Eleven Minutes, she mumbled reading the cover of the book as she picked it up. Her customer had been in a hurry, he left as quickly as he could forgetting the book at her work-place. She called it her workplace because it was a small and shabby 2*2 Sq. meter room, not swept in months, with a tiny rusting fan on the ceiling for the sake of being there and a small 30 cm square window with red and blue tainted glass. The bed she used for her services was fitting end to end to the room’s length. It lied in the corner, a little less than a meter wide leaving half of the room empty exposing the mosaic flooring. The floor was greasy enough to hide the magnificent design of the tiles. A creaky wooden door almost destroyed from within by the termites having a feast of their lifetime. From one of the walls a dim tiny bulb threw just enough light to see the face of her companion and not enough to explore the rest of the body, just as she preferred. I like knowing what he is thinking, I love to see it on his face. She chose the profession to make some quick bucks, and with her beauty and reputation she was able to charge 20 times more than others. This allowed her to leisurely work only few hours a night, 5 nights a week. She was 29, one year away from her planned retirement from this shady business. She was very close to her financial goals. She was one of the rare women in the business who were there by choice. India should legalise prostitution just like Netherlands, its way safer for us women, she would tell her colleagues. Her colleagues loved her. She helped almost all of them by teaching them how to read and write Hindi and English. She would pay fees for some of their kids. Her client pool included some lawyers so she was able to use their help in getting these kids and women new identities when they chose to leave the profession. She had managed to single-handedly shoo away the mafia who controlled prostitution in her city and was a de facto leader of their union. From making money to making lives for others, she was a queen, an unknown queen to the outer world but a queen indeed.
She put the book in her bag and walked out. In 30 min she was driving back home in her sedan fully dressed in a corporate attire. Her neighbours knew her as a single, independent and head strong woman who worked night shifts as a manager at a call center. She lived with 2 other girls who were escorts for high-profile clients. Their designation for the neighbours was Marketing managers who frequently travelled for work. They weren’t home today.
Eleven minutes, She thought and laughed out. Damn it. I never really thought I’d have eleven minutes in my collection, she said to herself. With this she swam back into the lake of her memories and reached out to a rusting memory from past. A memory from when she was 16 years old, 13 years ago. She was called by a different name back then. She began playing the memory on her mind, it was like a film reel projecting the images on the silver screen, her mind. Frame after frame, she was lost in thought.
“Julieeeee”, her mother called her for the 3rd time. She replied, “What? Mom I am reading”.
“Come and eat first”
“Mom give me 10 minutes to complete this chapter”
“Now!!”, her mother replied firmly.
Julie gave in. She ran downstairs to join the family for dinner. Those were not the times of cell phones and tablets, there was no wi-fi or internet in the house, the only pointless entertainment system in the house was a television which was always occupied by her father or grand father. She picked up the hobby of reading to get through her free time. She loved reading. She was only allowed to read novels that were appropriate for her age. Each book she was given was pre-screened by her parents. This week however, she had sneaked into her elder sister’s room and managed to pick up her novel. Her sister, Pooja was to leave the following morning for her college so she was determined to finish the novel by morning, an impossible task but she would never accept defeat.
After dinner she buried herself into the book. It was difficult for her as she had to look up a lot of words from her dictionary. It was both time-consuming and thrilling at the same time. She didn’t realise when she slept off reading the book. She woke up looking at her sister stroking her hair and singing her favourite song.
“How long have you been sitting here?” asked Julie
“About 5 minutes. I was looking for my novel, I had a feeling you had something to do with it when I couldn’t find it in my bag” replied Pooja naughtily.
“Are you angry about it?”
“No, ofcourse not. You are a quick learner and I can understand your urge to read more complex books than your regular Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys”
“But?” enquired Julie.
“But, it’s still not appropriate for you to read this one. I will send you few more books which are ummm safe for you”, replied Pooja pointing out to the novel she was reading.
“Thank you Pooja”
“Alright, I have to go now. Bye bye. Be good. Now go back to sleep”, said Pooja standing up.
“Bye Pooja, come back soon.”
As Pooja reached the door. Julie called her, “Hey Pooja!”
“What is the appropriate age to read this book?”
“How much did you read it?”
“Till Maria moves to Switzerland and ends up becoming a prostitute”
Pooja laughed out at her naive sister and replied as she walked out, “When you see it the next time, it will be the right time to read it Julie”. She left leaving Julie confused.
Julie picked up a pen and paper and made a note so she won’t forget the name of the book. Eleven Minutes, she wrote.
The car came to a screeching halt as Julie noticed the red signal and applied the brakes as hard as she could avoid a crash with the car ahead of her. She decided to concentrate on the road from here on. It was 16 years later and she had the chance to finish the book finally. She had not been so excited in months. Another 20 minutes went by till and she was home. Yet another 30 minutes later she was lying down on her comfortable memory foam mattress, a refreshing change from her work place bed. She took out the book from the bag and began reading it, from the beginning. She got engrossed in the story, the story of Maria. Maria’s journey began as a little girl in Brazil, falling in love, getting her heart crushed and moving to Switzerland. Maria works in a local nightclub for sometime but quits and later ends up choosing prostitution as her profession. It was here where Julie had stopped reading the book 13 years ago. She read it further to discover that Maria falls in love with a young painter in Switzerland and experiences true love.
Julie put down the book. Her eyes were soggy and swollen. She had been awake for almost 24 hours. Time flies, she thought and gave in to her body’s indications. She was asleep in less than a minute. It was her day off so she didn’t have to worry about waking up anytime soon. She woke up to a call on her cell phone. It was another tele-marketer. She snapped at him for waking her up and hung up. She checked the time, it was 9 AM. She slept for almost 15 hours. She flipped to other side on the bed and reached out for her novel. She picked it up. As she opened the book she went down into another memory lane, back when she was 23.
A 23 year old Julie was sitting at a cafe with her boyfriend Arjun. She had just told Arjun that she wanted to marry him. She was ready to elope if the situation demanded but she could not stay unmarried for longer as she expected commitment from him. Arjun replied after taking a long sip of the coffee, “I can’t”. He paused and looked around before continuing.
“I can’t Julie. I am only 23. I just started working. I can’t take this big a responsibility. We need to wait for 2 years atleast”.
“2 years?” Julie was furious. “2 years, Arjun it is too much. I can’t wait for 2 years. I have a job, we can run a family together. What’s the big deal? I love you and you love me and we’ve been together for 1 year already”, her hands moved around in an animated fashion as she spoke.
Arjun stared at Julie. She looked less angry and a lot more sad and defeated. He finally spoke, “Julie, I can’t marry you. I am sorry. We can continue this relationship as it is going and think about it after 2 years”
“Think about it?” Julie expressed disbelief.
“Yes. I mean who knows what can happen in 2 years?”
“Do you love me Arjun?” Julie asked.
“Yes. I do”.
“Arjun, if you have the balls to tell me to wait 2 years, find those balls of yours and be honest. Do you love me?” Julie’s wrath had attracted the gaze of the entire cafe.
“Calm down Julie, yes I love you”. Arjun raised his hands and gestured Julie to calm down.
“Arjun” Julie stared in his eyes, furious.
“Yes Julie. I love you”
“Fine. Then let’s wait for 2 years”. Julie said relieved.
A couple months later Arjun broke up with her because he was getting married to a rich girl, a daughter of his father’s friend. The marriage was arranged. They broke up sitting at the same table 1 week before the wedding. He slept with her the night before breaking up with her. The last words he said before he came that night were “Julie, I love you”. Julie knew the intention behind those words now. She had seen enough. On the night of his wedding, she managed to get drunk alone at her favourite bar. She sat there drinking her beloved cocktail, her own invention, a thump of me, she called it. The bar tender knew the composition by heart, 20 ml whisky, 20 ml Rum, and top it with Coca-Cola. The glass had to be the old fashioned glass. When she had her 4th round of drink, the bar tender asked her to go home. Before she could answer, a foreigner came to her and said, “How about I buy you the next round?”
“Yes ofcourse, why not? Who doesn’t love free drinks?” She replied laughing. She was drunk.
That one drink led to another and a couple more before she jokingly told the guy that she’d charge $300 to spend the rest of the night with him. The guy agreed and the next thing she remembered was waking up in the room of a fancy posh hotel. She dressed up quickly and was about to leave the room when the guy shouted, “I gave you 50 extra, check your purse, you were amazing”. She didn’t care to do anything apart from leaving the room. She left the hotel hiding from people and managed to go home. Thankfully none of her flatmates were in the house when she got there. She cried for an hour under the shower, it was only when the water in the tank was over and the shower stopped, she realised how pathetic she was being. She came out and got dressed for the day. She checked her purse and found $350 in it. Once again she cried her heart out as she felt ashamed of herself. She left the money in her purse and kept it in her drawer by her bed.
Julie realised that she didn’t follow a single word of the novel as she was lost in thoughts. It wasn’t a pleasant memory, but it was a memory to keep. 6 years had passed and she remembered that night as it happened yesterday, albeit only the parts that hadn’t been erased by her alcohol overdose. She kept the book aside deciding to re-read the last few pages in few minutes. She got up, made herself some breakfast and ate it. She came back to the room, opened the drawer next to her bed. There was a black purse inside it. She picked it up and opened it. It had $350 in it. The notes looked crisp and new. She never really spent the money. This is my first income in this business, it’s going to stay as is, she thought and kept it back where it belonged, inside the drawer. She got back to her book and was lost in it for good 5 hours until her concentration was broken by the noise of the main door unlocking. Her flatmates were back. She left the book in the drawer and came out to greet her friends. They hugged each other, talked about their adventures and went into their respective rooms. Julie decided to cook dinner for herself, she was hungry as she had skipped lunch. Once dinner was done, she walked inside the bathroom for a shower. Under the shower she was lost once again in another memory from the past.
A few months after her unfortunate night she went to Amsterdam. It took her 6 months to finally go to Europe after she made the decision to travel and explore Europe. She had forgotten about her affair with Arjun and that night in the hotel. She was ready to stay single for the rest of her life as she didn’t believe in love any more. It was in Amsterdam when she roamed around those lanes in the red light district when she realised that prostitution was not a wrong profession, it’s just a different profession. Netherlands government levies an entertainment tax on the women trading sex and it’s perfectly legal. The women have full security from the authorities. They have panic buttons next to their beds in case a customer tries to be rough or is unmanageable. She stayed in Amsterdam for another week cancelling the rest of her Europe trip. She learnt about the culture there, the people and the profession as much as she could. As her visa expired, she returned to India. She went back to Amsterdam on a work visa which she acquired by presenting fake documents. She took up a window in the red light district. Soon she was charging 50 euros for half an hour with her. She was now an entertainer in Amsterdam, a prostitute and she hadn’t been happier.
Julie came out of the shower and sat down on her bed. She picked up her novel and began reading it again. In minutes she was crying again. It wasn’t that the novel was emotional for her. A strong woman like her seldom cried, but the fact that she was doing exactly what Maria had done in the novel was what brought her to tears. She saw herself in Maria. She had made decisions in her life based on the inspiration from Maria. Now, she was reading Maria’s story, the story that she could not complete 13 years ago. If only she had read that story before, her life would have been different perhaps. Her parents didn’t know what her true profession was. Pooja knew it. Julie would never lie to Pooja. Pooja had accepted her sister for what she was, much to the relief of Julie. It was impossible to tell her parents, so Pooja did a good job covering for Julie almost always. Pooja was the one who brought her back to India and suggested her to infiltrate the industry in India and rid it off the filth it held. One city at a time she told her. Julie came back to India before 3 years and joined the industry by hiring a local pimp – an escort service consultant. He would bring her the richest of the clients. She was soon making more money than she did in Amsterdam. India is rich, and richer for the people with the right skills.
2 years ago she managed to enter the dirtiest of the red light areas in her city. She managed to stand there on her own, use the shabby room at a nearby guesthouse to spend the time with her clients and she spent a few hours everyday to teach the other girls and women. Within 2 years, every child in the red light area was a school goer and every woman was able to speak in English. She had hired bouncers to protect the women from drunkards and abusers. She made a network of lawyers, police officers and politicians. She was the Don of the red light district, a clean red light district. She had vowed to quit the profession when she’s 30. All her goals were achieved, from making the place a healthy sustainable and heavy income generating pimp free area to building a house for herself, she had it all. She had sent beautiful girls from her camp to other cities to take up activities that she took up for their city, and those girls had executed the plan without any problems. Within the past year 20 cities were providing clean and healthy prostitution services. The system she developed was fool proof, mostly because nobody knew how to handle a strong independent woman in this profession. People knew her, and yet she remained anonymous. No reports in media, no arrests, no gang-war, nothing at all. She managed to do all this under the nose of her neighbours with the disguise of a callcenter manager. She was no ordinary woman. She was a dangerous woman. She wasn’t the Julie she was 13 years ago, she wasn’t the Julie she was when she was heartbroken 6 years ago, she wasn’t Julie anymore.
A full day later she lied down in her bed satisfied. She had completed reading the novel. She slept off. Later that night she went back to her shabby workplace. As her first guest arrived for the night, she undressed in front of him. Her naked body left him speechless. They made love in silence. No one uttered a word. When the deed was done, he left the money on the bed. A bundle of 500 Rupee notes. She picked it up and kept it in her bag. That was the first 50000 rupees for the night and a lot more were to follow. She sat down, waiting for the next client to arrive. After a few minutes there was a knock on the door. The voice on the other side of the door enquired who was inside. He called her by her name, the name known to him, they name she gave herself before joining the business. She had chosen a new name for herself, a random name, a name she never gave a thought to while choosing it. That name had been her identity for 6 years. Julie was forgotten, Julie was unknown here. She was known by her new name.
He asked, “Maria?”
© 2016 Finally Jobless
Author’s note: This story was my attempt to enter something new, something I never tried before. I made mistakes. It’s still not perfect. Yet, I have people to thank for where the story is right now.
Shirin and Bhargav for pointing out some of the grammatical errors , Kuhu, Brittany, Gaby, Utkarsh for telling me there is potential for a chapter 2 of this story and all others who read this story and appreciated it.