He looked out of the window, lying in the bed. His naked body could feel the morning puff of air. The window curtains waved in whichever direction the air chose, as if dancing for the sun’s arrival. He felt a smile on his face. After staring for some time at the view outside the window, he found that the view could be explored more if he could take the trouble of getting out of the bed and walk a little towards the window. He did so.
By this time sun was out in sky. Open. Full.
He said aloud, addressing no one in particular, “I don’t understand why poets and writers have always written about moon’s beauty, even after it has so many dark patches. Why does nobody find this flawless, red object, worthy enough to be their subject? After all sun is not that bad. In fact, I find it beautiful.” He turned to her. She was smiling.
She was watching him all the while. She felt happy to see him so relaxed. She thought of last night.
They had met, for the first time. He - a bachelor in his late twenties, a project manager in a software company. She - a flowering beauty in her early twenties, a prostitute by profession. He had asked her, “how many men… before me?”
“This is my profession, sir. I am into it for last two years and have to earn my bread everyday, or rather every night. Actually today is my business’ second anniversary.”
“Two years means seven hundred and thirty days, so approximately the same number of men. Out of them, did you like someone particularly; someone whom you wished would have come back to you?”
“The seller does not choose the buyer, sir. It’s the buyers who choose the seller. Yes, we do have repeat customers. But it’s not our choice that matters. It’s theirs. ”
“Did someone ever try to rape you?” he was shocked with his own question and wished if he could take it back.
“No, I do it by choice.”
The simplicity with which she had said this, made the situation worse for him. He could feel what she actually meant. She meant, “What else do you think happen everyday?”
“Well, I am called Saurabh. Saurabh Saxena.”
“But the agent told me your name is…” She had laughed aloud and then said, “You feared that someone will get to know that you spent this night with a prostitute!! By the way, I am called Shilpa. And that’s my full name.”
He had felt disgusted by the exposure of his reason of name change. He had found himself saying things which didn’t mean much. He had said, “Do you wish to get fresh? Wanna have a bath or something?”
“Yes.” And after a pause, she had asked, “Do you want me to come out naked or should I be wearing something?”
He did not know what to say. He could barely murmur, “Well, whatever you wish like… it would be better if you come out in some dress.” And he had handed her a towel and a men’s evening gown.
It was two hours past midnight. The hotel room was lighted by the city lights outside the large windows and a small lamp, kept in a corner of the room. He was lying on the bed, staring at the fan. She was sitting at an easily reachable distance, at the other corner of the bed. They held some short conversations in middle of their silence, conversations where the topics in the previous had no relation to the one that followed. They talked about almost everything – his girlfriend, who never allowed him to kiss even and then left him quoting his impotency as the reason; her first customer, who had hairs in the most impossible parts of his body; his friends, who would never get to know that he spent his night with a prostitute; her friends, who knew every detail of the man she slept with; his food habits, her not having any habits, his job, her job and so on. But still at the end of the conversation they felt they talked about nothing.
He said, “You can sleep if you are tired.”
“Don’t you want to have sex with me?”
“I… I don’t know….”
“What you don’t know?”
“I have never done this before. I really don’t know.”
“It’s okay. Do the way you think you should. There’s no competition here. You won’t get a prize if you do it the best way. And trust me, there’s no best way.”
He wondered – How can someone talk about sex, so glibly, so effortlessly?
She took his hands in her, and kissed them. Only if he would have been kissed before, he could tell this was the most preposterous and false kiss he ever had. But he had none such experience so he was okay with whatever he got.
She got up and moved towards the window. Her naked body projected an ultimate silhouette against the moonlight. Looking at the moon, she said, “It’s beautiful,” then turned to him. He was still looking at the fan, lost in his own world. She sensed a deep loneliness in his behavior. She thought, “He is not here for what we assume we are here for.” and asked, “What do you think, am I beautiful?”
“Like Aishwarya Rai?”
“More than her.”
She laughed aloud.
He got up and took her back to the bed. They kissed each other.
This was the night he lost his virginity and she had serviced her seven hundred and thirty first customer.
When she got up in the morning, she found him standing by the window.
“So what do you think? Which is more beautiful – the sun or the moon?”
“Whichever can survive without being a parasite.”
He gazed at her for some time. But said nothing.
He left first. She did after him. While switching off the lights, she found some money kept at the near-by table with the intention of being noticed. She thought, “Why the thought of money did not appear to me for whole of the time he was here?” She found no answer.
It must have been around four, in after hours of the noon. Shilpa heard the announcement for the next local from Andheri to Churchgate, while standing in the ticket queue. She cursed herself for forgetting the monthly pass at home. When she arrived at the platform, the train was about to leave. She could, no way, reach women’s compartment hence she got into the general compartment. Being the non office hours, and the train in the reverse direction, the compartment wasn’t very crowded. She made her way inside. She wasn’t looking beautiful, not at least the way she had looked two years ago. But still she found that every men around was gazing at her. When the train stopped at Dadar, a man behind her asked her for way. She moved a side, looking downwards. Suddenly she realized the voice to be familiar. She looked up while the man was crossing her. They saw each other in that moment. It was a look of acknowledging the recognition. She had always wished to meet him somehow, somewhere. But this way, and at this place? None of them could move out of that frame of moment. The train stopped and started again towards its next destination.
By the time it reached Marine lines, the train was almost empty. They were sitting facing each other. Saurabh asked, “Shall we get down here?”
She said nothing. Just got up and moved towards the door. He followed. They walked up to the Marine drive, silently. It happens when you meet someone after a long time and you think you have too many things to talk about, but you know there’s too little a time. You really can’t figure out where to start from, what all to talk about and what all you can avoid, who shall start first, and such things. And the desperation of every passing moment, that you assume is getting wasted without your word, makes you more restless. Something similar was happening to them.
By the time they reached the sea, the sun was about to fade in. She asked, “Do you remember your beautiful sun?”
“Does it still appear beautiful to you?”
This was followed by a short moment of silence which, in the shortness of the total time they assumed they had together, appeared quite long.
He asked, “How life has been in all these days… or rather years?”
“Good.” And then she added, “how about you?”
Both of them looked away from each other, towards the setting sun. It was
“How many men… after me?”
She smiled. He went on, “well, you can ask me the same question. And I don’t mind. I slept with another ten, or say fifteen women, after you. Don’t remember the exact count.”
They sat quietly. Sun was almost down and it was getting dark. Street lights were trying hard to match up to the sun but what a frustration it would be that they could not even stand up to a setting sun!!
“I think I should leave. Getting late.”
“Ok.” Saurabh looked at her with a question on his face; a question which was already asked and which was yet to be answered.
“Bye,” She said and walked on. Then she stopped, turned back and walked up to him. She took out a bundle of currency notes and kept at his side. It was the same bundle she picked up from the table when he was gone that day. She said, “If I agree to sleep with you tonight, you will be the first person… after you.” She said it very simply. Without contempt. Without anger. Without remorse. Just in a mood of an easy answer.
He said, “I am sorry.”
She stood still, looking straight into his eyes. “Sun is always more beautiful, Saurabh. They can’t give you what you are looking for. I never did to any man I slept with. I hope you understand that you didn’t come to me that night for sex. Tell me, do you respect any of the women you sleep with? If not, then how do you expect that such women can give your self respect back? What you are looking for can only be obtained by the purpose of your own life, the reason of your own being. It’s not the survival that matters but the reason for the survival. I learnt it the night I met you… By the way, I am Ms. Shilpa, Customer Care Executive at Maya Outsourcing Services.”
He looked at her with a question mark on his face but said nothing. She responded to his look. She questioned, “Inquisitive to know why I left that profession?” After a small pause, she replied herself, “That day, I realized that I wasn’t surviving on my strengths but on the weaknesses of the people like you. The weaker the client was, higher I got paid. I was selling you hunger to satisfy my own. Just that we were hungry for different things. I was selling you lust to fill in my moneybag. I was selling you desire to make you a repeat customer. The point is - everything I sold was yours anyway! A trade involves exchange of values. I offered no value for the money you paid. I was not doing business; it was just a cheat plan. And the body? Oh! It was just a tool to disguise the cheat. Sex has to be a derivative of love, Saurabh; else it’s just another wasted activity.”
She smiled and turned away. It was a happy smile. No irony, no wickedness. No pity, no sympathy. Just a plain, happy smile. She called for a taxi and went off. Saurabh turned to the sea. He closed his eyes tightly. He could hear her voice against the sound of the water. He asked to himself, “Who is a prostitute?”