Fiction | Crisis – Mrinal Rajaram

He is about to make one of the biggest mistakes of his life, but is well aware of it, and has reconciled himself to the fact. India Today had once carried out an in-depth study of the Escort market and its burgeoning effect on the new, developing India. It was just like the magazine had specified: ‘Type in escorts, followed by the name of your city on any internet search engine, and the results would be right there in front of you, by the thousands.’

Google’s rainbowesque letters stare gently back at him from the computer screen. The words, ‘Escorts in Chennai’, are typed out with a hint of trepidation in the fingers. And, as expected, the results are aplenty. Hundreds of hits as all-encompassing as ‘High Profile Escorts’, ‘Sexy Girls For You’, ‘Call Girls At The Click Of A Button’ and ‘Sunshine Ladies’ flood the search page. He clicks diffidently on one of the many links. It reads:

‘Dear Prospective Client.

A hearty welcome to XXX Escorts! We are a service that caters to the discerning gentleman. Our ladies are well mannered and highly trained in the art of romance. Be it for a dinner date, an overnight stay or a business trip abroad, we, at XXX Escorts, provide our clients with exceptional service. Our vast selection of models includes Indians as well as foreigners. Please contact the telephone number below to get in touch with our hostess, Suzie, for a booking. You could also email us in the event of any special requests or preferences. Client privacy is of utmost importance to our brand. So, please be assured that we will keep all correspondence with you strictly confidential.’

The list of contents on the site includes – ‘About Us’, ‘Gallery’, ‘Rates’, ‘Links to Other Sites’ and ‘Contact Us’. The bottom of the page contains a disclaimer that states, ‘We accept all debit and credit cards.’ The logos of MasterCard and Visa are displayed beneath it. He clicks on ‘Gallery’ and sees a bevy of young, gorgeous, lingerie-clad women with faces blurred out, posing provocatively. The sight makes him get an unexpected hard-on. The cursor moves to the rates section. Everything is clear-cut – no beating about the bush, whatsoever.

2 hours (Short time) – Rs. 15,000 ($300)

4 hours – Rs. 20,000 ($400)

 8 hours (Overnight) – Rs. 35,000 ($700)

* 20% extra on all foreign models

* We offer options for both In-Call and Out-Call

The rates make his eyes pop. The list of services ranges from blow jobs and vaginal sex to anal penetration and threesomes. A note makes mention that if there is anything specific a client desires, that may not be covered in the services rendered section, the person must make a request with the hostess during the process of booking.

He goes over more links as the minutes tick by. The big escort agencies are in a similar league and price range to the one he first encounters. While looking at some of the more obscure web pages, he stumbles upon an online advertising portal of sorts that places links of smaller escort services directly onto the page. The average range begins at 5,000 for an hour. A majority of the text in these links is presented in broken, crude English. One of the better ones goes something along the lines of: ‘We provide sexy college girls, aspiring models and air hostesses for your satisfaction. Our girls know how to show you a good time. Call so-and-so for a booking now.’ He notices that all the mobile numbers mentioned are outstation ones. He dials a few of these at random, but there are no answers forthcoming. He waits a few minutes before trying again. The call goes on for at least ten rings. Just as he is about to disconnect, a voice crackles at the other end of the line.

“Hello.”

“Hello, yes. I’ve been looking at your ad on the internet. I would like to make a booking,” he says, unable to mask the nervousness in his voice.

“Where are you calling from, sir?” the man asks.

He gives him the locality. The man tells him to come to a landmark in the middle of town, and call him from there.

“Wait a minute. What are your rates like? I don’t see anything mentioned on the site.”

“It’s 5,000 rupees for one hour. You are allowed only one shot,” he says, flatly.

“Okay. Is it possible for me to see a selection of your models by email?”

“No. You’ll have to get here and choose.”

“What exactly do you mean by one shot?” he asks.

“It means you can have sex only once,” comes the reply.

“All right. Let me call you back in five minutes to confirm.”

He can barely afford it, but he wishes to go through with the proposition, anyway. It’s not so much a physical need as one that goes a little deeper. It feels absurd, but he needs this to remain afloat.

He calls the number again. The phone is busy for a time. After he finally picks up, the man instructs him to get to the landmark and call him once there, before disconnecting abruptly. He puts the device down, stretches out lazily on the bed, and thinks awhile. It is only 5 pm. The family is away for the weekend.

*** 

It has taken him many a bad experience to come to this.

He is twenty-six. A conflicted character. The mere intensity of his reactions can scare people off sometimes. He is guarded with people he has met for the first time, reserving much caution before letting one in. There are several layers to the persona. There is also a strong predisposition for self-loathing and guilt. Scratch the surface, and he is more sensitive than he leads on. Fearing judgement and ridicule, that part of him seldom makes it to out into the light. Not one of his personality traits points towards the hatred of women. He has many female friends and acquaintances who confide in him often, actually. But there isn’t enough there to evoke in him a sense of interest. It takes him time to be drawn to someone. And the women he usually takes a liking to don’t ever seem to reciprocate his feelings. It is difficult to tell whether he is a bad man or just a disturbed one.

He has been in two relationships prior to this, but has never had the opportunity to have sex. He has been in love once and has come close to being in love another time – only to be crushed severely at the end of it. A sense of being cheated of a fundamental life experience often pervades the air around him. His world view on relationships is extremely bleak. It doesn’t help that his parents are still carrying on in a disastrous marriage.

He wonders why he must be plagued by such things. He is not the first person in the world to have gone through something like this, nor will he be the last, but the thought of it gnaws its way through him unrelentingly. No amount of wisdom has the power to answer these questions. This world is too full of irony for his liking. Decent people straddled with unfortunate circumstances all the time. And it only gets worse. Shame!

He experiences grave discomfort when being referred to as a great guy by the female sex. And, that tag follows him about like a nagging rash no matter where he goes. The day a woman starts mentioning you in those dreaded terms is the day you must reconcile yourself to the fact that you will be luckless in love, always. He is not some naive, lost puppy, in need of rescuing.

Not the most ideal way for someone to lose their virginity, to experience their first major sexual encounter. Sordid even, perhaps. But it cannot be helped. Not everything can be attained in the way it ought to be. Six years of not so much as holding a woman’s hand have resulted in this moment, this fall from grace. How long is he supposed to masturbate and get off on pornography? In the end, he’s only human.

Dealing with the emotional burdens of his parents’ explosive relationship has made him jaded. Besides, being an only child exposed to their problems of mental health and alcoholism from an early age, has left no room for even the semblance of a personal life. If he doesn’t move out soon, it is only a matter of time before the ship sinks with him.

There is no ambiguity around the moral repercussions of the choice he is about to make. He is aware of his questionable judgement here. But it isn’t as if loneliness has not had a large part to play with his decision. Whether that is excusable or not, is another matter entirely. Not all men who pay for straight sex with an adult are misogynists. But all men who visit prostitutes, contribute to trafficking, in one way or another, immaterial of how they wish to reconcile themselves to it. Loneliness impairs judgement; it makes you do things that are regrettable.

***

He sets out at half past six. The first stop is at the nearest ATM. A long queue greets him on arrival. He gets stared at on approach, but fails to notice the multiple sets of eyes on him. Unusually large stains of sweat cover portions of his shirt. There is still time to turn back, but he prods himself on. He is going through with this experience, for better or for worse. It doesn’t pay to be good in this life. His bank balance is reduced to a minimum after the withdrawal. He sighs at the prospect of being broke for the rest of the month.

The cool, damp autumn air of a November evening rushes at him as he speeds to the destination on his motorcycle. The eyes are not concentrating on the road and its ensuing chaos of headlights and wheels. His heart pounds wildly at the thought of what is to come; with fear, more than excitement.

He arrives at the landmark, just as the man has instructed him to. The silver Bullet is parked a few metres ahead of a bus-stop that overlooks the life-size, gaudy, bronze statue of a former Chief Minister of the State. A murky stream makes its tortuous journey across the pot-holed road towards a storm-water drain on the uneven sidewalk. The flicker of a smile spreads over his face for no apparent reason. The agent’s number is dialled, but there is no answer. He repeats the process twice over, but the result is the same. Seven-and-a-half minutes go by before his phone vibrates violently. He picks up and tells the pimp that he has been waiting at the spot for a while. “You will receive a call from my man over there in just a few minutes. He will give you precise directions to the place,” he says. He is told that the apartment isn’t far from his location. Scores of people move swiftly through the commotion of the pale Sodium-lit streets in the direction of some destination or other. As he waits for the call, his eyes gaze indifferently at a large billboard that features a popular Tamil film star peddling a fairness cream for women. Oh, what a country this is! Where being fair skinned is just another term people mistake for beauty!

Directions are confusing. It takes him nearly fifteen minutes to zero in on the right address. A heavy sense of dread weighs down on him as he approaches. The apartment complex is situated in an up-market slice of town. BMWs and Audis arrange themselves neatly across the parking lot. The building’s only Bentley enjoys pride of place in the central parking space. The security guard at the entrance lets him through, no questions asked. His heart beats faster, for a second time. He cannot actually believe he is going through with this.

The flat is on the third floor. He takes the stairs instead of the elevator. He wishes not to be spotted by anyone. There is no sign of a bell anywhere. The door has a large brass knocker attached to it. Three knocks pass before a bare-chested man wearing bright blue shorts opens…a wide smile spreading over his pudgy face. “Nice to meet you, sir,” he says, as he shakes his hand. “My name’s Abbas. I was the one who gave you directions from the bus-stop. Did you have any problems finding the place?” He gives him an indifferent nod that can be construed as just about anything. The house is predominantly empty, but for two fawn couches facing each other in the drawing room, and a fridge and a microwave in the kitchen.

The apartment appears to have two bedrooms. An average-sized table can be seen in the dining area. The walls are completely bare. Abbas requests him to have a seat on the sofa opposite him. He fidgets nervously as his host makes small talk. The money is handed over in a white envelope, as the conversation takes on an awkward note. Abbas counts it slowly, that half-smile of his constantly playing on his lips. His thoughts zero in on the percentage of cash that eventually trickles down to the person performing the service…after the agent and his kind have taken the lion’s share of the revenue. Clandestine or not, this doesn’t strike him as an easy business.

“We have a choice of two girls this evening,” Abbas says, waiting for a reaction that never comes. He calls them out for a viewing, one after another. Both the women appear to be in their early twenties; the first one is wearing an olive green top and a black skirt. She is dusky; her ample bosom stands in stark contrast to her slim figure. She smiles at him, as one would smile at a prospective client in this sort of trade. The second girl is called out, as the first retreats to her room. She has a more pleasant demeanour. Her clothes comprise of an orange shirt and light blue jeans. Her thick hair is left loose, allowing it to drop down to her waist. The same kind of smile flashes across her face as she tries to make eye contact with him. He acknowledges it with a diffident nod, not knowing what else to do. Facing Abbas, again, as she takes leave, he says, almost under his breath, “I think I’ll choose her,” while gesticulating in the direction of her room. Abbas gives him another one of those seedy grins. The man’s hideous baring of teeth suggests that a secret pact between two conspirators has just been sealed. “Do save my number. You can call me directly the next time,” he says, as an afterthought.

***

He enters the bedroom, a hint of nervous energy oozing off his person. The place is barer than he expects it to be. A comfortable double bed with ochre sheets, a split air conditioner, an orange lamp shade, and an ordinary wall-hanging are all that it comprises of. A vaguely nauseating scent of cheap room freshener pervades the air. She remains rooted to her spot, as she studies his face intently. Is anything supposed to be said in such situations?

He hopes that she hasn’t been forced into sex work. It doesn’t seem so when he looks into her face and eyes, but one can never tell. Could any of her past clients have had similar thoughts, he wonders.

As she runs her slender hand through her charcoal black hair, the faint whiff of some fruity shampoo or conditioner brushes past his nostrils. The bile rises steadily in his throat. He focuses all his energy on a dark spot on the wall, to keep from vomiting.

She begins removing her clothes in a detached, mechanical manner. She has on a red bra and black panties. It is regular underwear – not the lace and frills of good lingerie. She has an exquisite body. Her pubic region is finely trimmed. The only failing would be her extra small breasts. He divests himself of his clothing in an awkward, uncomfortable way, and places it over a chair next to the bedstead. Much to his shame, he has a raging erection. She puts on his rubber gently as she caresses his stiff, throbbing organ, looking at him all the while, a half-smile across her luscious lips. He instructs her to take him in her mouth. He closes his eyes, trying to fantasise.

A surge of pleasure shoots through his body as she sucks on his penis and starts moving it in and out of her mouth, in a slow, steady fashion. Two minutes pass before he lays her onto the bed, and gets on top. He attempts kissing her, but she avoids his face deftly. His clumsy efforts at penetration make her smile at him, again. She takes his rigid organ in her hand and guides it inside with ease. He can see clearly that she knows this is his first time. He sucks and kisses her soft nipples as he goes in and out of her slowly. The nipples aren’t as erect as they ought to be – so this is obviously not arousing for her. She makes a faint moaning sound while digging her fingers into his back. Even he knows that the whole routine is a charade. Just when the pleasure begins to rise, the release takes hold of him. He hasn’t lasted very long. A little embarrassed, he changes into his clothes as quickly as he can. She lazes in bed, playing with her necklace of orange beads. He meets her eyes, says a short thank you, and leaves. Much to his chagrin, he runs into Abbas in the hallway. But he manages to keep the encounter short.

***

It is a forgettable experience from beginning to end. The whole act is very business-like…a transaction of sorts. No passion to speak of, whatsoever. What exactly did he expect from the whole thing? There is a nagging feeling of an error of judgement on his part, once everything is over and done with. But the emotion of remorse eludes him completely.

All along the ride back home, he thinks of her business as usual manner. Survival mechanism. Has to be. The tip of his penis starts to sting, as the motorcycle negotiates a speed-breaker. There is also a low-grade pain emanating from the region of his abdomen. His eyelids begin to droop on a surprisingly clear stretch of road. The lethargy forces him to stop by the wayside and steady himself. The last thing he needs is an accident to top off such a lousy evening. He gathers all his strength and starts up the engine. The air has turned warm and sticky.

The darkness of his empty home takes him unawares. A sense of loss fills the large, gloomy place. He wishes that his folks were back from their short holiday. After fixing himself a quick supper, he gives into the feeling of exhaustion. Lying in bed, trying his best to blot out the experience from his mind, a solitary tear rolls unexpectedly down the side of his cheek, into his ear. A strange sensation. It’s not as if there were any guilt to deal with. Loneliness, then? Maybe so. These last few hours have brought about a change in him, somehow.

He wishes desperately to drift into a heavy sleep, but the larger thoughts of life keep him awake for many hours. When all hope of drowsiness fades, he steps out of the house and goes for a long walk…in the off chance that it might clear his head. It is still not time for the humdrum of newspaper boys and milk vendors. Even the crows haven’t begun their annoying racket yet. There is an uneasy calm in the wee hours of the naked streets. Everything seems almost peaceful, still. Why is his mind so perturbed, then? Oh, what he would give to have the answers!

Mrinal Rajaram is a writer and freelance journalist from Chennai, India. His fiction has appeared in The Madras Mag (March ’15), The Madras Mag Anthology Of Contemporary Writing (October ’15), and Sahitya Akademi’s Indian Literature (March/April ’16). His nonfiction can be found within the pages of The Times Of India, The Economic Times, The New Indian Express, and Firstpost.

2 thoughts on “Fiction | Crisis – Mrinal Rajaram

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s