THICK, putrid air billowing with exhaled smoke filled the room. And though the bidding would start with a number, rising from there, the naked woman on the stage felt worthless. Actually, that wasn’t true. She felt both worthless and priceless. And hopeless.
From the start, born into a home filled with rough men looking to satisfy lurid appetites, she found herself sworn to secrecy by both the men and then her mother, too. Watching her mom, she could see the shame that filled her eyes and knew it was merely an older version of what she felt inside. Her wounds were pink and tender, while her mother’s were scabbed and calloused. But they both hurt the same.
Standing on the block the prices came in slow. Her body had been ravaged by time, use and abuse. Sickness filled her bones and rotted her skin, nails and eyes. Her teeth were loose and mottled, her breath sour.
Looking out she could see men whom she had been with on other occasions. As she got older, when they told her she should enjoy it, she decided she’d had enough. She’d take control of her life and ensure the game was played on her own terms. She left home and joined women on the streets. She demanded money from the walking dead, forcing them to part with something precious to them, for a change. Unfortunately, the transaction didn’t empty them as much as drive a stake through her heart. For now, she was not only selling something that should never be for sale, but she was putting a price on her soul. While before she knew she was the victim, a balm to her heavy shame, now she had put the most intimate parts of her life on the open market.
She had played with the price, trying to bring in the value that would fill her with meaning and assure her that she meant something more than a quickie to some John. But the higher the price, the lower she sank. While she believed herself to be in charge of her fate, she always felt that she was merely directing her course along a leash held by the world around her. When she charged more, the Johns expected something more carnal than before. She realized that no price could pay for what she threw away.
Now those men who had used her, sometimes claiming they loved her, wagged their tongues and bugged their eyes at her while bidding half-heartedly for the damaged shell she now displayed.
Her arms bore red tracks of needles and her muscles were drawn tight under her hard flesh, each tendon and vein visible. Her jaw protruded like a skull and her hair clung to her scalp like ratted pieces of old carpeting.
Men near the stage looked her over, gesturing lewdly.
She closed her eyes and hung her head. She’d been a slave all her life, her value set by the vile world, a world most pretended was filled with goodness. She knew better.
The voices stopped and then shouted angrily. She opened her eyes to see a man walk in who clearly did not belong. The others recoiled from him, afraid that his cleanliness would harm them. His clothes were pressed and in order and his hair trimmed and combed. Smiling at her, his gentle face met hers, without a hint of lascivious interest. In fact, his smile beamed at her, as if he’d found the treasure for which he’d been searching.
He raised his hand and offered a sum that simply did not exist. No one could offer that kind of money, not in several lifetimes.
She staggered back, astounded that he’d offer that money, incredulous that he would think her worth half that amount. Immediately, she thought that it had to be that he would want to use her for some monstrous purpose. But that thought couldn’t hold her for even an instant. This man was light to the darkness of all those around her, and could have none of the darkness they possessed. Besides, those who had used her would never pay that amount. The cost to him excluded that he’d ever want to hurt her.
As she realized that this man’s purchase meant that she could no longer live the way she had done her whole life, she began to recoil, though she didn’t know why. Never again would she know the thrill and pain of walking the streets or meeting new men. The excitement of doing what was wrong would no longer exist for her. And, for a moment, that scared her. For an instant, she wondered what joy she could know if she didn’t have her party life.
But it was only for an instant. Without a word, as he held out his hand, it felt like he reminded her of the despair and hurt that swallowed up the passing pleasures. She didn’t look out at them, but she knew the room of Johns looked at her as an object to use, use, use until she broke. The horror of that life could fall behind her like a crushing burden. She could finally be free.
She took his hand, he clothed her and said, “I will always love you.”