Sin-thia, Saiya

It was four o’clock in the afternoon when she showed up. She was tall and dark-skinned, and called herself Cynthia. She cursed and curled her body into knots, crying out Simon’s name as though they had been lovers for years. Afterward, as she smoked in his bed, she propped herself up on one bare elbow and stared at his profile. Simon gazed at the ceiling and thought about his late wife.

“What you thinking about?”

“My wife,” he said. But it wasn’t Marión’s face that he saw, really. It was more of a smell, fresh and lemony, that he remembered. They would lay in bed together, in this bed, his face cradled against her heart. Just above her breast and beneath her soft neck. Marión would run her nails up and down his back for hours, causing a battalion of tiny goose bumps to rise all along his bare arm.

Cynthia nodded and pinched her cheek. “Are you depressed?”


She dropped her cigarette in the vase with the moldy flowers from the funeral. She folded her arms under her head, and he watched her dark breasts fall to each side.

“Are you black?” he asked.

“No,” she smiled. “My family is from South India.”

Sin-thia, she had purred into his intercom. First-timer, the agency lady had told him. He didn’t argue with the lady; he didn’t care about the experience. Lust had blinked like a strobe through his mind ever since he walked out of that cold hospital. The curve of a woman’s body - big tits, round ass, a quiet mouth. Hairless, from the high thigh to the hinging point between her front and backside.

She’s not a virgin, the lady said, but she’ll make you think she was.

* * *

She knocked on his door as Cynthia, and left as Saiya, a tar-skinned, flesh-eating woman. She tore into him and spit him out, his insides pulsing with heat. For many weeks she came, turned him inside out, and left.

One afternoon, during a heavy downpour, they spent an hour pressed together in a vise grip of lust. Simon’s bedroom was hot, the windows steamed with condensation as though he had ran a hot bath. When they were finished, he left her in bed and walked through his apartment. He flicked on the lamps that Marión had tucked into the corners of each room. Lighting, she had once instructed, was an underrated factor of ambiance.

He came back to Saiya in the bedroom, and crawled in bed. Their shoulders, hips, and the tips of their ankles were all soft touch-points between them. He wondered what she was thinking about while he was lighting up the apartment.

Simon felt her face turn ever so slightly to view the bedroom, taking in the objects he had left untouched since the service. The armchair upholstered with the Victorian rose print, the pastoral scenes of farmland in large wood frames. The enormous wood spires of the four-poster bed, the heavy down comforter.

Marión had kept house impeccably. She cooked well, without cookbooks and from instinct. She ironed Simon’s clothes, even his socks and boxer shorts. She reminded him to go to the gym. Marión had a curious habit of spreading the toothpaste onto Simon’s toothbrush each night before bedtime. He would walk in to the bathroom just before bed, and inevitably there was his toothbrush, on the edge of the sink, a fresh cup of water perched next to the soap dish.

“Did you always love your wife?” Saiya picked at the flowered sheet, rubbing the cotton between her long fingers.

“A little in the beginning, more toward the end,” Simon said.

“I see.”

The two lay there while the rain on the window changed rhythms to a soft tapping, then to nothing at all.

“That’s how it happens in India, too,” she said, her accent suddenly thick. “You learn to love in these marriages the families arrange. Then there is no loss of love. This way, there is nothing to regret later.”

He said nothing.

“Do you think you could ever learn to love me?”

Simon turned to her, this exotic bird with endless energy and sexual stamina, unaware of needing anything in return. He thought, she’s just a girl.

“No,” he said.

She made a noise like a horse, an impatient snort, and he was brought to the farm. He imagined Saiya standing in the frame of the barn door, in denim overalls, surrounded by cow dung. Her hair in thick braids, pieces coming loose so that she looked spent, perhaps sweating. Nothing on beneath the overalls, just her dark breasts pushing out the overall clasps at an odd angle. He laughed out loud, the picture was so odd. She would never have made it on the farm, and yet he couldn’t imagine who she was before her time with him.

“Tell me about how you got into this dirty business,” he said.

Saiya twisted the sheet in her lap and spoke in a low voice, a little more than a whisper. She had been new to the business. Green, Rhonda had said while chewing her cheek at the interview. She met Rhonda at Joe’s House, the café Saiya had worked at for one week. Joey, the fifty-year-old short-order cook and owner with a dagger tattoo tucked behind his left ear, introduced her to Rhonda. Joey told Saiya she was a shitty waitress, but that she could make some use of that body of hers.

Rhonda had sat at the counter, sipping from a ceramic mug of coffee. She had baggy eyes like most of the Americans Saiya had met, and her cheeks were flecked with an unnatural shade of charcoal. Her eyelids were painted lime green, her hair wrapped in a matching green scarf. She kissed Saiya on the cheek, like an old friend.

“Got any tricks?”


“Mmmhmmm, tricks. You know any?"

Saiya bit her lip. Tricks. She remembered her father’s frustrated brow when he tried to teach her to juggle. She threw the balls so high in the air they landed on the roof. Her father stormed into the house, and she stood there empty-handed. Just beneath the roof was a mango tree, mottled with the greens and golds of its fruit.

“I can peel a mango in one go. One slice, all around the fruit.” She circled a hand around an imaginary fruit, and smiled. Rhonda squinted at her pantomiming hands.

“A mango?” Rhonda had laughed, a burble of water and gravel. Saiya waited while she hacked for a bit before reaching for her cigarettes.

“Joey,” Rhonda called into the kitchen. “This girl can peel a fucking mango. How much is that worth?”

Simon tried to remember the last time he had tasted a mango. Had he ever bought a whole mango? Could he even tell a difference between a mango and a papaya? A mango and a guava?

“So you see,” said Saiya. “My trick fit nicely with the job.”

“How?” Simon asked.

“It didn’t,” Saiya said flatly. “Rhonda thought I was crazy. But she leaned over and touched this breast and said, I’m not sure you’ll need a trick.”

It was then that Rhonda had offered the job, sixty-forty, and a one thousand dollar advance.

“I took the money,” Saiya said, “and then went to the bathroom and vomited.”

Things went quickly from there. The following week Saiya had a blood test, and with the results in hand, Rhonda handed Saiya a box of condoms. She said it was time for her first client. This first john, his wife had recently died, and he was stuck in the mud about it.

“The guy is horny and hung up, and it’ll be a great way to break your sweet little ass in.” Rhonda had said he would pay and say little and most likely never call on her again.

“Is he a white guy?” Saiya had asked. Rhonda clucked her thick tongue and patted her hand.

“White, Black, Indian, no matter. A cock is a cock and a cunt is a cunt, it’s all the same in this business.”

Saiya rolled over, away from Simon. He looked at the long cracks in the ceiling. The words cock and cunt ran through his mind with her gentle accent, the words softened and replayed.

Saiya had never spoken so much. It reminded him of Marión, who would talk for hours. A stream of opinions, it was what Simon loved about her in the beginning. She was brash, unstoppable, and hard to shut up. She quite often cleared out an entire room, debating people until they were so stirred up their faces shone in bright flushes of pink and red. The quiet, mice-like women had never held his attention before. But now his bedroom was quiet, and all he could hear was the steady rhythm of Saiya’s sleeping breaths.

There was something about Saiya’s voice that made him pleasantly sleepy. The awareness of his closed eyelids and the full weight of his body against the mattress felt deliciously warm, like a baby swaddled in a cradle.

* * *

Sitting closely on a park bench, Saiya’s leg was slung over Simon’s lap. She lay back comfortably, her hands clasped. His palm rested on the tip of her knee. They gazed out on the clash of city and sea before them. People passed in front and behind, but they noticed little except the wind breathing through the trees.

It was the same short route, the destination a worn bench in a leafy park that overlooked the northeastern part of the city. The walk was seven minutes, timed carefully to be a small part of each visit.

Simon looked out on the fog that was pinned against the shoreline, an unusual sight. Instead of the slow melting sunset, the light was quickly snuffed out. The view became bright dots and pricks of city lights.

“When Mother died, her sister moved in with us. Auntie. It was only a short time, a few months before my father moved us here, to California,” Saiya said.

“But my father didn’t last long here. He opened a small checking account for me, and then flew back home. Or perhaps not to our town, but back to India. Rumor has it, in the family circles, that he ran off with Auntie. It’s shameful, you know, beyond shameful in India. Unforgivable. He’ll never return.”

Simon thought about squeezing her knee, but instead held his hand still, so still it took most of his concentration. The quiet settled between them again.

“What about your story?” she asked, staring at a miniature cathedral miles below.

“No story,” Simon said. “Small town east of here, out beyond all the traffic. Simple upbringing on a horse and cattle farm. Mom died when I was eight, and Dad and Bronco the Collie raised me. Me and my need to get the hell out of there.” He didn’t mention the inheritance from his mother. Nor his choice not to work. The wind stopped but the sky darkened with a passing patch of low fog.

“No Indian girls, that’s for sure.”

“Well, too bad,” Saiya said. “They’re the prettiest.”

“And certainly no mangoes. Just lemons.”

She moved to slide her leg off his lap, and he raised his arm as if to let her go, like a bridge rising for a ship to pass. They sat together until the sky fell to a deep black, and then they walked home to Simon’s bed.

* * *

An early morning wind picked up, slipping up and over the tip of Simon’s park bench. He sat there in the dull gray light and watched the movement of the Eucalyptus branches. He didn’t know why he had woken up, in the early morning darkness, with a strong impulse to come to the park bench. But he had. As soon as Saiya packed up and left the apartment, he walked to the park, stopping only for a small cup of coffee.

It was too early for anyone else to be at the park that morning. When he sat down on the bench, with his coat wrapped tightly around him and his fingers chilled, an image of Marión’s prostrate body reflected in the surrounding fog.

But it wasn’t her dead, cancer-eaten body, nor her sick, shriveled one in the hospital bed. It was the way she lay with him when it was just Simon and Marión, alone in the bedroom. The bedside lights would be out, the moonlight may or may not be coming in through the windows. Marión would lay on her back, her head comfortably on the pillow, and he would curl into her. Their naked skin would press together and he would lay his head on the flat part of her chest, just above her breasts. He would wait for his favorite part, her arms. They would circle around him, pull him in. She wouldn’t squeeze, but she would hold him tightly. He would let himself drift between wakefulness and sleep, falling deeper and then coming back, sinking in and out of her cradle.

A woman passed Simon, suddenly appearing on the path and crossing in front of the bench. A small dog sniffed at Simon’s shoes. She startled Simon, and he watched her walk away with a flash of long, black hair. She reminded him of Saiya, and then the rich smell of her sweat filled his nose. His muscles would always ache after Saiya had spent the night, his mind quieted from their long silences together. Those brown shoulders folded together, her breasts hidden, and her eyes closed.

Simon turned his face upward, to the massive trees in front of him. The branches moved in and out of one another, nestling and then falling away, and coming together again. The leaves were bright green, vibrant and alive. His eyes traveled down the length of the trunk, the wood twisting and furling, its thickness belted in by the bark. The tree disappeared into the dark soil and then popped out again, here and there, in little clumps of gnarled roots.

Simon picked up his coffee and followed the path out of the park, the trees whispering behind him. He passed a garbage bin and tossed in the empty cup. He walked down the hill, flanked by a row of grandiose houses. Craftsman, Tudor, house after house, firmly rooted adjacent the park, as he descended into the neighborhood below.

At the bottom of the hill, he stopped for a streetlight. He crossed and continued past the bohemian merchants, the pipe sellers and cafes, and ducked into a small grocery. The shelves were lined with canisters and boxes, the carts full of baskets of fruits and vegetables.

Simon skimmed the oranges and tangelos, ran a finger across the gala apples and organic bananas, and then stopped when he reached a small basket beneath the bins. A small carton of unripe mangoes were nestled together, tucked almost unnoticeably beneath the bunches of yellow and green bananas. He estimated a dozen, maybe less, and he picked the closest one up with both hands. The fruit was still green, more yellow than red, and when he pressed the flesh gently, the hard mango resisted. He smiled. He raised it to his face and touched the smooth skin to his nose, breathing in the sweet and tangy scent.

He selected the first one he touched and walked toward the cashier with the mango in his palm. The cashier weighed the fruit, and he lay down the bill. He started back to the condo with the mango, thinking, how nice it felt to hold it against his chest, as though cradling a child.

* * *

Saiya lay next to the cordless phone tucked tightly against Simon’s ear. She circled his belly button with two fingers. They were in bed, a standard Saturday, when Rhonda had called for payment.

“I want her, I want Cynthia.” Simon said, spitting out her pseudonym. He knew he was the only man to pay Saiya for her body. “Every weekend.”

“Weekends are the most expensive,” Rhonda said. “Especially the entire weekend, but if you want 48 hours, you got her.”

Simon pressed her fingers to his belly, wanting her to stop. Her finger-play irritated him; it reminded him of a small insistent gnat. Saiya sighed and turned to the TV.

“Fine, charge my card for two months,” he said and hung up. He rolled on top of Saiya, the sheets caught between their bodies, their skin not touching.

“You’re mine now,” he said.

He watched her pretty mouth pull down into a frown. “Only two months?” Her pout was exaggerated, a hint of disappointment hid beneath. A spoiled look, a child who wanted more, more, more. He rolled off her and walked to the TV and hit the power button. He stood facing her, hands on his naked hips.

“Yes, two months,” he said. “You’re a whore, honey, and very well paid.” Immediately he wished he could suck the words back in, swallow them into the pit in his stomach.

The pout on her face disappeared and she stared at him. It was uncomfortable, how solid her gaze was, how blank and unreadable it was. Simon suddenly felt naked.

When she finally moved, she reached for her pack of cigarettes on the bedside table, but he grabbed them first. He went to the window and wrenched it open, threw the pack out into the wet yard, and slammed the window shut again. When he turned to her he expected an emotional revolt, tears and childish shouts. But she was calm.

“Two months is more than enough time,” she said. She crawled to him on all fours and knelt before him. As he stood there, his hands on his hips and his eyes closed, he submerged himself in the pleasure of waiting for the moment to explode.

But then he remembered the fruit. He pulled back and she looked up at him.

“Wait,” he said. Saiya stood up and rubbed a knee.

He found the mango on a chair, carelessly buried beneath his coat. He brought it to her and placed it in her warm hands. Saiya’s brown eyes surveyed the mango and then rose to his face. It was a dark look, disappointed and wary. He was suddenly worried she didn’t understand.

“For your trick,” he said, smiling.

Saiya shook her head and looked sadly at the fruit.

“But I don’t need a trick,” she said. “Remember?”

* * *

The following Saturday, Saiya didn’t show. She didn’t have a cell phone he could call, and Rhonda was out of the country. She was due at nine that morning, and was to stay until nine Monday morning. Eight weekends, he had paid eight in advance. And he had planned to extend that another two months. Possibly longer. Why couldn’t he buy her for six months or a year?

By noon he had already punched a small hole in the plaster near the refrigerator. She was never late, and it was clear to him she was not coming. He picked up the phone and called Rhonda. Joey answered.

“Not here.”

“When do you expect her?” Simon asked, hating the fact that he was talking to another man.

“No telling. She comes and goes.”

Simon became confused.

“Who the - ?” Simon shouted. “Are you talking about Rhonda or Saiya?”

Joey laughed, a grunt like a hog, and cleared his throat.

“Relax, man, don’t like that tone of voice. I’m talking about the lady of the house, Rhonda. She’s out of town.”

Joey hung up. Simon threw the phone against the wall.

At two o’clock he called Joey again. He asked for another girl, one similar to Saiya, maybe an Indian girl.

Joey hummed into the phone, as if he were flipping through a mental Rolodex of girls.

“Nope,” he said. “No more injuns.”

For the second time, Joey hung up on Simon.

* * *

That evening, when Simon had given up and sat staring at the TV, the door buzzed. He worked hard to gather his anger again. He thought back to his wasted day, waiting five hours for her call.

“I’m here for a job,” said a girl’s voice. Simon took his hand off the intercom, as though he had been shocked. Joey must have sent someone after all. He buzzed her up.

The girl had white hair cropped at the shoulder, and smelled like a bar of minty soap. She wore a vinyl skirt and thigh-high striped stockings, her stilettos a cheap, clear plastic.

“Penelope,” she said, setting her duffel bag on the floor. “Penny is okay, but I’m worth a lot more.” She said this robotically and moved toward him. He walked around the sofa, so that she had to chase after him. He opened the front door.

“Maybe another time,” he said. She shrugged, grabbed her bag, and walked into the hall. He started to close the door, but she palmed the door frame with her burgundy nails.

“Saiya said you’re mean as a snake anyway,” she said, her cherry red lipstick still glossy on her big lips. He hated to hear Saiya’s real name curl off of those lips. Tainted and dirty lips. The urge to wipe them clean of the makeup swept over him, and he grabbed her elbow.

“If you’re here already,” he said, “I might as well not waste your time.”

Penny licked her lips. She began to strip off her shirt, but Simon stopped her. He brought her to the couch and lay her down. Penny’s brow was wrinkled into an ugly look of confusion. But he didn’t take off his clothes. He lay down next to her, not on top but to her side, with his head on her chest. On that quiet spot above her breast and below her neck. Penny put her arms around him, but she didn’t run her long nails along his arm. She didn’t comb her fingers through his hair. Simon closed his eyes. He did not lead her into the bedroom.