“Mercedes, put this on,” Don said giving Miki a sexy, black mini dress, “I’m taking you somewhere special this evening for your sixteenth birthday.” She dutifully did as she was told. The dress was a black, small, sexy mini-dress and the cool, early evening air raised goose bumps on her arms as she followed Don to the car. He drove them down to Mavericks, a famous strip-club located just off Buitenkant Street.
He ushered her quickly into the club doorway, nodding at the doormen, who lazily returned his greeting with quiet recognition.
As Miki walked into the darkened club entrance the first thing she noticed was the smell: alcohol, cigarette smoke, and sweat. It was warmer inside and she could stop rubbing her arms, but she wrinkled her nose at the unpleasant smell. The main club area was dark and noisy. Light splashed out from the bar located along the one wall, but the dark walls, tables and couches quickly swallowed the light and the inside of the club was shrouded in darkness. Colored spotlights flashed on and off, spinning around the club walls, floor and ceiling, but they did little to illuminate the club, instead, just confusing the eyes and making everything less distinguishable. Loud music pounded through the club from speakers set high on the walls.
A long, raised walkway stood in the middle of the club, parallel to the bar. As Miki’s gaze wandered down the length of the catwalk, a girl climbed the stairs leading onto it and started to dance to the music. She wasn’t wearing much; a small nurses outfit. Why on earth would a nurse be here, Mercedes thought to herself, very confused? Men seated at the tables surrounding the catwalk started to applaud, and shout at the girl. As the music beat on, the girl started into a sexy, stylized dance routine, interrupted by her slowly removing what little clothing she’d started with. By the time the song finished only a tiny G-string slipping between her legs prevented her from being completely naked. Men cheered and roared from the surrounding tables.
Don leaned over to Mercedes and spoke directly into her ear. “What do you think of the dancing?” He asked over the noise of the next song.
Mercedes shrugged. “It’s OK, I suppose.”
“I’ve got you a job here. I know the owner. It pays well. Would you like to dance like that?” Don shouted again.
“Definitely not,” Mercedes replied immediately, shaking her head vigorously. The thought terrified her completely.
“Well, you can waitress then,” Don said, “that’s easy enough.”
She hadn’t really noticed the waitresses before, but now as she looked around the club, she saw girls dressed in small, sexy outfits carrying drinks to and from the tables. It didn’t look like it was too demanding. She didn’t object.
A few days later, Don took Mercedes back to Mavericks around 18:00 in the evening. He introduced her to the owner, they picked out a nice black mini-skirt and bra for her to wear, and then they instructed one of the other waitresses to teach Miki how to wait tables: slowly moving from one table to another; collecting the patrons orders; moving back to the brightly lit bar; handing the order over to barmen; returning the drinks to the patrons; collecting the money for the order and returning the money to barmen.
It was fairly straightforward, Miki thought. But initially Don and the owner of the club kept coming over and correcting her: stand taller; pull your shoulders back; smile more; flirt with the patrons; don’t take no for an answer. She wasn’t allowed to stand around, she had to keep moving from table to table, encouraging the patrons to order more drinks.
After a few nights, they stopped giving her instructions and she settled into the routine: start at 18:00, work until the club closed, which could be anywhere from 03:00AM – 06:00AM the next morning. The work was easy, the only unpleasant part of it was the patrons; they were usually quite drunk; very lewd; and always trying to touch her, or get her to sit on their laps, or give her a kiss.
“Don, the men are always trying to touch me. I don’t like it, and they’re quite rude.” She told Don one night.
“They’re just drunk, it’s all good fun, no harm intended. You’re doing a great job.” He replied encouragingly.
One night she noticed that occasionally a waitress would climb on the patrons’ tables and dance for them, usually quite provocatively.
“Why do some of you dance on the tables for the men?” She asked the girls in the changing room one night.
“They pay us to, the men,” was the reply. “They give you money to dance, on the table, or on their laps. You can keep that money – you don’t have to give it back to the barmen.”
Mercedes started to watch these girls dance more and more often. It looked a bit up-close-and-personal for her, but she watched.
One night, in the changing room, one of the girls was sniffing some white powder off a vanity mirror, up through a small straw, into one of her nostrils.
“What are you doing,” asked Mercedes?
“It’s coke, you know, Cocaine. It makes you feel great. Here try some.” The girl replied, offering the small mirror and straw to her.
Mercedes hesitantly took the straw, put it to her nostril and gently sniffed in some of the coke. She sneezed.
“Not like that,” the girl said, “sniff harder, right into your lungs, and then hold your breath.
Mercedes tried again. This time it felt different. The blood rushed into her head, her heat beat faster and she started to feel much better, great in fact. She smiled. “Thanks.”
Don and the club owner started putting pressure on her to dance. They wanted her to dance on the tables and the central catwalk. Mercedes kept refusing with a quick shake of her downcast head. She was upset they were pressing her. She didn’t want to disappoint them, but she really didn’t feel comfortable with the idea.
A small voice in her head kept saying that it was ok, it was Don, he loved her, and he wouldn’t hurt her. She didn’t quite believe it but the voice was very insistent.
She started taking the coke whenever it was offered to her. It made the work easier; the patrons were less bothersome and the time went quicker. She started to feel more confident.
One night, Don, the owner, and two other men met her in the changing room.
“Mercedes, you’re ready to dance. You’re working the tables well, but you’re so sexy, we need you to get up there and dance.” Don said to her earnestly.
She just shook her head no again.
“OK, hold her down.” The owner instructed the two men behind him. They took hold of her, held her tight, and the forced open her right arm.
“Don, stop them, what are you doing? Please, please, stop them.” Mercedes pleaded.
Don just stood there watching. The voice in her head started up: it’s OK, it’s Don, he loves you, trust him. She didn’t believe it, she tried to fight and struggle but she was too small and the men were too strong.
The owner pulled out a syringe full of some colored liquid. He quickly tied a tourniquet around her upper arm, and as soon as her veins were extended he jabbed the needle into her arm and pushed the syringe plunger down.
It took seconds for the Heroine to rush through her bloodstream, flooding her brain. She went limp, the world disappeared in a dull, sweet haze, and a pleasant, dreamy sensation pervaded her whole body. The men let her down on the couch. She turned over and vomited a bit as the drug rushing through her system turned her stomach upside down, but she didn’t care, it didn’t feel bad; it felt quite good.
She can’t remember how long she stayed like that, but after awhile she started coming around, the lights, mirrors and outfits of the dressing room around her coming back into focus, the far-off beat of loud music starting to pound in her ears again and that ever-present smell of alcohol, cigarette smoke and sweat impinging on her nostrils. There were only girls in the changing room now. They looked at her sympathetically, gently helping her up, back onto her feet.
“Come on, time for you to get back to work.” They said, gently pushing her out the door and towards the bar. Back inside, she seemed to float through the club. She knew she was waiting on tables still – although it took her a few minutes to steady herself on her high heels – and the music was just as loud, it was just as dark, and the men were just as leery as always, but she felt she was dreaming it all. Nothing really mattered to her; the slaps on the bottom; the men groping her. She was just sliding through it all, feeling nothing, a fake smile plastered across her face.
She was in a routine now: night shift most evenings from 18:00; sexy black mini-dress and bra; coke from the girls; and the two guys quickly shooting her up with Heroine.
Then she’d be out in the club, weaving her way between tables, floating through the spotlights, diamonds flashing off her from the overhead mirror ball. She knew she was working but she was emotionless. She could see herself going through the actions of working the tables, being harassed by the men, but she couldn’t feel any of it. Sometimes she felt like she was watching herself working from just outside of her body.
“Dance for us, honey.” One of the men seated around the table she was serving said.
Without even thinking about it, she answered blithely. “R50”
“Done,” he said, slipping the R50 note into the top of her mini-dress.
She slowly climbed onto the table, and dreamily started to dance to the music. She’d watched the other girls; it looked easy and it was. It came quite naturally as long as she didn’t think too much about it. She just let the music move her body. The men stared at her intently, devouring her every movement with their eyes. Some reached up to touch her body; she slapped their hands away.
After the song finished, she hopped off the table, men clapping and shouting for more. She wandered over to the next table; more orders for drinks. She had a few more requests for table dances that evening, which she gave, again in a dreamy, disconnected state.
“I saw you dancing on the tables tonight.” Don said at the end of the evening. “Well done, you looked incredible.”
That voice in her head said, see, I told you Don was right, everything is OK. Mercedes just nodded her head at Don.
“How much money did you make?” He asked her.
“I don’t know, didn’t count it.” She said, handing all the wet, folded bills to Don.
“I’ll keep it for you.”
Sure, whatever, she thought to herself, doesn’t mean anything? To Don it meant a lot: Mercedes would make Don approximately R100 000 a month from dancing at the club.