* I haven’t been writing for the blog for a long time. And that is a disgusting thing. Finally decided to stop being lazy and challenge myself with one story everyday. Do let me know what you think of these series of short stories, that will be my incentive to write*
As the day ended, the hues of pink evening sky changed to the mundane black of the night. Asha followed her evening routine before putting up a fake mask of effrontery on her face.
She sat in the moonlit balcony of her one bedroom house on the second floor, sipping milky and heavily sweetened tea; something she drank every evening before leaving for work. She would be rendered homeless, if her landlords ever discovered what she did for a living.
Asha had acquired the dilapidated flat after an arduous search; one of her regular clients from work had helped her get it. It was close to impossible for an audacious single mother to find a habitat in a small town like Lakshmigarh, especially when she claimed to work night shifts at a call centre.
The gaunt woman on the first floor always gave Asha dubious looks whenever they passed each other. It was because of her thirteen year old daughter, Neha, Asha had decided to move into a proper house. A brothel was not an ideal place for a child to grow up in. Neha had picked up uncouth language from the pimps and prostitutes in the brothel. She used words she didn’t know the meaning of at school.
Four years back Neha’s school had summoned Asha, after Neha had hit and called her classmate a ‘sisterfucker’ .That coming from a nine-year old had flabbergasted her teachers. Listening to them morosely, Asha decided to make the move. She did not want her daughter to become what she was and wanted to keep her away from the deleterious world of sex trafficking and prostitution.
Neha was now old enough to understand that her mother was a prostitute. This was a fact that remained tacit between the two. What she thought of it, no one knew.
Being a Saturday evening, there was going to be fewer customers to serve. People did not frequent the brothel much on weekends. The older men did not have excuses for to cover-up their absence on non-working days and preferred spending time with family. The younger still came.
The iniquitous business started at 9pm on Saturdays and Sundays, instead of the usual 7pm, allowing Asha two hours away from the clutches she wanted to free herself from, two hours less of being in clothes she abhorred and two hours less to pretend she liked fucked by strange men.
Realizing it was 8pm, she hastily finished her tea, went inside and instructed Neha to heat her dinner and have it. She was not going to be back until 7am the next morning. She generally came just in time to see Neha off to school. Once Neha left, rest of the day was spent sleeping.
The brothel was in a covert corner of Laxmigarh, where no one except people seeking unsolicited sex treaded. Asha ambulated in the alleys of the town, which looked like a ghost town by 9pm. Very few people ventured outside at night and those who did weren’t generally doing it for the right reasons. She never availed a rickshaw, not that they weren’t available at night, she preferred walking.
As soon as Asha entered the dimly lit insides of the brothel, Shyam, her pimp, said, “Arre, Asha, why are you late, I have been waiting for you, there is a special demand for you tonight. Be quick and change, can’t keep the customers waiting.
The brothel did not look like one from the exteriors. It was like any other house with two stories. During the day, it looked like a completely different place. Most of the prostitutes stayed there unlike Asha. They did not have to pay anything, apart from that saved them from the hassle of looking for a house in the town. They disguised the place to make it look like a working people and college student hostel during the day.
Every girl was allotted a room, rooms had been categorized is three ways-silver, gold and king. Asha was the queen of a king room, she had experience and was one of the most sought after girls.
“Who is he? Has he come here before?” Asha asked.
“I don’t keep track the visitors” answered Shyam brusquely. “Now rush, don’t keep him waiting, bad for business” he said with a wink.
Asha sighed and made her way to the top floor into her king quarters. She did not encounter anyone, everyone was busy, it was prime time.
She opened the door; her dress was laid on the bed already. It was a scintillating red dress; on the floor next to the bed were her six-inch boots. It was not pragmatic to put all these things on; she would have to be austere for the act. Generally, the clothes came off within the first five minutes.
She quickly put on the lipstick, the darkest shade of red, applied body glitter and changed. This ritual of dressing up scantily took her roughly three minutes. Three minutes for transition into a world where she had no daughter, the world where she was valued and the world that made her life meaningful and meaningless at the same time.
This world where she was valued gave her no identity, and the world where she had an identity gave her no value. She was torn apart between these two worlds, neither bolstered her, she let herself be meandered by both.
She sat on the bed, in anticipation, although this was not the first time someone had specially asked for her, but encounters like these made her eager. Not because of sex, that was something she never looked forward to anymore. She remembered when she started as a fifteen year old, she was petrified, men intimidated her in the beginning but eventually she got used to it. There were times when she wanted to flee away from the brothel but she did not know what she’d do to earn money. This was all she knew to do, she never learnt anything else.
The door opened, a tall, lean man smoking a cigarette came in. He wore glasses and was nothing like any of the customers she had entertained before. He wore a black business suit, his tie loose, looking closely she saw his eyes were bloodshot. She stood up with the intention to seduce him. The purpose of entering that room was lucid and the time was evanescent, no one wanted to waste time on obsolete things.
She went to him, unbuttoned his blazer and threw it on the couch. Next, she removed his glasses and placed them nicely on the table. He had not given any reaction until now and just kept standing uprightly. She pulled him closer by his tie, their bodies were now touching, and she could smell the mixture of smoke and alcohol on his breath. He had not even uttered a single word. Asha was baffled but understood, sometimes they took their time. The more time they took, the better it was for Asha, it meant more money.
She grazed her hand through his hair; they were nice, silky hair, like a woman’s. He suddenly shoved her away and sat down on the couch where his blazer was.
“What happened?” she asked.
He shook his head, stood up and came to her.
“Why does a beautiful and able woman like you do all this for money?” he said in a deep voice.
“That’s not for you to know, be quick, there are other people waiting. Do not waste both your and my time.”
“You are right, I don’t have to know this, sorry for being intrusive. Shall we begin?”
Questions like these meant the end of spontaneity for Asha. They got her thinking, why and how she had got her here. Her focus drifted from work to her cobwebbed past that was long gone.
She was fifteen when her mother died, she had never seen her father, and there were no siblings. When her mother died, she had nowhere to go, she knew of her father’s brother who had a huge business there. She didn’t know what the business was, with no clue and helpless, Asha went to her uncle. He took her to Laxmigarh, a town she had never been to and just heard of.
He introduced her to prostitution, a part of the business he ran. The business included kidnapping or luring girls from the rural areas of Eastern UP, Bihar and Nepal. Sometimes they enticed these girls on the pretext of getting them lucrative jobs. It was a massive racket. Since then, there had been no looking back for Asha.
In the nascent days she had found the entire brothel and the people there odious but as days and years passed she was inured to the world of prostitution.
The man grabbed her by the waist, and caught her unawares while she was in a daze. He slipped his hand inside her dress and started fondling her. She decided to let him do whatever he wanted and just move with the flow. They moved towards the bed.
He removed the red dress that had now clung to her body for longer than usual. He embraced her and began to kiss her. Just as their lips touched, there was a knock on the door.
They ignored it.
Getting no response, the person knocked again and this time louder and gradually started banging the door.
“Stop everything and come out, we are in trouble. Be quick, abandon whatever you are doing” said the person outside in an alarmed voice. Asha recognized the voice; it was Anil, the boy who did all the odd jobs for the brothel inmates.
Asha in a panic pushed the man away and instructed him not to open the door, until she came back. She went inside to get into her normal clothes.
She wondered what might have gone so wrong, this had never happened before. The worst fear, police was paid off by the brothel once every month, to keep the place running without any hindrance.
She came into the room, to find the man missing and door flung open. There was absolute commotion outside.
“Don’t let anyone get out of the premises, make sure every room here is empty and assemble them at the reception area” said someone in a domineering tone.. To her horror, Asha saw the man giving all instructions was in the police uniform.
Apparently the worst had come true. But she wondered how? Had there been a disagreement with the police? It seemed an unlikely thing to happen. She was petrified; and had no idea of what was going to happen next.
She did not want to leave the room and just as this thought crossed her mind, a police constable came inside.
“ Chalo, what are you thinking? Is there anyone else in this room?” he said.
She shook her head and moved out of the room. The corridor was full of people, there were the customers rushing out, they obviously didn’t want to be found here during a police raid, a few prostitutes were screaming and pushing the policemen away.
Rani was climbing down the stairs forlornly, when Asha caught up with her.
“What went wrong tonight?” Asha asked.
“A new Superintendent of Police got transferred to Laxmigarh; he got a tip off about the entire trade and instructed his team to conduct a search tonight. The officer who used to take a bribe from us, could not do anything about it” Rani told her.
“Where did this Superintendent get the information from?”
“That no one knows, but they say he is here tonight, he posed as a customer to be sure of the entire affair.”
As they reached the reception area, they saw everyone lined up. The siren of police jeeps could be heard.
“Everyone is here, sir. We have checked all rooms and they are all empty. Let us start taking them to the police station” said one of the inspectors to a man whose back was towards Asha.
The words police station sent a chill down her spine. What would her daughter do if she was arrested? This was a peril of being a prostitute; you could not have a normal life. The normal was bound to be disrupted by something like this.
“Good job, check once more. Call the media, seal this place. Get these people to the station and interrogate them there itself. Register a FIR against the owner of this place” said the man who had been addressed as sir by the inspector.
He turned and to Asha’s surprise it was the man who had been in her room sometime back. She was shocked, is that why he seemed so reluctant to have sex? How had he come to know about her and specially demanded for her?
He saw her gaping at him and came to her.
“Next time before you tell your neighbours, you work at a call centre, make sure it exists. The call centre you kept pretending to work in was closed seven months back. Your neighbours suspected you reported to the police .We have been keeping a close watch on your everyday activities since then. Your daughter will be taken care of; she is going to an orphanage” saying this he walked away.
Asha was handcuffed and made to sit in a police jeep, she looked outside. She was going to the prison for a crime she never wanted to commit and her daughter was going to bear the brunt of it. It was a vicious circle; she was now part of a third world, unwillingly again.