‘‘Two Thousand’‘ proposed Anita, her practiced eye taking in the air conditioned car and the Armani Suit.
‘‘Eh?’‘ The man raised his eyebrow as if amused. But showed no indication that he was interested.
Anita was holding her breath. The business was not very good for the past few nights. And the kid’s school fees were due. She had to have this one.
‘‘Fifteen Hundred?’‘ She tried to adjust her pose, to draw his attention to her assets. Haggling was hard work. A desperate ‘‘please, please, please’‘ hung in air, silent.
‘‘Get in’‘ said he.
‘‘I wont stay for long’‘ Anita tried to set the ground rules, indicating that he would have the honour of her full night‘s service, only if he had agreed to pay the full amount.
He didn’t seem to notice that.
She stepped into the soothing climate controlled air , thankful to be at last away from the heat and humidity and subtly sniffed the arm prits. There is nothing like a bit of body odor to put off men, she had learnt her lesson early in her career. Then it would make a wasteful journey.
‘‘Five Hundred to the school, Two Hundred to the milk man, Two hundred to the vegetable vendor, A Hundred for the Lord Shiva temple’‘……. Closing the eyes, she started ticking off silently. A few hours of work today would cover some of the bills. And some money needs to go to the Savings Account towards the kid’s education.
‘‘What’s your name’‘? The driver asked casually.
‘‘Rani’‘ Anita replied automatically.
Rani had been her alter ego for years now. Ever since Rohan died in an automobile accident, leaving Anita and the kids to fend for themselves in the big bustling city of Mumbai. Ever since the day, when Anita, draped her heavy silk sarees and jasmine flowers, finally agreed to pay a visit to the old, hawkish landlord who threatened to throw her and the children out otherwise. And later on to others too, when Ram was caught a fever and hospitalized, then Juhi was sent back home from school for not paying her fees. Ever since Ram fainted at school because he had nothing to eat for 2 consecutive days. The evolution was stressful, to say the least. But here she is, seen all, done all- almost a professional.
The man fell silent , negotiating expertly the route to the nearest cheap motel. A blessing, thought Anita. There are some creeps, who bore you with their biographies too, as if boring in bed was not enough.
Wearily glancing around, she wondered whether Ram and Juhi had finished their dinner of chapattis and curry. Ram had a bit of temperature when she left . Now, if the temperature wouldn’t subside, she might have to take him to the doctor in the morning. Then, to cover the doctor’s bills, she would have to ‘‘work’‘ a few hours extra. Perhaps a second customer on the same day.
‘‘Oh, Shiv Mahraj, I will put a 50 rupee note in your bhandar tomorrow, if Ram is alright’‘ offered Anita, desperately praying that the God will take that bait.
‘‘Rani, do you dance?’‘ asked the driver.
‘‘Yes Ji’‘, replied Anita, reminiscing all the years of religiously practicing the Indian Classical dance. Of learning to emulate peacocks with her fingers and Rasas with her eyes. Of indicating love with a gracious tilt of the head and fear with raised eyebrows. The Mudras and Adavu’‘s one has to practice over and over.
Back in the village, her amma used to say ‘‘A girl has to know classical dance and music to be a good housewife’‘ True to the Hindu tradition, Anita had learnt all classical art forms, along with cooking and cleaning in preparation for the marriage. She was being chiseled out to be the perfect Indian bride.
Last year , when Anita, suitably clad in the widow’s shabby white visited her parents during the yearly trip to the village, Amma remarked,
‘‘Thank God that Anita has a good job’‘
‘‘All Lord Shivji’‘s kripa’‘ agreed Anita, hating herself for the double act.
But on the other hand, if someone in the village comes to know of her profession, which suitable boy will come forward to marry Juhi?
‘‘Do an item number* when we reach the hotel’‘ instructed the driver, pushing a CD into the player. The almost barbarian beatings and lewd lyrics of the latest Bollywood hit filled the car. Anita started practicing the hip movements in mind, and hoped that he would perhaps pay a bit extra for the dance.
Doing a dance routine among other things can be very tiring, agreed Anitha, while gathering the clothes a long time later on. Its almost dawn and there is no chance for a second round this night. Looking at the client she had hoped that he was well pleased to offer a tip. After all, she did a professional’s job.
‘jee’ Anitha tried to attract his attention from the Business channel to no avail.
‘Jee’ she tried again after waiting for another five minutes. The man did not stir. Anitha tried to shuffle her feet on the ground. The man was engrossed in the TV, and paid no attention to Anitha.
‘My money’’ she tried to tap him on the shoulder.
‘What’? he turned around and looked fiercely at Anitha. At that moment he saw a manic’s glare in his eyes.
‘I have to go’ she mumbled, taking a step backward. And the first blow hit her on the shoulder.
‘You want money, you bitch?’ the man towered over her, belt in hand. It hit her body. Anitha was still in shock to react and she didn’t feel any pain. Afterall, all sensations had left her years ago. Why should one feel pain, where there are important things like money to think of?
The man was advancing on her with belt in hand. ‘money, you want money?’ he kept on chanting, as if in a violent trance. Clutching her handbag, which had a few coins to cover for her bus journey, Anitha tried to hide behind the corner unit.
As the TV anchor was still analysing the unprecedented fall in the share market , the man became more and more agitated. ‘’I lost everything and now you are asking for more money?’’ he was in the stages of delirium. And the lashings came one by one. Till blackness descended on her.
When she woke up hours later in the room, she was looking into the face of the duty doctor. ‘Where am I? where is Ram and Juhi’ Anitha panicked. But no one was paying attention.
‘You can go now. We haven’t called the Police; cant tarnish the hotel’s reputation’ told the doctor as Anitha tried to get up.
‘Don’t ever come back’ warned the manger. ‘Filthy whores’ the doctor agreed.
‘Girl, don’t go to Police, nobody will testify for you’ advised the old concierge, while he was trying to get an auto rickshaw for her. ‘Say that you fell off the steps’’ Nodding agreement, Anitha got into the vehicle. Police and her job never mix, she had learnt quite early in her career.
As the balmy evening's dusty winds stroked her face, Anitha thought only about what to cook for the children’s breakfast. And about the school fees. And the unpaid bills.
* An item number is an erotic dance, more or less like Belly dancing, in tune to the Hindi film songs.