He walked into the 19th room nervously. It was dimly lit with green fairy lights. Half of those tiny bulbs were missing, the other half were struggling their best to flicker at the same time. The silhouette on the window sill gave him some hope. But it wasn’t mutual.

She turned her head, scanning the depressing air of the room. The shine in her eyes dying a slow death with every movement of his. She stood, stepped afront and offered herself to him. She was young, very young. He had never been as close to any woman as this before. So close that he could see the golden freckles under her eyes stretching every time she inhaled. For a first-time customer, it was intimidating.

She grabbed the open end of her unusually gaudy saree and started to pull off the neat pleats under her navel. Six of them. With extreme unsophistication, she started unbuttoning her blouse. A fright struck him and he started shaking his head looking for some words down in his stomach. He touched her hands to stop her but pulled them back as if she was fire. Perhaps she was.

She looked up at him, “What?”

“I am not here for this.”

All of a sudden, her calm face turned into a raging one. As opposed to what he had expected.

“Fuck me or leave.”

He was sure he had heard her wrong.

“I said fuck me or leave.”

“No, I am sorry but I am only here for a conversation. I have paid the money for your time.”

“Accha, another writer writing about pitiful lives of whores and making reports on how bad condition of brothels is. A messiah has come to save us.” She said the last sentence loud enough to attract attention from the dingy corridor outside.

She pulled a chair for him and sat down on the bed herself.

“What are you writing about?”

He sat hesitatingly trying not to look at her.

“The same.”

“Tch-tch, Saheb, write something new, something that nobody has written about yet. What’s good in repeating stories!”

She was getting comfortable slowly. And so was he.

“Write about how nothing ever written about brothels has made a difference.”

She seemed angry yet vulnerable. Her nostrils flared and he shifted in his place.

“I was forced into dhanda when I was 16. It’s been only two years but feels like a lifetime. See these lights, every time a stranger thrusts himself inside me, I pluck one bulb. I am half-way through.

In my bed, losing myself everyday I name my customers after my emotions at the moment. Pain. Rage. Shame. It goes on.

On the very first night, when it all started, I was offered to a suited man who apparently goes for the newest doll in the street. His hands around my breasts were rough. Rough but strong. Somewhat like hands that are capable of building a lot of lives and demolishing a lot.

While I fought my way out of his tight grip, he had claimed every inch of my adolescent skin.

And I uttered “Acceptance. Acceptance. Acceptance” under my last brave breath. I named him Acceptance.

There was one man whose wife had left him a night before for his own brother. I named him Sympathy. I lay down on the bed naked and forced a smile. We’re not supposed to love so that’s all I could offer him.

It’s not that there is nothing being done for us. In fact, there is a police raid here every once in a while, one of those officers surely comes the next night.”

She stopped for a long breath and continued.

He took out his notepad and started writing swiftly. Looking up and down, juggling words and overlapping sentences. He nodded smilingly. He got up and shook her hand to which she blushed for a minute. He knew he had a story.

The next night, he returned with the same notepad. She pulled the chair for him.

He noticed the room was a bit brighter. The fairy lights were new. A bright tone of orange.

On the edge of the iron bed, she sat. Her almond-shaped eyes reflected the orange making them resemble the setting Sun. Breathtakingly beautiful but destined to drown into the faraway horizon.

She tapped the base of the chair, indicating him to sit. Her wide smile curled back to place as soon as she gauged the look on his face, something she was extremely familiar with, she pushed back the chair that made a shrill noise. The noise of hopelessness.

That night, in her bed, laying with her eyes fixed on the ceiling while he walked out of the door tired, she named him Hopelessness.

Author: Preksha Diwakar