"Whatever thoughts, fantasies or conjectures you may have about working in a Brothel - especially a State Brothel - you should dismiss straight away. It really is no different to working anywhere else. You will not be expected to behave any differently to a secretary or personal assistant employed in any other business."
Ana nodded. This was what she'd hoped to hear. Although her interviewer was just a little bit more flamboyant than most, - as befitted the Director of the largest Brothel in the country, - she had been afraid that he might have been far worse. Mr Madir was not a tall man, but when wearing his top hat he had a bearing and demeanour that more than compensated for his vertical disadvantage. His stubby fingers were either fiddling with his cigarette holder or, as at the moment, delicately holding a cigarette a small distance from his mouth. Although his fingers didn't have the yellow stain of nicotine associated with a habitual smoker, there was a suggestion of roughness about them.
Ana had never visited the City of Blad before. She had never been very far from her home in Rif, a rural district in the heart of Alif renowned more for its wide open plains and sugar beet than it was for providing employment. She'd despaired of ever finding a job when one of her very many applications was returned not with the usual polite regrets but with an interview date. And now she was here, the interview was almost a formality. As soon as her duties were explained to her and the Director confirmed that she'd gained the requisite grades in her secretarial examinations, the tone of the interview shifted quite markedly from if she were to work as his secretary towards when.
However, this might not be so surprising, Ana reflected. Not many people would be attracted to working in a Brothel. Initially she had been very reluctant to post off her application form, despite all the effort expended in its completion. Some of Ana's friends were simultaneously shocked and titillated by Ana's potential job offer, while others advised her that with jobs so hard to find, especially in Rif, she shouldn't ignore any opportunity. It was also true that this job had its attractions: the pay was good and accommodation would be provided free of charge (not, as Ana was relieved to discover, in the Brothel itself).
The Blad State Brothel was an imposing building. It was difficult to determine the building's shape because from whatever direction it was seen other buildings in the narrow winding roads obscured some of it. Its entrance was a wide doorway, many times higher than the tallest man, leading to a foyer where men were sitting on armchairs or anxiously milling around. At first Ana was unsure where to go, but she breathed deep and strode towards the scantily dressed lady at the reception desk. She would not be deflected at this last hurdle. At the very least, she'd want to reclaim her not inconsiderable travelling expenses.
When Ana introduced herself, she was treated in exactly the same officious way she associated with receptionists at other interviews she'd attended. Mr Madir was informed by telephone that Ana had arrived and then, because he was such an important man, the receptionist escorted Ana into his private elevator and up to his office. Even then, Ana had to wait with the plants and plaques in the anteroom for nearly half an hour beyond the official scheduled time of the interview before the Director could see her. Ana speculated that this might be because there were other candidates for the job, but when he opened his door to invite her in there was no evidence of what might have delayed him.
"However, this is a Brothel," continued the Director, smoke billowing through the nostrils of his long thin nose. "And it is worth your while knowing how the institution works. No doubt, like many country bumpkins, you have some very peculiar ideas about it. And from what I've heard of State Brothels in the provinces, this may not be entirely due to rustic ignorance." He leaned forward to gaze into Ana's face, forcing her to lean back while still maintaining a fixed bland smile. "Do you have any idea what motivates women - or men - to work as prostitutes?"
Ana swallowed slightly. "No," was all she managed to eructate.
"None of your friends have ever been prostitutes? None of them ever considered it as a career?"
Ana shook her head. What must Mr Madir think of her?
"There are many different reasons for a woman, - and most of the prostitutes here are women, - to work as a Prostitute. The most positive ones are held by those attracted to prostitution as a profession, and who take it every bit as seriously as the legal, medical, pedagogical and, I dare say," the Director sniffed a little dismissively, "the secretarial professions. These are the prostitutes I most admire. They are the ones who have ensured that, over the centuries, the State Brothels continue to provide the highest possible level of service and satisfaction. A standard which would have ensured a state monopoly even if the law didn't already prescribe it.
"Then there are those attracted purely for the remuneration. Prostitutes are very competitively salaried, and the bonuses, overtime and fringe benefits are really second to none. Quite a few Prostitutes, and not just the Alpha grades, earn substantially more than me. Why an employee wishes to earn so much money is really none of my business and I do not wish to pry. However," and again Mr Madir leaned uncomfortably forward, "one hears terrible things about their private habits. Some even drink alcohol. And for a filthy habit like that they need the money to buy it on the black market. And some have children. You don't have children, m'dear?"
Ana shook her head. She felt distinctly ill at ease. Even in her smart and demure interview outfit, - which rather exaggerated any stiffness or primness she might already possess, - the Director's pale brown eyes seemed to unclothe her.
"Good. And then there are those here in penal service. They most definitely do not enjoy the career advantages of other Prostitutes, but many choose to linger on as employees after serving their sentence. I don't enjoy my dual role as Prison Governor and Managing Director, but I am above all a servant of the Government and in that capacity I am thoroughly loyal. Do you have any questions?"
Ana couldn't think of any, and rather hoped the interview would end soon. It was difficult to avoid looking into the Director's face, and every time she did his eyes pierced straight through her. No doubt it was his profession that made him appear like this, thought Ana charitably. Or maybe, she wondered less benevolently, it was what he was already like that had decided his choice of profession.
"Irrespective of the terms of their employment all the Prostitutes are strictly graded according to their appearance, performance and special services. This is categorised by Greek letters. The highest grades are the Alphas with the Alpha Double Plus being the highest quality, most well-paid and, as far as the client is concerned, the most expensive. At the other extremes are the Epsilons. These might be considered bargain basement by the clients, and their services are usually only retained because of the demand for cheapness. Epsilons mostly consist of convicts and economic migrants. Personally, I would never avail myself of their services, but there are many poverty-stricken clients with sufficiently less discretion than myself.
"If you were employed as a Prostitute, I imagine you would be categorised as Beta Plus which is no bad thing to be. There are opportunities to work part-time as a Prostitute. Should you ever consider it, it's a very good way to improve your salary quite substantially." The Director paused to pull another cigarette from the silver cigarette case on the desk. He tapped it on the exterior, though there seemed no reason to suspect it needed such attention and fixed it in the end of his cigarette holder. "Does the prospect of such extra employment attract you at all, m'dear?"
Ana blushed. Revulsion gripped her stomach. She'd rather die! A heroic image of herself jumping out of the Director's window onto the city streets many floors below came to mind as she vehemently and speechlessly shook her head.
"Well, you may come to change your opinion with time and acquaintance," mused Mr Madir, who adjusted the cigarette holder in his lips and flicked open his cigarette lighter. He lit his cigarette carefully, watching the smoke rise. Ana averted her eyes from the smoke and focused them on the ponderous gold ring on his forefinger.
The remainder of the interview concerned more mundane aspects such as the starting date, salary, holiday allowance and the accommodation she would be offered. Ana soon found herself committed to commencing the very next day and despite her reservations about the Brothel and the Director himself, she could articulate no good reason for not accepting the offer. The Director had a tendency to digress and talk about his own job and responsibilities, and in these moments Ana had the opportunity to inspect the office. This was to be the place, she began to accept, where she'd be spending most of her working day, taking down short-hand, typing letters and exercising the Director's more menial duties. The office was very plush, as befitted the Director's status, and above his head hung an impressive portrait of President Marmeluke, dressed in a flamboyant military uniform, gazing imperiously down on his two subjects.
After the interview, the Director escorted Ana to the Brothel Canteen along endless corridors and staircases. Ana wondered if she'd ever become familiar with the building's geography. Along the corridors were closed doors with a bright light above each one. Some were red, some were green and some were switched off. The Director explained that these described the Prostitute's current status. When the light was red, the Prostitute was engaged with a client and was not to be disturbed. When green, the Prostitute was on duty but was not at that time engaged with a client. And when switched off, the Prostitute was off duty.
Generally, the corridors were fairly empty. Occasionally they passed a man escorted by one of the receptionists wearing the regulation tight, rather revealing, leather uniform tottering on painfully high heels. These were clients being taken to a Prostitute, Mr Madir explained. Or, of course, he added, being escorted back to reception. No client was permitted to wander freely about the building. There were also Prostitutes walking singly or in pairs. These were off duty, the Director explained. But even then they had to dress as Prostitutes in case the client saw them. And indeed the scanty skin-tight clothes, the high heeled stilettos, the thick make-up and, in some cases, total absence of clothes, left little doubt as to their profession. Ana had never seen so many provocatively dressed, or undressed, women in all her life, and she felt embarrassment warm her cheeks and a curious excitement her body, which made it difficult to breathe or talk in a natural way.
Soon enough, they passed through some swing-doors with Entry Forbidden to Clients etched on the glass, and the doors now had titles, like Internal Examinations, Catering Clerk and Foreign Services, with which Ana felt more comfortable. And there was an arrow labelled To Staff Canteen.
The Brothel Canteen really could have been a canteen anywhere, sharing the same air of temporary reprieve. It was larger than any canteen Ana had seen before but there were all the expected features: formica-top tables, counter and canteen staff, red plastic trays and cardboard coffee cups. The Director beckoned over one of the canteen staff, a harassed middle-aged woman in an apron and simpering smile, who scurried forward to take his order for coffees.
"Where shall we sit, m'dear?" the Director asked.
"I don't really mind," said Ana who had nevertheless scanned the tables and saw many that she probably would mind sitting at. On some tables there was the customary chaos of empty cups, wrapping paper and coffee stains. On others, there were women in several states of dress and undress gathered in pairs or groups, some observing Mr Madir and her rather warily.
"I'll introduce you to some of the workers," announced the Director striding towards a table with three women sitting at it. Ana tailed him, her reserved interview clothes very much out of character.
The Director briefly introduced the three women in turn, before sitting in a chair. Ana sat next to him. One girl, Ferhana, was slim and black, wearing black suspenders, stockings and black lace underwear. Her hair was fairly short and she beamed at Ana with a peculiar mischievous grin. Opposite Ana was Binta, who had long mousy brown hair to her waist and wore no clothes at all. Ana found the prospect of sitting so close to a pair of round naked breasts and their lightly pronounced nipples curiously threatening. The third girl, Bezaffa, was extremely plump with soft white skin, most of which was clearly visible through her skimpy, nearly transparent, dress. Although fat, she was not at all unattractive, her friendly, welcoming face framed by blonde shoulder-length hair.
"Ferhana's a foreigner as you can probably tell," the Director continued after the canteen assistant had produced two cups of coffee, both in somewhat superior china with sugar cubes and a spoon resting in the saucer. "Not many jobs where you come from are there, m'dear?"
"Very few," admitted Ferhana, who spoke with a flat accent. "Haj is a very poor country. Not like Alif. Many people do not have enough to eat and the cities are very dirty. That is why I have come here."
She smiled broadly and gazed straight into Ana's eyes.
"We don't have many niggers in Alif," explained the Director, "so they possess premium value in the Brothel. You're doing quite well here aren't you, Ferhana dear?"
"Yes," she admitted. "When I first have come to the Brothel, I was just a Beta Plus. But I have done many tests and many exercises. Now I am an Alpha Minus and many more clients want me. I have learnt how to look after my body so I am much more good at my work and much more good to look at."
"Actually Ferhana's serving time here," elaborated the Director. "She was found guilty of smuggling alcohol into the country, weren't you?"
Ferhana looked remorseful. "Yes, that is true. In Haj it is not against the law to buy and sell alcohol. And I made very much money selling it. But I was caught and I was sent here to be reformed." She smiled at the Director. "But I am reformed now. And soon I will work here and make very much money selling my body."
"A much more creditable way to make a living," he said approvingly. "It always fills me with pleasure when girls in my care are reformed. It makes the custodial aspect of the Brothel much easier to bear."
Ferhana sipped from her cardboard cup fixing her eyes on the Director. "It is good to know that I have a good career waiting for me at the end of my sentence."
"Binta's also here for remedial purposes," the Director continued. Binta visibly jumped at being addressed, but nervously composed herself. "Like Ferhana she was classified on arrival as a Beta Plus, and I'm sure that she too could attain an Alpha grade if she worked at it." Binta nodded but her eyes wandered away from the Director and towards Ana. "These two girls are actually quite untypical, m'dear. Most of the prisoners we get are quite poor grade. Most are Gammas and Deltas. We even get a few Epsilons. My greatest reservation of government policy in placing criminals in my care is that they tend to lower the general standard. And so few of them are properly motivated. Isn't that true, Binta?"
"Probably," she answered noncommittally.
"I don't think Binta's got quite the right attitude," the Director sniffed. "But, Ana, what do you think about the way she dresses?"
Ana blushed. "I'm sorry. What... ?"
"Or the way she doesn't dress," the Director continued. "It's not my choice. I prefer the girls to be smartly turned out like Ferhana here. A good pair of heels. Well-applied makeup. But the Department of Public Services has quite a liberal attitude and it allows this nudist look. What do you call it, Binta?" Binta frowned. "Naturism, isn't it? There is a sufficiently large demand for naked girls for this kind of appearance to be permitted. They can get away without wearing any makeup or other kind of prescribed body care as long as they remain naked all the time. Isn't that so?"
Binta nodded. Her eyes wandered back towards Ana who caught a flash of insolence before they lowered in token subservience.
"Binta's not the only nudist you'll see here," the Director continued, "but thankfully there aren't too many of them. I wouldn't like the Brothel to look like some heathen place. But I can't answer for the clients' tastes. And it's the public to whom I'm ultimately answerable." He pulled a cigarette out of its case and tapped it on the Formica surface. "But you'd say you're a reformed girl, wouldn't you Binta?"
"Yes, of course," she said firmly but without enthusiasm.
"President Marmeluke's government doesn't lightly institute policies. There's a great deal of reasoned debate. And it's very cheering to see demonstrable proof of its wisdom. Binta won't treat public morality with such disrespect again, will you?"
Binta shook her head.
Ana found herself sympathising with Binta's somewhat sullen attitude towards the Director. Indeed, now that she'd got over the original shock of sitting opposite a naked woman, it no longer seemed so strange. It would probably have detracted from Binta's fresh-faced attractiveness if she'd been dressed in underwear with such pronounced makeup as Ferhana. Perhaps not all prostitutes are sluts, she reflected.
"However, for a model for my other employees there can be none better than Bezaffa. Can there, m'dear?"
"You flatter me," smiled Bezaffa coyly.
"Unlike these other two, Bezaffa came into the profession by choice. And she's a true professional. An Alpha Plus. Isn't that so?"
"It is," Bezaffa agreed modestly.
"You might wonder how someone as ample as Bezaffa, someone as voluptuous, could get such a high rating. But that's because certain species of employee are classified appropriately for their particular virtues. And for her type, Bezaffa is quite simply top notch."
"It's hard work maintaining it," confessed Bezaffa, smiling confidentially at Ana. "I have to spend a lot of time every day practising and keeping myself in shape."
"No hardship keeping your figure, though," the Director commented, leaning towards Bezaffa.
Ana reviewed Bezaffa in an attempt to evaluate why she should have such a high rating. She supposed that she did seem peculiarly attractive for such a large woman. Her face, in particular, shone with a fresh gleam with dark blue eyes and light blonde hair. Her smile had a flirting seductiveness which dimpled her round smooth cheeks. Her breasts swelled over the roundness of her belly with her enormous pink nipples clearly visible through the skimpy white dress.
"Bezaffa's very much in demand. Indeed most of your work is spent visiting clients rather than them visiting you here. And you're booked quite a few days in advance."
"Well, I do have my regulars — which ensures a very full appointments diary."
"And I bet they give you a little extra on the side," the Director joked slyly.
"I wouldn't admit to that, would I, sweetie?" Bezaffa answered. "But I can refuse clients I don't like. That's almost the greatest privilege of being an Alpha Plus."
"Don't say that too loudly," laughed the Director, "or the other girls will be even more jealous of you!"
"It's not very often I exercise my prerogative, of course," Bezaffa elaborated. "I like all my clients. Especially the regulars. In fact, I really enjoy my job."
"It's a good career, isn't it?" the Director enthused. Ana noticed that Binta didn't seem to share Bezaffa wild—eyed enthusiasm. Indeed she scowled at the very suggestion of the profession's appeal. "Tell Ana about the advantages of your work."
"It's a good career. It's a good way to meet a lot of very interesting people and it keeps you terribly fit. In fact, it's almost all I can do to keep myself as plump as I am. There can't be many jobs where you're paid to enjoy yourself and get paid so well. The holiday allowance is very generous, there's an index—related pension and plenty of opportunity for overtime. You ought to do some part—time work in it yourself, dear. You can certainly earn quite a bit of extra cash — more than your regular income. Have you considered that option at all?"
Ana blushed. "No, not at all!"
"Well, I'm sure you'll get round to the idea. Your predecessor, Inta, was just like you to start with but after a while she got to be quite enthusiastic about it."
"She did very well," agreed the Director. "But don't you worry; if it's not for you, then that'll be respected."
"Of course, sweetie," Bezaffa agreed. She glanced at the tiny red plastic watch which pinched into her swollen wrist. "Well, it's been nice talking to you, but I've got a client to visit so I'll have to be going."
She eased out of her plastic chair and heaved herself up. She leaned over and kissed Ana tenderly on the cheek. "Welcome to the Brothel. I'm sure you'll enjoy working here. And I'm sure we'll see a lot of each other." She then bade everyone farewell and walked off in long confident strides on stilettos which demonstrated a degree of delicate charm not often associated with such large women.
The Director glanced at the canteen clock. "One o'clock!" he announced. "I must get back to the office. And it must be time for your shift, too, Ferhana m'dear."
"Oh yes!" she answered, promptly leaping to her feet. "I was just about to go."
"And what about you, Binta?"
"I'm on a later shift," she announced.
"Right, m'dear!" The Director stood up and shook Ana's hand. "So, we'll be seeing you punctually first thing tomorrow morning. I'll go through your duties with you then."
Ana nodded, still unsettled by her changed circumstances, and watched as the Director and Ferhana disappeared together through the canteen doors which slammed shut behind them with a puff. Ana was left sitting just opposite Binta and not at all sure where to direct her eyes. She couldn't very well look away from Binta as that would seem rude, but she felt very nervous gazing at a naked woman however natural her nakedness might appear.
Binta smiled reassuringly at Ana. "You're new to Blad, aren't you?"
"Yes. I've never been to the big city before."
"It must seem very intimidating. I've not seen much of the city myself — except, you know, what I can see from the Brothel. And that's not a lot."
"Are you here all the time?"
"Yes. I'm never let out! I might run away, you see!"
"You really are a prisoner here!"
"Nothing could tempt me to stay here otherwise," Binta affirmed. She examined Ana quizzically. "You poor dear. All this must seem very queer to you. If you like, I'll show you more of this place. Would you like that?"
Ana glanced around the rest of the canteen at all the strange women and the counter staff more animated now that the Director was gone.
"That would be interesting."
"I'll show you my room. It's not much, but it'll give you more of an insight of what the Brothel's about."