The violated rose, sickened by an invisible worm
It was midnight. She had appeared out of nowhere, like her unknown and forgotten birth, and signalled him to stop. He stopped unintentionally. She was young. Her long hair fell down to her shoulders, blustery and wild, darkened by the bleak night. She was clad in rather revealing clothes, and despite the resisting cold, she was not shivering. He was driving back to his flat after wandering the cold desolate roads of Islamabad, when all of a sudden she emerged from the dark hedge along the pavement opposite to Islamabad club.
“Sahab, want company?” she inquired charmingly.
He was engrossed.
“Yes,” he replied indecisively.
“Do you have a place or you want to sit behind the hedge under the trees here?” she asked while smiling.
“No, I have my place nearby,” he murmured mutely.
“Rs1,500 for an hour, but if you want to spend the night, it would be Rs5,000,” she stated.
He looked at her quietly and smiled,
It was a comfortable bedroom, quiet and mysterious like him. He offered her to sit on the sofa, went over to the bed himself and started unlacing his shoes without looking at her. Her eyes wandered around the room; the walls were painted in multi-colours but the roof was white, a thick red carpet, a TV, a freezer, a fire place, a dressing table, and a lot of fat books scattered on the study table, along with a huge bed covered by clean and speckles florid sheets.
For the first time, he looked at the girl sitting in front of him, smiling, without meaning perhaps. Her face, otherwise well-shaped, was covered by makeup betraying her rather clumsy and gauche taste. He didn’t speak a word and silently went to the attached bathroom, turned on the tap and waited for a while.
Then he returned to her,
“You can take a bath, the water is warm and tepid,” he burbled quietly, “And wash your makeup properly, please.”
She seemed thrilled by the idea, perhaps, and floated a meaningful smile.
“You have got taste I’ll say, otherwise my customers would grab me as soon as they’d get the chance, as if they’re about to tear me to pieces,” she said pleasingly and went to the bathroom.
He was sitting in the chair beside the fireplace, resting his head with his eyes closed when she came out cleansed and bathed. The makeup was gone and she looked younger and winsome with her wet hair playing on her forehead and shoulders.
He looked at her sadly,
“Come, sit here.”
He invited her to sit in the chair placed on the other side of the fireplace in front of him and offered her the cup of tea which he made when she was bathing.
“You look prettier without the makeup, don’t you?” he remarked.
She beamed and took the cup from his hand, lifted to her lips and drank several little sips. He didn’t say anything. Looking at the ashes of the fire, he seemed rather lost in thought. She had drunk to the last dregs and was feeling restless and nervous for the first time.
After waiting for several moments, she stood up, took a long tempting breath and approached the bed. The bath, followed by the hot cup of tea, had warmed her. She threw herself on the bed and took off her shirt looking at him, who had now turned his eyes to her, they were sad and cold. He got up quietly and approached her. Standing by the bed, he still seemed lost. He picked up her shirt and murmured,
“Sit by my side and talk to me.”
She was baffled. But she took the shirt from his hand and wore it, looking at him with big bewildered eyes.
“Would you pay me for just talking to you?” she asked desperately, placing herself apprehensively in the chair.
He looked at her with eyes diving deep into her soul and she felt frisson in her body.
“Tell me, what do you do exactly? Does it hurt? Do you have any regrets of doing what you do?” his silence screeched.
She looked at him tenderly as if looking at a school-going curious boy who wanted to unravel the mysteries of the universe on his very first day at school. His brown eyes had turned red with an unknown, mysterious anguish and her heart strived to break free the invisible shackles from his body.
She looked at him with overflowing eyes and whimpered noiselessly,
“I sell my body and earn money to feed and clothe my family and myself. There are those lucky nights when I am picked by some generous man who pays more than usual. I give them my body in bargain in return for their money, even though, I enjoy nothing of it.”
“So you are a prostitute,” he said rather reluctantly.
“Everyone is a prostitute, if selling oneself is prostitution then you people who sell yourselves in well decorated offices in return for bribes, are not any less of a prostitute. You sell your soul whereas we sell our bodies. And there are white collar people amongst you, women and men alike, who not only sell their souls but also their bodies. I used to work at a seth’s house in F-7. He was quite old but his wife was young. She might as well have been his daughter. They fought every other day without fail. Baji often said she would be a rich and happy woman when he died and then she would start living her life.
The seth slept with me on many occasions and sometimes he paid generously. When he would be traveling, baji would send everyone but me on leave. Those were her happiest days. She would invite a very handsome man over who used to stay with her as long as her husband did not return. But one day, she caught her husband sleeping with me and threw me out of the job. I do not know what happened later. But please tell me, was baji a lesser prostitute than me? The only difference is that her offspring would inherit the seth’s name. The same man slept with me over and over again but I didn’t have the right to give birth to his offspring, and if I had by mistake, my child would not have inherited the name of the man who had conceived it in my womb.”
She sounded outrageous, like a trapped panther.
“Now that you have asked, let me tell you,” she continued, “It is you people who are the real prostitutes. We do not do this out of choice. I was just 14 when I was thrown in front of an educated and well-off business tycoon to flag his conquest on my virginity. I cried, I screamed, I bled but it didn’t change anything, it melted no heart. I was conquered. An ill-bred, helpless, unresponsive, unconscious, comatose girl of 14 was conquered by a man.”
He twisted and turned restlessly on his chair, trying to think of the poem, in which the poet lamented about a rose, violated and sickened by an invisible worm.
“Who are the real prostitutes then?” she screamed, “Those who are made to sell their bodies or those who sell their bodies and souls all knowingly? Those who are bought or those who are sold? Those who are thrown out on the roads or those who put themselves up for sale willingly for pelf, purse, power, and prestige?”
He raised his head and saw that the unfathomable sea in front of him had over-flown. The whirlpools and storms deep inside her had found way out through those big black eyes. She was sobbing and he felt something hurting within him.
He got up from the chair, walked up to the window and gazed out into the darkness outside. The night was creeping silently, aloof of the plight of the oppressed and the insanity of the oppressors. He felt the chill of night, pinching, freezing to the marrow. He returned to the chair and sat there quietly, quiet like the cold aloof night.
Everything seemed unreal. He wanted to be alone with himself in another world where life could hide from its cursed bitterness. But he was acquainted with the darkness all around; and he was aware there was nowhere he could run.
Nothing could offer refuge.
Nothing could be done.
“Who can save us from the things life has done to us,” he thought, “Can anyone help?”
He looked at her and he kept looking, but he had no answer. The sound of azaan snapped him back to reality and he realised the night had passed. He stood up and walked to his wardrobe. When he returned, he had a shawl in his hands. He spread the shawl on the girl’s shoulders and helped her stand up.
The next moment, he was whimpering in her arms. The ice was broken. Something had exploded inside him.
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