They had checked with savvier acquaintances and settled on a bordello that was neither too expensive nor too lowly, catering to middle class clients. They avoided the weekend when they might encounter, who knows, someone from the family or community who knew them. They dressed well, took their money and turned up together, nervous but determined, at a house of ill repute.
The initiation was easy. Even before they entered the place, a person outside offered his help, took them straight to the madam, and, after she had placed a bill in his hand, departed without a word. The madam, a middle-aged corpulent woman, sized them up instantly, asked them to sit, and sent another woman to fetch the three women she named.
Pete had been the most enthusiastic about the adventure, but the moment he entered her room with the petite woman a switch seemed to go off in him. The small room with its false coziness, dim light and sickly-sweet aroma of flowers did not seem right for what he had in mind. Then the woman put out her hand, and even as he placed the agreed sum on her hand, he knew he did not plan to keep the bargain. He asked if he could have a drink. When the drink came, he sipped it thoughtfully and finally told the woman he would have the drink and then leave, and wait for his friends downstairs. He felt relieved when he went out. He was not nervous; he had simply realized it would not please him.
Jack walked into another small room, but with the French window opening on a terrace it did not seem cramped. He liked its quiet and neatness, and the attractive person who was talking softly to him as she slowly took off her clothes. Jack felt warm and excited. When she came to him, he took her hand, she smiled and sat very close to him, and he felt comfortable and reassured. When she removed his shirt and signaled for him to lie next to her, it seemed very inviting. As she touched him, he responded and felt wonderful.
In the taxi, Pete and Jack coaxed Ben to tell them what had happened, but he kept steadfastly mute. “I can’t talk about it,” he said. He never could, not even in the many subsequent years that we urged him to tell us what had troubled him. It was a trauma he could neither describe nor explain.
Jack went on to marry and have two children. Pete married too, but his marriage fell apart after six years. Ben did not marry. To the best of our knowledge, he did not have any affairs either. He just lived alone after his parents died. Forever he carried the hapless burden of a murky night that started as a lark and ended as an unspeakable wound.