By Catherine Wagley
By Catherine Wagley
By Wendy Gilmartin
By Jennifer Swann
By Claire de Dobay Rifelj
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Catherine Wagley
By Zachary Pincus-Roth
In the early morning Mohini the sleepless whore of the Hatyapul brothel awoke her foreign guest. He came awake quickly and twisted her roughly into his arms, conjuring a knife from thin air and holding it against her neck. “Don’t be stupid,” she said. “I could have killed you a hundred times last night, and don’t think I didn’t think about it while you were snoring loud enough to wake the emperor in his palace.” She had offered him two rates, one for a single act, the other, only slightly higher, for the whole night. “Which is better value?” he asked her. “People always say it’s the all-night rate,” she replied gravely, “but most of my visitors are so old or drunk or opium-stupid or incompetent that even doing it once is beyond a lot of them, so the rate for a single will almost certainly save you money.” “I’ll pay you double the all-night rate,” he said, “if you promise to stay beside me all night. It’s a long time since I spent the whole night with a woman, and a woman’s body lying beside me sweetens my dreams.” “You can waste your money if you want, I won’t stop you,” she said cold-heartedly, “but there hasn’t been any sweetness left in me for years.”
Illustration by Ronald Kurniawan
(Click to enlarge)
She was so thin that her name among the other whores was Skeleton, and those clients who could afford it often hired her together with her antithesis, the obese whore called Mattress, in order to enjoy the two extremes of what the female form had to offer, first the unyielding dominance of bone and then the flesh that engulfed. The Skeleton ate like a wolf, greedily and fast, and the more she ate the fatter Mattress became, until it was suspected that the two whores had made a pact with the Devil, and in Hell it would be Skeleton who was grotesquely overweight for all eternity while Mattress rattled bonily around with the nipples on her flat chest looking like little wooden plugs.
She was a doli-arthi prostitute of the Hatyapul, meaning that the terms of her employment stated that she was literally married to the job and would only leave on her arthi or funeral bier. She had had to go through a parody of a wedding ceremony, arriving, to the mirth of the street rabble, on a donkey-cart instead of the usual doli or palanquin. “Enjoy your wedding day, Skeleton, it’s the only one you’ll ever have,” shouted one lout, but the other prostitutes poured a chamber pot of warm urine over him from an upstairs balcony, and that shut him up just fine. The “groom” was the brothel itself, represented symbolically by the madam, Rangili Bibi, a whore so old, toothless, and squinty that she had become worthy of respect, and so fierce that everyone was scared of her, even the police officers whose job it theoretically was to close her business down, but who didn’t dare make a move against her in case she gave them a lifetime’s bad luck by fixing them with the evil eye. The other, more rational explanation for the brothel’s survival was that it was owned by an influential noble of the court — or else, as the city’s gossips were convinced, not a noble but a priest, maybe even one of the mystics praying nonstop at the Chishti tomb. But nobles go in and out of favor, and priests as well. Bad luck, on the other hand, is forever: so the fear of Rangili Bibi’s crossed eyes was at least as powerful as an unseen holy or aristocratic protector.
Mohini’s bitterness was not the result of being a whore, which was a job like any other job and gave her a home, and food and clothing, without which, she said, she would be no better than a pye-dog and would in all likelihood die like a dog in a ditch. It was aimed at one single woman, her former employer, the fourteen-year-old Lady Man Bai of Amer, currently residing at Sikri, a young hussy who was already receiving, in secret, the eager attentions of her cousin Crown Prince Salim. Lady Man Bai had one hundred slaves, and Mohini the Skeleton was one of her favorites. When the prince arrived perspiring from the hard work of galloping around killing animals in the heat of the day, Mohini was at the head of the retinue whose task it was to remove all his clothes and massage his pale skin with scented, cooling oils. Mohini was the one who chose the perfume, sandalwood or musk, patchouli or rose, and Mohini it was who performed the privileged function of massaging his manhood to prepare him for her mistress. Other slaves fanned him and rubbed his hands and feet, but only the Skeleton could touch the royal sex. This was because of her expertise in preparing the unguents necessary for the heightening of sexual desire and the prolongation of sexual congress. She made the pastes of tamarind and cinnabar, or dry ginger and pepper which, when mixed with the honey of a large bee, gave a woman intense pleasure without requiring much exertion from the man, and allowed the man also to experience sensations of warmth and a kind of squeezing palpitation that were extremely pleasurable. She applied the pastes sometimes to her mistress’s vagina, sometimes to the prince’s member, usually to both. The results were held by both parties to be excellent.
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