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This story is part of our Global Anthology.
The Turkmen writer and activist imagines what it would be like to enter a brothel of the state.
I was out strolling round Ashgabad one evening in autumn. Dusk was already drawing in, when suddenly I saw a house with a red light over the doorway.
“Hoo hoo!” I exclaimed. “Don’t tell me they’ve legalized prostitution and opened brothels in our godforsaken, UN-forsaken, neck of the woods? Has freedom really comes this far? I’ll go and see. And take time out at the same time, if it’s not too expensive.”
And so I go in, and there behind a desk a lady is sitting, who is plainly bored. As soon as she sees me she brightens up, breaks into a Smile, and her eyes start glittering.
“Welcome,” she said, “to the first national bordello in honor of…!”
I didn’t catch exactly who it was in honour of and I was embarrassed to ask again. I just asked: “Since this is a state establishment, you, Madam, are probably a civil servant?”
She seemed to bridle slightly.
“Yes I am,” she said, and with a very high grade I am the Madam here and I handle everything to do with culture, the internet and SMS in our country! SMS here meaning Sado-Masochistic-Services.”
As she spelled out the acronym, she raised an eyebrow.
“It was I who first insisted that women wear balaki under their dresses, to cover their legs and fasten at the ankle. Because you know, balaki are so erotic … Mmm…!” she said languidly, slowly licking her lip, “that’s why I was appointed to this job.”
“Yes, balaki are sexy. Really hot,” I agreed. “What are the girls like in your establishment?”
They’ll be here soon. They do parade practice from dawn to dusk, then at weekends I send them out to pick cotton …”
“What’s surprising about that? We are a State establishment after all. We have to pay our way, and we are Patriots. So we must play Our part in all the public cultural events!”
She scrutinized me carefully, evidently satisfying herself that the point of her stirring speech had hit home. It had, but only with great difficulty, truth be told.
But it’s rather an odd picture—I was just surprised to think of patriotic prostitutes marching in parades, wearing sexy balaki, and chanting “In our country, Man comes first!”
“Right, give me your passport,” she said.
“!? Err,” was all I managed to stutter, even more astonished. Then I got a grip of myself and said, “Here, take it.”
Studying it closely, she moved away to the Xerox machine behind her and started photocopying the document. This process evidently gave her pleasure. Her thighs began to gyrate in time to the rhythmical sounds of the copying machine.
Once she had copied nearly every page, she came back to her seat, in a state of some excitement.
“And are you married?”
Err, Emm … No, not so you’d notice.” I was even more embarrassed.
You are either married so you’d notice, or you’re not married. In either case, you need a certificate of your marital status.
I have been around a bit, and my pockets are full of every possible certificate and document. You name it, I’ve got it. I offered her my marriage certificate.
It suited her down to the ground.
“Now give me a certificate from your Municipal Housing Committee,” she said so tenderly, it was as though she was asking me to kiss her.
I placed it in front of her, all rolled up in a little pipe. With instant recognition, she held it in both hands.
“Oooh! Aaah—what a document,” she breathed.
Why are they all so hung up on bureaucracy? It could drive you up the wall, I thought.
“Do you have your employers’ certificate with you? Well, give it to me, give it to me now! Mmm…” she began to groan, and her eyes rolled upwards.
After the eighth certificate, she seemed to have an orgasm.
But I had not yet finished…
I still had various documents with me and several questions to ask. After waiting until she opened her eyes, I asked: “What are your rooms like?”
“Terrific! Double bed, carpet, TV, bedside table, policeman.”
“What’s the policeman for?”
“What do you mean, what’s he for? First he has to make sure you catch the Vatan News Hour on TV. By the way, it’s worth standing up to watch it because the principle pimp is on nearly every minute, non-stop. If you miss that, you’ll get beaten about the brains!”
“Ouch. But can’t I do without that bit, the whatsit?” I tried to think what she had called it, then remembered. Without the SMS?”
Refusing State SMS and switching off the TV are regarded as ideological subversion,” she enlightened me. “And another thing,” she continued, “what if you start getting up to something indecent, without a policeman to keep an eye on you?”
Anticipating my question, she started showing me positions that in her words were indecent and banned from the establishment. She demonstrated poses whose existence I had never guessed at in more than 50 years as a red-blooded male! And she performed them with such zest and skill that I had the troubling suspicion she was engaging in ideological subversion right there and then, as well as in everything else she was doing.
Suddenly she froze as she demonstrated the next pose. One of her feet was on the floor, the other on the desk, and her head for some reason was inside a drawer. From where she asked: “What are your favorite soundtracks? Something about medicinal herbs, or about horses, or an old song about Mr Number One, i.e. the Rukhnama? A recitalist can come to your room. It’s all included in the cost so don’t worry. There’s no extra charge.”
“You’ve made me very happy, thank you!” I said, thinking to myself it was time to vamoose.
But just then there was a loud noise from the street.
The doors flung open and in came a procession three-deep of the girls the Madam had sent out for parade practice. Some continued swinging their arms on autopilot, but others were swearing blind and cursing everything under the sun.
In Moscow we had to volunteer the odd Saturday, but not every fucking week. Here it’s “! #$!@ @$!#, ###!” one of them shouted. An odd Saturday was better than these endless $@#! public holidays!”
She was echoed by her colleagues who changed only the names of the cities (Istanbul, Izmir, Dubai) but not their savoury expressions. After a few minutes, the girls dispersed to their rooms and the noise subsided.
Seeing how worn out they were and—not to put too fine a point on it—grimy, I was in a quandary.
“What sort of a romantic night will it be with one exhausted, grubby woman, a TV, a recitalist, a policeman—and his truncheon? But just then, the Madam lifted her head from the drawer, called me closer and whispered:
“I can imagine what you are thinking, but I can give you a better option. True, it costs a little more!”
“Do you give any discounts?” I asked, also in a whisper. Only for the presidents of major countries! There are always big discounts for them.”
There was no risk I’d become the president of a major country, or a minor one for that matter.
“How about trade union branch membership?” I attempted a little joke.
“Seriously speaking, your only possibility is this: you will need proof of your family antecedents going back three, or ideally five, generations. The Maglumat family census record.”
That suited me just fine. There were still a few things in my pocket. There and then I whipped out a thick roll of paper, turned it over in front of her face and put it on the desk.
“This,” I said, “is evidence of seven generations of my family history!”
I had hit the spot. This time her orgasm was instantaneous. To my amazement, in the midst of her moans and heavy breathing, quotations slipped from her lips, like “Glory to the Great One!” and “Long Live the Joyous Books of a Joyous Era!”
As she came to herself, she started to gabble:
“Now, why didn’t you say up front that you had a document like that!? I’d have sent you straight to Room No. 001! There they’d sing, dance and play all sorts of instruments for you…”
“Why, a geisha service!” I exclaimed, delighted, and beetled off to the room she’d mentioned.
It was only when I reached the door that I registered what the Madam was saying behind me.
“Spot on! Only “geisha” without the last three letters …”
While the sense of her words was sinking in, I had already burst into the room, which was tidy and all in beige. Even the carpets were beige. Only the roses in the vases were snow-white. While on the bed, with one hairy masculine leg crossed over another, wearing crimson tights and a look of total languor, lay…
…I careered along the deserted Streets of Ashgabad and keened with terror. I remembered the women’s words after their patriOtic parade practice and added my own, far choicier ones, for astringency.
I was running fast, but the thoughts in my head ran still faster. After some time I began to grasp why our national house of ill-repute is such a second-rate knocking shop.
Translated by Marjorie Farquharson
Originally published by and courtesy of Index on Censorship