Put together by a conspiracy of fate, the desire for a better future and a loud-mouthed pimp, On Black Sisters’ Street follows four black women who find themselves in Antwerp’s Red-Light District selling sex.
These women come from different backgrounds, have different stories, and although they open their legs to strangers, their hearts, the guardrooms of their pasts and secrets, remain locked.
Back in Nigeria, before Sisi was born, she was Chisom, the daughter of a poor civil servant, a brilliant university graduate with the prophecy of a bright future. To her and her parents, the sure path out of poverty and the fulfilment of the prophecy, was a university degree, which she studied hard to get. Her lecturer once remarked that “she has nothing in her head except brains.” But, two years after graduation with no job in view was enough to frustrate her. She was tired of her stagnant life. Her parents, her boyfriend Peter, and everyone around her were not moving forward and she didn’t want that for herself. So when by chance she met Dele the sly pimp, she jumped at his offer.
Efe became a woman earlier than she expected. No stranger to tragedy, she gave herself to a rich man at 16, in exchange of money only to get dumped when she got pregnant. With a burning determination to make life easier and better for her son, Lucky, she also jumped at Dele’s offer to work in Belgium.
When Joyce’s family was murdered in Sudan, she thought that was the end of life, of love, but fate would prove her wrong as she found love again in a refugee camp. She fell in love with a Nigerian soldier, Polycarp, who took her to Lagos to marry her. However, being Igbo and the firstborn of his family, ‘tradition’ demanded that he married an Igbo woman as well. A feeble attempt at easing his conscience having jilted her, Polycarp took her to Dele who arranged for her to be flown to Belgium under the pretext that she was to work as a nanny. The truth jarred her once she arrived.
Ama was hardened by the religious hypocrisy of her mother’s husband who raped her when she was just 8. It was this revolt against religion and the hunger for riches that drove her to Belgium.
Though the novel is centered on the tragic story of Sisi, Unigwe takes her time to unravel and analyse the past, intention and motivation of the other characters as well, weaving their stories together into a compelling melancholy. She lets us into the world of prostitution and sex slavery.
In On Black Sisters’ Street, Unigwe is raw and vivid in her description of what prostitutes experience in their much scorned profession. One scene stands out: Sisi’s first night on her job when she willed herself into oblivion at the thought of her having to pass the night with a total stranger who she didn’t find attractive haunted her: “I can’t do this… This is not me. I am not here… This is somebody else. Another body. Not Mine…”
Unigwe can solicit empathy for her characters, and she does it without even trying. When she takes us to Ama’s past, she paints a picture of a lonely child who only had the pink walls in her house to bare her pains to: “She told the walls of the pain of the squeezing and the coldness of her father’s hands.” She describes Sisi’s humiliating first night: “Finding warmth, he sighed, spluttered sperm that trickled down her legs like mucus, inaugurating Sisi into her new profession. She baptized herself into it with tears….”
On Black Sisters’ Street is a melting pot of tragedy and humour, the supremacy of fate and the determination of humanity, the beauty and the horrors of life in Europe. Chika Unigwe has weaved a compelling narrative that will leave a lasting impression on the reader’s mind.
About the Writer
Adejuwon Adeola Gbalajobi is a Nigerian poet and creative writer. His poems have appeared on Praxis online magazine, Writers Space Africa, Okada blog among others.