She knew the questions. They were always there as far as she could remember. They were always lingering at the back of her mind. Of course she couldn’t abandon them. She knew that the only way forward was to live them. So she did. Each and every day living with the same set of questions; they were like an ancient gigantic sphinx with hands of creatures far beyond the real world, always present, without giving away their truth, feigning to mingle only to stand out.
Anna could not sleep. She was watching the white roof with a designer lamp at the middle and a flowery pattern around it, reminding her of the strokes she herself used to put in. That was a long time back. Now was a different world around her; a world which morphed into strangeness with every passing second. However, today was different. Today she had experienced something which stirred her ocean deeper than any hurricane could.
She got up from the fluffy mattress with some effort, trying not to disturb the man sleeping beside her. She stealthily slid into her slippers and moved away from the bed towards the window. Moving slowly towards the wood rimmed parapet overseeing the city, she turned her head to catch a glimpse of his face. He slept peacefully with a face that knew no worries and a body that has abandoned all hopes. He was her customer today, and a strange one too, she thought. As he slept on his belly with his broad shoulders embracing the pillow the same way he held her a while ago, she could not help but return to his ruddy face and crimson lips. His eyes were gently shut and lips stitched together as in a two colored horizon with no effort to stretch but still having that smile. She caressed his body gently with her eyes, moving from his angular but strong neck down to his curved back with jutting spine and towards his blanket covered rear to finally reach his toes. She never looked at a man like this before; they were always like an overgrown garden which needed mending, never to be looked back once they were done.
The city was dull, with a few late night workers returning to their shelters before the break of dawn. The roads wore the deserted look of an urchin urging its dwellers to come out again, to revive its verve and to infuse life again in its meandering veins. Anna wanted to build her own world, something that didn’t behave the way the present one did, with the cruelty and embarrassments long gone, and what remains is the emptiness waiting to be filled by some emotion, some catharsis, some revelation; at least a bitterness towards all that is not right. But it seemed it was too much to ask for.
A gentle wind blew her hair backwards along with her robe. Her face contoured by the moonlight and adumbrated by the sharp visage of a sculptor’s stroke looked as lovely as it did fifteen years ago, the time when she was cornered into this filthy world of whimsical men and their strange desires. She could not remember now if it was the desertion of everyone she once had for a family or the attempt for a pyrrhic revenge that brought her where she stands now. She didn’t want to know. There were other questions which moved up the ladder. As she bent over the wooden parapet to support her elbows, she recalled the many times that she tried to end all this. It was never fear that stopped her. One quick strangle by the rope seemed easy, but others in contention too had her attention. She used to spend the nights going over the details of each one of them and weighing their pros and cons before the sphinx rose. It left behind all other considerations and presented a single aspect of life, its very reason. She could not get herself to end her own life without knowing the reason to continue. This double edged sword did not let her bleed long enough but only endowed a vicarious pain.
His gentle eyes was all that she could think of now. When she entered his room a few hours ago, he received her as if she was a lady of nobility and kissed her hand as he pulled her gently inside. His eyes met her with a strange adoration that comes only with years of knowing each other. Within minutes he made her feel what she never experienced before with a man. It was not platonic but still had the flavor of the eternal. As he moved through her, she felt the same urge from within. This stirring inside was new to her, a wave that swept over the scars on a rocky terrain obfuscating them for the moment. His only wish was to not be awaken after their little play until he woke on his own. She laughed at this but also thought it to be cute. She would let him have his little wish for what he gave her.
The pre-dawn breeze was getting chilly and she decided to step inside the room after closing the window. It was the first time she was paying attention the room. It was a handsome room with wide open space and neat arrangement. There was a beige colored sofa with a small table of glass top and curved metallic frame. Across the sofa hung a small flat screen television intelligently placed for a wide viewing angle. The door lay to the right and a small cupboard was embedded to the left of this setup. There were drawers beneath the cupboard and a fridge beside it. The bed lay to the extreme left corner of the room. She ambled across the room towards the fridge and pulled its handle. It did not yield easily and she had to pull hard when it opened with a jerk and hit one of the drawers beside it. It was unlatched and slid out slowly.
Her first reaction was to turn around to see if he was disturbed with the bang. He was sound asleep. She forgot why she opened the door of the fridge and glanced in the open drawer. There were some snaps inside along with a bottle opener and a swiss knife. She hesitated for a moment with the choice of taking those photos out or closing the drawer. She glanced once again at the bed and instinctively took the bundle. They seemed to be of his childhood, one with his parents, one seemed to be after a victorious football match, one after a late night party outside a bar with his friends. At once she came across a picture of a girl sleeping on a red linen bed with the photo taken from above her. She looked pretty and young wearing a long gown which was also crimson. Her eyes were fixed on that photo as if there was something that was not meant to be there, or something that was missing. The linen was red only around her body in an embracing curvature and the edges were white. Suddenly something struck her as a lightning and she was sweating instantly as if confronted with a ball of fire. The girl in the picture was lying on a bed soaked with her own blood and she wasn’t sleeping.
She did not quite know when her frenzy started or when the pile of photos slipped through her hand to spread on the floor or when she saw other such photos in that impromptu collage, but presently she only wanted to stand up and run out of that room. Her legs seemed to freeze on an ice field and her mind was trying wrap itself around the situation when she glanced over her shoulders to realize that he was about to wake up. By some miracle of her own strength she bent to collect the photos and put them in the drawer before closing it with a swerve of her hand. She quickly took a step back and opened the fridge door.
“What are you doing love?” he said.
She tried to sound as normal as possible but replied with a stutter, “nothing just getting something to drink.”
“I hope I didn’t bore you much”, he said as he looked at his wrist watch lying beside the bed. “Oh it was more than two hours. I am sorry for that. You know how things work for men”, his smile was the same when he said those words, but for Anna they were not of same purport now.
She was struggling to hide her trembling and still considered to dash out of the door and run as fast as she can. However she could move her legs and eyes were fixated on the floor where moments ago she saw the horror of her life.
“I won’t keep you much longer sweetheart, let me get you your fees and then you will be free from the employment of the base creature standing before you”, his eyes shone as bright as they did when he first kissed her and his lips stretched to conjure that heavenly smile.
He came close to her now with a bunch of bank notes bundled into a wad and lifted her chin to come face to face. She could not look into his eyes and trembled internally as an inconsequential tree in a hurricane. All the questions that vexed for so long deserted her now and a raw animal instinct took over her. On all those nights when she mulled over them and ways to end her life, she never thought she could be afraid anything. It was not her. She was different. But now everything changed and that same fear which shapeless and benign took the form of a nightmare.
“What happened to you dear? You seem to have caught a fever sweating like that and shaking with temperature. Wait let me get you something. Perhaps you would stay and let the fever subside. I will take care of you don’t you worry”, he seemed genuinely concerned and his voice was soft and pampering.
“No…no…it is alright. I have to go now. I am….will be fine”, Anna snatched her hand from his while he was putting handing the wad on her palm and clutching on the bundle of notes she turned away in madness and rushed out the door which was to her surprise unlocked.
“Are you sure dear, I can take good care of you”, she heard him saying with a tinge of mockery which she wasn’t sure was due to her disposition or was the intended effect.
She did not wait for the lift and climbed down the stairs, rather ran down it.
Prostitution is a Dirty Word