She takes my hand and leads me down an impossibly long passage. The light everywhere is murky, oozing out of dimmer-switched skylights, the carpets are a pale mustardy colour and rooms branch off to the left and right of me, there must be at least 20 coming off this passage.
The two beers I downed nervously at the ‘bar’ are doing nothing to take the edge of what I’m doing and though I’m trying to act cool, trying to enjoy this, I think what’s really happening is I’m crapping myself.
This one can’t be much older than 20, she is skin and bone, I think I should have gone with a different one. It’s just that I fucked up in the moment. I mean, I think most guys would have. They lead you into a room, call out, “Ladies, introductions!” and next thing you’re staring at a row of highly dysfunctional female human beings and being asked to pick one.
The “Cindys” and “Candys” and “Lauries” and “Nickys” all kinda seem to melt into one and you’re very suddenly aware of the fact that about 15 women are watching you with the same disinterest cats watch dropped strings.
One of them introduced herself as the “Naughty Nurse” and made an effort to at least be appealing on some level. Problem was she was the ugliest of the bunch by quite a long way, which made her “Naughty Nurse” act pretty sad at the end of the day.
I had to do the lineout twice cause after the first time there was this pregnant silence in the room when I was asked to choose. I couldn’t remember a single woman’s name and felt too embarrassed to just point and say ‘you’.
Eventually the woman in charge suggested we go through the names again and I nodded my approval and tried to look confident and not betray the fact that all I wanted to do was get the hell out of there.
So that’s how I ended up choosing Charnelle. Hers was the only name that stuck after the woman in charge ran through them all again. She also looked younger than the others, so I figured we’d at least be able to have some kind of a conversation.
But man, watching her shoulder blades move so visibly under her skin while she walks in front of me, all I can think is how damn skinny she is, like a little kid or something.
She takes me inside a room and turns, business-like, and strips off her cheap evening dress. She steps awkwardly out of her panties, and stands in front of me, all ribs, hip bones and bee-sting nipples.
“You can take a shower if you like,” she says.
The Greek God told me that when he did this last, the girl joined him in the shower and they made out while she washed him.
“Sure,” I reply.
I shower until I’m starting to wrinkle, but still no sign of her, so I get out sheepishly and tie a towel around my waist, regretting the fact that I didn’t get to shave my balls before this.
Back in the other room, she’s smoking a cigarette out the window, which she quickly throws away, waving her hands frantically through the smoky air.
“It’s cool, I don’t mind,” I say.
“Ja, but my manager hates it when we smoke in the rooms,” she says, rolling her eyes.
“I won’t tell if you don’t…”
“Why would I tell? We get fined if they catch us.” She’s tired, irritated. Maybe I should have gone for the Naughty Nurse, at least she seemed happier.
“Yeah… um, so how does this…” I trail off, hoping for her to finish my sentence. Nope, nothing.
“What happens now?” I finish lamely.
“Oh,” she says standing abruptly, still naked. She crosses the room to a table of assorted oils and creams. “You want baby oil or refined oil?”
“Um what’s the difference?”
I double-take at the absurdity of this question.
“Do I look old enough to be married?” I say, mildly indignant.
“No! What kind of jerk comes here if he’s married or has a girlfriend?”
“Ninety percent. That’s why we have refined oil, it doesn’t leave a smell, but it’s a lot rougher on the skin that baby oil.”
“Ok,” I say, more than a little surprised, “baby oil’s fine.”
“Ok, take off your towel.”
“Haha,” I laugh nervously, “what, aren’t you even going to buy me a drink first?”
She folds her arms, cocking her head impatiently to the side. Her eye make-up looks like it was applied by a heroine addict.
“Guess not,” I mumble. I walk across the room and, facing away from her, untie the towel and drape it neatly over a nearby chair.
“Now what?” I ask, still facing the corner.
“Come and lie down,” she says tonelessly, “on your stomach.” I half turn and then see she’s watching me. I freeze stupidly.
“I’m going to see it sooner or later,” she says, “I mean that’s why you came here isn’t it?”
I have no idea why I came here. I have to bite my tongue to keep from saying this. I turn around, she stares pointedly at my junk, sighs and starts pouring baby oil into her cupped hand.
I quickly lie down on my stomach, relieved at the illusion of being somehow less naked that this affords me.
She starts with my feet, digging her fingers into my insteps. It feels like she is trying to crack the bones in my feet, I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be enjoying this or not.
This could be like one of those massages that feels like agony while it’s happening, but you walk away from it feeling better, I think to myself.
“So what do you do?” She asks.
“I sell grass,” I reply. She stops massaging.
“Really?” For the first time all evening, she sounds borderline enthusiastic about what I’ve just said. “You don’t have any on you, do you?”
“Um, it’s not that kind of grass.”
“What kind is it?” She says, her enthusiasm dying instantly.
“It’s like lawn grass, not grass-grass, you know, for golf courses and stuff.”
“Oh. Too bad. I’d love a zol right now.”
She’s now moved onto my calves and is massaging with a lot less vigor than earlier, didn’t have much in her it seems.
“So… you smoke often?”
“I used to smoke a lot, helps me get to sleep.”
“I should try that, I also get insomnia sometimes.”
“Oh no, it wasn’t insomnia.”
“What was it?”
“Hm,” I say, desperately trying to think of what to say next, “why don’t you just make him sleep outside or something?”
She stops massaging and unexpectedly, starts laughing.
“Oh my God, are you serious?” She says between giggles.
“Kat, you know? The drug. You didn’t think I was talking about an animal cat did you?”
“Riiiight,” I reply. “That makes a lot more sense.”
She bursts into a fresh peal of laughter, and surprisingly, I like the sound of it.
“I thought, ‘Fuck, what kind of cat keeps you awake every night? Is it a tiger?’”
“Hahaha! No, it’s not a tiger…”
She starts massaging me again as her laughter fades, she’s moved up to my quads now. It’s becoming quite clear to me at this stage that she has next to no idea what she’s doing.
“So, did you do a lot of it?”
She pauses before answering, “Ja, my friends and I ended up doing quite a lot.”
“When did you do it last?”
“Um,” she pauses, thinking, “about ten or eleven weeks ago.”
“Ok,” I say, “that’s not too bad, I mean, that’s pretty good right?”
“Ja, it’s the longest I’ve stopped since I started about two years ago.”
“Fuck,” I say, at a loss for words.
“It’s a kak drug. It takes away the most important things from anyone’s life, you know? Eating and sleeping.”
“Shit, that must be horrible…” She’s massaging my ass now. I know this is supposed to be turning me on, but I’m not feeling anything. Fuck I hope the situation changes soon.
“Ja, it is. And it sneaks up on you totally. One minute it’s once or twice a month, then more and more and more. Eventually it’s every day, and before you know it, it’s been two, three days and you still haven’t slept.”
“Is that even humanly possible?”
“I didn’t think so, well, not until I was on that shit.”
She’s moved onto my lower back now. Somehow she is managing to find every knot in there and make it worse.
“In fact, that’s how my friends started doing heroine, it was all they could find eventually that would get them to sleep” she says emotionlessly, like she’s explaining how they started stamp-collecting.
“Heroine? Jesus, doesn’t that shit completely destroy you?” This conversation is creeping me out.
“It does… I mean, they used to get sick, really sick when they weren’t using it. That’s the problem eventually, you have to take it just to feel normal, and without it, everything, even breathing, is painful.”
Silence descends. I’m not too sure what to say at this stage. Does she tell this shit to all her clients? Is she trying to open up to me? She’s now working the top of my back and my shoulders, but I wish she wouldn’t.
Everything below my shoulders feels like scorched earth. I’ll be lucky if any of the muscles she’s touched ever work the way they should again.
“Um… so what happened to your friends? Are they ok now?” I say, half-dreading the answer.
“Ja, they are all trying to get off it…” she says, but I know there’s more.
“One of them, my friend Annalie, drowned when she was high, so that made them realise that they were in trouble.”
“Oh my God… I’m… sorry to hear that…”
“She wanted a bath and fell asleep when she was inside. She sank under the water and by the time we found her, it was too late, she was already blue.”
“Shit, you were there?”
“Ja. It was bad, her boyfriend was also high, he pulled her out and just started hitting her chest over and over again, he didn’t know what he was doing, but she was already dead.”
“Fuck…” I can’t believe she’s telling me this. She doesn’t even know me… maybe that’s why.
“Well, you gotta take the good from a situation like that, I mean, if it stopped your friends from taking heroine, or even just made them realise that they need to stop, then she didn’t die for nothing.”
She stops massaging me and I can feel that her hands are shaking. She says nothing, just sniffs once, loudly, and silently wipes her face.
“Ok,” she says, straining to sound normal, “you can roll over now.”