Hello, to one and all.

This letter is being published in this newspaper on account of my death. While you are reading this, I might be enjoying a little snack in ‘heaven,’ or so they say. I sincerely have no idea what it feels like to be dead. I’m still alive while typing these words. My only request to the editor here was to publish this after my demise. ‘Escapist,’ did you just mutter under your breath? Perhaps I was so in my entire lifespan. Now I’ll try to use the past tense as much as I can, to try and grasp the unforeseen life after death.

Most of you did not know me while I lived. You weren’t actually supposed to, I wasn’t famous. Oh wait, I was kind of famous. I had another persona that made it fairly big in the literary world. Do you recall a certain Miss Pandora who wrote extensively about two decades ago? That would be me. I have always wished to be Pandora, spilling worms on humankind before I die. With that intention, I had taken to the pen name ‘Miss Pandora’ and started writing. A lot of you nice people might have read my stories and books published here and there. I hadn’t aspired to be a Shakespeare or an Agatha Christie when I started scribbling in a diary while working. You wouldn’t have read them if I were published in my own identity – a whore; rather, a professional escort.

You know, I can imagine a collective of gasps and sighs on spotting the word - the W word. I can visualize a lot many people folding their newspapers back into neat creases, some may even hide or trash them lest their wives and children read the article and others would cluck a few disgusts and skip to other news. For the rest handful of readers – I have chosen to lay my life bare to you.

My life has been pretty eventful from the time I can recollect. I was born in a lower middle-class family (as you would guess most prostitutes belong to), raised by hard-working parents in an upgraded slum. You know the likes – not exactly a thatched roof slum, but one with little rooms made of brick walls with plastered patches and an asbestos ceiling which would be green hot in summer. We had a television too, and our rooms were near a middle class residential complex. I would go to the same school as those children went to – the only local medium school in our area. My classmates never looked down upon me as we weren’t much different. Their rooms had fans attached to a concrete ceiling and mine just had a pedestal fan. We were better off not comparing the occupation and salary of our parents. I was a good student, and proud at that. I read books beyond my curriculum from the local library. When I passed my Secondary Examination with distinction, my parents were over the moon. They raised their expectations and wanted me to perform better in the next one, and then to keep performing all my life. I was happy too. I wanted to be successful, though I wasn’t sure in what way. Higher studies like Medicine and Engineering were out of my way. I knew my parents wouldn’t be able to pay the fees even for a Government College as I had siblings to be taken care of. I fared well in Higher Secondary Examination and then I wanted to work, to earn money for myself and the family.

I was searching for work within local perimeters when a girl spotted me. No, it was not for marriage. For those having met me would know that I was fairly pretty, as good looking as a slum girl could be.

Note: ‘Prostitute’ and ‘slum girl’ are labels that I have taken sportingly for years, though they had been inflicted on me in a derogatory way.
Now, I was pretty. It would be natural to guess that a few adolescent boys wanted to fall in love with me. But I didn’t pay heed to any of them as I was much in love with myself. I wanted to make something out of my life rather than getting married early and entering the chakra of family. I met a girl working in a nearby beauty parlour. She offered me the job of an assistant in their parlour. It was surprising to me as I had no idea about their work and about beauty in general. I was a plain Jane who didn’t have time and money for decking up. But, I took up the job for some easy money. I had to attend the parlour every evening for three hours and assist the beauticians who worked mostly as surgeons donning scissors and tweezers. It took me three months to realize that it was a pick-up joint. It was a unisex salon where men came, few for massage, and few of them ordered for women to be delivered to them later.

I was approached only after I had realized what happened there. Most men wanted some flesh just to sleep with, but there were a few clients who wanted a companion. At the tender age of twenty, I understood that there are too many people who are lonely. I had never seen my parents or relatives experience a lonely moment as they had a lot of work to feed their family. It astonished and shocked me that people sought companionship in a complete stranger. I agreed to work on an assignment as a trial. I had to go out with a thirtyish man on sort of a date and if he wished, I had to sleep with him. The money was good and I was devoid of the Victorian morality regarding my body. I took the job of an escort. My basic education helped me to converse with men working fairly up the ladder. They liked that I could speak a little English, had a good general knowledge and had read a few books to talk about. I liked what they paid and some of their companies too.

I have always looked forward to meet new people and know places. It was surprising in the environment I had been brought up where people toiled day and night to earn their staple. I liked my job; in fact, I chose my job because I liked it. I met new people and not everyone was interesting to talk to, but most of them were. I had to be choosy about my clients. Of course, I didn’t tell folks at home where I was heading to. I told them I was working in the beauty parlour. In a few years, they pestered me to get married. I was in a big soup, then. I didn’t want to spend my years setting up a family and living on the whims of a lower-middle class man. By then, I had been to a few business tours with clients where they flaunted me as their beautiful young wife. I had already acted as a wife for few days and my parents wanted me to keep up the act for a lifetime! I had to confess the nature of my work to them and break free.

Frankly, I don’t regret not getting married. I wasn’t meant to be a wife, a normal woman all my life. I wanted to be extraordinary and I could become one. I had made better contacts and clients as the years progressed. Gradually, I became a professional escort. I would accompany businessmen in their tours and out-of-state assignments. I would accompany young men in a few dates to train them for their future. I would accompany men with midlife-crisis in living room sessions, discussing poetry with them. I did all that I wanted - went abroad, visited beautiful countries, conversed with some superbly intellectual men who lacked company, earned a lot of money and lived my life to the fullest.

I had to keep in mind that my job had a shelf life. I retired at the ripe age of forty-five and followed my passion of writing. I knew none would read me if they knew I were an escort. There are boundaries in each profession, clearly drawn by people who bother to. It is perhaps an unwritten rule of our society that a prostitute cannot become a writer. I took a pen name and everyone read me. But I had decided to come out with my identity, to let people know that moral boundaries do not exist.

I had no family, but I was a narcissist most of the time. The profession I chose is probably the most exploited one in the world. It doesn’t have the respect it deserves. There are a few of us who chose their jobs; others in my profession are a result of oppression and poverty. They are compelled to sell their souls for money. Things might have been different if it were legalized in our country to provide the basic dignity of completing the rest of the W word.

I am dead but not done and dusted. My words would remain among you, on paper and I hope in your souls too. I tried to earn my own dignity and identity, for it were only me whose life I could have built or broken. I’ve opened my Pandora’s Box to let the musty air brush by you for a few moments.

Miss Pandora

Priyanka Roy Banerjee

Priyanka Roy Banerjee is an aspiring author, frequent blogger, book critic and freelance editor. She is an avid reader and writes fiction in both English and Bangla. She blogs at 'One and a Half Minutes' and 'Moreechikaa'​. She’s currently the editor at Writersmelon

The beliefs, views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of Soi or official policies of Soi.