Lilly was dressed for work. She was wearing a mini skirt, high heeled stilettoes and a low cut top that revealed her cleavage. In her handbag she had twelve condoms, a purse, a phone, door keys, sweet tick tacks, chewing gum, a packet of win gums and some folded tin foil for smoking heroin.
It had been a week since Lilly was attacked by a client, so her black eye had now faded. She was twenty-five years old and with her curvaceous figure and long curly dark hair she looked like she could be a model, apart from the greyish tinge to her complexion and the slightly vulnerable and haunted looking persona.
Right now Lilly was seated in a quiet café in Penge, South East London, a multicultural urban area that was a mix of wealthy and poor people. The area was buzzing, beautiful and edgy.
Lilly used a teaspoon to shovel the fresh whipped cream on top of her hot chocolate into her mouth. After a few spoonful’s of it she stirred the rest of the cream into the hot chocolate then sipped it from the mug.
Lilly watched Rita, a middle aged black woman take a final sip of her coffee, stand up and put a pound tip on her table, then start walking to the door. Lilly looked away, then surprised looked up as Rita stopped beside her, smiled and said, “Would you like to come to my church barbecue?”
Rita smiled again and repeated, “Would you like to come to my church barbecue?”
Lilly half laughed feeling a mixture of shock and surprise, then said, “I don’t do church.”
“Why’s that?” Rita asked still smiling.
“Why’s that?” Lilly answered struggling to find the right words, “Lets just say I’m too bad for church.”
“No ones too bad for church,” Rita said with certainty.
“Trust me,” said Lilly, “I really am.”
“So what’s so bad about you then?”
“You really wanna know?”
Rita smiled again and said, “Yeah.”
Lilly looked self consciously around the café, then speaking more quietly said, “I’m a drug addicted prostitute.”
Rita smiled again, “I used to be addicted to drugs…And I got a seven years sentence for trying to smuggle cocaine into the country.”
Lilly raised her eyebrows in shock and surprise, “But you’re a Christian.”
“That was before I became a Christian.”
They both stared at each other a moment in silence, then Rita said, “Please come to my church,” Rita took out a leaflet from her handbag and handed it to Lilly, “Here’s a leaflet with my church address and details of the barbecue. Its only a five minute walk from here, and its all free.”
“I dunno,” said Lilly, “I’m not sure that I’d feel comfortable in a church.”
“I’ll be there,” Rita said smiling, “And all the people there are really friendly. I’ve also got some friends in church I could introduce you to. People who’d also been drug users and criminals etc. But you’ll see how much God has changed them.”
Lilly looked puzzled, “What…People like that go to your church?”
“yeah, all kinds of people. Teachers, doctors, cab drivers, filmmakers, builders. Rich people, poor people, old, young, Black, White. My church is a real mix of people. And we’re all like one big family. You need to see it for yourself…You will come won’t you?”
Lilly looked slightly weary, “I’ll think about it.”
Rita smiled, “That’s great,” she took out a pen from her coat pocket and said, “I’ll write my phone number on the leaflet as well.”
After Rita had written her phone number she said, “I hope to see you later then…And by the way…What’s your name?”
“Rita smiled again, “My names Rita. She held out her hand and Lilly shook it slightly smiling.
Lilly got on a bus to a notorious red light district. She walked up and down the leafy street and within minutes a car pulled up at the kerb, and Alan, a middle aged balding man, unwound electronically the passenger side window. Lilly leaned down to peer in and Alan asked, “You doin’ business luv?”
Alan paused in thought a moment, checking out her looks hungrilly, then he said, “Get in.”
Lilly got into the car and moments later Alan drove off with her.
It was late in the afternoon when Lilly walked into a dingy looking snooker hall. In one corner, a Jamaican crack and heroin dealer known as Baldy was playing snooker with a young black guy with short dreadlocks.
Baldy looked up after taking a shot as Lilly appeared. He smiled flashing several gold teeth and said, “Alright Lilly.”
“Alright Baldy,” Lilly replied, and looked at the other guy who she’d never seen before, and the guy nodded at her then fixed his attention on her long curvaceous legs.
Baldy gave Lilly a brief hug then asked, “Whad’ya want Lilly?”
“A rock an’ a score joey.”
Baldy reached into his bum bag and pulled out a small sliver of silver foil, from the many he had, and gave it to Lilly. Inside the foil was a rock of crack about the size of half a chocolate smarty. Then from another part of his bum bag he took out one of the many postage stamp size paper wraps of heroin and he handed it to Lilly who gave him two twenty pound notes.
“Cheers Baldy,” said Lilly.
“No problem,” Baldy replied as he watched his friend pot a red. He then said, “Why don’t you stay around a while an’ play some snooker with us.”
Lilly looked slightly flustered, “I’m cluckin’ Baldy. I just wanna go home an’ smoke this rock.”
“Cool. You do that then. One day though I don’t want you to rush. Stay an’ play a game of snooker wi’ me.”
Lilly smiled slightly, “Yeah I will…See ya later.”
“Laters,” Baldy replied.
Lilly then nodded at the young black guy with dreadlocks again and he smiled and nodded back, then Lilly walked towards the exit and she half smiled again when she overheard the young black guy say, “Man, she’s fit.”
Lilly let herself in to her small, dingy bedsit above a parade of shops. As soon as she got in she sat on her bed and picked up the makeshift crack pipe on her bedside table. It was a small plastic water bottle, half filled with water, with a thick straw poking through the side of the bottle and on the top of it was silver foil with pin holes in it. Lilly then put some cigarette ash on top of the foil then opened the rock of crack and used her thumb nail to split a third of the milky looking rock and put the piece on to the foil at the top of the bottle. She then put the straw into her mouth and flicked her lighter onto the rock and as it melted she sucked on the straw, inhaling the crack smoke into her lungs whilst the water below it bubbled. She then slowly exhaled the smoke feeling the euphoric rush of the drug.
Grace waited a few minutes then repeated the ritual. Then after three pipes the rock was gone. Ten minutes later she tipped some of the heroin out of the paper wrap, onto a piece of silver foil about six inches long and four inches wide. She then put the toot in her mouth, which was a small tube, also made of tin foil and she lifted up the foil with the heroin powder on, then flicked her lighter beneath the foil until the powder turned to liquid. She then continued stroking her flame under the foil and let the liquid heroin run slightly downwards whilst she used the toot to suck in the smoke and fumes left in its trail. This was commonly referred to as chasing the dragon.
After chasing for a while she started to feel the warmth of the drug and she felt blissfully mellow and dopy. She then reached into her handbag and pulled out the flyer that Rita had given her earlier advertising her church barbecue. Lilly suddenly felt hungry and realised that all she’d eaten that day was an apple, and she’d only drank a can of coke and a hot chocolate. As usual she’d spent all her money on drugs and the only thing she had in her fridge was a tub of margarine, half a tin of beans and a yogurt.
She started to think about the barbecue and felt saliva flow into her mouth. Now she weren’t clucking and was stoned, it was enough Dutch courage to make her decide to go to the church. And quite simply…She was starving.
Lilly could smell the barbecue food before she saw it. The tantalising smell of charcoal grilled sausages, beef burgers and fried onions. Christ Central Church didn’t look like a traditional church building, and it was in fact a large converted ex warehouse. As Lilly walked along she suddenly spotted a large group of people in the church carpark where they were barbecuing. An orderly queue was formed leading to the food being cooked. Lilly had expected to see a lot of square looking people, which was her mental picture of what she imagined Christians to be like, so she was quite surprised to see that Rita had been right, and it looked like a real mix of people, ranging from people with tattoos and piercings, to little old ladies and children of all classes and colours.
Lilly felt slightly tense as she queued and she listened to the conversations of people around her. She expected that the people would all be talking about Jesus and Bible bashing each other, but the conversations were about everyday things and Lilly quickly concluded that the people seemed quite normal. A woman walked past Lilly carrying a paper plate with a hamburger on and she smiled at Lilly and Lilly suddenly felt more relaxed.
As Lilly got to the front of the queue, Brian one of the church elders who was one of the three people serving on the large barbecue, smiled at Lilly and asked, “What would you like?”
“Could I have a hotdog please?”
Brian smiled again, “Sure…Would you like onions with that?”
“Yeah please,” Lilly suddenly realised she was starving, “Is it ok if I have two hotdogs?”
Brian smiled again, “Sure. You can have three if you want.”
Lilly smiled slightly and felt more relaxed, “Its ok. Two’s enough.”
“Ok,” Said Brian smiling again. He then looked in the direction of two tables about ten feet away, “There’s some salad, pasta and rice and things on the table over there. Just help yourself. There’s drinks as well.”
Lilly looked in the direction he was looking in, then looked back at him, “Thanks.”
“You’re welcome,” Said Brian again.
Lilly suddenly thought that she’d never been anywhere where she’d seen so many smiling people. She went over to the other food tables and found some tomato ketchup, which she put on her two hotdogs and she saw that there were lots of bottles of fizzy drinks and cartons of fruit juice, but she specifically wanted some coke, which someone was pouring into a plastic cup. The person Jacob looked at Lilly and asked, “Do you want some of this?”
“Yeah please,” Lilly replied feeling slightly shy.
Jacob then poured her a cup of coke and smiled at her as he gave it.
“Thanks,” Lilly said.
“You’re welcome,” Jacob replied.
Lilly then saw the doors leading into church were open and feeling slightly nervous she walked into the building carrying her two hotdogs on a paper plate and her cup of coke. She was again surprised as for some reason she expected to see rows of hard wooden pew chairs, but instead she saw all the chairs in rows were soft and comfortable looking. There were small clusters of people sitting, talking and eating.
Lilly felt a bit self conscious, so she went to the back of the church and sat down on her own. She then wolfed down the first hotdog, and she’d just finished the second when Rita appeared beside her smiling and said, “Hi Lilly…I’m so glad you could make it.”
“I only came cos I was ‘Ungry,” Lilly replied.
Rita smiled again, “Well, whatever the reason. I’m really pleased you’re here.”
They both paused a moment in silence, then Rita said, “Tell me about your life Lilly.”
“You really want to hear it?”
“Yeah, I do Lilly. I’m interested in you. And more than that, God is interested in you.”
“I dunno why. My life’s been terrible,” They both pause, then Lilly continued, “I’ve been a prostitute since the age of sixteen. I grew up in care. I got taken away from my mum at the age of four, when my mum had a schizophrenic breakdown. She killed herself two years later by throwing herself in front of a train.”
“Oh Lilly…I’m so sorry.”
“No need to be sorry. It weren’t your fault.”
They both pause in silence a moment, then Lilly continued, “I was sexually abused in the care homes I was in. I ran away from one on my sixteenth birthday and then this man started talking to me in Trafalgar Square. He seemed really nice and when I told him I’d ran away he said he’d put me up at his flat and said he had a spare room. That night he raped me.”
“Oh Lilly…That’s so awful.”
“Yeah it was. Then I started sleeping rough in the West End and I met up with some other young runaways, an’ they introduced me to heroin…They gave me my first free bag and I felt like I was in heaven…The cold didn’t bother me…The rough sleeping…I just felt totally blissed, but within a few weeks I was selling my body to pay for drugs everyday.”
“I partly know what you mean Lilly,” Said Rita, “I was addicted to coke…First snorting it, then smoking it as crack.”
“Did you sell your body for it?”
“No,” Answered Rita, “But I fed my habit by dealing it, then I became a mule and smuggled it into the country from Jamaica…The first three times I got away with it, then the last time I got stopped by customs and they found two kilos in my suitcase, and I ended up getting a seven years sentence.”
“That must have been tough,” Lilly said feeling empathy.
“Yeah, it really was.”
They both pause a moment in silence, then Rita asked, “Have you ever had counselling Lilly?”
“I’ve got a friend who’s a Christian counsellor. I think it would really help you if you saw her and talked about all the things you’ve told me.”
“I couldn’t afford counselling. I need money to pay for drugs every day. I can’t even afford to eat properly…All my money goes on gear.”
“The counselling my friend does is free. She works for a Christian charity and you only need to give a donation for each session. Most people give from a couple of quid to a tenner.”
They pause again, then Rita asked, “How much drugs do you take each day?
“Three or four rocks of crack and fifty to seventy quids worth of heroin…I wanna get into a rehab but I need a letter from a doctor, but haven’t found a doctor yet as I’ve only just moved into this area.”
“I could help you find a doctor.”
“Yeah, I could help you with that.”
“Thanks,” Lilly replied.
Rita then said, “Your life maybe a mess now, but God can change that. I’ve met so many people who’d had messed up lives, but you wouldn’t believe how them and their lives have changed.”
They both pause again, then Rita continued, “Jesus is calling you Lilly…And in the future I’m sure you’ll be drug free, out of sex work, and healed of all the abuse and trauma that you’ve ever experienced.”
“What makes you think that Jesus is calling me?”
“Because Jesus loves you Lilly…He loves you so much.”
Lilly looked at Rita a moment then suddenly burst into tears. Rita then hugged her while Lilly continued sobbing.
“You’re gonna be alright Lilly,” Rita whispered softly, “You’re gonna be alright.”
TO BE CONTINUED