By Simon Kewin
He’d thought lust was going to be easy. He’d looked forward to it, more than any other of the seven sins. He’d lain on his hotel bed for a week while his bruises faded, planning it all out. But it really hadn’t gone according to plan. Not at all.
‘What do you mean a receipt?’
The woman - did you call her a madam or was that just in films? - regarded him from behind her spangly little desk. The suspicion in her eyes was clear.
‘You know, a receipt,’ said Jack Trubshaw. ‘I don’t suppose an itemised bill is possible?’ That, he’d decided, would do very nicely as documentary proof. He could see it framed on his wall back in England, right next to his charge sheet for carjacking, his alcohol poisoning medical report and the photo of him setting fire to a pile of money on the other side of Mumbai.
Instead of replying, the woman glanced across the room to the tall guy in the turban who guarded the door. She raised a single eyebrow. The light was low in here: candles set all around, more to hide the shabby decor, he suspected, than to engender a romantic mood. Still the guy caught her meaning. No doubt they had plenty of troublesome punters. The guard strolled over to them, picking his way between cushions and couches, taking his time to show off his size and strength. No doubt he had weapons hidden, too. Jack felt his throat tightening. They must think he was from the police. Or some nutter. Perhaps he was.
‘He refusing to pay?’ the man asked, talking to the woman but keeping his glare locked on Jack.
‘Says he wants a receipt,’ said the woman.
‘A receipt?’ The big man spoke the word as if it tasted foul in his mouth.
‘I just need it for my records,’ said Jack. ‘I’m collecting the seven deadly sins, you see, and I’ve just done greed and I thought I’d fit in lust before I left India. So I came here.’
He’d never done anything like this before. Never dared. It had taken all his courage to step inside the incense-fumed, shadowy interior and ask if he might hire the services of - he had the speech all prepared - three of their ladies for an hour.
‘You want three girls?’
‘Yes, please.’ Three, he’d decided, would be incontrovertible proof of lust.
The woman behind the counter had regarded him with some doubt, not just because of his age, but because of the bruises and cuts he still bore from his little stunt with the burning rupees.
‘What do you want them to do?’
His bravery had given out at that moment. He’d looked forward to this sin the most, but it was also the one he felt most guilty about. He wondered why: what was cause and what was effect. He’d stood unable to speak. Eventually the woman handed him a sheet of paper; a list of options like some restaurant menu, each dish spelled out in five different languages. Jack didn’t even know what some of the words in English meant. Eventually, he’d pointed at a few items and she’d ringed them with a red pen.
But, once inside the cramped little bedroom with the three women in their saris, he’d found himself so intimidated that he’d nearly turned and fled. His deep-rooted Catholic guilt came flaring back, almost overwhelming. Once again, this wasn’t a game. These ladies were little more than girls. What were their lives like? What must they think of people like him?
Perhaps Penny had been right. This was all some pathetic attempt to laugh at death. But he’d come this far and wasn’t at all sure he’d have the courage to try again. So he’d stayed, and the hour had passed, and now he’d emerged, his several sins of lust complete.
‘We don’t do receipts,’ said the man. ‘Now it’s time for you to leave.’
‘Please. I just want it for my records. I won’t show it to anyone else.’
The man placed a hand on Jack’s shoulder, managing to pick a spot where a large bruise still lay.
‘Perhaps a picture then,’ said Jack. ‘Of me and the three girls?’
‘Should have asked for that before,’ said the man. ‘Now you’re leaving.’ He strode towards the door, pulling Jack with him. Jack was pushed out into the muddy Mumbai alleyway. He stood there while the red sheets, hanging innocently above the door, flapped in the slight breeze.
What was he going to do now? He’d committed the sin but had no proof. He turned to hammer on the ancient wood of the door, shouting through the little iron grille. ‘Hey. I just want a receipt, that’s all!’ It sounded ridiculous but he didn’t care. He was a sinner. He was free. What did it matter? ‘Come on, open up!’
There was no answer. People hurried by, deliberately not catching his eye. He pushed his hands into the pockets of his trousers. And there he found the crumpled piece of paper: the menu, complete with his circled selections. He smoothed it out, examining it in the daylight.
It would fit into the frame. It would do. It would do nicely. He nodded to himself and turned away. Still limping a little from his injuries, he set off down the alleyway for the main streets of Mumbai and the sanctuary of his hotel.Tweet