There’s a mechanical drumming sound that doesn’t confine itself to a rhythm, yet is like an immaculate musical composition to her ears as she lies on the sofa listening to him type on a typewriter, in one of the many apartments lining the red-light district. The street is bordered by buildings in whose facades lie hints of the Mughal architecture’s richness, now veiled by multiple renovations and fled light. Numerous first floor windows stand open, and behind one such window lies the apartment. It is a small room, all vacant except a wooden desk in a corner, a patch of Sindhi rug sprawled in the middle and a sofa by a window that looks out onto the promiscuous moon jerking off its moonlight onto the filth ridden street where silence is punctuated by gasps, moans and throaty barks. He sits far off in a darkness soaked corner, with his back to her and a lamp on, illuminating just the surface of his desk. She sees his bushy head from behind, a fluffy cloud of black with a silver lining as lamp light shines through it. His tea gradually turns cold while awaiting a meeting with his lips which are busy mutely mouthing words he then hammers onto a page. His cigarette is now half burned, lying in the ashtray like a broken limb, its ashes swimming in water he’d filled it with to avoid them escaping into the air; like his volatile thoughts he lets nature chain the ashes too.
His long, lean fingers sit poised atop the typewriter’s keys like a Tarantula, ready to burst into a flurry of action any moment, followed by a pause before another outburst. He’s hunched over the typewriter, wearing a kameez and no shalwar, has a handsome, square face and a reason to write. She just lies naked on the sofa and thinks about what goes on in that cloud in the corner. Pinched up from an orphanage in Sindh for easy money by a pimp when she was abandoned by her guardians outside a mosque, she was brought up in the underbelly of Old Lahore, the heart of Punjab, and the Sindhi rug is the only reminder of that language she never spoke, the soil she never walked upon and the dull ache and longing for that life she could never live. But now as she lies staring into distant nothingness, her hand dangles down the side of the sofa, her palm caressing the soft hand made rug contemplatively, her thoughts are those of a past failed affairs with the Maulvi sahab of the neighbourhood mosque and a bank accountant, about how this gawky man is not what she had imagined her most regular customer would be like, and what’ll it all be like if it ends? He has stopped typing and the silence that settles seems to be trying to give an answer: heavy, expectant but empty. But she knows that there’s nowhere else she would rather be. She can’t even recall the upbeat, blaring Naseebo Lal songs, the dizzying red tint and the hoarse laughter of that mujra khana she works in.
Can he fall in love with me? Why does he bother translating everything he writes to Punjabi and narrating it to me like a lunatic? The way his mouth dribbles as he doesn’t stop to swallow the spit… the way his voice trails off as he runs out of oxygen in his lungs since he forgets to take a breath because the next sentence is just too delicious to allow him a pause? He loves me… He loves me for my flaws, she tells herself, not my tits, and for my soul he obviously couldn’t. His eyes can’t see deep into me, the tip of his penis never reached far enough inside me anyway. He loves my cheap smeared mascara, my red bloated lipstick and this scar beside my eye. I probably feature in his writings too, leaving a faint trail here and a soft stroke there. I’m important, I inspire art. But is it Heer or Bhagbhari that I want to be to this Waris Shah?
As the intangible flows into him like crystal wine, and he dissects and strews it across the page, the Tarantula grows frantic. It jumps and crawls. Faster and faster. She lets her hand slide between her thighs and pleasures herself as the typewriter’s noises ascend. Quicker by the second. His brain tries to keep up with the mind. His fingers race faster still. She is close behind; her fingers are as fast as his now, tremulously frenzied, until she climaxes with a groan as his typewriter makes the ringing sound marking the end of a line. She stops when he does. Two heavy breathing sounds guide each other, knitting intelligently. She chuckles and reaches for the heap of clothes beside the sofa’s one end; he blinks without turning, adoring the way she’s driven to orgasms by his writing but abhorring the lack of subtlety she shows.
He writes to keep his sanity and dates a hooker in that room every other night to make himself feel better, and because he loves everything about her but her. Writing and fucking are what he does best. Got himself the professional typewriter for the prior, and the professional hooker for the latter; both ladies clad in red, he can make love to any to satisfy the other. He therefore brings along the typewriter for a threesome at every visit. He sips the chilled tea now; it tastes bitter than the brittle reality of his self; cold like the shrill hum of his automatic days and manual nights. The Lipton teabag and the crumbled cigarette are like her, he thinks, used and wasted. His eyes sail down to the typewriter and the page once again. The page is the door, beyond it heaven, and those print heads just knock to get through somehow.
He turns around his chair, faces the sofa and the window, keeps gulping the tea but lights a new cigarette. She has slipped into a dreamless sleep. The windowpane hangs beside her sofa like a painting on the room’s darkest wall, the night’s ink black scene framed and preserved. He gets up and approaches the window broodingly, like an observer getting up from an art gallery bench and becoming one with an artwork on the wall they’ve delved their heart and poured their mind into for long. He looks out the window, as her silhouette lies woven into the crimson velvet of the sofasofa, and with a heaved sigh, flings the teabag out through the window and into the night; the Lipton teabag smears the kinetic nocturnal painting. Leaning against the windowpane the vandalist looks at her. He realizes how she is a desert in greyscale under the moonlight of the late hour; her undulating naked body is as graceful and natural as the dunes of timeless sand slumbering upon the vast land of Thal, perpetually shifting, crumbling, trickling, on and on.
As a soft wind pours in through the window and plays with his hair, he drinks in every curve of her beauty and feels his eyes moisten. Lahori nights may be beautiful but never as filthy gorgeous as this hooker, he thinks, and smiles.