Minor Keys No. 5
A tiny character (in every sense of the word) that next catches my eye in Azimuth is the girl who works in the brothel that the rather staid and portly librarian, Kamil, visits. Nothing much is said about her, even in inference â€“ save that she appears conditioned by the culture of prostitution so that she has no moral perspective on its practices. Hereâ€™s a snippet from her short visitation to Azimuthâ€™s pages.
The young girl stood before him, –You wish Madame Aidah to entertain you? He shook his head, asked her to bring him iced water and mopped his brow. He would have liked to throw off his cloak such was the heat in the room. She brought it, -You want another lady? Young? Older? Connoisseur? Her accent was from further to the east.
-I would like to speak with the mistress.
-She not for sale.
-I do not wish to buy her … her services. I need to talk with her. The girl stared at him unmoving, –Go! She turned perplexed as though she felt she had misunderstood his request. Time passed.
Reading it now brings home to me (oft discussed in my blogs about writing that precede the current run, is that the idea of the girl may well have been planted in my mind by a film I saw some twenty to thirty years ago, Pretty Babyby Louis Malle. If I remember it clearly, the film was controversial because of the depiction of a girl in a brothel. Whether the similarity ends there is for others to decide. In Azimuth she appears to wait on tables and run errands. There is no information regarding what else she might do.
I understand (now I interrogate my imagination) that sheâ€™s pre or early teenage. She is the daughter of a prostitute who once worked for Baligha, the Mistress of the House of Senses, who had to take her as a ward owing to the following circumstances. Her mother, a slip of a young thing herself, failed to take the precautions of that time demanded by Baligha of all her courtesans, either before sex or after with one partner. She had become obsessed witha young noble who marked her out for his sole ministrations. She was narrow hipped and frail, so much so that despite medical help she died in the last hourse of pregnancy and the child had to be cut from her body by the distraught and guilty Baligha. As a baby, toddler and young child she was mothered by all the prostitutes. They followed a code laid down by their Mistress that the girl should not be witness to any unseemly act though it was impossible to stay her curiosity about the work that they all did. By the time we meet her in Azimuth, she is on the cusp between innocence and experience. But what happened to her later, after Kamil had constructed his Tales of the Magus?
In effect Baligha groomed her to manage the brothel while inculcating in her a sense of obstinate pride in her virginity. By the time Baligha gave up her ownership of that lucrative business, the girl was in her twenties and was protected by her own guard of loyal, honest swordsmen. Her fame spread across the empire and it was natural that young men fell for the allure of her virginity and beauty in this place of famed and highly skilled sex goddesses. Curiously, she never married nor lost her maidenhead but, when she retired and passed on the business to another, a little like herself, wrote an autobiography of her times with frank and quite explicit details of the desires of men and how women might satisfy them without ever losing their dignity and sacred sense of their bodies.
A single poem survives from her writing:
O callous phallus you prey in red the maidenhead
But know that tenderness in ingress helps virgins burgeon
(Azimuth by Jack Sanger also in Kindle books at Amazon)