I didn’t want to leave the country at all, but if I had to I was adamant that I visited my father’s home town, Mumbai. I was warned that I wouldn’t be able to stay in the slums with remaining family members due to lack of space, terrible hygiene standards etcetera; I agreed to stay in a hostel close by with “trusted” owners. Being fifteen years old I didn’t seek verification – after leaving that place I will ALWAYS seek verification.
It was a dodgy place, sure, like most places. I sensed the usual unease creeping up my spine as I walked down the side alleys, kicking dirt off my feet with each step, tripping into a dingy reception I was greeted by a bored looking old man,
My “uncle” (I don’t even know if he was related to me by blood) sorted out my stay, which was to be for two solid weeks. Money was exchanged and a key was given to me. A fortnight there was the silver lining, the remainder of my time in India would be spent travelling and shopping with closer and more esteemed relatives, I only had to endure fourteen days. Creeping up the half broken stairs I tried to ignore the stench of B.O, the marks on the walls, and weird stains on the floor; I finally made it to my room. It was a nice room, clean enough, a lizard creeping up the wall – I called him Larry and we became friends. When I heard the noises at night I just stared at Larry and had my eyes follow him around the walls, trying to keep up with his darting, so I could ignore what was blatantly going on out there.
It was 6pm, so I would go to sleep in three hours and wake up bright and early to take a walk around town. I opened my magazines I collected from various shops and read about the “delights of India,” where young virginal women would spin around green fields in their red dresses and white skin; then I looked outside and was greeted with the sight of pollution. I didn’t need to look anymore, I could smell everything. Sometimes a waft of jalebi drifted up my nose, but most of the time it was the stench of animals and unwashed people in terrible cars that encased me during the days. The nights smelt totally different.
I wanted to get a coke before I went to bed; I couldn’t be bothered to drink hot water so I wanted a coke. On my way back up from the vending machine with the glass bottle in my hand I was confronted by a tiny little girl, she looked about eight or nine. She stood outside her door and watched me go past, so I watched her right back. Her face was filthy, she had a bindi settled above her thick eyebrows and dark brown eyes, wearing cheap glass bangles and a sparkly dress that revealed her midriff. She kept watching me until I went to my room and closed the door behind me. My heart was beating kinda fast because I could sense something was off, but I just sat on my bed with my coke and watched Larry sleep (he was probably sleeping, I don’t know, he just didn’t move at night) until I started hearing strange noises around me.
I enjoy looking back at this experience now I’m older, I can make sense of more things, back then when I was fifteen everything was distorted and fragmented. At first I heard the chinking of bells, then I heard the steady creaking of a cheap bed, then I heard falsetto groans omitting from rooms around me.
Ohmygod everyone’s having sex and I’m in a shitty room in Mumbai watching a fucking lizard pretend sleep.
It’s my first night, I just dealt with it. It was probably everyone’s lucky day and people just coincidentally got laid at the same time as others, whatever.
Turns out I was living in a really tacky brothel, not one of those “cool” ones you imagine to be part of the red light district, with people smoking and drinking and women of every species beckoning you in. You want a Nepalese woman? Go there. You want a Western looking woman? Right here, my friend! How about a traditional, plump, Desi woman? Those are one of the cheapest ones, didn’t you know?
No, it was nothing like that. It was a “hostel” with poor women looking to make a cheap rupee. I can’t tell you how many women there were, and I can’t even give you the name of the place.
I’m lying, there was some variety. Sometimes when I was sick of staring at Larry I stepped outside onto the roof to throw stones at people and duck my head. I’d sit there in the sweltering heat with a coke, chewing on some paan, and I’d think about what I could do to avoid that place at night. It was too dangerous for me to wander about after dark in this place, and I didn’t know how much more I could take listening to the fake gratification these girls gave married men. I decided to just suck it up and buy some alcohol to help me sleep. My English accent helped me in this respect, it made it easier to buy booze as a little girl – maybe that’s where the substance abuse started for me.
I’d walk to my room with liquor in my pocket and I’d notice things every evening I had done so. There were little girls chained to their rooms wearing provocative clothing in order to beckon potential customers. Their faces were so filthy. The one I remember the most, apart from the girl I saw on my first night, was a tiny girl with light brown hair and milky white eyes; I think she was blind.
I’d see these girls every evening, and then I’d see Larry who’d be waiting for me on the wall opposite my bed after a busy day of… um, I don’t know, being a lizard or something. I’d sit on my bed drinking as I heard slaps, moans, cursing – I ensured I was passed out before I heard the crying that took place afterwards.
After two weeks I got into a rickshaw with an aunt and went to a close family friend’s house where I spent most of the remainder of my time in India. To this day I’m dumbstruck that anybody would put a young person in a brothel out of cheapness, but that didn’t overshadow my pain I felt for the workers there.
I wonder how Larry’s doing from time to time.