Sitting at the kitchen counter, listening to Karmen’s story about Inness, Anna felt a sharp pang of sadness. She felt sorry for Inness, for her unrequited love as it hit too close to home.
“Even though she left home to forget about her sister, Inness never really managed to. She drifted around aimlessly and as clichéd as this sounds as well – she ended up mixing with the wrong crowd. She began drinking and then she began using as well.”
“Using?” Anna asked, not understanding.
“She got addicted to Vicodin which was given to her by one of her drinking buddies. It’s a prescribed drug so getting it wasn’t that difficult for her; it was the price that was the stumbling block.”
“So she sold herself to …”
“Yeah; she did tricks so that she could get the cash needed to buy those damn drugs. It didn’t matter to her that she was selling off her body to men; as long as she didn’t remember the love that she still felt for her sister, as long as there was something that was strong enough to blanket and conceal that thought from her mind, she was willing to do anything. And ultimately, that’s what an addict would do; they’d do anything to score a fix.”
Anna was silent for a moment. This was what she was looking for in a sense – a story that made the act of selling their body acceptable. It wasn’t as if selling one’s body was acceptable to begin with; the fact that there was a desperate reason why they would do something such as this made it acceptable for her and yet, having heard a story that made sense in her mind did not seem to satisfy her still.
It wasn’t satisfaction that she was looking for – it wasn’t about getting answers. All she wanted was something that would make her understand the reason behind Samar’s involvement in all of this.
What she wanted ultimately was to know Samar’s story; to comprehend her reasoning and finally, to reassure her that whatever the reason was, Anna loved her regardless.
Love – was she really in love with Samar?
“What happened to Inness’ family? Her sister?”
Karmen had hoped that she wouldn’t ask anything more. She had hoped that Anna would be satisfied with the story as she had thought that Anna was looking for a sob story. The only reason she had opened up about Inness was so that Anna would stop looking for answers and just left everyone’s past alone.
“Their parents caught the whiff of Inness’ wildlife and so they abandoned her, not wanting to associate with someone that they felt was immoral and disgusting. Somehow her sister found out what had transpired after she left home, yet, she only discovered it two years later. She came here looking for Inness but it was too late; Inness was already in Madam’s employment and heavily in debt.”
“Why didn’t she try to talk it out with Madam?”
“What makes you think she didn’t?”
“But, I thought you said Inness was still working on the streets?”
“I didn’t say her sister didn’t try to save her did I? Her sister had just started working at a law firm then and so she used up her salary to pay off Inness’ debts. She had high hopes that she could repay Madam in just two years and take Inness back with her, yet, no matter how hard she tried, the debts wasn’t decreasing at all. In fact, it began to increase drastically. That was when she found out that Inness’ addiction was more severe than she had imagined.”
“Why didn’t they get her checked-in at a rehab instead and at the same time have her sister continue repaying Inness’ debts?”
“Because her sister felt guilty for what she had done to Inness and didn’t want to see Inness until she had managed to get her out. She was too focused on paying off Inness’ debts that she had forgotten about Inness’ addictions and her dependence on Vicodin.”
Karmen had a sudden flash of Inness’ image across her mind; her peach skin now pasty and dry, looking akin to a bloodless corpse. Struggling to get the image off her mind, she lowered herself onto a chair, shaking her head as if it would help her erase the image away.
“At one point, the news about Inness leaked at her law firm. Someone had seen her around this district and had followed her here. Once the news was out, her employers terminated her contract as they didn’t want the relation of a criminal working for them. It made sense of course; no legal firm would want the family member of a criminal in their books. She accepted it; however, she was now out of employment and with no means of helping Inness anymore.”
“So that’s why Inness was left here?”
“That’s why her sister decided to become a prostitute herself.”
“What?!? Are you serious? What the hell for?!?” Anna exclaimed, shouting out her incredulity.
Her reaction triggered Karmen; she burst out laughing all of a sudden. Her loud roar of laughter could be heard ringing throughout the building, bringing a surprised Samar into the kitchen.
She eyed Karmen suspiciously.
“The two of you seem to be having a good time. I never knew you’d enjoy cooking so much, Karmen. Had I known, I’d have given you this task early on.”
Still laughing, Karmen simply waved her hands in the air, denying Samar’s statement. It took a while for her laughter to subside; she was teary eyed at the moment.
“I’m sorry; it’s just that your girlfriend here certainly has a strong sense of justice.”
Samar glared at her for referring to Anna as her girlfriend, causing Karmen to chuckle softly as Anna blushed at the corner.
“I was just talking to Anna about Inness. She got worked up when I said that Inness’ sister began working as a prostitute as well.”
Samar raised her brows. “I’m guessing she doesn’t know who’s Inness’ sister yet?”
“Hah, no, I haven’t gotten to that part yet.”
“Have you guys finished preparing dinner yet?” Samar asked, trying to change the subject yet Anna wasn’t having it.
“Wait! Who’s Inness’ sister?”
Karmen raised her brows at Samar, subtly asking if she can continue her story. Samar sighed deeply, pulling out a chair from the table, resigned to spending the time with the both of them.
Anna was surprised to see Samar sitting with them; after all, Samar had made sure that she was never near Anna for the past three days. Feeling slightly light, she looked at Karmen, repeating her question once again.
“I’m the sister,” Karmen answered.
“But, but ….” The confusion and conflict she felt were gagging up on her.
“I had a meeting with Madam after I lost my job, intending to explain to her the reason why I would be paying slightly later and lower than what I had been paying before. That was when I met Samar the first time,” Karmen recalled, looking at Samar as she spoke. Samar merely nodded her head.
“I can’t say I was angry with Madam; of course, she’d be looking out for her business first. When she told me that she couldn’t lower the rates or allow any sort of late payment, I felt trapped and backed-up into a corner. I was lost and well, I didn’t know what to do. Looking at Samar then, I suddenly got the idea and so I asked Madam to employ me as well.”
“She didn’t take you seriously,” Samar chimed in. “She thought you were trying to con her somehow.”
Karmen laughed again.
“Well, I had nowhere to go anyhow. So I asked to be employed as a ‘special’. I had heard about the elite workers that were allowed to live here in these quarters and how they were paid a huge amount for their services. I knew then that if I were to be paid such an amount, I’d be able to repay Inness’ debt in no time. Though she was skeptical at first, Madam agreed to in the end, thankfully.”
“She didn’t need you then; she had enough elites on her hands. Since you were so adamant, and you wanted so save your sister so badly, she took you in, thinking that even if you were to repay her and then leave with Inness, she wasn’t going to lose anything anyway,” Samar supplied.
“Does Inness know all this?” Anna asked.
“She doesn’t have a clue.” Seeing the reaction on Anna’s face, Karmen carried on. “All of this happened two years ago and while I have managed to repay her debts, and have managed to make a name out of myself thanks to Samar, Inness’ addiction is still uncured. She’s still addicted to Vicodin. Taking her away from it, or revealing myself to her wouldn’t help in any way; we have no place to call home to begin with.”
“What do you mean thanks to Samar?” Anna asked, looking at Karmen, and then Samar.
The look on Samar’s face told her that she had made a mistake, yet Karmen didn’t care about it anymore. Somehow talking about her story to Anna has made her heart feel lighter than it was from the time she came here.
“I’m sure you have heard about my … special services,” Karmen remarked. When Anna nodded, she continued, “Samar taught me how to do them. Well, not all of it but she did teach me the basics and helped me research and participated whenever I wanted to try out something new.”
Her blood simply chilled all of a sudden. Anna couldn’t believe that Samar had taken part in all those things she had heard Karmen had done. The knowledge that Samar had been intimate with Karmen suddenly made her felt repulsed and nauseated. She didn’t want the image of them wrapped around each other’s arms in her mind.
The troubled look on her face was obvious to the other two sitting there with her in the kitchen. Samar exchanged looks with Karmen, silently accusing Karmen of hurting Anna with her story.
“Anna… Part of the reason why I have such ‘services’ is because it’s my atonement, my punishment for what I did to Inness.”
“I don’t understand.”
Karmen puffed her cheeks.
“I offer S&M services to the clients because I want to be hurt, to be punished by them as they fuck me. I couldn’t bear the touches of someone else, not after what I’ve done and experience with Inness. Seeing her in such a way – it haunted me, yet I needed to do this to save her. And so this was the path I chose to atone for what I had done to her. Every time I’m with a client, when they hurt me, and use me, I feel like I’m closer to my salvation.”
“How do you think Inness would feel if she heard what you said?”
Karmen stared at her, dumbfounded and shocked speechless by her question. Honestly, she never thought about it, about how Inness would have felt had she known what she was doing.
“I’m unsure. I never thought about it. There’s no point in thinking about it anymore cause there’s no turning back now. It’s all in the past now. I only opened up about it because you wanted to know our stories.”
Somehow knowing that Anna would make a reference to her, Samar pushed herself up, wanting to leave before Anna got the chance to pull her into the story.
“I don’t intend to waste my evening listening to your story any longer. I’m leaving now. Make sure you clean the kitchen before leaving,” she said to Karmen as she walked out of the kitchen.
Anna stared at the door, disappointed that Samar had left abruptly. She was filled with too many questions now; the woman that she was in love with was a complete enigma to her.
“I owe her a lot, you know, so let me give you an advice,” Karmen spoke out. “Keep banging onto the door. Sooner or later, she’d get irritated with you and she’ll open up just so that she can shut you up. When she does that, latch onto her and never let go – trust me, you’ll win her then.”
Anna listened to Karmen’s advice, replaying it her mind. Something was still bothering her.
“I don’t understand why you keep saying you owe her a lot. I understand that she had been your practice partner but if feels weird for you to say that you’re indebted to her just for that.”
“Samar helped me with Inness’ debts; she helped me repay almost half of Inness’ debts with her earnings, without asking for anything in return.”