By Namit Arora
(An excerpt from a longer work of fiction.)
Sasha calls him on Saturday afternoon, ‘Are you free?’
Sasha is a Russian escort, 28, slim, dark-haired, with green eyes. She needs a ride in an hour to Plaza Hotel, downtown. After a three-day break, she accepted a two-hour job today, but her car will not start. ‘I’ll make up to you,’ she adds.
Ved imagines her pacing the living room in her red silk robe. He can practically smell her perfume on the phone. ‘I’ll pick you up in fifty minutes. Be ready and wait downstairs.’ He showers, gets dressed, and leaves.
He found her nine months ago on a website advertising escort girls. Fragments of her online ad have stayed with him: I am all natural and very fit … I specialize in fantasy role-plays: nurse, housemaid, nun, schoolgirl, cheerleader (special requests welcome) … My Russian accent will make you putty in my hands, in all seven languages I speak.
In one online photo, a profile pose, she was down on all fours on what seemed like open grassland. Her makeup and glossy dress, bunched above her bare butt, evoked disreputable belly dancers. Another photo focused on her bust, donning nothing but a two-string pearl necklace.
He remembers their first meeting last summer in a mid-range hotel. It had been over a year since he had got laid, a deprivation that had made his daily encounters with women unduly sexualized. Sometimes even casual physical contact with a woman—say, an accidental hallway collision at work, or the customary greeting hug—made him tingle with a sense of illicit delight.
After much uneasy deliberation, he called her on a Friday afternoon for a two-hour appointment. He left work an hour early to allow time for a shower and snack. On a whim, as he was leaving his apartment, he picked up a porcelain figurine of dancing Ganesha that a friend had given him and to which he had no special attachment.
The lobby was almost empty when he arrived. No one noticed his nerves as he went through a long corridor and knocked on her room door. She opened it to reveal her smiling face. She signaled him in from behind the door. Inside, he introduced himself and gave her the dancing Ganesha. It amused her instantly. Talking about its provenance helped break the ice.
She wore a pleated pink chiffon skirt, knee-length. He was at once charmed by her youthful voice and accent. Putty in her hands, huh.
The studio suite she had rented for the evening was tidy, clean, and bathed in soft white light. He settled the charges up front: $400 for the session. How many infants would this feed or vaccinate in India? Images of malnourished children from the beseeching mail he receives from international charities flooded his mind. She stuffed the money in her purse and sat close to him on the couch, her knee barely an inch away from his.
Raised in St. Petersburg, she came to the US eighteen months before. ‘I am not illegal person,’ she said that evening. It sounded strange: illegal person. ‘I have permit to stay but not to work.’ So she resorted to this secret work. Until a year earlier, before turning into an upmarket prostitute, which she prefers for both the money and the flexible hours, she was an exotic dancer in a nightclub. Her roommate, a Ukrainian woman, introduced her to both jobs. None of her friends or family back home have a clue about how she really makes a living.
She was well-spoken and friendly. He studied her high cheekbones, the delicate chin, long black hair, perfect white teeth. ‘So what do you like to do in your free time, Sasha?’
‘Read books, watch TV,’ she said, flashing a sweet, friendly smile.
‘Do you have any favorites?’
‘Pushkin and Gogol—Russian writers. Ah, you know them? I also read mystery novels. I do not like American TV—so stupid you know—I only like PBS and Discovery channels.’
‘Very nice,’ he said, letting his imagination roam her curves, her smooth burnished skin. ‘Your English is very good.’ The conversational foreplay felt decadent, delicious, for he knew it would happen. It was just a matter of minutes.
She said she adores the idea of being an artist and wants to do art after quitting this job: photography, or perhaps painting, she has dabbled with both. ‘I am very passionate person,’ she said that night, ‘as all true artists should be.’ Artists, he thought, are everywhere these days: body artists, computer artists, porn artists. He did not inquire about her notion of art. He shared with her the basic facts of his life: his Indian roots, job, pastimes. ‘I like Indian music,’ she said, ‘flute and sitar music.’ He gives her credit for never asking why they worshipped cows in his country.
He mentioned his visit to St. Petersburg years ago. She turned nostalgic with a far-off look as he recalled some tourist sights: Nevsky Prospekt, Peter-Paul Cathedral, the new Admiralty, summer and winter palaces. He did not tell her that a young couple with knives mugged him there one night. He remembers vividly the rage and hatred in the woman’s eyes, her clenched teeth, as she held him by the collar while her companion emptied his wallet.
She has never had an Indian client, except perhaps one who, unlike him, spoke with an American accent. ‘Why not get wife from India?’ she smiled. ‘No more loneliness.’
‘I have never considered that option in my adult life,’ he said. ‘Now it’s too late—all the good women, as my mother says, are taken.’ His facetious remark made her laugh.
She inched closer, brushed a finger on his chin, traced it down his right arm, lifted his hand, and pressed it to her bosom. Well practiced, then, a professional. He leaned over, nuzzled his nose on her slender neck. She smelled nice. At the barest of hints, she turned, reclined on her back, and sidled into an embrace. He let his fingers wade through her long hair, down her shoulder, over her breast beneath the gauzy fabric.
Soon they moved to the bedroom. He undressed when she disappeared into the bathroom. She emerged to find him tucked beneath the soft white sheets. Reclining on a pillow, he watched her slowly slip off the dress before him, climb into bed, and fall into his embrace. She was pliant, eager to please, and skilled at touching a man. He groped, his thirst for her body astounded him. They had intercourse missionary style. She grunted at his frantic thrusts, responding with joyous abandon—feigned, no doubt, but well enough to make him imagine otherwise during the act. When it was over, he promptly rolled off to her right, exhausted.
As the fog lifted, he reflected on their coupling. Man: half reason, half appetite. How ridiculous, to be held hostage by a silly appendage between his legs. Humiliating, in fact.
They lay together and talked with her head on his chest, a pseudo-intimate moment. He gently massaged her head, neck, and shoulders. ‘I like your touch,’ she said, ‘you are good lover. I think you are good man too.’
Safe is probably what she meant, better behaved than most clients. Or is she saying this in the hopes of getting repeat business. ‘How many others do you say this to?’
‘You don’t believe?’ she asked. ‘I think eyes are windows to the soul. I see kindness in your eyes, and sadness too. Is there something troubling to your heart?’
She has received many offers for marriage from lonely white men. She not only hoped to do art some day, she also hoped for true love, marriage, children, and a normal family life. Prior to this work, she had slept with only two men, both boyfriends. Now she services two or three men daily, on occasion with her roommate, i.e., threesomes. ‘I have many boyfriends now,’ she smiled. Part of her job, to put up pleasant faces: service with a smile, the secret of customer loyalty.
‘Escort girls in Moscow make one-tenth of what I make,’ she said. Money eases daily qualms but surely, he thought, there must be more beneath her nonchalance, her lack of visible anguish. Yet, for the services he wants, isn’t this exactly what he would rather have: an untroubled whore?
He asked himself: what balance of power exists between them—say, between his power of money versus her power of beauty? Alas, if only the moral assessment of all this were as plain as the cost-benefit metrics of Omnicon’s products. He reasoned: if it weren’t him, there would be another man here now. At least she is safe with him. She even finds him agreeable. If he is using her, she too is using him: is symbiosis immoral? A form of income distribution too—didn’t the Buddha say that hoarding money is a deed worse than most?
Only later did it strike him that such is the cunning of reason—it can rationalize almost anything the mind fancies.
‘Have you encountered any abusive or violent men in this line of work?’ he asked her that first evening.
‘No, not yet,’ she tapped on wood, ‘but I came close once. I just throw his money at him and left. I am careful. If I dislike a caller’s voice I say no. No house calls in bad parts of city. I leave if I see hard drugs. See this?’ she pointed to a Nokia handset, ‘This is the best thing. My roommate and I always exchange our working address.’
She shuns hard drugs but she has smoked pot with some clients. Good for sex, she whispered. Her roommate kept a stash for her own regular use. Might he be interested in smoking some the next time?
Her phone rang as he was getting dressed. She looked at him: would you mind? She stepped into the bathroom to take the call. He heard her giving directions. Another client was due in an hour. Time enough to make the bed, replace the towels, air the room, wash herself clean of him, and slip on that chiffon dress again.
Image source: Art Offer.
More writing by Namit Arora?