Mr Anderson had never been to a brothel. Magnolias crept through his windows spreading a gentle fragrance in the room. Rusty bolts of the door creaked in winter wind, leaving an echo of loneliness. He missed his wife. Ever since she had left him and eloped with some Mr Bastard of Santa Cruz, Mr Anderson had stopped watering his roses.
Thirty-year-old Mr Anderson’s life was devoid of intimacy, both sexual and mental. She was beautiful, like the mimosa leaf cocooning herself in her own privacy whenever he tried to touch her soul. He never understood her. The two poles never met, one heaped with ice-mountains that never melted and the other being an endless sea where he couldn’t find his own reflection. He let go of her. He concluded that she never loved her. He quit his job at the bank and lived alone in his villa, writing stories that occasionally got published in newspapers.
Mr Anderson had never been to a brothel, but had passed by it quite a few times. It was in a cul-de-sac, beside the old church; beyond it were deep woods, the shade of charcoal. As the bells for evening prayer filled the air, both the church and the yellow building became alive with grey people coming to quench their soul. The large yellow building was claustrophobic. Its walls had cracks and crevasses like scars on human flesh. The building seemed alive through the clanking of whiskey bottles, swear-words from drunk-dry-throats and pale faces peeping through tiny windows. It was a strange palace of fabricated love, lasting for two or three hours, buried in breasts.
No, he didn’t mind being a virgin while all the neighbourhood was flooding with legitimate or illegitimate children. Then, one day, he decided to visit the place he didn’t hate, but didn’t like either.
It was quite famous in Casco Antiguo. Madam Madeline was the mistress in charge there. Mr Anderson stepped inside. He felt he had left the outer world behind. There were dim lights,the air was heavy with pungent smells of powder and perfume, of whiskeys and cigarettes, of sweats and spits. A woman in her late 40s dressed in maroon gown, with extravagant makeup and cigarette puffs fogging her face asked, “Whom do you want, darling?”
He felt nauseated. “I am new here.”
The lady laughed. “Then by the age of you, I think Paula would suit you best. Paula,” she shouted.
“For one full session it would be 200 euros.”
Mr.Anderson had enough money. The girl who appeared out of the dark was in her twenties. Her hair was dishevelled like the mist over the charcoal woods. Her skin was burnt amber.But the Sun was gone and the fire had lost its radiance over the horizon, faintly burning underneath the ashes.
The girl smiled and dragged him by his hand before he could collect his wits. He felt his heart pulsating at a faster pace. She locked her room. It was neatly decorated. Candles were lit. She poured whiskey in two glasses while humming a lullaby which mesmerized him.
“She took a seat, moving closer to him, gripping his shirt ,moving her warm fingers over his neck playfully. She held the glass to his mouth, then in a slow sensual voice she whispered, “drink.”
“Don’t.” Mr Anderson held her hand. Paula was unaccustomed to this. Her other customers were always in hurry, a strange furious hurry. But this grip over her wrist was firm but soft.
“First tell me about yourself.”
“And what would you do with that?”
Paula giggled. “I can’t read.”
“I’ll teach you.”
Paula looked at his face, it was thirsty. Mr Anderson looked at hers, it was flooding with memories. So it began, the longest evening of his life. The stories dug deep. Paula was born in the slums at the outskirts of Seville. Her father died just at the moment of her birth and her mother, soon after. The hospital nurses sent her to the orphanage. She didn’t like the place. Narrow walls, street-brawls of drunkards outside, fights among boys inside, nightmares and daydreams, no friends, no family, nobody loving, nobody talking, nobody sharing candies or biscuits or stories with her, it all made her feel like a grain of sand.
She was twelve then. One night, when the city was asleep, she heard a sweet tune of a flute slowly disappearing towards the end of the alley. The window was open and the sky was clear. Stars were twinkling in unison with the music. She felt a sudden urge to flee. She felt something blooming in her heart, calming her turmoil with the elixir of happiness. She jumped from the open window. It wasn’t too high up, making a slight thumping noise on the grass. Her knees were bleeding. She ran so fast that she could feel the air kissing her ears.
At the end of the alley stood a young guy in ragged pyjamas,holding a flute. He saw her and stopped playing.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Miguel. But, what happened?”
“Take me with you.” Paula broke into tears.
Miguel had no house as such. He had a roof however, at the farthest end of town, where the river was swift, the air was fresh and sky was open to dreaming. Miguel tore a piece of his scarf and wrapped it round her bruised knee. They talked and walked all the tireless night.
The two were living happily. In the crimson dusk, they would sing songs and play flute. She learnt many songs, learnt to play flute. They earned little, but the starry nights of forming and naming new constellations, the half-burnt bread and mashed potatoes, the shivers in the winter cold when Miguel wrapped his blanket over her, they were sweeter than the bricks and brawls and dullness of convent. She found out there were millions of colourful minerals inside that tiny grain of sand. She found somebody who shared candies, biscuits and stories with her. Miguel occasionally bought toys for her, but never books, which she desired the most. Miguel used to say that she was a girl, meant to marry, to cook, to knit sweaters and raise children.
At the age of eighteen, Paula looked beautiful. Miguel took her to a large yellow building one day, told her to stay there until he came back. He never did, and Paula’s season of rain and rainbows dried up. She never saw the sky since.
There was a brief silence. Mr Anderson stared into her caramel eyes, melting like wax and lit a cigarette.
“Got anything interesting?” Paula forced a laugh, hurriedly wiping her eyes.
“Yes,” he said. Mr. Anderson looked at her neck caressing her scars and bruises. And he screamed silently, happily.
“Good.” Paula got up, finishing the liquor. She started to undress. He came closer to her. The aroma of jasmine from her hair gave him a feeling which he had always been devoid of: intimacy. An unknown warmth was melting his ice-mountains, he could hear the flute, he could hear her sing, he could look into the starry sky, he could draw a line connecting two faint stars and call it a constellation of love. He felt that the roses and magnolias were blooming. Mr Anderson lost his soul that evening, not virginity.
He kissed her forehead, opened the door and walked away.
Paula was shouting, awestruck and angry, “What about the session?”
Mr Anderson was smiling, “I already had my session.”
A few days later Mr Anderson returned to the brothel, this time with a ring.
-Shiladitya Basu Bidrohee | Edited by Farrokh Jijina