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Sujit Biswanath Majumdar

The Red Rose

 

The very first thing that caught her attention as she stepped into the house was a long stalked single rose on the glass centre table.

She thought it was rather odd. The living room was bare except for the centre table with the circular glass top and a white leather love seat. The red rose was fresh and as she looked closely, Judith, saw that there were no thorns.

For a second a bizarre imagery took hold of her: her body was lying in that living room, draped by a spotlessly clean white sheet which covered her till her chest, her eyes were closed and just beside her lay the rose. Only, now, it was no longer fresh and some of the petals had worn off.

The imagery was all too powerful and she had to force it away from her mind. She made a mental note to grab as much rest as possible once she was done with this out call. Hopefully, this would be the last one for the day. I should stop smoking and go slow on drinks. But then how do you get rid of the pain?

It was this pain—intolerable , searing pain that she experienced every day from the day that she was tricked into this profession—it had a stranglehold on her body, mind and soul. Along with the pain was the smog of hopelessness that enveloped her. Was this how her life was shaped out to be?

The client, a man in his late fifties was now tugging at her skimpy black dress. Strangely she saw no face. Only two eyes—-they did not even look like real eyes—they were like “living lenses-“—that had the ability to undress her with sheer intensity. She was dumbstruck with the depth of evil they reflected.

“We are going up”, the man, who had bad breath whispered in her ears.

An alarm went off somewhere deep inside her. She instinctively clutched at the steel blade hidden in her “Pink “lace black panties. That was the last gift from Peter. Oh Peter if only you were here now! Her mind went back to an evening almost two years ago .It was her birthday, the 1st of June. Violet, her childhood friend, always maintained that people born on the 1st were born with good luck. Good luck! If only she knew! Anyways, Peter said he was going to make this birthday her “most memorable”. He had taken her to “croc rock” supposedly the most happening place in town. The evening was progressing well. They had a couple of drinks. It was close to midnight. Peter brought out a gift bag. In it gift wrapped was a packet.

“For the love of my life”, the five feet eleven, 200 pounds, amateur basket ball player, a die-hard Raptors fan whispered as his long hand fished out the present and kissed her on the forehead. Surprisingly,” the unchained melody” came on air! Peter held her close and began to sway to the music. It seemed she was in a dream. Life was never this good! She ripped the wrapping paper and opened the box—-she gasped—-in it was one of the sheerest, fine lace lingerie she had ever come across! She did not know how to react! Peter was looking at her waiting for her answer. She looked at him and blushed.

“Did you not like it?” he asked, his dark eyes scanning her face to catch the slightest hint of her feelings.

“I love it’, she said beaming.

 “Good girl! I love you!” his voice brimmed with emotion.

“I love you too” she echoed. She was definitely one of the luckiest girls in town. She was an average student with a fierce ambition to make it big in life. She was attractive but definitely not a drop dead gorgeous model. She had hopes to go to university to pursue a career in journalism. Her family consisted of a younger brother in grade eight and a single mother who toiled day and night to make ends meet. Peter was certainly a high point in her life. He was every girl’s dream—-smart, talented and gifted with natural ability in sports. He was cut out for a promising future.  Why he chose her to be his girlfriend was never clear to her but she felt a deep sense of joy when people referred her as, “Peter’s girl”!

Now as the pot bellied, swarthy man half-pushed her up the stairs she wondered what Peter would have done if he saw her now. Maybe he would have done nothing. Maybe she was just a passing fancy for him. Maybe he did not really care for her. In her mind, however, her Peter was every inch the knight in shining armour! She saw his face light up with livid rage as he stormed towards the man intending to teach him lesson for life for meddling with his girl———

But there was no Peter here—or anyone else to help her—as the man in the tight Levis jeans and designer T shirt—-began to grope her——-

For the few hundred dollars they paid—they felt they owned your body and could do anything they willed—–

She thought of taking out the blade and threaten the man with dire consequences if he did not stop or tried to harm her but then she would have to eventually give in —-it was a business deal—and if she wanted to survive —-she could not displease any client of Sean—-because all said and done—she was his property— if she had any doubt about it —she needed to take a single glance at the tattoo of flaming torch-on her left arm that proved she belonged to him——if anybody  had mentioned to her two years ago that in today’s world a person could be purchased just like a commodity she would have laughed and laughed—thinking it was a bad joke—but it was, unfortunately the sad truth.

Sometimes the most traumatic times of our lives comes disguised as the beginning of a favourable period and completely mislead us. A school friend, Christa, who flaunted the latest phones and the most expensive make-up told her of a job, “which was crazy easy and allowed you to make tons of money”. Like all girls she loved make- up but at the same time she knew her means. So she never indulged in the expensive products. The prospect of earning your own money and using it to pay for your own stuff was no doubt appealing. On the top of it the opportunity to be able to help mother in her daily bitter struggle to scrape a living was another factor which drew her to the proposition made by the girl who at seventeen already boasted of a brand new Civic.

It was Christa who introduced her to Sean and the world of nefarious dealings and sordid manipulations. An innocuous proposal to meet with a client of his to speak of a real estate deal turned out to be a ploy to draw her into the murky world of drugs, sex and extortion. Once inside, she was like a fly caught in a spider’s web, the more she struggled to come out of it the more she got entangled.

One morning, Sean came with a tattoo artist at the small dinghy room where she was housed when she was working. She was surprised at first, then alarmed and looked questioningly at him. The look on the face of the lean French Canadian made it quite apparent that he meant business and any sort of opposition would not only be futile but could also be dangerous.

Three hours, river of tears and piercing cries and pain later she was branded just like a farmer brands his cattle! In one of the most advanced nations and in an age which boasts of technological progress and emancipation of the human soul a girl is marked with a sign that along with dismembering her soft white skin cut her soul into little pieces.

She now was irrevocably Sean’s property and no other pimp dare try to use her!

The middle aged client who Judith assumed to be realtor or lawyer had almost pushed her up the stairs and was now pulling her into a small room that overlooked a tiny lake.

Smoke and odour enveloped them. She was no stranger to the smell of weed. But this was different. It was pungent and at the same time sweet, intoxicating and giddy. What was it?

In the middle of the room in a small urn something was burning. For an instant her mind searched the inner recesses of her mind to find out where and when she had the first experience of it.  A little while later it dawned on her. It was a quite a few years ago. She was about eleven years old a grade six student at St Teresa’s catholic School, in Ottawa. It was sometime in late May or beginning of June, she did not remember clearly, mother, suddenly informed her that Dad would like to visit her.

Dad. The word had no meaning for her. It generated not many emotions. Whatever little it did was not the positive ones. Her friends in school went all gushy and were in raptures when speaking about their fathers. Not her. How could she? Since she was five years old, she had not seen her dad. Whenever she asked mother about him she would suddenly clamp up and her green eyes (which she got from her grandmother) would cloud with pain. She realized early on not to broach the topic with her. She knew it disturbed the slim decaying woman whom she loved dearly.

So when Mom told that dad wanted to meet her she was intrigued and a slice of pain and suppressed anger bounced back and forth in her mind.

A man of medium height with hair graying at the temples, slim with a deceptive calm air about him appeared at about 7 o ‘clock when the sun cast its orange glows on the many splendored tulips at the front of their little basement apartment. She knew immediately it was her Dad. She had his nose and even her deep blue eyes were inherited from him and bespoke of her Irish ancestry.

Oddly, for some reason, the anger she was harbouring all this while vanished. In its place was a deep rooted pain. There was  a sad urgent voice of appeal. Silently, in spite of herself, she could hear her asking him, why he left her mom—-his wife whom he met as a teen ager? She wanted to run up to him fall down on her knees hold his hand and beg him, “Don’t you see the pain in mom’s eyes? Can’t you see the tears she shed waiting for you to return? Can’t you see that she is actually a young woman with dreams and she is strangling them so that she can take care of her kids? Don’t you feel something in your heart seeing a lonely woman struggle —can’t you understand the grief of a person living away from the man she loved and still loves? —-can’t you experience the bitter struggle of a single mother trying to fend for a family?-Look closely at her eyes—can’t you see all the tears she has shed all through the years after you left her for another woman?

Though all these questions rioted in her brain she could not utter a single world! She just stood there transfixed. Mother had quietly come up and stood besides her and held her hand. How strange it was! Mothers instinctively sensed when you are down and quickly came and stood by you!

The youngish looking man tried to look her in the eye, could not, shifted his glance and blurted out, “I know Doris, I have caused you great pain and my behaviour has been abominable. I could not pay the alimony —I know it is difficult for you—-but I don’t have much—-I just now won $ 1500  at a Casino—I felt that I owe it as a father of Misha ( that was her nickname) for her studies and other things——‘ and his voice trailed off

Mother stood up to her full height which was not much just about five foot three and said with stately calm, “thank you Jim for your concern for Misha’s studies. For the past seven years we have managed to survive. As you can see we are not leading an affluent life—far from it—we –that is my children and I have learnt to survive with less—we do not want anybody’s pity—we are a proud lot—and we will go on with life on our own terms—thank you but no thank you for your largesse”, she said tears beginning to well in her eyes.

After the man called” Dad” left, Judith, had gone outside and watched him leave. The summer sun was setting. Birds were going home. A flock of geese flew by quacking loudly. She saw the tulips. So lovely! So bright! So vibrant! What right had they to be at peace? Why did they not suffer like her mother? In a fit of rage she pulled each one of them and trampled them with her foot. Even then she was not content. She collected them in a heap and set fire to them.

The odour they emitted was pungent and at the same time sweet. She realized at that moment when your dreams go up in smoke the smell is overpowering with a tinge of dying fragrance——-

The thing that was burning had the same decaying smell in that Richmond Hill house of the man whose name she could not recall.  What’s the use of remembering names—when all of them had the same lust, the same desire to find pleasure at any cost? Is this craving to seek enjoyment the root of all evil?

The man had settled down on the bed. Who was this man? Did he have a family? What if he had a daughter her age?

He had brought out a needle and was injecting himself. Beads of sweat collected on his forehead. His eyes were becoming glazed. His voice was changing, from a hoarse whisper it was now a booming baritone. There was joy and happiness in it!

“Try this, my love, and you will be HAPPY FOREVER!!!” he said and brought out a needle for her.

Since she began her journey as an Escort Girl she had voluntarily and involuntarily been exposed to drugs. She had smoked marijuana and also tried her hand at crystal meth.

“What is it?” she asked the man

“You have no idea about this “replied the man in a matter- of- fact tone, “it is the best thing that you can ever have. It is called Magic Mushroom—the Flesh of the Gods!

Judith’s curiosity was aroused.  She took the needle timorously. A voice inside was screaming.

She carefully selected a spot in her left arm and gingerly injected herself.

For a moment nothing happened. The customer had a glazed look in his eyes and his hands rested on her thighs. “Wow! Amazing! Incredible” he commented in a rapturous delirium. He seemed to be speaking with someone.

It was at this instant it all began. The first vision she had was, incredulously, of the long stalked rose .This time the magnificence, beauty and colour of the flower was magnified infinitely.  She had never seen such brilliant colour. The red was something dazzling, bright, porous and fluid. And the petals! Oh my God! She could touch, feel and experience them the way she could never do before. Then there was the music—soft, lilting, cascading, everlasting—comforting and exhorting at the same time. A feeling of peace was descending on her.

Subsequent to the vision of the rose she saw herself lift in a state of apparent weightlessness and could feel the cool, moist air. She could see her body—her body was lovely, nice long legs, well endowed——

Memories and visions long lost came back—–here she was a young kid of five or six—-she was running in a park—so happy, free——mother calling her-trying to catch her——Daddy catch me if you can—then she saw him—Jim—he was a handsome young man—–he was so happy—wait let me see if I can catch My darling Misha——then he came towards her- half running, half crawling —lifted her up in his strong arms—-There I caught my darling Princess ! My Misha! —-And up and up he swirled her in the air—–she could feel the breeze, the breath of her Dad—–did this moment even exist in her life?

She saw Mother in a maternity ward of a hospital—–doctors and nurses surrounded her  trying to revive her—-she saw her gasping, in excruciating labour pain, —-next she saw the blood—the vision was so vivid ——the colour red so stark, so unsettling——medical people crying—-Oh goodness—she is losing so much of blood –can we even save her or the baby?—–We have to —-it is her first child after three miscarriages —-blood everywhere—-Oh Mother—dear Mother—I caused you so much of pain—-from the time I was born—–Oh Mom—-I love you so much

She saw herself as a little girl walking to school with an elderly lady—-she was wearing new shoes—that lit up as you walked—-she was so excited—-it was Granny—with big brown hair—her smile was  what she saw now—it filled her with so much of happiness and hope —–she could see the plaid skirt—the rosary she always carried in her hand —several beads in it were broken- she was saying something about how  the Son Of God died so that other men could have eternal life——

Why would someone have to die so that others could live——? Oh granny where are you dear? Can’t you see how lonely we are without you——oddly someone was laughing—-raucous laughter that seemed to be coming from everywhere—she looked  at different directions but she saw no one——then the laughter faded and it was replaced by sobbing—-she could feel the pain of the sobs—whoever  was crying was in deep grief—and her heart was heaving with suppressed emotion—–

She saw mother—a young pretty woman in a long floral dress—besides a window of a small room—a sheet of paper was in her hand—it was a letter—–tear stains were all over it—she glanced at it and she looked out —-it was the day the man she loved with her life—walked away—and her heart almost seemed to collapse with pain and hurt—–Oh mother how much more pain do you have to go through?

She felt cold hands on her exposed mid-riff. They were exploring and she knew where they would go next. She did not care. Let them have her body so long as they could not touch her soul. Where was her soul though? People spoke of it and she had heard pious men refer to it—-but what was it—-did it really even exist?

She was now in an azure blue lake—–the water was so clear that she could see the bottom—-there were no waves practically and she was floating on her back—she had never seen such a beautiful water body—-fishes  of various species and colour and little turtles swam by—-a glorious sun—–such a lovely benign sun she never knew existed——–Was this real? Was she living?

 A muffled laughter broke her trance.The customer was now beginning to look weird.  Gone was the air of dull stupor. In its place there was an air of sinister deadly calm. Why? She wanted to come out of the mental haze she was in. Something did not seem right. An alarm bell was ringing at full throttle in her mind. It was time for her to take out the blade concealed in her panties. A senior escort girl had advised her to keep this weapon always —ready to be used in situations like these.

She tried to sit up. Her legs gave in beneath her. No she cannot let this happen to her. She was a fighter. She had to live for mother and her kid brother, Adam. They would be devastated. To them she was the world.

The man was lunging towards her. She felt his hands on her throat. He was trying to strangle her.

Please do not kill me. I beg of you. I am just trying to live. Yes I sell my body. For what?  Just to stay alive. So that I can exist somehow. I know there is never going to be anything that is big and beautiful in my life. No sir. I don’t even dream of that. Please, I am just a little girl really.

The pressure on her throat was increasing. She was fighting for breath. Her mind was reeling. A dark cloud hung all around her.

Just as the last breath was to escape from her she saw a light. It was a strange kind of light. It gave her a boost of strength. A surge of energy flowed through her body. She heard, granny, telling her, “Misha dear, arise—it is time to live—-wake up dear”. With one super human effort she kicked the man in his groin.

She heard him fall with a painful and loud groan.

Quickly, she retrieved the thin sharp blade from its concealed place.  The man was rushing towards her with an angry snarl and threw a deadly punch at her face. She ducked. Like a panther she retreated and with extraordinary agility she never thought she had the sharp blade found its target. Blood spattered all over. Mother you lost so much blood bringing me to this world. This is for you dear.

An hour and half later, under the cover of darkness, as she quickly stepped out of the house she saw a strange imagery.

It was the same one  which she saw when she had come in —only this time —it was not she that was lying in the living room—it was this client—draped in a spotless white sheet that covered him till his chest. The long stalked red rose lay besides him.

She had won!

 

 

 

 

(Writer’s note:  I had finished  95 % of the story long back. Initially the ending was decided to go along the following lines—-the girl is assaulted and gets killed and the last thing she sees is the imagery she sees when entering—that of her body lying in living room. Last night, at about 12.30 in the night while going through the story I was thinking about my mother. Strangely, almost unconsciously, I began to write the last few paragraphs—not knowing what the ending would be. Fifteen minutes later the story was finished. It had a completely  different ending!!! Why?

Want  to know your thoughts on two aspects:

1.       Which of the two endings would be more impactful and leave a mark on your mind?

2.       Do you think  that this story ,as it is ,leaves a powerful  impression on your mind?)

 

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