“Stop here!” Sonalima asked the cab driver.
“Here?” The cab driver asked back, a bit amazed “Yes, that's what I said. Please stop the cab.” Sonalima said.
The cab stopped by the side of the main road. Sonalima stepped out of the cab. She walked straight for a few meters and then turned to the bustling lane on her left. She had seen this place a few times while passing through in her car but never thought in her distant dream that she would come here someday.
It was almost 6:00 pm, and the sky was cloudy. Few females were standing by the side of the lane. She approached one of them and asked, “Hey, can you show me the way to Laalkuthi?”
The girl with the heavy makeup seemed to be a bit puzzled. She looked sideways to another girl. The girl was standing a few feet away from her, who also gave her a puzzled look.
“You need to go straight and then turn right to the narrow lane by that lamppost. You will then see the red building. That is Laal-Kothi.” the girl said in a hesitant voice.
Sonalima did not waste any more time and walked straight towards the point the girl had pointed to, trying to ignore the bewildered looks and whispers of everyone there in that lane.
Sonalima Chatterjee was 38 years old. She had a small chain of beauty parlors in the city of Kolkata. Sonalima had set up her business almost single-handedly. After the untimely death of her husband when she was only 25. She was one of those rare women who possessed the right combination of intellectual and physical charm and therefore had always been an eye turner for men throughout the years, despite the conservative attire she chose to drape herself. There have been several men who had approached her explicitly and subtly over the last decade and more. But they had always been turned down politely. A few even impolitely when they have tried to persist with their pursuit of her despite Sonalima's rejection.
Life had taught Sonalima to maintain her distance from most men. She did not have any complaints about her life. She enjoyed her freedom and status in the world, which was otherwise mostly ruled by men. It was not that she was inert of physical needs. On the contrary to what most men thought of her, she was a woman of very high libido. But living single had taught her to take care of her physical cravings, which she catered to masterfully behind closed doors of her bedroom almost every night.
There was one person in her life whom she cared for more than her own life. It was her son Sayan. Sayan Chatterjee, nicknamed fondly as 'Tukai,' was Sonalima's 18-year-old son who has recently passed his 10+2 exam. Sonalima was overprotective of her son, and because of her extreme maternal love and affection towards him, Sayan had grown up to adopt a reckless and carefree lifestyle. He was intelligent, tall, and athletically built, and he reciprocated the love of his mother by being equally fond and affectionate towards her. He lacked discipline but adored and loved his mother sincerely.
Sonalima never thought she would have to step foot in the lanes of the Sonagachi area in Kolkata, and she was fuming with rage at the ignominy of her current situation. She was walking through the most infamous red-light-area in the city. Almost everyone was gawking at her with bewilderment and curiosity.
She did not look at anyone and turned into the narrow lane which the girl had pointed. A few girls and women were standing on the side. All of them have tried their best to present themselves as attractive to prospective customers.
It was 6:13 pm now, and the dusk had set in. Sonalima walked to the front of the red building, which she presumed to be the Laal-Kothi that she had come to visit. A man, wearing a dirty t-shirt and lungi, sitting at the entrance of the building, with gutkha in his mouth.
“Is this Lalkuthi?” Sonalima asked him with a frown.
The man got alarmed a bit. He looked at her carefully from top to bottom and tried to comprehend the reason for her visit. Then he responded with some apprehension in her voice, “Yes! What do you want?”
“Where is Shanta Bai? I need to meet her.” Sonalima said. The man spits out the gutkha from his mouth to the adjoining drain and then said, “She is upstairs, attending to a customer. What do you need?”
Sonalima did not spare any more words .she just walked in through the door and entered the building. The man was too perplexed to resist her in any way Sonalima saw there were two girls standing downstairs. She asked them again, “Is Shanta bai in the room upstairs?”
One of the young girls just nodded her head, being too overwhelmed with Sonalima's assertive tone and appearance. Sonalima walked up the stairs to the first floor. There were two adjoining rooms to which the doors were closed but not bolted Sonalima approached one of the room and heard the faint sound ” Aaahhhh aaahhhh aahaahhh.”
Her face flushed with anger, and she barged into the room by pushing at the door. A 45-year-old man was humping a 21-year prostitute on the bed. They almost jumped up off the-bed as Sonalima walked-in like that. The man was almost at a state of no-return, which Sonalima could see from his facial expressions.
“Are you Shanta bai?” Sonalima asked with a stern voice
The girl moved her head on both sides and then pointed to the adjacent room Sonalima walked out of the room and then pushed the next door to enter the other room.
She found her son Sayan sitting on the bed wearing his jeans but a bare torso, and there was a 30-year-old+ prostitute in the process of undressing in the room. She had stripped off her saree and was about to unbutton her blouse when she entered the room.
Sayan turned mortified, seeing his mother there, “M-mom!” he somehow blurted out.
Sonalima walked straight to her son and slapped her hard. “What do you think you are doing here? You scoundrel! Shame on you!” Sonalima screamed at her son.
“Mom! I am s-sorry!” Sayan said, meekly as Sonalima slapped him once more.
“Don't call me, mom!” Sonalima said. Angrily. She then picked up her son's t-shirt from the side of the bed and threw it on his face, “put this on!”
Then as soon as Sayan put on his shirt, Sonalima held his hand and pulled him out of the room.
The prostitute inside the room followed them ” Areee… where are you going? What about my payment?”
“How much is it?” Sonalima asked by turning towards her. “800,” Shantabai responded.
Sonalima reached inside her bag, drew out two 500 Rupees notes, and handed those to Shanta Bai and then walked down the stairs along with her son, who followed gingerly behind her.
“Mom!” Sayan tried to say something
“Don't… don't call me mom! You worthless boy. Did you ever think what will happen to me if you get AIDS from here?” Sonalima said without looking at her son. Her voice reflected her anger, but it also almost choked with emotion.
Sayan did not dare say anything. He just followed his mom out of the narrow lane as the other girls and women standing there cleared the passage for them.
They walked out to the wider-lane, still within the Red Light area, when a big thunderbolt flashed across the sky, and it started raining. They tried to walk fast, but soon it began to rain so hard that they had to look for cover.
Sonalima walked towards a shade by the side of the lane along with Sayan. She did not have an umbrella and so had to take cover there from the rain. Two prostitutes were also standing under the same shade. Sonalima and Sayan stood a few feet away from them.
Around 5 minutes passed with them standing there, “How many times have you been here, Tukai?” Sonalima asked with a sober voice.
“This is the first time, Mom! but how did you get to know?” Sayan asked.
“Your friend Rahul. I met him on the road when I inquired to him about you. I found him to be hesitant to say anything. Then when I pressed him hard. He told me that you are here.” Sonalima said.
“Rascal! He is just jealous of me!” Sayan murmured.
“You are getting wet… come closer to me.” Sonalima pulled her son by his elbow. Her anger was already dissipating somewhat-somehow. She has never been able to be angry with her son for too long.
“How much for 1 hour?” Sonalima was startled by the voice. She saw a middle-aged man with an umbrella standing in front of them and asking her.
Initially, Sonalima could not make sense of what he was asking. She just frowned and asked, “What?”
“How much will you take for 1 hour?” The man asked again.
“Aare babu, come here. I will take 500.” One of the girls standing beside them called out.
Sonalima now understood what the guy was asking her. Her face flushed red with shame and embarrassment with her son standing beside her.
“No-no! I need her. This item looks hot.” The man then thought a bit and added, “I will pay you 1000 for one hour. You deserve it. Shall we go now?”
Sayan intervened at this point, “Hey, you go away. She is not going anywhere!” He yelled at the man.
Now a couple of other men had walked to the same spot, seeing them talk there.
One of the guys asked another, “How come we did not see this item here before? That means we still do not know this place well enough.”
The other guy exclaimed, “Indeed! she is so fair! and look at that ass. I am sure she will drain your balls.”
Sayan moved in front of his mother, “Hey, did I not ask you guys to go away?”
One of the men this time addressed Sayan, “You seem to be so young and already an expert player, haan? So you like mature ones? This classy bitch must be almost the age of your mother. How much is she charging you?”
Another man laughed sarcastically and asked, “Is she still somewhat tight down there? What did you experience, son?”
Sonalima could not wait any extra second there. He tugged at her son's hand and walked hastily away from the spot towards the main road, not caring anymore about the rain which drenched them.