No Work in Sex Parlors

By Ray Mwareya

Gemy sneaks back into the same Chinese depanneur cornershop one week later. They sell sticky but pleasant bread, these Chinese who now dominate the Boston subway and surburban cornershops. But today Gemy is not here for bread. He vows to punish the proud cashier properly by buying beer and Parisienne washing machine powder in one go, unlike last week when he was forced to buy just washing powder. So Gemy is in gritty mood, as usual. At first he gives the cashier a crispy $20 bill for a $2.80 Stella Artois beer—and holds back the washing powder like an apprentice thief.

“What of that?” the Chinese girl points to the slightly hidden powder that Gemy is clipping under his armpit. Boston festers with petty thieves nowadays.

“Separate transactions. Separate people,” Gemy tells her pointing to both the beer and the washing powder. Today he is uncompromising in both speech and body stride.

She smiles at Gemy, emotionally disarmed and defeated by his swift replies, and returns to him $17.20 in change without her frowns, which she dished out the previous week. Then, at the very last, Gemy turns over to the cashier the washing powder and a sparkling $20 bill, himself satisifed that he is not thought to be a thief. She’s baffled and runs the money through her till again, as if she doubts the authenticity of Gemy’s notes.

I won! I got my exact coins change, for rent. $375. In seven days I have returned to punish her, properly, Gemy rejoices in his thoughts as he strolls quick out of the shop’s door. This is the refugee hustle for loose-change money to pay rent in cashless Boston where retail tap machines have replaced the actual US dollars. Gemy thinks, I end up looking like a harmless liar and apprentice American by trying to wrangle out loose coins and notes in cashless Boston.

He then stomps the footpath back to his home and whistles to drown out his boredom after the small, egotistical victory in the Chinese cornershop. It’s nothing really, but in the cold, unpenetratable lonileness of the refugee mind any bizarre small victory is worth the day. When he finally arrives home Gemy is instantly the happiest man in America. A letter from the Boston District Immigration Judge is stuffed in his postal box, hanging like a cancelled insurance policy letter—Gemy has won asylum and permission to apply for a Green Card in the US. He leaps to the ceiling and bangs his chest until he realizes what is stamped on the back of his asylum permit: “Holder is not allowed to work in sex parlors.”

Damn it! Damn it Boston, damn it immigration!

Asylum in America is both a great act of compassion and punishment, Gemy thinks, holding a glass designed for drinking cognac, but into which he now pours Stella Artois beer. Aslyum is compassion—we are so glad you are here in America, safe from torture in Africa or whereever we think Africa is—but darling, we are going to ban you from steaming off your sex drive in our Boston massage hotels. Gemy muses, this is the punishing price of a positive asylum win in America…

Elated, Gemy bumps down his flat ́s red brick stairs to greet a black kindergarten teacher who sits alone, daily, inside the heated bus shelter near his gate. He crashes into her presence unable to contain himself. He waves the paper in her face, joyful of his circumstances and unsure whether to announce it to strangers or simply whack his fists around alone like a teenager who has received a shiny new motorbike as a birthday gift.

“Wow, asylum!” claps the kindergarten teacher on reading the contents of Gemy’s glamourous immigration letter, before quickly changing tack. “I sold my iPad to buy my Green Card,” she tells him as she removes her coat and quickly asks for help out of the blue. “Unzip me; it’s too warm and too tight.”

Gemy fumbles his lips outwards, trapped by the proposal, which suddenly swerved from celebrating his asylum to something more intimate and very unusual. At last he pulls down her zipper, careful not to touch any of her skin lest a sexual assault claim could ruin his asylum and get him deported to wherever it is he came from. “I’m a happy refugee,” Gemy tells her, tamely playing vertical ping pong with her jacket’s metal zipper tab and strictly nothing more.

“There are no refugees in America,” she asserts candidly, swerving her waist so that she fits better in the jacket. It’s about her always, damn selfish her, Gemy curses under his saliva. “What?” he finally howls, replying outloud to her at last.

She then runs with it, seeing that the conversation has just made a turn to be about her and not Gemy’s immigration win. She narrates to Gemy about what she calls “fake immigration marriages” in Boston, LA, Florida and New York, omitting to report whether she has taken part in one herself. ICE and Homeland Security border officers are smashing doors at night to see if couples applying for a marriage Green Card are indeed sharing a bed, she claims.

“Your marriage is fake if you’re wearing pajamas in bed,” she shouts, showing her disdain for immigrants by pumping air in her mouth to swell her cheeks. “Couples are pulled into separate rooms by aggressive ICE and Homeland Security officers and each is asked for intimate details about their favourite sex positions, any brand of sex toys, exact days of contraception use, and any serious thoughts of abortion,” she says. Hearing her, Gemy freezes, closes his eyes, and scratches his eyelids with his fingers. He’s lost his grip on the conversation and she has seized the moment. That’s when Gemy realizes for the first time—fifteen months after landing in America, I am still figuring out how to walk away from a xenophobic black woman!

10 January, 2023