Barter Club : Part 1
Salohkin went with Eva. She said, "I'll show you how it works in this land. She took him through the town on foot. They passed shops and people, and cars and trams, in the street, much like in any other land Solohkin had been to. The people did not look particularly happy, just grey, like in his own land. He did not see the young people playing about much. They did not seem to want that.
She took him to a large shop, which looked like any other department store on the outside. Inside it was more like a night club. The people were dressed in their best clothes. "You can fetch a better price for yourself that way, said Eva. There were men hanging around, not talking to each other, especially waiting for partners to come along. A handsome slim man with dark hair and sideburns stood amongst them. Eva pointed him out, "He is very good looking, I think. Many women may be willing to go with him because he is good looking. They will be willing to pay for time with him. It all depends on his sexual appetite and how he views the women. We will observe for a while.
The handsome man looked over at them briefly. Salohkin presumed he was aware of their interest in him. He gave Eva a confident gaze, and his eyes settled on her for more than a moment. "He's giving me an invitation to barter, she said. "It means he's up for sale, or if he likes me enough he'll be willing to pay me, but I don't think so, she said humbly.
"Surely you would not need to pay a man for sex Eva, said Salohkin honestly. He meant it as a compliment.
She laughed, and he thought he had said something wrong. "You are naÃ¯ve, said Eva, mirthfully. "There is a price for everyone. He is very good looking. Many women will be happy to pay for him. He gets used to offering his services for money. He doesn't need to do ordinary work ' or not much. He can fund much of his lifestyle through sex. I am more ordinary than he. Unless he finds me special he will expect me to pay. The uglier a woman is the more she will have to pay. He will probably be keen to do business with less attractive or older women because he earns more money that way. It all balances out. He can spend his time for nothing, and even his money, on women whom he finds attractive, or he can earn serious money from women he does not find attractive. He will have a price for each woman.
A small group of ladies walked in. They looked quite well to do, only in their late twenties. They stood to one side and began to discuss, while they surveyed the men on offer.
A man approached one of them quite soon and entered negotiations for her. She was attractive and blonde, he fairly average. Salohkin could see he was offering a price, but the lady refused. Either she was wealthy and wanted someone more attractive, or she wanted to earn more money because she relied on it. She may have offered him a price for him to pay, but the man appeared to find it too much. He shook his head and moved on to another lady.
"The blonde is being selective, explained Eva. "She wants to get either a very good looking man or the price will have to be high. She looks as if she might be fairly well off so she's looking to satisfy her own sexual desires, and she doesn't need the money too much. She would only be prepared to give herself to someone she doesn't fancy for a high price. Let's see if she likes the handsome guy over there, the one we've just been looking at. I think she will like him.
Within a few short minutes Eva's prediction came true. The blonde evidently did like the look of the handsome man. She looked at him occasionally for some time, in the time honoured way that Salohkin had experienced in his own land far away when a woman likes a man's looks and wants to dare the man to come and talk to her or dance. Back there it was a challenge, an opportunity for the man to come forward if he was brave enough or confident enough. Here it was a much more direct indication. It was a casual event for these sexually confident people of this land. There appeared to be no danger or shame in the approach. It was merely the preparatory to a simple negotiation, as simple as a business deal. In this case the man returned her gaze if he was potentially interested. What man would not have been interested in this attractive woman. Her beauty was obvious. Her low cut dress gave as much flesh on the arms and shoulder and back as would be reasonable in his society, and her dress was short, very short. Her legs were long and slender without blemish in this half light. Perfect age, perfect beauty. Salohkin wanted her too, but he was new to this place. What Eva was explaining was all new to him, it shocked and surprised him, but it also excited him greatly.
In this land there was no expectation that a man should always approach the woman. There were no excuses for the woman to fall back on if she lacked the courage to bid for a man she liked. Here every man was on offer and all a woman had to do was to approach the man if she wished it. The men could just as easily approach the women. Here everyone seemed to have a practical approach towards the opposite sex. If you liked the look of someone, or maybe just wanted to earn some money by providing a service you could enter a contract with that person. There was no reason to be shy. There would be a price in most cases, one way or the other. The woman noted the handsome man's attention and took it quickly to be an invitation to barter. She wasted no time. In a blink she was stood before him offering herself.
"What do you think the price will be, and who will pay it? Salohkin asked Eva.
"It isn't so easy to say. I think they are both naturally attracted to each other. What do you think? Do you find her attractive? asked Eva.
"Oh yes, she's very attractive.
"Then she may try to offer a price for herself and the man may agree to it. But she cannot pitch it too high, because he may have any woman and he can earn money. It depends whether he wants to earn money badly, or whether he is willing to pamper his own fantasies. He might even be happy to part with some of his own cash for such an attractive woman, speculated Eva, without conclusion.
The woman seemed to suggest a price and the man appeared to shake his head and counter with his own price. It was impossible to tell whether they were negotiating a price for her services or for his. Perhaps they were both trying to raise a price for themselves.
"I think maybe she has offered some money for him, and he is trying for a higher price, but I could very easily be wrong, suggested Eva. "I know I would be willing to pay quite a lot for him.
"I think she would perhaps be worth money for him, declared Salohkin. It occurred to him that Eva's guided tour was fast turning into an argument about how much they each fancied the two individuals in question.
"You are getting the idea at least, declared Eva realising that they could go around in circles considering this question. "You may even be right. We both find them attractive, so we would both be willing to pay for them.
The blonde shrugged and agreed to something. The man slipped his arm around her waist and she reciprocated, and they headed out of the clublike area towards the lifts. There were rooms here, Eva said, which lovers could go to, charged by the hour, but not expensive. "We cannot know what they agreed. It is between them, said Eva. "Maybe they exchanged no money for this. It does happen, usually if they are well matched, or maybe she agreed to pay something for him, but it probably wasn't much.
Meanwhile two of the other ladies, who came in the same group as the blonde, had disappeared 'upstairs' with the men of their choice. The two remaining members of their group remained in the 'club'. A series of men came over to them and chatted briefly while attempting to negotiate a price. Presumably the ladies were being selective because all these men went away with deals unmade. Salohkin watched as more ladies came in in ones and twos this time. Some of these were very ordinary looking. Nonetheless they had no trouble finding a partner. In some cases the men who had been disappointed before came up to them. Eva said the 'plain' women would be paying the men. Large amounts for the best looking, small amounts for the more average looking men. Sometimes the women approached the men. Most first time approaches led to agreements and the new couples made their way in turn to the lifts. Occasionally couples would come down together or separately, having finished their enjoyments. Sometimes some of these people would hang around when they came down, to wait for friends, or for the energetic, unsatiated or love addicted, to find their next partner. Some wanted to earn money, some were doing this purely for pleasure; probably most did this for a combination of the two reasons.
"Have you seen enough, asked Eva. "Do you like what you see? Perhaps you are ready to try your own luck at this. You might even earn some money, she smiled.
"I can see now how all this works, said Salohkin. "It seems so easy. I can't easily believe that people could make contact with one another so easily, so casually. Where I come from large numbers are consigned to loneliness because we lack the confidence to reach out to each other. We think we are too ugly or we are not able to play the silly games required to find a partner. Every relationship is taken so seriously. The rules are complex and vary, depending on where you live and who you are. Here it is so open. It is merely a business transaction and everybody is doing it. It is difficult for me to approve. This is so different from the way I am used to. It seems wrong. Where I come from this sort of behaviour would be criticised, although some people do practice behaviour of a similar type. I think I like it, but that is probably only because I was not very good at the games we have to play where I come from. This way seems simpler and therefore is attractive.
"Your homeland sounds terrible, said Eva. She was listening intently to what he said. His shyness concerning sex was becoming more understandable. She would ask him more about his life, and the culture he came from later. "You must tell me more later. She wanted to see if she could persuade him to have a go at the normal pastime of sex. Then he would really understand how it worked here. She liked the look of Salohkin when she first saw him. Their introduction had been when she offered to have sex with him. She had walked up to him and offered him 10 demos to make love. She had judged him better looking then herself. She tended to offer a reasonable amount if she liked the look of someone because she didn't really care about that sort of money. It did not really matter at those prices, but it was enough to tempt a reluctant man, even if he wasn't bothered about her, or wasn't feeling sexually inclined. She preferred to offer a reasonable amount rather than haggle. She left it to her men to determine whether she was worth a reduction in price. Most people were fair minded about such things, although maybe she sold herself short too often. She didn't really mind; she valued sex and was prepared to pay for the types of men she preferred. It was a low cost compared with the amounts ugly people had to pay for sex.
She had stepped forward to Salohkin as he stood on the pavement and asked in the normal way, "Are you interested? I'll give you 10. There was never any need to mention the words sex or love; everyone knew what was being offered. It was a normal event. He had looked at her quizzically, innocently, and said, "Interested? Interested in what? in a funny accent. She had mentally stumbled a little at that. She had not been prepared for that sort of response. Everyone knew what the word interested meant. There was no need to explain it further. She thought that he had perhaps not heard her properly, although she had heard him repeat the word 'interested' so he must have heard. Anyway she had repeated her invitation and he had persisted with his question. "What do you want? he had asked.
What could she say to that? Wasn't it obvious? How should she put it? "I'm asking you would you like a session? I'm prepared to give you 10.Again he did not respond. It seemed he must be slow in the head. He did not say anything. Maybe he was judging what she was worth to him, but he did not seem to be looking at her that way. He looked genuinely perplexed, but how could he be? She concluded this man must be a bit strange. Perhaps this was his negotiating ploy, to get more money off her. He must be desperate for money and be trying to encourage her to raise her offer. It was rather rude and she did not like to encourage that sort of antisocial behaviour, but maybe he was a bit weird in bed too. Maybe he would be quite an exciting and unusual partner. So she upped her offer, "I'll give you 15 if you want. I don't mind.
"15 what? he said. "What are you talking about lady. Please explain what you want.
Taken even more aback she expanded to this specific question, "15 demos of course. What do you think I mean? Well are you interested? I can't go too high. That's a lot.
"Ah 15 demos, he said. "Money. You want to give me 15 demos. What for? What do you want me to do in return? You mean would I like to earn some money?
This guy was very strange. She now realised he had only just realised she was offering money, and he did not seem to appreciate that she was offering sex. She now began to think that maybe he was a stranger, a foreigner. That was why he spoke with a strange accent and did not seem to understand the implications of her simple question.
Realising now that this guy did not realise what she was offering, she spelled it out to him. "I'm asking you, would you like to spend an hour or two with me this afternoon for sex?
He looked slightly confused at this and seemed not to know what to say to her. She began to think she ought just to walk away. This stranger was not quite with it. Maybe he had never been here before and did not understand the language well enough, or perhaps he was one of those she had heard about but never met, who were monogamous and would not have sex with strangers, from overseas.
Finally he found the words, "You're asking me would I like to spend an hour or two with you this afternoon for sex? You mean you want to have sex with me. He smiled as if she had just said something very funny, and laughed, making a funny sound at the back of his throat. "You aren't joking are you? He said this in such a way as to say that he thought she had been serious in her offer but could not completely trust it, and was making a joke of it just in case she had not been serious. This man was a stranger to the continent; that much she knew now. He was one of those who was monogamous and not used to having sex with strangers. She could not read him at all. Maybe he found her repulsive. Maybe he did want her, but because of his culture, could not have her. She did not know. He kept his thoughts in his mind, and his words were not telling her very much.
"Yes that's right. You've got it right, and no I am not joking. It is a serious offer, she said to put his mind at rest.
"That's nice, he said, "I don't get asked that very often. Well, never really. So you must be a prostitute then. I did not imagine this was a red light district. So you're asking me to pay 10 or 15 demos for sex with you. That's good. It sounds quite cheap, but I thought you said you wanted to give me 15 demos. It doesn't make sense.
"That's right. I'm offering you 15 demos to have sex with you. You've got it right, at last. I'll do it for free, or even accept cash from you, if you prefer it that way, she said.
"So wait a minute. You're not charging me for sex. You actually want to pay me for sex. This is amazing. No one has ever offered to pay me for sex. This is fantastic. So you're not a prostitute? he asked.
"I don't know what you mean by that. What is a prostitute? she asked.
"You don't know? A hooker or a whore? A lady who sells her body for money?
"I don't know those words, she said, "but we all sell our bodies for money here. That's a cute way of putting it. Everyone does that in this part of the world. Men and women. Sometimes the men pay; sometimes the women; it all depends.
He was still smiling and laughing slightly. She could not understand what he found so funny. What she was saying made perfect sense to her, but he seemed to be laughing at her, or at what she was saying. She couldn't decide which. She did not like to be taken for a fool; she felt as if she was being patronised by this man, and she was not used to that. She did not dislike him otherwise. He was naÃ¯ve and strange, but the conversation was proving interesting, if only he would stop laughing at her. The conversation was so unusual that her sexual need had begun to fade. She could have sex later. If this guy did not want it there were plenty of others. She hadn't had sex yet today but she could wait another hour or two. There was no hurry. Sometimes she even went a couple of days without it. She thought, 'I'll talk to this guy, find out where he comes from and why he's here, why he doesn't seem to want sex, and see what makes him tick. He is listening to me, and we're having a very interesting conversation, if only he would stop laughing. Maybe when I explain how things work in this country he will decide he wants me. If not it doesn't matter.'