GOWANUS Spring 2002

The Vulture

by Abha Iyengar

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I visited the hotel today. It looked the same, perhaps a little seedier than before. Known as Gidh, “The Vulture”, this small, green structure provided accommodation for foreigners looking to slum it. It was situated in the middle of Paharganj, a bustling marketplace of fruit stalls, small shops, narrow alleys, and humanity, jostling against itself as it tries to avoid the cyclists, rickshaws, and cars that assert their right to move in crowded streets.

Paharganj too had not changed, only grown. It had the same colorful stalls, harried people, squalor, and dirt. The same foreign leftovers of the hippie culture of a bygone era sat at the benches of the dhabas--cheap, affordable eateries. Everything was affordable for the foreigner here.

“Even young flesh,” I thought  to myself as I weaved my way through the crowds. I had been searching for the hotel, my eyes intent and purposeful. If people glanced my way it did not bother me. I was used to admiring, often lascivious looks. In fact, I encouraged them most of the time. My looks, my dress, my walk, all screamed for attention.

I found the hotel easily. “Gidh”--the name suited the place. Here, the vulture was truly a bird of prey, feeding on innocence. I stopped momentarily, overcome. Memories came rushing in, and I blinked as I pushed them away. I forced myself to walk inside.

The air was thick with smoke, a mixture of tobacco, ganja, and hashish. I recognized the smell at once, having lived with it for a long time.  The dreary hallway was much the same, with a motley collection of the usual hangers on having their afternoon coffee. It was dark and cool within, a welcome relief from the hot, blazing June sun outside. I shivered.

Walking up to the bar, I ordered a draught of beer and perched myself on one of the rickety stools. I drank the beer and waited. I lit a cigarette, and my red nails caught the light filtering in through a chink in the window. I knew  I was the cynosure of all eyes there; my tight blouse and slit skirt were meant to grab attention.

The man seated in the far corner was watching me. I had felt his eyes rake me even as I had arranged my flesh to the greatest advantage on the bar stool. “Come and get it,” it screamed.

He walked over to me. I studied him in the filtering light. He had aged over the years. How long was it--ten years? I licked my lips and swung around. His eyes gave no flicker of recognition as he came to sit next to me.

“What would the young lady have?” he enquired, a paragon of politeness.

“Another beer,” I said and smiled, showing him my pearly teeth.

As we sipped our beer he asked what brought me to these parts.  I told him  the story of my life, drawing him deeper and deeper into myself. I could see his interest mounting. The talk eventually turned to my work.

“I deal in women, especially young ones,” I said. “Young chicks. Young ass.” I could almost see him salivating. Yes, young cheeks and young asses. The young girls lured into this trade were indeed akin to young asses led to slaughter. Eight-years-old, ten- years-old--any age and any country, it did not matter. The younger the girl, the more prized she was.

A simple girl from Nepal had been lured the same way to India. The daughter of a starved and impoverished farmer of Katmandu, she had willingly followed a young lad who promised her a good job in India. Who had brought her to Paharganj, to this hotel, and shut her up without food and water. He finally opened the door and let in a white man who had bought her for the princely sum of five hundred rupees.

What had ensued sent a shiver up my spine even now. The white man had been none other than the one who sat opposite me now, hanging on to my every word. I had been used and abused, then left to lie half-dead in some back of beyond alley. Somehow, I survived.

A man who helped me find work as a housemaid befriended me. He did what he wanted with me at night; I was beyond caring. Meanwhile, I put together all the cash I was earning and when I thought I had collected enough I left him. My life became a series of adventures with young men and old, and I soon learnt how to play the game well. To all appearances, I was a person of considerable means now, commanding the respect of the up-market neighborhood where I lived. How I earned my living, no one knew or cared. Money buys its own respectability; I had realized that long ago.

I returned to the present. George, the man’s name, was trying to help me off the stool. He thought I was inebriated enough, and took the liberty to invite me to his room. He hoped to swing a business deal with me. I cackled with laughter, and he joined me, rubbing his hands in anticipation.

He led me upstairs. It was like any other shabby hotel room; the world is full of such rotten places. It boasted little more than a bed, a table and chair, a stained sofa, and a table lamp. A half-open door led to a tiny attached toilet. The room smelt damp and stuffy. I wanted to open the small window, then thought better of it.

George latched the door shut. I sat on the bed, then reclined. He thought the stance inviting enough, and came to sit beside me. He began stroking my thigh. He leaned forward. I brought my arms close together behind his neck to draw him towards me. I slowly moved my thumb to locate his carotid artery and pressed hard, very hard. All the hatred bottled up within me focused on that point. Suddenly he went limp on me. I pushed him away, opened his mouth and placed the capsule I had been carrying under his tongue. It would dissolve slowly, spreading the poison throughout his body, and no one would be the wiser as to the cause of his death. When they did find him I would be far away and out of reach.

I removed my pumps and stashed them into my bag, took out the burqa, the veiled dress commonly worn by Muslim women here, and shrugged it on.  From courtesan to a nonentity, the change was complete. I slipped my feet into rubber slippers, and let myself out of the room. There was a back door to the hotel, I remembered. It opened into a back alley.  I stepped out and closed the gate. 

I moved slowly through the crowded streets, a strong sense of exhilaration overtaking me. I had avenged myself. I felt no remorse, only regret that I had had to wait so long for this day.

(Abha Iyengar is a post-graduate in Business Management from Delhi University, India, and now writes full time. Her poems/ essays/stories have been published both in print and online.)