When Joseph Ballad came to his senses, he found himself at the mouth of the repulsive East End. The mud-covered streets let out stale dampness, which then amalgamated with the lethargic air prevalent in the vicinity. It mixed with the stench of its residents and visitors, thus solidifying their otherwise frail individuality. The place repulsed every member of the esteemed society. Joseph was the only one to whom this place felt more like home.

The visit was not out of perversion but because of desperation. The stature of his society had continuously butchered his heart’s bloom. Even his fiancée ingested a major chunk of his calm and then left him to rot. To add a cherry to his plight’s cake, even his own family blamed him for his cohort’s treachery, which in no way, was a making of his own. Whatever mirth remained in him, died when Margaret left him amid the jests of his family and relatives. For time being he craved for their attention and blamed himself for the treachery he suffered. The affection which Margaret showed him completed him and others’ affirmation further cemented his existence. It was a bliss and his meaningless hope made him wait for eternity, with a glimpse of a feigned opportunity to relight that lost flame.

Joseph’s unnecessary resilience soon crumbled down like a torn down house, and the more he waited the severe the pain began. Over time, he lost his friends and then his familial ties gained detached formality, and his bliss turned into a hell.

In the time of desperation, Joseph turned to the lurid holes of humanity; the East End. There, vices are the virtue and desires are a revered status. It is here he met Penny. His darling. A woman who loved every man in her own way, catering to his own peculiar individuality. It was a feat that every visitor held close to his heart, especially Joseph. For him, it gradually became a purgatory where he could just purge his peril. And as time passed, his calm turned into affection, which became an obsession. Thereafter, not a day went by when Joseph didn’t find himself in her arms. And just like any other instance, he was today too.

Joseph closed his eyes, arched his mouth and took in the air to single out Penny’s scent from a thousand others. At the moment, he looked like a dog looking out for his food. It was awkward and a nearby gentleman’s constant gaze conveyed this notion to Joseph and he walked away.

A few more minutes of the walk brought Joseph in front of his holy altar. The ‘Evening House’. He put his step through the threshold and suddenly his heart raced. It was a feeling known to him but one which he didn’t experience in the present scenario. It surprised him, but his thoughts’ tread died shortly as the keeper appeared and gave him a leery stare.

‘The usual one, eh?’
Joseph nodded and followed him to his favourite chamber. There, he made love to Penny with more passion and fervour, which took even a person of her profession by surprise. For she had known and experienced in a rather morbid way that the desires of her customers, no matter how broken he might be, were always mechanical. They always lived in a detached world of their own, passing their desires and ecstasies through a thin and unseen membrane. Unable to keep her curiosity, Penny finally asked the reason for his excitement.

‘You are acting different today, Sir Ballad,’ she said, ‘Has something exceptional happened to you?’

Joseph let out a laugh, ‘It will now.’ He said, and it made Penny even more confused.

Joseph, however, was too excited to care for clarification. He reached for his frock coat and pulled out a ring. The glint of gold and the sparkle of sapphire brought a gleam in her eyes. Automatically, her hands pressed against her heart and a smile adorned her face.

‘Sir Ballad, you don’t have to…’

‘Bollocks, I have to, because…’Then, without giving Penny much time to register his words, Joseph sat down on his knee and showed the ring to her, ‘Penny, will you make me the happiest person on the earth?’

Penny skipped a reply with a smile and just stretched her hand. Enthralled, Joseph slid the ring on her finger.

‘I will be back in a jiffy,’ she said with a smile and left the scene.

The moment she left Joseph threw himself on the bed and closed his eyes. His demeanour might have looked lethargic, but his mind was busy in weaving his and Penny’s future and the plan which would make his family to accept her.

For how long, Joseph had no idea, but echoes of footsteps distracted him. He shot up on the bed, ready to depart with Penny when instead of his cherished, he found a bunch of hooligans standing around him. After a few minutes, he found himself on the pungent mud of the street and the keeper leaning on him.

‘Guess, we will keepin’ the ring, eh?’ He said, ‘for our services. And we won’t be seeing you again.’

The keeper slid into his snake’s nest and closed the slammed the door. Joseph turned on his back and stared the sparse peek of the moon. For minutes, he stayed like that, then he smiled.

‘Well, glad she at least accepted the ring.’

by Nishant Verma