Novel drafts make for an absorbing but exhausting experience. I’m deep within the proofs of my next novel acquired by Thomas & Mercer, THE BLUE BAR, and working on its sequel at the same time.
Penning a short riff based on writing prompts from WEP—organized by my talented and generous writer friends Denise Covey and Yolanda Renée, was just the writing palate cleanser I needed.
Check out their excellent site, and join in, if you like. (Links open tomorrow, I’m taking an early start.)
Like the one I wrote last WEP, the character voice below is based within THE BLUE BAR universe (which includes some romance within the body of a crime novel).
This slapdashfic is a 1-hour timed-writing exercise: a crime author’s take on a love story ( without using the L-word):
STORY TAGLINE: It is not, until it is.
I like that he hasn’t touched me yet.
The whole Sunday we’ve been together, he has spoken to me like I was any other friend, not a bar girl he’s taken out for a day on the beach.
The Aksa is different from the beach at Juhu-Chowpatty. Cleaner, for one. I can sink my feet into the warm wet sand without worrying about what I might step on. The breeze is cool and doesn’t stink of chemicals or the refuse people leave behind on Mumbai’s beaches.
Strangely, there are no people about—only a man in the distance holding the hand of his toddling daughter.
I share my rooms with six other bar girls. I’ve never been on such an empty stretch, nor anywhere this quiet except for the endless swish of the sea, and the waves crashing on the shore. They seem cheery, with much to say, but then disappear without a trace into the sand. Just like us bar girls.
He’s rolled up his thin cotton trousers. Strong legs and clean feet. He’s walking in the water, leaving me far behind. I wouldn’t have minded if he’d held my hand and taken me along, but he seems to know what I want.
To collect these sharp-edged sea shells that look like butterflies, and tiny stones, red and yellow and black. To sniff the dank seaweeds. To chase the waves. To raise my skirt above my knees so I won’t get it wet, without worrying about raising it too high.
I told him I’m nineteen. He’s a police constable and particular about such things.
I’m old enough at seventeen. Been at the bar for four years now. Most nights after hours of dancing, I feel like I’m thirty. Today though, I want to go back to the times when I ran in my leafy village streets, worried only about escaping my friends at play.
When he returns, I’m buying cotton candy from the one sleepy vendor at the edge of the beach. He brushes my money away, hands me the pink ball of fine sugar strings.
Shocking me, he gets one for himself. With his serious expression and clipped, lampshade mustache, he doesn’t look like the type. He’s twenty-two, he says. Looks older until he smiles, and then he is much younger.
His mustache dims his full-lipped smile, bright and almost womanly on his square-jawed face. When a few strands of candy get caught up in it, I itch to reach up and brush them off, but a bar girl dare not touch a police constable first, not even one as nice as him.
He catches me looking, and brushes his mouth, snagging the sticky candy strings, licking them up. He does it like a boy would. I laugh, but it is to hide my hitching breath.
We walk side by side, but our hands don’t brush. I watch his forearms, chiseled, veined from his karate sessions. He tells me about his dojo, and about the times he has arranged security detail on this very beach during a Bollywood shoot.
It reminds me of the pretty girls and handsome men on the big screen. I try to imagine what it would be like, if it were me and him. Like my friends say though, none of it is real.
I’m supposed to ask him for money, for gifts, in exchange for my body that is routinely groped each evening at the bar. The body I haven’t given to anyone yet. I’m a bargirl, they tell me. Not a prostitute. I can choose who to go with, and when. But it must be soon.
Find yourself a good-looking man for the first time–it will hurt, but at least it will be with a man you like. Then use your youth to make yourself a nest egg, just like any accountant or sportsman. They laugh when I stare. You’ll understand, they say, someday you’re like us when no one wants your body, no matter how cheap you let it go. When your body betrays you. Get them when you can. Get him while he wants you.
He looks into my eyes when he talks, listens when I tell him about a movie I watched, does not insist I hold him tight when I sit on his bike. He drops me close to my place before nightfall, his gaze lingering over my face when he tells me how much he likes talking to me. That we should do this again. He pats my arm. I put my hand over his for a moment, and then he’s gone.
That night in bed I think of him, his forearms, his legs. His hard shoulder beneath my fingers when I sat behind him on the bike. I imagine his touch. I run my fingers through his thick hair. I trace the line of his lips. I picture him without his mustache, vulnerable. Without his clothes. I put him in a groom’s attire, the wedding white dhoti. His bare, muscled chest. Our first night. Our daughter. Chores at home. Him cooking me meals. Meeting his friends’ wives. Our daughter who is not a bargirl, who speaks long words very fast, and people listen. Who does not invite men’s eyes on her body to make a living. Who has a daughter, even smarter than her. I picture growing old, him and I.
I turn to the bare wall, and close my eyes, and I make myself linger on the veins on his forearms instead of his words, his smile, as I drift to sleep.
It is his name that returns to me instead. Arnav. I turn it over in my mouth, caress it with my tongue as I whisper it so the other girls won’t hear.
Arnav. I reach back into the recesses of childhood tales from my grandma before she died. The Sanskrit meanings. Arnav, I remember, means the waves, the wide ocean, the endless sea.
WORD COUNT: 992, FCA
If you’d like to challenge me with more Writing Prompts for my One-Shot Gazette where I send out flash fiction each month, CLICK HERE.
If this snippet makes you curious about THE BLUE BAR, click Want to Read on Goodreads or Follow me on Amazon to keep tabs.
In case you’d like to help with the book, please click here to be my DAISHIK–a Sanskrit word for guru and cheerleader.
You can also subscribe to the other Publishing Resources using the button below.
Get Publishing Resources Subscribe to Blog Join Daily (w)rite on FB Follow on Bookbub
Have you used flash fiction writing prompts? What recent short stories or novels have you read? Do you write or read fiction based on writing prompts? Have you read any of the other WEP stories?
As always, beautiful, touching, moving. Thank you for sharing your work. <3
Thanks for all the love always, Marian.
I hope she finds her happily ever after. Very touching. Very well written!
Bar girls, a rarely mentioned topic in my part of the world. Great choice to use for this story.
Hope you’re having a great day! My latest blog post has my theme for the April #AtoZChallenge (I’m writing speculative fiction and looking for prompts).
At Operation Awesome we have the #PassOrPages query contest going on (friends or enemies to lovers Romance).
Looks like I’ll be very busy the next few weeks!
March quote: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain
Hi Miss Damyanti,
Love your story. The descriptions are fantastic and take me to the beach and to her bedroom.
Her thoughts of him are very descriptive and easy to visualize.
Thanks for sharing this cool take on the prompt.
Hi Damyanti, I posted a comment but can’t find it anywhere so am writing it again.
This was lovely! I didn’t want it to finish. Now waiting for the book…when does it get published?
Thanks so much, Shilpa. It comes out in October.
Seriously, I didn’t want this to finish. I LOVED it, Damyanti!
Sharing her room with six other bar girls confused me. Is a bar girl just a female who goes to a place that primarily serves alchohol, and while there drinks quite a bit and probably engages in flirtatious behavior? Wait, a bar at 13??? Okay, I really don’t get what’s going on. Maybe a bar is something else? And then she’s a prostitute who hasn’t been with anyone? I am pretty sure there’s a lot going on here that I just don’t know about.
But, other than being super confused, I liked the story and the imagery. Especially the cotton candy in the mustache.
Jamie, thanks for the comment. All the answers to your questions are within the piece 🙂
Hi Damyanti – this is delightful … your writing entices – now I want to read more and know more … brilliant take on the prompt. Love it – thank you … I’ll be thinking about them for ages wondering about them. Cheers Hilary
Thanks so much for the kind words, Hilary. You’ve been so supportive with reading You Beneath Your Skin.
Brilliantly fleshed out as always. Looking forward to the book, and hoping Arnav is what he sounds like here. With crime fiction authors you never know!
Thank you, Sonia, and thanks so much for your support of You Beneath Your Skin! Love that you’d like to read The Blue Bar, as well.
This is an intriguing beginning to a romance. I hope that Arnav turns out to be more than she expects and that she can escape her current circumstances to have the life she’s dreaming of. You used some beautiful descriptions in this and I could picture the scene clearly.
Thank you, Anstice. Yes, it is the beginning of their romance, and how it will proceed apace in The Blue Bar 🙂
Her life hasn’t turned out as she thought it would but she still has her hopes and dreams and maybe, with a little luck, they will come true. I enjoyed reading this.
Thank you, Sally!
“I can sink my feet into the warm wet sand without worrying about what I might step on.”
Somehow this is such a relatable worry 😂
Love that flash, Damyanti. “Fine sugar strings”–just brilliant!
Thanks so much! This isn’t really as much a flash as a slapdash character sketch. So pleased you read it.
I feel as though I’ve been at the beach, watching her in this liminal space between where she is, where she wants to go, and where life will lead her. Excellently sketched. Thank you.
Thanks for your wonderfully perceptive comment, Pennie. That is exactly what this sketch is–the beginnings of the journey for the protagonist of my next novel.
This is an emotive piece which sucked me in and turned my emotions upside down – here, there and everywhere – and when I reached the final word, there was a hollow feeling in my chest.
Thank you, Michelle. You’ve been reading my stories for more than a decade, and words can’t describe what your support has meant to me, especially in those initial years.
Enjoyed reading this chapter, the pathos, pain and longing wondering on the lives of bar girls in Maximum City which is relegated to the past. Brilliantly told and look forward to the book. I planned to do a blog fiction on bar girls but somehow the idea went off skelter. I can picture them dancing and swaying to the tunes.
Thank you, Vishal. Yes, THE BLUE BAR includes the bar dancing scene, and this character is one of the protagonists. Very pleased that you enjoyed it.
This is so beautifully written. You set the scene so well, and I felt for this young woman and all she’s been through. You captured her hopefulness perfectly. I want her to find her happy ending.
Thank you. Her story continues in THE BLUE BAR, so I’m glad her plight resonated with you.
How wistful she is and yet wise beyond her years. This snippet tugged at my heart strings. I look forward to your book.
Thanks, Kalpana, and thanks also for your lovely review of You Beneath Your Skin.
Bar girls must have a difficult life. How nice that she found a “client” who is a gentleman. Is there a fairy tale ending? Either way, it does whet the appetite for your upcoming book, which is now on pre-order. 🙂
Yes, bargirls in Mumbai have a terrible life–to find the ending, readers need to read The Blue Bar 🙂
So thrilled with your support, Debbie. I absolutely appreciate it!
Lyrical! Absolutely loved the way the name, bar girls and waves have been symbolised. I hope she gets the respect, love and life she wants.
Thanks, Nilanjana. Her journey is part of The Blue bar, so I’m very pleased this resonated with you!
Hello Damyanti. A great teaser for your new novel, which I’m looking forward to reading if you wish. I haven’t filled out any forms, but the offer is there. From beginning to end, you’ve kept us in the unfortunate girl’s head. It sounds like a hopeless situation. How cruel is life for some. But we can all hope for a happy ending in fiction; not necessarily in real life. Her yearning for a better life will resonate with me for some time.
Thanks for the generous offer, Denise, and I’ll definitely take you up on it!
This bargirl and her constable boyfriend are the protagonists of The Blue Bar, and I’m so glad her yearning resonates with you because it is one of the important strands of the novel.
This strikes a chord. Beautiful, hopeful, and yet it feels doomed.
(Shannon @thewarriormuse dot com)
Shannon, Thanks for your lovely comment.
Readers will discover the fate of this bargirl, her Arnav, and their relationship in The Blue Bar.
Very poignant. Lyrical and tragic simultaneously. I hope this girl has something nice in her future.
Her future shows up in my novel, The Blue Bar.Thanks for the feedback, Olga.
It’s probably tough to get respect as a bar girl. Sounds like she’s going to find some with this guy. Well-written!
Thanks, Sherry. Yes, she might–this is the first day of their journey, together, and apart.
I hope she gets her wish and they marry. Well written and inspiring.
Their journey shows up in The Blue Bar, this is a sort of prequel :). Thanks for the kind words.
Oh, that is so beautiful. And the tension… beautifully handled.
And I skipped this month, because I was busy… shame on me!
Good luck with your writing and editing. 🙂
Thanks so much,Jemima! And there’s no shame in not participating. You have enough to be getting on with, given the release of your book!
Thanks also for the kind wishes–I need them, I’ve had that kind of day.
I came back for a second read as I was working through the WEP list… still grips you right through to the end. 🙂
The life of a young bar girl is hopeless, and as I read your story, I hoped that this young man would deliver her from what she had to do every night, as she suffered the touches of the men who groped at her every night. I’ve read many stories about these bar girls, and I’m privileged to know a woman who works for an organization to free them from their situation.
Therefore, I felt pain for her. I could feel her happiness that he hadn’t touched her yet. What it must feel like not to be touched when you don’t want to be touched yield a desperation that only the girl or woman that is in such a situation can tell.
Thanks for such a lovely comment, Pat. I’m relieved it resonated with you.
Very well written.
Thank you, Sandra, and thanks for sharing this story in a tweet.
This is truly beautiful.
I love the parallel between the bar girls and the waves…
Thanks for stopping by to comment, Sue. This is a first draft, but I did enjoy writing it.
My soft heart wants all the good things she’s envisioned to come true for all the bar girls!
Me too. (Reality is sadly very different.)
That was so sweet. I am so looking forward to your book!
Thanks so much, Sunita. That’s very kind.
Beautiful writing. So much emotion expressed with such simplicity. The mind often supports what the heart wants. 🙂
Thank you for the kind words, Terveen. I appreciate your support, and your lovely offer to read an ARC of the novel in the sheet.
It would be my pleasure, Damyanti. 🙂