“Everybody is a whore, Grace. We just sell different parts of ourselves”
 ~ Peaky Blinders ( British television series)

The road was empty, as expected at this time of the night. It was around 1:00 am when he left his office that day. It had been a hectic day for him. But the tiredness didn’t stop him from walking back ‘home’ that day. His co-workers offered him a lift to his flat. But he refused politely. No one else knew that he did not intend to go back home. Then he remembered the saying he often heard everyone use. Home is where the heart is. And he said to himself, ‘If it is true, then I am actually going home today’. The flat in which he has been staying for the last 2 years was nothing more than a house. His heart was in that small rented room he had found six months ago. ‘That is my home,’ he said to himself and walked slowly, with a smile on his face.
He walked along the sides of an empty road. He knew that she wouldn’t have slept. He had informed her that he was coming to meet her. He still had to cover a good distance to reach her place. He looked around for another sign of life on the road. But there was none. He had his thoughts alone to give him company. He kept walking forward while his mind took a small leap backwards. He was suddenly thinking about that day. The day he went to her place for the first time. He smiled thinking how the motives of his visit to her place have changed.

Six months ago…
‘Do you like it with lights on or should I switch it off?’ she asked.
‘Keep them on. I am not getting into it straight away,’ he said and scanned the room he was in.
The walls were made of brick. He saw the sky through the cracks in the ceiling. The room had nothing else other than a bed, two chairs and a shelf. The shelf caught his attention.
‘All these books. Are they yours?’ he asked with a hint of doubt.
‘Yes. They are.’
‘How did you manage to get all these?’
‘There is a book store owner who is a regular customer. I asked him to give me books as payment instead of money.’
She said and walked over to the other side of the room. His eyes followed her. She picked up the newspaper that was lying on the floor and tossed it on to one of the chairs. His focus shifted to the newspaper for a moment but returned to her when he heard her speaking.
‘Look at that photo of our ex-minister. He was at a function yesterday speaking in support of the campaign for equality of citizens irrespective of caste, religion and wealth. The same guy owns a school that provides admission to students based on their parents’ financial status.’
He listened as she continued speaking.
‘Such crooks they are! And look at the actress who is the face of the campaign. The same girl who rejected to act as a slum girl in a movie. I dare them to use me as the face of their campaign. We are the real preachers of equality. We don’t discriminate any of our customers based on anything. We prostitutes treat all our customers alike. I dare them to use one of us as the face their campaign.’ She laughed and her laugh echoed around the closed room.
He looked at her in surprise. He wasn’t here to talk about social issues. But for some reason he was interested when she talked about it. She kept talking for a few more minutes about other things that she had read in the newspaper.
‘Where do you work?’ she asked.
‘I don’t want to reveal my personal details to you.’ 
‘Okay,’ she said without any thought.
Her indifference to his refusal made him uncomfortable.
It was around 5:00 am when he was about to leave her place. He paid her with a few notes of 500 rupees. He got on his bike and was about to leave when she asked. ‘Is that your bike?’
‘No. It is my neighbour’s. I am using it for a few days as he is out of station.’
‘Will you let me ride it once?’
He said nothing and started his bike.
‘I have asked other customers, too. But they hurry back after they have gotten what they wanted.’
By the time she completed her sentence, he was gone.

‘Do you need a ride back home?’ 
He suddenly shook off his thoughts and turned to look at the direction where the sound came from. He saw an auto rickshaw stopped beside him. 
‘No. It is just walking distance.’
When the auto driver had left he looked around to see how much distance he had covered when he was immersed in his thoughts. He walked forward and took a turn to the left which led him to a narrow road. There was hardly any light on the streets. But he did not need any. He felt he could walk to her place with eyes closed. It was his ninth visit to her place today. He hadn’t touched her in his last four visits.
He went to her once after a depressing day at his office and another time after he lost his father, who lived in his home village. She was surprised when he said he only wanted to talk. In his sixth visit, he told her. ‘You don’t belong here. You don’t talk like the people of your kind.’
‘Now is there a way prostitutes are supposed to speak?’ she said and giggled.

He then thought about his previous visit to her place and suddenly realised that this could be his last. He felt grief which he had not expected to be there.

Two weeks ago… 
‘There is something different about you today. Why are you so happy?’ he asked her.
‘Oh yes! I am happy. It is very evident on my face, isn’t it? I can’t help it. I am finally getting out of this business. I was trapped in this because of my uncle. He was the one who brought me here after my parents’ death. I was sixteen at that time. I had tried to escape from this many times. But every time my uncle blocked it. But not this time.’
‘Why?’ he asked, eager to know her plans.
‘Didn’t you read in the newspaper?’
‘Read what?’
‘See this.’ She passed the newspaper to him
He skipped to the page which she told him and read.
“IMPORTANT LINK IN SEX RACKET UNDER POLICE CUSTODY”
She pointed to a photo below. 
‘That is my uncle. He is under police custody now. One of my customers is a lawyer and he said that my uncle will definitely be sent to jail. He can’t stop me this time.’ She smiled.
‘What will you do after getting out of here?’ He asked with genuine concern.
‘I don’t know. I will find some job. I will have to go to some place far away from here. Or else they will catch me again.’
They talked for some more time and before leaving he asked her, ‘Can I be your last customer?’
‘The night after the court trial,’ she replied.

After that day he followed all the legal proceedings of the case. Today the court listened to the case and her uncle was sent to jail for 3 years. With the information provided by her uncle, few of his partners were also arrested by the police. ‘This will make it easy for her to escape,’ he thought.

She opened the door when she heard a knock. She knew it was him. 
‘Come in,’ she said.
He walked straight in and sat on the bed. She stood opposite him and smiled.
‘When do you plan to leave?’ he asked.
‘Early in the morning.’
They continued talking and he watched her fall asleep next to him. Even after a tiring day, the thought of going to sleep didn’t occur to him once. He wanted to watch her as much as he could before she left in the morning. Soon his mind was occupied with thoughts. The same thoughts that had kept him awake through many lonely nights. But this time it was different. His thoughts had more clarity. He thought of a possible explanation and found the answer as he looked at her. She was smiling in her sleep, dreaming about the new life that was awaiting her from the next morning.
‘Dreams,’ he whispered to himself.
The word made him think about his eighteen-year-old self, excited about how he was going to travel the world after graduation, about all the nights that he promised to himself that he was going to fight against injustice and for the deprived. Reality came crashing in and shook him off his thoughts, only to replace it with new ones. A sudden rage and grief engulfed him. He turned to her and spoke, careful to not wake her up.

‘I have dreamt about travelling the world but I am spending my life in a cubicle in front of a computer. I sold my dreams, in return for financial security. I was different from others. But I didn’t say my opinions out loud, to be accepted by the masses. I sold my opinions in return for acceptance. My interests never matched with my parents’. I sold them too, in return for their happiness. You sold your body. They call you a prostitute. I sell my soul, every day. What name do they have for me?’

He spent the remaining night watching her, immersed in his thoughts. This might be their last meeting. But she has left her mark. He knew when he leaves her place today he won’t be the same person who had walked in six months ago. As the morning light sneaked in through the cracks on the door and the ceiling, he woke her up with a kiss on her forehead, for what could be their last morning together.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.