Trying to nurse an injured Inness, Samar found herself cornered by Inness after Anna let it slip that Karmen was working at the big house.
“Karmen’s at the big house?” Inness asked Samar, clutching at her arms tightly.
Samar stared at Anna in anger; this was what she wanted to avoid exactly. She didn’t want such a situation to arise, which was why she knew from the very beginning that it was a mistake for Karmen to talk about Inness. One way or another, she was sure Anna would somehow get herself involved in the middle of things.
“Inness, you’re hurting me.”
Ignoring her, Inness repeated her question. “Tell me, is my sister there?”
“Don’t you think if she wanted you to know where she was she would have told you instead?”
Inness released her hold on Samar, leaving visible imprints of her fingers on her arm. She turned her back to Samar, clearly signaling that she wanted them to leave. Samar straightened up, intending to do just that yet Anna had other thoughts in mind.
“Don’t you start,” Samar snapped, irritated with her.
“It’s unfair to her. She should know.”
“It’s none of our business!”
“Wouldn’t you want to know if you were in her place?”
Studying Inness’ silhouette, Samar couldn’t help but feel sorry for her. She wasn’t as heartless as everyone thought she was yet she also knew the dangers and the problems that would arise when you stick your nose in a place that you don’t belong.
“Anna … Why do you do this to me? My life was full of peace before I met you.”
Sensing her opening, Anna pressed on.
“I’ll take responsibility for her.”
“Like hell you will. You’re under my care, remember?”
“Please,” Anna pleaded with her. “I know how it feels like to want to know something and have the possibility of an answer in front of you yet not have it told to you. Even my memory, I don’t remember any of them. I know how agonising that feels like.”
Sighing, Samar turned to Inness once again.
“Karmen’s at the big house – she’s one of the elites.”
Turning on the bed, Inness focused her eyes on Samar.
“How long has she been there?”
“Too long.” Noticing Inness’ steady gaze, she relented, “She came to Madam somewhere around your first year.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“She asked me not to.”
“She asked you not to?” Inness snapped. “She asked you not to? Are you out of your mind? Couldn’t you see that she wasn’t suited for it? She was practically a princess – she never had it rough. What made you think she would know how to turn tricks?”
“She learned some of it and I taught her some as well.”
Anna watched in horror as Inness got up from the bed slowly; her face twisted menacingly, with the bandages and unhealed cuts adding to the effect.
“You taught my sister how to be a prostitute?” Inness asked, standing right in front of Samar. They were almost similar in height, though Samar was around an inch taller.
“No, I simply taught her how to be one of the elites. The rest, she knew it herself.”
“What did you taught her?” Inness’ words were coming out slowly, one by one, as if she was trying her best to restrain her temper.
“She asked me to teach her how to roleplay, especially S&M.”
“What the fuck?” Inness shouted, causing Anna to flinch in shock. She wondered how Samar could just stand there as if there wasn’t an angry, injured woman standing threateningly in front of her.
“Why the fuck would you teach her that?”
“She asked me to,” Samar answered a-matter-of-factly.
Inness lunged at her, grabbing her by the lapels, yet not moving her even an inch.
“I’m going to kill you!”
“Since you want to know everything about Karmen, don’t you want to know why she’s turning tricks as well? She didn’t need to do it for money; she was already rising up in her office; she’d eventually be made a partner if she had stayed.”
“Then why did she ….” Inness trailed, letting go of Samar’s lapels as the reasoning struck her.
“I see that it finally dawned on you. She tried to rescue you, yet you had so much of debt with Madam – debts that you collected even after working for us. She joined to repay your past debts, and also any future ones that you might incur thanks to that addiction of yours.”
Stumbling back, falling onto her bed, Inness began to weep. It was an awful sight for the both of them to see her in such a way. A grown woman, covered in bandages, wearing torn clothes and weeping inconsolably wasn’t a pretty sight for anyone to watch, much more for someone who knows her yet Samar knew she had to press her point home.
“You got her into this, Inness. Don’t put the blame on me. I simply aided her when she came to me and asked me to help her be one of the best. She wanted to take you home yet by the time she cleaned your slate, you were in too deep that you couldn’t even see the way out.”
“She never abandoned you. Even if you thought of it such, she never once turned her back on you. You left her, got into this mess and then stuck in it – at least she tried to give you some breathing space. From the moment she graduated, all she’s been doing was for your sake! And look at how you repaid her.”
“Samar, stop it. You’re not helping.”
Anna approached Inness and sat beside her; she patted Inness’ back at first but she realised then how futile it was so she gave in, hugging her tight instead.
“Karmen told me your story a few days ago. She still thinks of you as her little sister – her affection and love for you hasn’t changed despite the passing of years. All you have to do now is return back to her. Return to her, clean yourself up and you will have her once again.”
“Samar’s right. I’m in too deep – I can’t live without the fix, I can’t live with her when I’m like this.”
“You haven’t tried. How can you give up when you didn’t even try it yet? I spent an entire evening listening to her talk about you – with every word from her, I could see just how much she loved you. I believe that she wouldn’t have any issues with you; it’s up to you at the end of the day. Do you want to go back to her?”
Still in her arms, Inness could hear the hopefulness in Anna’s voice. Looking up, she caught Samar looking at her, waiting for an answer as well.
“Of course I want to but it isn’t as simple as that,” she began but Anna cut her off.
“We can think about the rest later on. What’s important now is that we need to get you cleaned up so that we can take you to the big house.”
Samar and Inness stared at each other, both knowing that things were not as simple as Anna had stacked it up to be.
“What do you think?” Inness asked as she pulled away from Anna.
“It’s just as she said – it’s all in your hands.”
“You know what I meant.”
Sighing, Samar concluded. “Madam wouldn’t be a problem if Karmen decides to leave.”
“I’m counting on you.”
“Don’t,” Samar warned. “I’m not promising anything.”
“So the three of you are basically here to ask for both Karmen’s and Inness’ release?” Madam Ahjunta asked.
Standing in front of Madam in her office, Anna felt a shiver run up her spine. She had only met Madam on the very first night that she came to the brothel house. She realised then that she didn’t think of how Madam would react, knowing that two of her ‘workers’ wanted to leave her establishment. She wondered what Madam would do if she figured out that Anna had a hand in this – would she lose her place in the brothel house? Glancing at Samar, another question popped into her mind; would she never get the chance to see Samar again then?
“I heard that my sister has been working here to pay off my debt. I… don’t want her doing that any longer. I’m willing to stay here however long it takes as long as you set her free.”
Madam Ahjunta laughed at her.
“Inness, I don’t really need you in my books. In fact, I’ve only been keeping you as to tie Karmen to me. Karmen’s an elite; you’re nothing more than a low-grade hooker. Why would I keep you and lose her when she brings in more money for me?”
Inness looked at Samar pleadingly; wanting her help but Madam caught her look and laughed again.
“Don’t look at her for her; what – did you think I’d listen to her just because she’s my niece and the head of the elites here? She has no say in this issue.”
Anna gaped at her – niece? No wonder everyone in the house had looked at Samar with a mixture of envy and fear.
Karmen came running in just then, not bothering to even knock on the door. She stopped short when she noticed Inness standing pitifully in front of Madam, still slightly supported by Anna.
“What happened to her?” Karmen asked, taking in the bandage and injuries on Inness’ face.
“We found her at the side of the road not far from the small house. She doesn’t remember how she got there. I’ve treated the wounds so you don’t have to worry,” Samar explained.
Karmen nodded to her. “Thank you for always looking out for her.” Glancing at Madam, she continued, “What’s going on, why is she here? I thought we had a deal that she’d never know about me being here.”
“Ask my niece then why she brought her with them when she was supposed to keep her away.”
Whirling, Karmen stared at Samar, surprised at Madam’s admission.
“You were the one who brought her here?” When Samar nodded softly, she asked exasperatedly, “Why?”
“Because Anna told her that you were working here when she realised who Inness was. Once she found out you’re here, she became incensed.”
“Of course I would be! She shouldn’t be working here!” Inness erupted.
“But you can?”
“I’m only here because of you, Inness. If you aren’t, then I don’t need to.”
“Then let’s go away. Right now; let’s leave.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Let’s leave,” Inness repeated. “I want to be with you; let’s leave this place and go somewhere else, start anew.”
Feeling her legs giving away under her, Karmen slid onto one of Madam’s chairs.
“This is what they’ve been asking you?” she asked, looking at Madam as she spoke.
“Yes – the three of them suddenly barged in, with your sister asking for your release. She’s willing to work here for the rest of her life apparently, as long as I allow you to leave.”
“Why would I want her when you’re the money-making one?” Madam asked, bemused. “Plus, I suppose since Samar’s close to you, she expected help from there but let me assure you, Samar has no say in this issue.”
“I know,” Karmen replied before Inness could interject. “You’re barking up the wrong tree, Inness. Samar has no say here – she never had any. In fact, even Madam has no say. It’s up to me to decide my future.”
“What? What are you talking about, I don’t understand.”
“I told you; I’m only here because you’re here. If you aren’t here, then I don’t need to be as well. As long as you’re with Madam, I’ll be here too. So if you want to leave, I have to decide if I want to follow you as well.”
“But why wouldn’t you?” Anna asked, confused. “You talked about her a few days ago, and I’m pretty sure where your feelings lie. Why wouldn’t you want to leave with her?”
Karmen sat back, wondering why everything turned complicated all of a sudden. Eyeing Anna, she was quite certain that Anna was behind this somehow – the fault lies with her of course; she was the one who told Anna about Inness’ story the other day.
“What about the addiction?” Karmen asked. “How are you going to kick it?”
“I… I’m still addicted to it, I don’t deny it – but Karmen, I just need you to be with me. I only took it to forget; if you’re there, why would I need it?”
“But you do need it; I can see the way you’re shivering from the withdrawal of it. You’re already sweating from the lack of fix; how are you going to survive out there with me? And if I do leave with you, of course I’d be working to support both of us. How do I know that you wouldn’t turn to your old tricks when I’m not around – that you’ll be fine?”
“Karmen…” Inness began before stopping, struggling to collect her mind, to set things straight. “I don’t have the answers you’re looking for at the moment. All I know is that the thought of being with you is making it bearable for me; yes, it’s hell without the fix but looking at you, being near you at the moment is making it bearable for me.”
“I just need you to trust me,” she added after a moment of silence.
The air was heavy with the tension that was building up between the two siblings, to an extent that the other occupants of the room were feeling slightly suffocated from it. Karmen’s face was contorted in a kind of agonising confusion; the struggle within her was clear to be seen on her face. Taking things into her own hands, Madam Ahjunta decided to make the decision for her.
“Karmen, I think it’s time for me to terminate your contract.”
Gasping in shock, Karmen stood up to face her.
“What do you mean? I haven’t decided on anything yet,” she began but Madam cut her off.
“I know what you want – and well, you do too so why are you hesitating?” Glancing at Inness, she continued, “It’s not going to be easy, but it’s a beginning after all. Nothing’s easy at the beginning.”
Ignoring her, Madam turned to Samar instead. “Help her clear her room and move in with Karmen temporarily. They can stay here until Karmen finds a job.” Eyeing Karmen, she added, “Unless you still desire to work here even after she’s off the books?”
Karmen knew that Madam wasn’t asking about being an elite anymore.
“Can I think about it first? This has been quite a bomb on my head; I’m out of sorts at the moment.”
“Of course.” Noticing that the others were still standing around, gawking at them, she sneered at them. “No one wants a happy ending?”
Checking herself, Samar nodded and dragged Inness and Anna out from the room, leaving Madam alone with Karmen.
“Madam…” Karmen began but was interrupted by Madam once again.
“Aren’t you tired? Go back to your room – you’ll be sharing with your sister tonight. Don’t you need to clean or clear off some things?”
Karmen’s eyes widened as she remembered the tools of her trade. Nodding, she got up and left the room as well.
Inside, Madam sat on her chair with a heavy sigh. She felt as if a tornado had just rushed in.
“That Anna…” she spoke out loud. “She’s proving to be more than I had expected. I wonder …”