The moist sea breeze struck him in the face like a warm damp blanket as he hurriedly walked towards the gates of the wharf. “Come on hurry up!” he called to the three women who dawdled behind him. “I haven’t had a good drink in three days.”
Whenever a ship docked, it mean lots of ready cash and alcohol would be available as long as he had quality woman available for the foreign sailors on board. The ship had docked a few hours earlier. But Pius wanted to wait for the cover of darkness before he opened up for business.
He was confronted many times by local leaders and once by the parish priest. It was illegal, they told him. They also threatened to take him to the police. The community leader was a problem until a few months ago when he bought two cartons of the amber liquid to his house. Irresistible, it was. Soon they were chatting like brothers. The parish priest who visited him said his businesses was a violation of human dignity. Pius had heard that a thousand times before. But women came to him because they needed help and he provided employment. Besides they made more in a week than the average, “honest” Papua New Guinean made in a fortnight. He eased his pace as the three women caught up with him. Two of the women were 19-year old students on school holidays while the other was a single mother of two struggling to pay for her children’s school fees. Pius knew the two younger women would be in high demand.
“I’ve got the buyers, you’ve got the product” he once said . Many of those who came to him from all sorts of backgrounds – broken families, neglected children, teenage students and the occasional full-time worker looking for some extra cash. They halted under the shadow of a coconut tree as Pius watched for the changing of the guard. For the two students, it would be their third time doing this.
Pius strained his eyes to see who was on duty. He knew the guards by name. Like the Community leader, they got their cut as well. A six or a carton when business was good. He glanced at a shiny Rolex on his wrist. 10:56pm it read. “Wait here,” he told the three women as he made his way towards the guard house. He moved stealthily along the shadows. He had acquired a reputation for doing that. He approached the guardhouse and tapped lightly on the window sil.
“Oooooi! Peeeuuus! How are you this wonderful night?” Makis the young security guard greeted him with a grin that seemed to cover his face. “Plenty people asking, bro… We been lookin’ for you.”
Pius smiled and took a deep breath. His popularity had soared since he began 8 months ago. He had quite a few regular customers from the ships that docked here. There was nothing like a sex starved sailor.
“How many for tonight” he asked.
“Four… I think… I don’t know. The captain too. He’s a good man. Malay or Chinaman ya. He wants the same kind… you save… young and fresh,” said Makis idly flipping through the log book.
“Pius stepped into the shadows again and quickly calculated how much he would make that night. Two hundred fifty or three for the two students and probably another two hundred for the other. He’d be Six hundred kina richer maybe more.
“Hey Peeeeuuus! Here come two of your customers now.” Makis called out. Pius saw a burly man accompanied by another of medium height. They stood chatting with Makis as Pius turned towards them. These guys came with their wallets bursting at the seams. He’s probably be able to squeeze a few bonus payments tonight. He knew from experience that, from a drunk sailor, he could make a month’s earnings in a day. But these two were too sober.
“The bro here,” said Makis stabbing a finger into the big fellow’s jutting belly and laughing quite loudly, “says he wants a fresh one. He’s too lazy to work.”
Pius grinned and said: “The other one? Him too?” The other guy nodded. Pius turned to the burly mate and eyed him closely. “How much are you paying?”
“150 too small. 300.”
“Aaaah!” The burly mate raised his hands in disgust. Last time we no get what we want. 250 tasol na… how ‘about this we give you too…” And the other guy opened a bag and pulled out two large bottles of Indonesian whisky.
“Ok…Ok… 200 each na Whisky.”
The big man laughed heartily and shook hands with Pius. He stood by and watched as the two men opened their wallets and pulled out a few fifties and tens. Things were looking pretty good for Pius tonight. The crew members handed over the money to Pius and then reached for the whisky bottle. Pius stuffed the notes into his pocket and took the two bottles.
He turned to the two younger women. “You two go first for one night only.”
“When will you pay us,” one of them asked. “I’m not going home until I get paid.”
“Saaaarap! Just go and give these sorry asses a good time \and you get paid, ok? My reputation is at stake here.”
He walked to the shadows and watched as they giggled with the two guys. He was always out of the way when the goods were delivered and he had the cash in hand.
“Come on,” he said to the other woman. “Let’s try the hotel.” She had remained quiet for most of the night except in the company of the two students. “I know where your customers will be.”
Her name was Lina. Pius heard from stories that her husband had left her for another and her relatives were not too keen on taking her in. She previously worked alone before she was introduced to Pius. The fact that she was desperate with two children to support made her an ideal employee. He knew people like her never complained about how much they were paid as long as they had enough for their next meal. He made sure he gave them just enough so they kept coming back to him.
The breeze died down and Pius felt a slight drizzle on his face. He didn’t want them to get wet before they found a customer. The bright orange lights of the hotel flooded through the tree-lined road. The parking lot was filled with an array of vehicles from executive four wheel drives to the beat up family sedan. He could hear the boisterous drunks up ahead and the irregular beeping of poker machines. He knew there would be a dozen government workers and company officials who would prefer to sleep tonight with women other than their wives.
The hotel gate was open. A lone security guard, dressed in an oversized pair of trousers and a worn out cap, patrolled the area. This was another easily corruptible security guard, Micah. He was a former cop dismissed after almost beating a suspect to death.
“Pius, what brings you to this place?” said Micah who was not really keen on having others seeing him talking to a know pimp. “Don’t you have a home to go to?”
Pius ignored the questions. Micah used to be a regular customer when he was in the force. He never came anymore. I guess he no longer had any spending money, Pius mused to himself.
“I have to go inside,” Pius said hurriedly. “Listen mate; take your shit business elsewhere. This isn’t the place for it and besides, you can’t go in. you’re barefooted and wet.”
“What business?” said Pius, trying to deny his purpose for being there. “I’m a changed man, Micah. I go to church every Sunday. I read my bible and right now I’m trying to find a fellow Christian Brother in there.”
“Is that so… Why couldn’t you just stay at home with your wife and let others do that for you? And who is this one you are with now?” Micah asked, eyeing him and Lina suspiciously.
“Shhh, okay, you win. Here take this and shut your bloody mouth,” Pius said quickly pulling out a whiskey bottle and handing it to Micah. He really could be a pain in the neck when he wanted to.
Chuckling, Micah took the whisky bottle and with a wide grin whispered to Pius: “The Lord works in mysterious ways.” So much for the ‘going to church and reading the bible line.’ People simple knew he too well.
Lina drew close to Makis as they entered the dimly-lit dance room. The music was playing at extremely loud volume and the air hung heavy with thick smell of cigarette smoke. No one seemed to notice them as they entered the club. Although this was supposed to be a dance there was hardly anyone on the floor to save a few staggering drunks who danced to a beat of their own. Looking across the room he could see a group of executives from the foreign logging company operating in the area. They were good regular customers, who never really argued about the price he asked. Pius saw it as a way of getting back the timber royalties cheated from the local people. Upon noticing him, one of them nudged the personnel manager who then signaled for Pius to join them.
“Wait here,” said leaving Lina by the door. Pius picked h is way through the maze of tables and people. Being called over this soon was a good sign.
“Have you got any for us?” one of the men asked in heavily accented Tok Pisin as he ordered a beer for Pius.
“I might have, if the price is right.”
“And if no one wants to trade, what you going to do with the left over goods? Take them home and put them on the shelf?”
All the men at the table laughed at the remark. Pius also laughed despite the fact that he saw nothing funny in it. This was serious business. His means of survival. His business operation had gone well so far all accept a minor hiccup a few weeks ago when one of the girls insisted that a customer wear a condom. She came back with a black eye and Pius subsequently ‘terminated her employment’.
“Listen, for 150 I’ll let you have her,” Pius said pointing to Lina who was sitting at a table near the door. “No disappointments like last time. This one will do whatever you want.”
In a space of about ten minutes, Pius had gulped four bottles of beer. He was into his fifth before he saw the company accountant sliding three brand new K50 notes before him. His hands were itching to pick up the money but he restrained himself.
“This for one hour?” he asked as he settled his half empty beer on the table.
“No, for the night,” said the accountant looking at Pius in the dim light.
“Give me six more bottles and you can have her for the night, Pius face was expressionless as he was unashamedly insistent. The accountant cursed beneath his breath and then ordered six bottles of beer. Pius downed the last half of his beer and bowing mockingly to the four men he made his way toward Lina at the far end of the room.
“Come on. Go to the table over there, they’ve already paid for you,” he said as he pulled her to her feet and directed her to the table where the company people were sitting. He stood and watched to make sure she didn’t stray. Another complaint was enough to turn away other potentially high-paying customers. Opening his bad of previously obtained loot he added to it the six bottles of beer. Not a bad night – three bottles of whiskey and over K500.
After leaving the hotel he sat down under a coconut tree on the beach front and opened a beer. He needed a break.
The tide had gone down when he awoke in the early hours of the morning. Although the sea was calm, his thoughts were like the untamed sea raging within him. He too was no different to his own ‘employees’. Never had he really given time to those thoughts. This was one particular reason why he hated calm spots like this. They always brought him to his senses. He had a wife and daughter to support. A daughter born a few weeks before he was sacked from his job as a labourer with a government department. Picking himself up he staggered toward the road.
The sun was just over the horizon when he climbed groggily onto the verandah of his settlement house. He was just about to drop off to sleep when a vehicle pulled up. The blue Landcruiser was unmistakable. Police. He was now wide awake. He could make a run for it but where would he go to. He watched as two uniformed officers came toward him. What followed was totally unexpected. The back door of the cruiser opened and Agnes, his wife, came out with their baby daughter. He opened his mouth to speak but Agnes quickly cut in.
“I found out Pius!” she called out to him. “All those late nights and the money. You should be ashamed of yourself. I know about those women you’ve been selling.”
Pius stood still as the two officers cuffed him and guided him into the cruiser. He should have known he would be busted eventually.
But he never thought his own wife would turn him in.