Steel CagesBy Pelican Smith
Contortionists, drug dealers, gamblers and transvestites weaved between piles of filth, sifted through piles of filth, carried piles of filth in baskets on their heads - seeking anything of worth in a land long since dead. If Bombay is a diamond, Torben thought, then it is a dim, yellow diamond buried in shit. He hurried through the crowd, avoiding the rotting, outstretched limbs of the beggars. His guide, a small man who claimed to know all of India's secrets, glanced back at him.
"Perhaps girls like last night, eh?" he offered for the third time that evening. "You liked them."
"No, Amit, I know what I want." It was Torben's last night in India, and he intended to enjoy a rare pleasure for a westerner. Amit shrugged and continued leading him through the crowd.
Torben's task in India had been difficult but clearly defined. He'd met with the leaders of wealthy families, pretended to enjoy their company, and arranged the purchase of millions of yards of cotton textiles. Cotton was all Bombay, or Mumbai, as the new politicians insisted it be called, had to offer a civilized world. Even then it would need to be funneled through the sweat shops of Vietnam before being worthy of department store shelves, but that was the task of some other global entrepeneur.
He wondered at the worth of these people who slept under a sheet of plastic only minutes from the Taj Mahal. What desperation convinced them to migrate here? 1500 people per square mile, trying to close in on the wealth of a few who would kill them all before giving away a grain of rice. Rightly so, thought Torben. No education, no morals, no hope - no worth, really. I'll enjoy my last night and then to hell with them all.
The brothel was a tin-roofed warehouse hidden in the evening darkness. Torben pushed through the crowds of people, so thick here he could barely walk. Amit waited at the entrance.
"These women are no good, boss. Let me get you the fine women."
"No thank you, Amit."
"You want me to wait? If you seek the unusual I can show you a dancer who has intercourse with an elephant. It is true."
"Get lost." Torben stepped into the open doorway and felt the overpowering heat of the place. He wondered what it was like during the day.
A man hobbled up to him. "I am Manish." he said, "You want woman? You want boy?"
"Aieeee!" Screamed another man from the darkness, who came rushing at Manish, cursing in Hindi. Manish fell over backwards while trying to escape and sat on floor helplessly.
"I am Langur," the newcomer said to Torben. "This is my place, my women. Women in steel cages. You are seeking woman?"
"Or man?" Manish offered from the floor, earning a sour look from Langur.
"Wo-man." Torben pronounced. "Girl. How much?"
"200 rupee for 20 minutes." Langur offered without hesitation.
Almost 6 dollars, thought Torben. Undoubtedly an escalated price for the rich American.
"Yes. I see. But what if I don't, ahhh, want just that."
Langur did not reply.
"What if I..." Torben's voice dropped to a whisper. "What if I want...to kill."
"Ahhhh." Hissed Manish from the floor. He gave Torben an unpleasant, toothless smile.
"2000 rupee." Langur replied, only the slightest hesitation this time.
"But you do not tell. I do not tell. This night fades into nothing."
"Agreed." Torben said, and counted out 2000 rupees to Langur, completing the deal. He followed Langur around a heavy curtain to where the women were kept.
There were eight of them all together, sleeping on blankets in seperate steel cages - women purchased by Langur for the price of a goat or a pinch of opium powder. A man was in one of the cages, working studiously above an exhausted, emanciated female. Her sagging breasts joggled slightly from where they hung in her armpits.
"You take this one." Langur said, opening the door to the most shopworn woman of the lot. "Twenty minutes, then you must leave."
As Torben stepped into the cage the woman sat up slowly. Her hair appeared to have never been combed in her life. As his fist closed around a knot of it she uttered a small squeak, and Torben's heartbeat quickened.
Ten minutes later Torben stood panting, drenched in sweat and bleeding from a scratch dangerously near his right eye. A corpse lay at his feet with hands half clenched and dark red handprints circling her throat. As he put on his pants he replayed the scenario in his mind, remembering the look in her eyes, the smell of her fear, and the taste of her sweat, but mostly he remembered the feeling of power that coursed through him, the vitality.
"You there!" He called through the curtain, "I'm done. Open the door." He leaned against the steel bars and waited.
"Langur!" He called. The heat and excitement was making him dizzy. Large black flies buzzed annoyingly around his face.
"Amit?" he tried, but Amit was gone.
The other customer had left, and the slaves reguarded Torben with veiled emotion.
"Langur!" He screamed. His voice drifted out to the street, and fell on the crush of uncomprehending gamblers and transvestites and thieves, who continued on their way, seeking anything of worth in a land long since dead.
On the other side of the curtain Langur was counting his money, keeping one eye open for the next customer.
"200 rupee for 20 minutes?" Manish asked.
Langur did not bother with a response. Manish didn't have the money, and the American wouldn't be ready for at least two weeks. Besides, he was worth far more than that. Far more. Langur walked towards his icebox to fetch a Pepsi.
"2000 to kill?" Manish asked, and limped after him to where the food was kept.