Ranbir Singh Sidhu
QUEEN OF SWORDS
Ormond enters by stairs leading directly from the street. He raps hard against the heavy wooden door. Or perhaps he only walks along the corridor, studying the faces that peer back at him from the open windows, hidden behind gauzy curtains, naked, half-naked, their breasts free to touch. He touches some. The one who answers the door is old, bent-backed, her hand grabbing for his purse before he has even fished out the few coins. He has never seen her before. Or it is the young buck, towering over him, wearing only a leather jock strap, sneering as he pulls out a few dollars. The women call his name from behind the curtains. At the door he follows the young woman’s smile inside. She is holding the few coins he handed over, playing with them between fingers, asking him what has happened since his last visit. She knows his tastes. She always picks the perfect woman. Or perhaps he will climb down a ladder into the old sewer, no longer used as a sewer, its length lit with red Chinese lanterns. Bodies glow in the warm red light, beckoning, moving, groaning, calling out his name. He says the name of several women. The young woman who knows his tastes leads him along a corridor into a room lit by a green electric lamp. She closes the door behind her. Or perhaps the light is out, the oil having burned down to the rough clay. Or perhaps he finds his own way to the door, the old woman calling behind him, cursing, as she always does. He pushes the door open and enters the room lit by the harsh, unprotected bulb. The river passes outside the window. There is no other sound. She calls his name. How long has it been? What has he been doing? When she removes his clothes he listens to the sounds of trucks passing, cars blasting their horns. When he pays her, when she cups his sex in her palm, when he pushes her down, when she sits astride his belly, when he presses his mouth between her legs, when she tears at his face with her fingers, when he bites her stomach and thighs, when she presses her finger into his anus. Perhaps he arrives directly from the water, entering the room by the window, from the short dock where now he can hear boats butting against the wooden pilings. He brings with him the stench of the polluted river and she tells him this, demands her money, knocks him down, is on top of him, rising, falling, she moves quickly like a piston, not looking at him, up and down, her naked, old body revealed in the glow from the neon lights of the downtown street, a street far from the docks, the piston ready to explode in only a few minutes. She cries out his name. He climbs the stair cautiously, step by step.
RANBIR SINGH SIDHU’s first novel Deep Singh Blue(Unnamed Press/HarperCollins India) will appear in 2016. He is the author of the story collectionGood Indian Girls (Soft Skull/HarperCollins India) and is a winner of a Pushcart Prize and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship. His stories appear in Conjunctions, The Georgia Review, Fence, Zyzzyva, The Missouri Review, The Happy Hypocrite, The Literary Review, Alaska Quarterly Review and other journals. He divides his time between New York and Crete.