So, um. this. requires explanation. So, yeah, this is me and applegnat last evening.
me: i want to write gender-flip
applegnat : good
me: except i'd land up without a story to write.
applegnat : who'd be flipping?
me: idk. if i flip charlie, he'll have no access to Mikhail. if i flip Mikhail charlie'd be beaten up and stuffed into a trunk somewhere. mikhail flipped (as a friend told me when i whined at her) is basically sweety.
applegnat : hmm. he's a good deal less -- goal-oriented.
me: yeah and more attached to his brothers but, i mean
applegnat : i mean, you can bet that if sweety were flogging coke worth 10 crores she'd have got it done in the time it took for bhope to eat a vada pav
me: the whole beloved baby girl of crime family deal
applegnat : yeah, but at least she hasn't been coddled into – death or fuifide, as mikhail would say. LOL
applegnat : girl charlie might be interesting
me: doesn't it cut down on the very physically intimidating thing, though
applegnat : look the basic problem is that a girl of charlie's social aptitude and economic status wouldn't be doing charlie's work. as a rule.
applegnat : you can't be a controller, even if you can be a don. i don't want to enforce the sterotype that girls with charlie's social aptitude and economic handicaps would be pulling tricks if they were into crime. quite realistically, though, it's difficult for them to do anything else.
me: no, i know. i thought, and then i thought, well, prostitute. and then i stopped wanting to write that
applegnat : well, it's entirely possible that mikhail happens to be charlie's only john
me: because i like happy!Charlie. um. how periclean of him. but what a bad Aphasia she'd make (by which I meant Aspasia, but eh)
applegnat : besides, happiness and prostitution aren't mutually exclusive - not in the least trying to diminish the horrors of sex work etc
me: no, i guess, but, thing is i can't think of Mikhail as idk, caring enough?
applegnat : aw, young men are generally assholes. but i'm sure he's capable of affection, even concern. in an AU you can explore those avenues.
*** *** ***
“You’re Ahluwalia’s, right?”
She swivels the head on the long neck—such a neck, throat bruised purple under the concealer, someone likes asphyxiation, greedily pays out the extra cash—and brings her eyelashes up to look at the sweaty face in front of her, eager, laughing eyes. Everyone’s sweating, none of the windows open, AC in nothing like working order, too many people in too little space, sweating out the alcohol in their blood, and jostling each other to get to more. At least she’s getting paid—nice tidy sum, clothes aren’t hers but she’ll end the night without, any rate. “Why’d you care, kid?” Can’t be more than eighteen, still a year more than her, but she’s playing bored diva with a taste for older men.
“My friend,” he says, gestures at a girl looking bored with the man she’s speaking with, “and I, we have a bet going how much he paid for you.”
It’s a burn of embarrassment at being caught out—not like she cares, but it’s a point of pride to be able to fit in—and her laugh goes husky. “Kid,” she says, and hopes only derision shines through, “d’you think he could afford me?” Anyone can afford her—she’s been had for a full meal and a bed out of the rain. But that was two years ago.
“Well, sweetheart,” he grins, nothing put-out, “you’re not here because you want him.” They both look at Ahluwalia, and she bites the inside of her mouth to keep from smiling along. Ahluwalia looks a lot like his wares.
“Maybe I don’t like children,” she says, teeth out. Kid doesn’t look like he pays for it.
Boy just smiles and smiles, like life is anything but a bitch, and he’s happy, and he just likes being alive. Ignorant fucker. “Right, so. I could leave you to wait on your boyfriend,” he says, turns away, looks over his shoulder and smirks. “Or you could come sneak a smoke while he’s informing…unh, okay, nobody I know… about how wonderful and low-risk the export business is.”
She’s being paid to stand around and look pretty. No specifications where. “What d’you have?”
“Marlboro do?” he grins, and pulls her outside when she nods. His fingers close loosely around her wrist, like he’d rather not hurt her.
She doesn’t fuck if she’s not being paid—too much trouble faking without—but she’s expecting him to at least try something, because, hey, what else’d he come up to her for? Scintillating conversation? But he just camps out on the ground and waits for her to fold her legs awkwardly under her and sit down beside him—this expensive-call-girl get-up is far too uncomfortable for how little of it there is—before producing three cigarettes and lighting one for her. It’s half-done when the door bangs open and shut, and the girl he’d pointed out earlier sinks gracelessly down beside them, and snatches at the third fag.
It takes her two drags to notice her there. “So, how much was it?”
“We’re shit outta luck, Soph,” he laughs, kisses her hair. How sweet. “Ahluwalia’s more of a charmer than we gave him credit for.”
“Yeah?” The girl’s eyes are colder than the boy’s, and far more disconcerting. Women always are. “Considered getting your head checked?””
“All the time,” she says, rolls the ash off in a neat cone, pushes herself up, teetering on her stilettos. “Thank you for the cigarette.” Fuck you both.
The girl just keeps looking at her, head tilted, curl of smoke rising from the dangling cigarette in one perfectly manicured hand—her own nails are bitten to the quick, leave no scratches—slight smile pulling up one corner of the lip-glossed mouth. The boy gets up a beat after her, and smiles like this was fun, and puts a hand on her bare arm—shaved to near-bleeding with a razor she should’ve ditched a month ago—and stops her from going in. Blocks her, but like it’s harmless, like he hasn’t got two inches and five kilos—skinny little fucker, smaller than even Guddu, maybe—on her, smiles. Enough with the everlasting smiles, the inside of her lip’s going to start bleeding soon. “I’m Mikhail,” he offers, “and that’s Sophia.”
“Charlie,” she says, and cuts around him.
He moves like he wants to pull her back, keep her out in the cold, but his girl laughs, “Let her get back to her true love, Mishka, c’mon, idiot,” and tugs him down.
She pulls the door open and goes in head held high, and takes only a minute (75 seconds, tops) to lean against the door and breathe, before she stalks back in and drapes herself over Sumit Ahluwalia’s fat arm, and smiles and smiles and smiles, and pretends she’s doing this for love—like nobody realises she’s doing it for three thousand rupees and cheap alcohol, that kid made her, love of fuck.
On the drive back to the flat he stays in when he’s ‘working late’, and on his bed, she spreads her legs, smiling, and props Ahluwalia’s body on her own thin frame, and holds him, unmoving, when he falls asleep after spilling in her, beard-stubble on her breasts and alcoholic breath against her throat. It’s been a good night.
She nearly twists her ankle coming down the stairs in the morning—Ahluwalia woke up just enough to pay her, and she slid off the bed before he could press her against the mattress again, and picked up her clothes in the darkness and dressed in the corridor in the light streaming in through the balcony doors—and is sat on the street examining it when a car drives up—obnoxiously, retina-searingly purple. “Hi,” someone says, and she tears her eyes from the body of the car to the boy driving it. Fuck.
“Morning,” she offers, tests her foot. Okay. Up we get. “You following me around?”
“I just dropped Sophia off at her house,” he says, “and I remembered where Ahluwalia lived, and I thought, well.” He finishes with an elaborate shrug.
“You’d be a hero?”
“I like driving around,” he grins, “early morning, not as much traffic, you know?”
“Right.” He’s persistent, she’ll give him that. And. Yeah.
“Where do you live?”
“Why’d you care, kid?”
“Well, sweetheart,” and his smile looks nicer in the early light, “if I’m driving you home, I need to know where we’re going, don’t I?”
She looks at him, face still soft under the façade of machismo, smile wide and guileless and thinks she might smile at him, thinks she might laugh. It’s an adventure for him, right, something to tell his school-mates—college, what does it matter?—that he stalked a call-girl and got to drive her home and fuck her in her…what does he think she owns? A flat, at least, not too badly furnished, maybe with gifts from generous lovers. Like a Laknavi baiji. Well, this should be instructive. “I’ll give you directions,” she says, lets a smile slip out as he leans over to open the door for her. Doesn’t much want to walk home from bloody Goregaon.
He takes his cues from her, and lets her stew in silence, and only nods when she tells him to turn left, or take a lane. If it surprises him when he ends up next the railway tracks, he keeps it off his face—she’s watching him closely, but kid doesn’t even flinch—and follows her in through the gap in the fence as though this is par for the course.
Malati’s been in, evidenced by the open door and the smell of sex inside and—blessed sight—two full buckets beside the stove, lukewarm and still-steaming. Who the hell told her to boil them, dammit? What is she, made of cash? The kerosene bottle’s far emptier than it was last afternoon. Dammit.
She puts her clothes over one shoulder and hoists the warmer bucket and carry-drags it to the curtained off space out behind the bogey, careful not to spill any. Turns around and sees Mikhail bringing out the other, wincing where the handle cuts into his palm. “Go infide,” she snaps, pulling the bucket from him, water splashing on her bare feet and his patent leather shoes, and pulls the curtain—old blanket, worn too thin to be any use for warmth, but it jury-rigs well enough, and does she really care if anyone wants to see her naked badly enough to be happy with a shadow through brown cloth?—shut around her.
She can see his shoes below the makeshift curtain, and an inch and half of his jeans, pausing and moving away and back, and finally away, and the door pulled shut. Good boy.
She puts Ahluwalia away with her clothes, the hot water scourging her skin. A full bucket goes to her hair, greasy from his skin, his need to ejaculate in it—she’s been teetering on the edge of chopping it all off and being done with, short hair suits, too, she remembers, but this is another break from being the kid she used to be, and she’s not going to abandon that—and her arms shake from lifting it up when she sets it down. The blanket’s wet, too, and she wonders whether Mikhail’s looking. Doesn’t matter.
When she gets back in—dress needs to be washed, another day—Mikhail’s being a good kid, camped out on her mattress going through something on his cell. “D’you want tea?” she asks, watches his head snap up. He takes her in calmly enough, nods, looks back at his phone, but she feels his eyes on her back when she crouches in front of the stove, coaxes it to light.
She doesn’t ask how he takes his tea, sets the water to boil and measures in the leaves, and stirs in two spoons of sugar. If he likes it with milk, well, sucks to be him. She needs sleep. But she’d not have been home yet, otherwise, and she can spare him this. Besides—she hates admitting to her curiosity—she wants to know what he’s after. Oh, sex, sure, but she’s no illusions about herself, and if he liked her primped up, he’s still not running from her in a ratty t-shirt and shorts, wet hair bundled up. He takes the chipped mug from her easy enough, budges over to make room, and puts the phone away soon as she sits down.
“Charlie?” he asks half-way through the tea, ruminative.
“Yeah?” She’s expecting a complaint of some sort about the tea, or the long-expected demand for sex.
“Why are you called Charlie?” he says instead, and grins like he’s thinking the ‘Basanti, tumhara naam kya hai, Basanti’ line right alongside her.
“Charulata’s too long,” she explains, watches his eyes go wide.
“Doesn’t suit, either,” he asserts, finishes his tea and sets the mug on the floor with a low ‘clink’. “You don’t look like a Charulata in the least.”
“Yeah?” Tea’s turned out a bit stronger than she takes it, usually, and she sips cautiously at it. “How should a Charulata look?”
“Soft,” he says, and his voice has sunk octaves, and his eyes are bright under his hair. She puts the mug down, away from them.
“I’m not?” she laughs.
He smiles, puts a hand on her face, and leans in to kiss her. She puts her hand up to cover his, parting her lips, and touches crisp paper when he withdraws. It’s a hundred rupee note. She puts it beneath her mug, and winds her hands in his hair and fits their mouths together. He smiles into the kiss, and tucks Rs. 500 between her breasts, and rucks up her t-shirt to cup them in hands warm from the tea, and ducks his head to bite at her nipples through her bra. Unhooks it so the note falls out, and pulls the top over her head, making her hair fall down, covering her face in a damp mess. Nuzzles up to kiss her collar-bones, press his mouth into the hollow between, puts his wallet down on the mattress near her and pushes her down on it.
He is awkward, after, like he keeps seeing his wallet beside her face, or the wad of 500 buck notes—five grand, crisp like he’d taken them from an ATM while waiting for her to emerge—he’d shelled out when she propped herself up and handed it back to him, and cannot return to his façade of friendly banter, but will not do the rational thing and fuck off after the orgasm. Fucktard.
“I’ll see you,” he says at the door, after she’s spent fifteen minutes chivvying him into his clothes—not that he isn’t a treat to watch, after Ahluwalia, but she has to sleep sometime soon—and found his shoes for him. “Yeah?”
“You know where I live,” she answers and pushes him out.
He comes back up like there are springs on his feet, and takes her face between his hands and kisses her. “Yeah, Charulata,” he grins, “that I do.”