By Subhalaxmi Borah, a student of PGP in Development Leadership at ISDM:
I am a sex worker.
Exhausted, I lie on the bed, sore at all the places he touched me. Age has begun to take a toll on my body. I stare at the fat wad of currency notes he flung at me before he walked out of the door. These notes are all that my body is made up of. My body, my soul and my life have become a slave to them. A slave who is the master of her freedom, but still chooses to live in the shackles of a world where she is copulated and made an object…a face that is not meant to be remembered and a name that is not meant to be spoken.
I get up against my will, with my muscles screaming in pain and my brain in an urgent need of numbness. But I have another shift to run before my day ends. One more shift of feigning a pleasure that I have long stopped feeling, and one more of those many shifts during which I no longer own my body.
I put away the bundle of money and draw the curtains open for a little while before the next man comes in. The last few rays of the golden hour fall on my face, and I feel a tinge of happiness that I have not felt in quite some time now. But, I turn away to prepare for my next shift, or perhaps; because I am too afraid to feel the ache that comes with the longing of a life that I have left far behind. It has become hard to recognise myself in the mirror. Dishevelled hair, a pair of hollow eyes and a lifeless face is all I get to see. I line my eyes with kohl, brush my hair into place and paint my lips with the brightest shade of red I have. I stare at the face that now looks inviting and wonder where along the way this face has lost its identity.
The audible sound of footsteps down the hallway is a cue for me to draw back the curtain and put on the sultriest expression that I can manage. He walks in after a few moments and looks around until his eyes rest upon me. His lips curve into a smile that makes me feel the warmth inside. His eyes crinkle at the edges making his young face look much older than his years. He settles himself on the bed and looks around the room as if to remember every aspect of it before he turned his eyes back again at me.
“You know you are very beautiful”
My heart flutters for a bit upon hearing these words. Something that I am sure has never happened to me in this lifetime. And before I could gather myself to formulate a reply, he asks me a question that I had long forgotten to answer. A question that brings back a host of memories of a life that I had to walk away from.
“What is your name?”
My heart skips a beat, and I stutter as I answer him.
“They call me Laila.”
There is a moment of silence before I hear him again.
“What do you call yourself?”
My knees suddenly felt too weak to support the rest of my body. I can feel the blood racing wildly in my veins. For once, I feel vulnerable. The thought of someone looking beyond my body is incomprehensible. I wonder why I am catering to this stranger’s unwanted curiosity, and yet, for the first time in years, I hear myself uttering my name aloud.
It sounds alien to me but his smile grows broader. He looks up at me with eyes that have a hint of admiration in them as opposed to the hunger-filled eyes that look at every part of my body except my face. This brief encounter is evoking feelings that I am reluctant to accept. Nonetheless, I feel my hidden desires bubble to the surface. Amidst all these, a thought keeps beating in my brain and violently pulsating my heart; so before I can stop myself, I ask him the obvious with an unintentional smirk across my face.
“So, you are paying a fat sum of money to have an unusually curious little conversation with me?”
His smile turns into a somewhat sheepish grin. His cheeks turn a faint shade of pink and in that moment, I forget who I am. Who he is…and where we are? With my eyes fixed upon him, my heart is waging a battle against my brain. One that I wish it would win, this one time.
“Actually, I am here to gather some information for my research. So..yes, technically, I am here for a small talk!”
And with that, something invisible snapped inside me for the past few minutes and begins to crumble down. He continues talking without taking much notice of the tumult his words have left me in, and I continue answering without looking into his eyes. I lose track of time as he questions me about my routine and experiences, among other things. And then, all of a sudden, he gets up to leave, and that is when I realise that maybe that was the only conversation I would have of this sort. He utters some words of farewell, leaves a bundle of money on the table and turns to leave with the same smile that he entered with.
A part of me urges to stop him. The other half holds me back. His retreating figure hits me with an unfathomable kind of gloom. As the last bits of shadow disappear down the hallway, I turn back. I stifle a tear. My mind resumes its previous need for numbness, so I fill a glass with the Cognac that has been lying around for quite some time on the shelf and take a sip. The liquid burns its way down my throat.
As my thoughts gradually start losing a sense of coherence, I find myself wishing for the stranger to return. If not tomorrow, some other day…even if it is for research or whatever else that may be. I wish for somebody who would not just see what I choose to show but also know my story…even if it is for a research. I wish to be able to forget for a few moments about what my life has turned out to be…even it is for a research.