She stopped herself before entering the dingy lit room. She took a deep breath and then putting on a fake smile and a fake persona, she entered the room, her place of work.
The room welcomed her with an aroma of perfumed massage oil and scented candles. Ambient music subtly filled the room, emitting a very relaxing feel of tranquility and calm.
"Are you ready sir?" she sweetly asked the semi-naked man lying on the massage table, covered only by a thin strip of white towel.
"Yes darling," he replied, as he slowly removed the towel, exposing his large manhood.
She tried to hold back a tear or two. This was not what she had signed up for. If her family or friends from Mizoram ever knew what she was doing, she would be ostracized. Shamed for eternity. Excommunicated by her Kohhran.
Five years ago, Jenny underwent a spa therapy course in Aizawl and became a certified therapist. Her parents were at first skeptical about her profession, but since the course was sponsored by the state government, they had faith in the system. She was a quick learner, and by the time she became a certified therapist, she had mastered all the techniques - Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, shiatsu massage, trigger point therapy, she had learnt them all.
Armed with her newly acquired skill, she moved to Pune where she joined La Fontazella Spa, as arranged by the government of Mizoram. La Fontazella Spa had signed an MoU with the central government to train and employ people from the North East, in return for a small amount of tax break.
La Fontazella Spa was a very reputed and respectable spa, and everything was done by the books. Jenny was provided with free accommodation and she had 3-4 clients a day, with ample amount of free time to relax in between. At first, she was home sick and missed Mizoram, but she concentrated on her work and progressed from a trainee to senior therapist within a matter of months. Soon she was able to send home around 30,000 rupees every month to her family.
In fact, she was doing so well that her younger brother Zuala too came down to Pune to study and stay with her. Since Jenny was an outstanding employee with a good track record, her manager allowed her brother to stay with her at their company accommodation.
Things suddenly took a turn for bad when the Pune branch of La Fontazella Spa had to close down. It was a business decision from the higher-ups, her manager announced. All the employees were to be transferred to the Mumbai branch, and were even incentivized with a 30% hike in their salary because of the inconveniences caused.
Everybody was happy. Except Jenny.
Her brother had already completed two years of college and was in his final year. She could not leave him on his own, as she was not only financially supporting him but watching over him as well, making sure he wasn't skipping classes or downing glasses.
With a heavy heart, she approached her manager and told him she would not be joining them in Mumbai.
The mood was sombre. The next day, her manager took her and all the other employees out for a farewell party. Jenny cried that night, not just because she was going to miss all her friends, but because she dreaded the coming days.
That weekend, Jenny and Zuala moved out from their Spa accommodation and found a small 1 BHK apartment at Koregaon Park. She had a small amount of savings, which she used for the rental deposit and the first month's rent, along with the unnecessary broker's fee. As it was almost time to pay Zuala's fifth semester fees, she knew she had to find a new job, and quick.
Unfortunately, it wasn't that easy. Jenny spent a week going from one Spa to the other, but none of them were looking for a new therapist. Koregaon Park had so many Spas and it was infuriating not to find even one Spa that was hiring. North main road was literally surrounded by Spas.
Finally she decided to venture inside Koregaon Park and explore the smaller lanes. She hesitated a bit because even when she was working at La Fontazella, her colleagues used to talk about the Spas at those shady locations. "Make sure you apply for work only at the Spas located on the main road, do not enter the alleys inside," was the last warning her manager had given her before he departed for Mumbai.
"Well, here goes nothing," Jenny said, finger crossed, and approached the first Spa she saw deep inside the alley.
The neon-lit board outside proudly proclaimed: "Thai Desiree Spa".
Cold sweat broke on her forehead and with trembling hands, she entered the Spa. She was welcomed by a beautiful and fair Thai masseuse with the traditional namaste greeting.
Jenny quickly said she wasn't there for a massage, that she was looking for a job. The smile on the Thai masseuse's face disappeared faster than a joint of weed during a cop raid.
She led Jenny into the manager's cabin, where Jenny explained once again to the manager that she was looking for a job. She handed the manager, a middle-aged Punjabi lady with more than necessary eye-shadow her resume. The manager beckoned Jenny to sit down while she looked at her work experience.
"Hmmm… La Fontazella Spa huh? That is impressive…"
Jenny clutched her hands tightly, silently praying for a miracle.
After around 2 minutes that seemed like an eternity to Jenny, the manager looked up. But before saying anything, she looked at Jenny, cross studying her face, her facial feature, her appearance. Her eyes roamed up and down, and Jenny couldn't help but feel a bit violated.
"Can you please stand up?"
"Now turn around slowly. Rotate."
Jenny was confused but did as she was told anyway.
Finally, the manager spoke, "Hmmm you'll do. I can match your pay, along with a 5% increment…"
Jenny's heart was beating fast. Her knees felt weak and she wanted to sit down again.
"But… there is something I have to tell you…"
Jenny dreaded the "but". She was hoping there would be no "but's" but there it was… she faced the music.
"Our Spa is a little bit different from La Fontazella. Different in the sense that our clients are different. Let's just say… our clients here have different needs now and then. Apart from massaging them and relaxing them the way they want, sometimes they may demand a bit more…"
The whole room started to spin. Jenny knew exactly what the manager was implying…
"So are you ready to do such… things if your client demands it?"
Jenny took a deep breath and uttered, "I'm sorry ma'am, I am not that type of person."
And then she grabbed her file from the desk and barged out of the manager's office. She felt like crying but at the same time she felt proud of what she just did. Mixed emotions. As she was reaching for the entrance door, the Thai masseuse quickly appeared behind her and said, "Excuse me. Excuse me. Aunty would like to see you again."
What the hell, Jenny thought. Might as well see through this, she said to herself.
She slowly turned around and walked back to the manager's office. The manager was still sitting down on her cushy armchair, but this time she was smiling.
"Relax, miss Jenny. I was just asking that to know what type of a person you are. I still need you in my spa, you have very good technical skills. You don't need to do all those things if your client demands it, once you have massaged him and if he demands anything, then you can just come out and I'll send in one of my girls, they'll finish the job for you. Are you fine with that?"
"So you mean, I don't have to do anything vulgar apart from the usual massage?"
"No you don't. If they want anything extra, just come out and send one of these girls in. But I really suggest you do it… do you have any idea how much they pay for a hand-job or a blow-job?"
Vomit rose up Jenny's throat but she managed to swallow it back.
"There's also a girl from Nagaland and another girl from Maharashtra who don't do the extra stuff, Nam here will introduce you to them later," the manager said, pointing to the Thai masseuse. "By the way, you can call me aunty."
And that was how Jenny got the job.
She hated it at first, but then, she wasn't actually doing anything wrong or illegal, though the part she hated the most was when some of the clients would grab her butt while she was massaging them. But at the end of the day, she was getting paid, so she ignored all that.
And today was like any other day. It had been three months since she started working at "Thai Desiree Spa" and all her clients were still trying to take advantage of her even before she entered the room.
"Sir," she said, trying to sound as sweet as possible without letting her voice betray the disgust she felt on seeing her client's hairy penis. "Sir, please put the towel back. I will send Nam or Mindy in once I'm done massaging you."
"Oh come on Jenny," said the naked man on the massage table. "This is the third time you're massaging me. I want you, you know that. Not Nam or Mindy or Priya or Kwan!"
"That is very flattering," Jenny said, surprising herself she was able to lie so easily now. "But you know me. I don't do that. You can take it up with aunty if you have any problem. Nam is good with the boom boom, you yourself told me that the other day, remember?"
"You're killing me Jenny!" the man said with a smirk. After that, he stopped any further attempt of trying to solicit her.
After an hour of thorough deep tissue massage, Jenny packed up her oils, tissues and ointments and left the room. Outside, she made eye contact with Nam who smiled back, rearranged her hair, popped open two buttons above her cleavage and walked inside the same room, smiling.
"Click!" the door locked.
Another client happy with the ending.
Jenny got home that night, tired as usual. Zuala had already prepared dinner, the good brother that he was.
After she had taken a long refreshing shower and changed into her nightie, she sat down with her brother to eat, when she suddenly spotted bekang chutney, fermented soybean that's a popular Mizo dish.
"Where did that bekang come from?" she asked her brother.
"Oh, from u John-a," Zuala replied.
Jenny froze for a second. John was a Mizo and their next-door neighbor. He welcomed them when they first moved in to their new 1 BHK apartment, and Zuala was delighted to have a new Mizo friend. He had recently gone back to Mizoram for his vacation.
"He's back?" Jenny asked.
"Yup, he landed today. He got us a lot of bekang ro, nghapih and even 1 kg of vawksa rep!" Zuala said excitedly.
"You shall return them all tomorrow," Jenny said sternly.
"Don't argue with me!" Jenny snapped.
Zuala kept quiet.
After a minute of deafening silence, Jenny broke the ice. "I'm sorry Zual. I shouldn't have shouted at you like that. I had a tough day at work today. It is not nice to take gifts from people we don't know well."
"I know him quite well now," Zuala meekly replied. "He's a very nice guy."
Jenny squirmed inside. oh if only he knew what type of a person he really is, she sighed silently.
The next morning, Jenny woke up and got ready for work. Zuala had already left for college and so she checked the fridge to make sure he had returned those food items to John. She heaved a sigh of relief on seeing they weren't there anymore.
Once she was ready, she locked her apartment and summoned the elevator to her floor. As she stood there waiting, she heard a door open behind her. The hair on the back of her neck immediately stood up. She suddenly sensed immense fear and trepidation.
The elevator door opened just in time and she jumped inside, quickly pressing the ground floor button. She looked up to see John locking his door and turning towards her.
As the elevator door closed, John uttered, "So it's gonna be like that huh?"
Jenny didn't answer. She gasped for air the moment the door closed. She clutched the railings and placed her palm over her heart, which was beating wildly. Her whole body trembled, but by the time the elevator reached ground floor, she had regained her composure. Shaking her head, she decided to forget about him and focus on her job.
Back at Thai Desiree Spa, she got ready for work and changed into her uniform.
"Jenny," shouted aunty from the front desk. "You have Javed at 11 AM. Get ready, he's almost here. He prefers a dry massage, don't forget that. Once you're done, send Kwan or Nam in. That racist prick doesn't want Indians, so Mindy and Priya can go on a long lunch break today, but don't be too long. There can always be walk-in clients without any appointment."
"Yes aunty," the girls replied in unison.
It was right then that a tall clean shaven gentleman appeared at the door. As usual Nam greeted him with a namaste. He smiled and walked up to the front desk.
"Urrmmm... I didn't make any appointment, I was wondering if I can have a massage right now?" he enquired.
"Of course sir," aunty replied. "First time here, right? Don't worry, we have a free slot available right now. Do you prefer Indians or Thais?"
"Anybody will do," he replied.
"Ok," aunty said. "And is there any specific body parts you would want your therapist to focus on?"
Jenny was just smiling in the corner. Aunty really knows how to sell.
"Well…" he stammered a bit. "I heard from my friends that you provide… extra service?"
Aunty just smiled and nodded her head.
He nervously continued, "And… how much would that cost?"
"Well, the normal 1 hour body massage is 1000 bucks. After that, if you want anything extra, that is between you and your therapist. You can talk to her, she'll tell you her price depending on what you want."
Saying that, aunty called out Priya.
Priya appeared and sweetly smiled at the new guest. "Come this way, sir."
As Priya led him down the corridor to their room, the man chanced upon Jenny. He stopped briefly for a second and then turned back and asked, "I don't mean to be disrespectful, but can she be my masseuse instead? She's very cute."
Aunty apologetically replied, "I'm really sorry sir, but she is booked, one of her regular clients is on his way right now."
"Oh," the man said disappointedly, and continued walking towards his room.
Javed too arrived shortly, and Jenny led him inside her room.
It was around 30 minutes of back massage therapy on Javed that it happened. Suddenly, there were sounds of men shouting at the front desk. At first Jenny thought one of their customers must be having a payment issue with aunty or one of the girls. But as the shouting grew louder, she became uneasy. Javed too got up and clutched the towel around his body tightly.
And then with a loud bang, the door to their room was violently kicked open. Two policemen and a policewoman barged into the room!
After that, everything was like a nightmare for Jenny. Everything became hazy and surreal. Things moved in slow motion. Cops shouted profanities in Marathi and ordered all of them to line up. A news crew with bright video camera flashes was recording everything. Policewomen and female constables were handcuffing all the women including aunty. Reality became blurred.
They were huddled inside a waiting police van. All of them along with Javed who was trying his best to cover his face, sat together inside.
The other customer, the new guy, wasn't there in the van with them. Jenny who was also covering her face with her hands, glanced through the gap of her fingers and saw him. He was standing with two inspectors, putting on a serious and stern face. Now and then he was shouting out orders to the constables. It was then that it dawned upon her that he was an undercover cop!
Things only went from bad to worse for Jenny. The incident was plastered all over the evening news. "Cops bust prostitution racket in KP!" the headline screamed. The small Mizo community was already aware of a Mizo woman being among the ones caught. The Pune Mizo Welfare Association got into action immediately, with some of the executive members going to the police station while others were consoling Zuala at Jenny's apartment.
Various Mizo Facebook groups were already posting about the incident, with the usual rants of Mizo men complaining about how "Mizo women who work at spas are immoral". Some group admins even managed to dig out her facebook profile and shared her personal photos at different facebook and whatsapp groups. One aspiring politician even went to the extent of calling her "666", the she-devil reincarnate, who "disgraced and shamed every single Mizo on this planet".
Of course outside Mizoram, nobody actually gave a fuck.
Back in Pune, only Priya and the manager were arrested. The rest of the employees were taken to a Remand home as there were no hard evidences that they solicited. After pulling a couple of strings, the Pune Mizo Welfare president was allowed to meet Jenny. Jenny cried her heart out in front of the welfare members. She told them she had never indulged in the flesh trade and never did any extra favors for her clients. But then, even if the welfare members believed her, the damage was already done. She had already been branded with the shameful scarlet letters "KS". They assured her they would try their best to get her released as soon as possible.
Her former manager and former colleagues from La Fontazella even came to Pune from Mumbai and tried their best to convince the police to release her, but to of no avail.
Two days later, her heartbroken father and mother landed in Pune, armed with a letter from the Chief Minister of Mizoram. They presented the letter to a Magistrate, who ordered her release from the Remand home.
Jenny was terrified to meet her parents. As she meekly stepped out of the Remand home gates, she didn't even have the courage to look at her parents in the eyes. But then, the strangest thing happened. Her father hugged her and cried. He was angry and embarrassed, but he still loved her. After all, she was still his precious little angel.
Jenny had never cried that much her entire life. They went back to her apartment and she started packing. They all left for Mizoram the next day, ready to face a very uncertain future. In fact, is there even a future for somebody who had been portrayed as the she-devil, the beast and 666 by the unforgiving and unforgetting keyboard warriors of our Mizo society?
While they were waiting for the elevator to come up, one of the apartment doors opened slightly.
John peeked at Jenny and her family through the small gap.
[to be continued]
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction and all persons and places named in this story are all made up. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual establishments, is purely coincidental.