that Eminem is an alright white boy. You both like Tupac but sympathise with Biggie. “Tupac was misunderstood,” Freddy says, and you laugh because you know he expects you’ll argue that Tupac was too ghetto. You talk about his beef with Janet Jackson, and he sides with Tupac because the Jacksons are fucked up; but you both like their music anyway. You talk about record labels, about Death Row, and legends like Snoopy, Dr. Dre, Sugar, Ice Cube and Kendrick.
“Kendrick’s best album?”
“Good kid, M.A.A.D City.”
You ask why. “What about ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ or ‘Damn’?”
“There’s a bit of laxity in ‘TPAB’ and ‘Damn’ had autotunes.”
“But ‘Damn’ also has Rihanna, ” you protest, “Riri makes things better!”
He laughs. You suggest a game. Each of you must give two artists and you can vote for the preferred one. You go first with Kendrick and J Cole. You both pick Kendrick. Queen Latifah and Missy Eliot, you both refuse to pick. Asap Rocky and Tyler the Creator, you refuse to pick again; it’s because you like Asap but he has not released anything recently and Tyler has ‘IGOR’ which went platinum. Smino and Ski Mask the Slump God? He hasn’t heard of either. Anderson Paak and Childish Gambino? Anderson Paak; although you both agree that Donald Glover is a genius. Bryson Tiller and Daniel Ceaser? You, Daniel. Him, Bryson. Bryson again with Tory Lanez? Tory. Burna Boy and Wizkid? You pick Burna because he reminds you of Fela Kuti. He goes with Wizkid because he’s been in the game longer and he has nice beats.
You go on and on until 7pm. Four blunts down and you’ve missed all your afternoon classes.
That night you dream about him. His body is a mirror. He is saying something to you but you can’t hear him. However, each time he opens his mouth, his words cut you but instead of blood, it is jewels of all types and sizes that pour out. A river of silvers and gold and bronze. You wake up in a pool of sweat.
It’s been six months since you started hanging out with him. Six months of those weekly visits which have been regular except when you had exams. Your nipples dried and healed about a month ago, but he still dresses them anyway, and you let him because you like to be taken care of.
On this Tuesday, you leave school early and head to town. Except for Firul, you don’t find Freddy with anyone. Tuesdays, unlike Fridays, are often slow. It is as if people have somehow universally agreed that Friday is the Sinner’s Day. You have spent hours in conversation, smoking weed, and once, Firul brought cheap cocaine which you rolled with weed and smoked. You were so high you thought you would die. You have talked about music, about his DJ career, about tattoos. He told you about his three-year-old daughter. You told him about law school, about the boy with the silver tooth, about your brother, about your parents.
Today, you lie down on the bed facing up, like you always do. You wait for him to unbutton your shirt like he always does. He usually brushes his hands against your belly; all the way up, and you pretend not to notice. You stifle a moan from escaping your mouth. You wait for him to offer you a blunt as he inspects your nipples, taking each in his hand carefully, as if they were glass and he fears they would break. He doesn’t. Today, he unbuttons your shirt but instead of checking your nipples, he forces his hand into your pants and starts to stroke the softness of your thighs. Your mind is in turmoil. You want to stop him, but you are too weak. You want to say no, but the words refuse to form in your mouth. He finds them for you.
“You want this?” He is holding himself in his other hand. “Yes, I know you want daddy, you naughty girl.”
The words sound foreign to your ears. They are not your words, even though you have always secretly wondered what kissing him would feel like. He opens your mouth with his hand and puts his hardness inside of you. He tastes of semen and dampness. He thrusts down your throat, each time deeper and harder. For a moment, you’re sure you are going to throw up. When he is done, he zips his trousers and strokes your cheeks.
“You are good, but next time, less teeth.”
You can still taste him in your mouth as you watch him leave. Outside, you hear him say something to Firul. They both laugh.
Gloriah Amondi is a memoirist and a graduate of law at the University of Nairobi. Her work has appeared in Kalahari Review, Ibua Journal and AMKA Space for Women Writers. When she’s not writing, she’s drumming.
*Image by Mòje Ikpeme