October's 1 thru 10

I carefully examine my surroundings. An exoskeleton of metal, wood, and plastic obscures most building fa├žades. The corner shop window advertises only 2.7 Euros for a cubic-meter of purified air! Tire-noise—the constant zip and hum of the vehicle river—is deadened by the clatter and brawl of people coursing along the cave-like scaffolding-protected sidewalks. None look up; everyone appears uncomfortable strolling under the construction, as if forced to constantly walk under a ladder. On the opposite sidewalk, near the curb, a naked woman stands with her back toward me. I watch. Nobody glances at her. I cross the street.

Because her near-nudity catches little attention, (patches of red material almost covers breasts and pubis) I eliminate mannequin and performance artist from the youngish, blondish, largish, woman’s repertoire. Hoping for prostitute (but suspecting nut-job) I shoulder close enough to count goose bumps. “Modeling the emperor’s new clothes?” I ask.

“Five an hour. I’m supposed to see the brand.” She says in Flemish, never raising her eyes.

With piggyback-dad’s money I have enough. I agree. The words are long and vowel-heavy, but I try: let us be away, in her language. Still never looking up, she gestures for me to follow.

She leads down a tight drainage alley between buildings. As youngish-blondish picks up a satchel from a stack of detritus her buttocks-skin stretches, legs part slightly; a tweak of grimy daylight invades her shadows, and...Yes! I glimpse rear pudenda profile.

Without wobbling, youngish-blondish dons a faded pair of once-red, socks-with-soles from the satchel, catches my head tipped—staring, and mutters at the ground, “Nothing eaten. May I obtain small food-money?”

As my bills vanish into the satchel, she smiles at her feet and we resume follow-the-leader through the entrails of Brussels. The thrill of unasked questions dominates my thoughts.

Youngish-blondish gestures wait in the direction of my knees before slipping around a vendor’s tarp. I smell fresh-cut greens. No people approach. Under the edge of the bright-yellow plastic tarp, a scruffy beige-on-black beagle’s eyes broadcast both sadness and contentment at me. I fall in behind youngish-blondish when she exits. After another hundred meters, Ish stops and speaks into an intercom.

We are buzzed into a mini-courtyard where an unkempt woman—who must only bathe in shrewdness—says, “Sie zahlen mich wieviele Stunden lang?” I pause. What exactly does Madame Shrewd mean by: They pay me how many granting long?

They converse briefly. Madame Shrewd—certain “the tourist” can afford double—scolds Ish for quoting standard rates, and insists she obtain multiple hours. Her last words cause me further pause: ask for fifty-a-day.

“How many hours?” Ish asks the concrete steps. “There’s a daily rate.”

“Two,” I say as Ish translates. Watching Madame Shrewd’s eyes to determine if she expects a thousand, I hand her a ten. She turns and retreats inside.

We enter a side door. Flabbergasted, I lean against a pile of pillows on a white divan. Ish sets out some cherries and cold drinks from her satchel.

Through chipmunk-cheeks she mutters, “have some.” (I assume. Every Flemish-vowel tripped on the way out.)

I nibble. The fruit is bland and gritty.

Ish glances at my face—for the first time?—grins a little, swallows and whispers, “tell me what’s bothering you.”

“I expected a higher price for sex.”

“It’s the programmed-rate.”

“I paid more...in the past.”

Locking our eyes together, “others cheat,” she shrugs. “My conscience won’t allow me to profit from my service-performance-for-mankind.”

Fucking no-questions rule! Quietly, I say, “I am skeptical of altruism—I guess.”

“Most of us branded are,” she responds. “Where’s yours at?”

Zuella’s information-payload finally comes in handy! Replying, I don’t know where, or if, this body is branded, may fulfill the no-lying rule but would definitely get me kicked from this studio with a dry dick. Instead—confidently—I say, “I am not branded.”

Uh-oh. Wrong answer.

The expression on Ish’s face, a mix of incomprehension and impatience, fades to concern as her eyebrows rise with a thought. She cradles my manicured right-hand, “Well. I’ve heard of suicide-by-the-virus. You’re my first. My manager will need to stamp your seven-hundred-and-eighty-four, twenty-four, thirty-three. She’ll charge more.”

“I don’t have a seven-hundred...umm, thirty-three.”

Stalling, I put three cherries in my mouth. I only taste saliva.

“Wait. You said you paid more before... Without a brand..? Where... Who..?”

I take a mouthful of caramel-colored soda-pop.

Ish resumes, “you don’t have an assisted-suicide registration form, but you...”

My tongue registers liquid and bubbles.

“Are you an Unbranded Virus-carrier?” she gasps.

“No,” I say, palming her lower mandible and cranium and torquing in one spin-snap (the term ‘topping’ came from this motion). Ish’s body spills our drinks.

Satchel over my shoulder, indigo sky overhead, and sweet, juicy cherries on my tongue, I stroll. I breathe. Think.

Desolate passages become occupied walkways that spill into crowded pedestrian-areas. At a street, brimming with loud people and vehicles, I conclude: government-subsidized prostitutes are reserved for those infected with a virus (the carriers of which are all branded) and assisted-suicide is legal.

An empty car drives past. I follow it with my eyes until it turns. I walk three blocks to where a drop-off and pick-up lane bends in front of a massive glass and stone building. People get out of cars, which drive away empty. Others wait for empty cars to arrive, get in, and drive away. I watch.

A gray-haired man exits the building, stands at the curb, removes an item from his pocket (like one of piggyback-dad’s gadgets), opens it cigarette-case-fashion, and pushes buttons. He waits. As do many others. Several smoke green cigarettes like Robert-not-Bob did, a few smoke blue cigarettes, which smell like boiling vinegar; gray-hair talks on a phone that fits in his ear. Eventually he steps off the curb in the direction of a silver car while pushing more buttons and departs.

An adjacent building catches my attention. Many lights are on, but no person or movement is visible through the open-curtained windows.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Originally in Sanskrit?