The Star Dancer
She was no longer bothered much by the leering faces of the men in the strip club for whom she would soon perform nearly naked. There were times when her mind turned the image of her audience into a mural, making her feel as if she were dancing alone before a depiction of the seamier side of life in early twenty-first century California. But more often, the image before her eyes was real, and she just accepted what she had been forced to become. Either way, those who loved watching her dance would be unable to resist her sad dark eyes when she slithered through the crowd to gather their tips.
The memory of how her life had taken this turn flashed through the young woman's mind as she waited in the wings for the last dancer to collect her freshly shed undergarments from the stage.
Her name was Salma Hernandez, until a few weeks before a Mexican citizen born and raised in the city of Tijuana, across the border from California. Her downfall had occurred quickly. Menial labor, the sex industry, and taking one's clothes off to the delight of drunken men were all things that happened only to poor Mexican girls, not to women whose family's were of some means.
At the beginning of that summer, she had been living what in the United States would be considered a middle class existence. Her father, a modestly successful small businessman, had been able to provide well for his children and Salma, his oldest daughter, had just graduated from medical school.
While waiting for a visa to the United States where she had been accepted for an internship, her country had gone into one of its economic tailspins and defaulted on its international loans. This time, however, the United States decided to take drastic action. With the acquiescence of the Mexican government, the U.S. Army invaded the family's home state, Baja California, and occupied the peninsula to extract its human capital.
A severe shortage of unskilled labor existed in the United States and to remedy the situation, the American President ordered that 1,000,000 Mexicans be sent north and sold as chattel to individuals, government agencies, small businesses, and large corporations. The owners were obligated to feed, house, provide medical care, and clothe their newly acquired property while extracting whatever work they could without paying wages. The workers could not quit or refuse to work, but could be sold as property, making them slaves.
The Mexican government signed a treaty agreeing to the expropriation and sale of a sufficient number of Baja California citizens into slavery to pay the country's creditors. . The rest of the country, jealous of the relative prosperity of Salma's state prior to the economic crisis and pleased that their own economic circumstances might ease, acquiesced to the brutal servitude imposed upon their brothers and sisters.
Each slave's period of servitude would be three years. The majority of Americans, believing slavery to be unjust and inhumane, refused to allow immigration for the purpose of involuntary servitude. But California, whose populace had already been burdened by decades of legal and illegal immigration from Latin America, decided that addition of such free labor would be a boost to the productivity of its aging population and accepted the hordes of Mexicans.
Her family, although shocked and angry over the state of their country, were apolitical and always had taken the economic downturns of their land in stride. An economic crisis might mean fewer Christmas gifts but no real changes in their lifestyle. They were chagrinned, however, upon finding that this time their bank accounts had been frozen to act as collateral against the country's debt.
They were even more surprised when Salma's younger sister, eighteen year old Gabrielle, received notice that she would need to go El Norte. Since Gabrielle was still in high school and her parents feared the consequences of their beautiful young daughter living away from them in the United States as a piece of chattel, Salma volunteered to go in her stead, thinking it likely that her background in medicine would result in her being assigned to work in a hospital or clinic.
Why she noticed that one of the girls at the assembly center was jaundiced she didn't know. Not wanting the woman's hepatitis to spread through the filthy cattle cars, in which the Mexicans would be shipped to the United States, she vigorously insisted that the girl be left off the transport and taken to a doctor.
The guard to whom she protested hated Mexico and Mexicans. It made his day to separate the young physician from the rest and designate her for special treatment. What better place for an attitude adjustment to be made on this mouthy Mexican bitch, he thought, than the Southern California sex industry.
It was perfectly legal-Salma would be bought or rented from the US government by a bordello owner, porno film producer, or strip club proprietor and the proceeds would be used to help satisfy her country's debt. After serving as a sexual outlet for American men for three years she was to be set free and sent back to Mexico.
American laws were amended to deal with legal issues arising from the importation of human chattel. As property, constitutional guarantees of free speech, the right to due process, freedom from unreasonable searches, and the right to a jury trial did not apply to the Mexican slaves. A new bureaucracy was empowered to adjudicate criminal matters involving them, with appeals allowed only for the owners. Mistreatment or killing of the slaves was to be judged akin to animal cruelty, and those found in violation of a special code would be subject to a fine or forfeiture of their property.
Salma had become satisfied with her lot at the strip club. What she did was not hard. The establishment was located in the Silicon Valley and had an upper class clientele. The owner was a decent man who did not make his slave women dance bottomless and even let them keep some of their tips.
The United States had decided to vent its frustrations over corruption and economic mismanagement by its southern neighbor on her fellow Baja Californians. As Salma was transported to her place of work, she would see grim faced Mexican workers on highway crews being berated by their taskmasters. Beatings were said to take place out of the public's view. Her fellow countrymen did not resist, their spirit having been broken by their betrayal at the hands of their own leaders.
Escape was nearly impossible. Internal transmitters linked to the GPS and a central computer had been inserted surgically into the peritoneal cavity of every slave, providing a record of their every movement.
Punishment for escape was severe. The few who tried were soon broken by the floggings and long periods of solitary confinement on skimpy rations that were their reward for pursuing the natural right to be free. Even the humiliation of a young medical professional being transported from a barracks in chains every day to dance almost completely naked in front of a drunken crowd of her oppressors did not seem bad when compared to what others faced.
She had always enjoyed dancing. Given her pride and competitive instincts, she performed with enthusiasm. Memories of more pleasant time blocked out the leering faces and helped her to ignore suggestive remarks from the customers. Tips that she secreted away enabled her to buy extra food that she shared with the other dancers.
Her unaccented English and upper class demeanor was a turn on for many men. She enjoyed teasing them during table dances and laughed to herself when she saw the little wet spots on the bulges that had arisen in their pants after her performances. "Well, I know whom he'll be thinking about the next time he does it with his wife," she would whisper to herself.
Salma thought her growing success as an exotic dancer was particularly ironic since she was still a virgin. She had enjoyed the kissing and fondling that occurred during the relationships she had before being enslaved. But she had not yet found a man good enough to make her break her vow to remain chaste until marriage. And as a devoted student of medicine subsumed in her studies, she had had no time to fall in love.
She did not know how her life would change the night a new customer walked into the club.
THE NEW FRIEND
The evening that would change her life started slowly. The eyes of the few men in the audience were fixated on the stage watching brown nubile bodies gyrate as the slave women paraded before them, peeling off their clothes in a vain effort to liberate money from their voyeur's wallets.
Polite applause would follow each woman's performance. But the sameness of the dancer's routines was only boring the audience.
The dancers had already worked the small crowd and no new customers had come through the door in the past hour. The men who remained kept rebuffing the girls' approaches, their billfolds or patience exhausted by the cloying women who were involuntarily present to serve them. Only one of the dancers present could excite them, and it was for her that they waited patiently.
Most of the girls were huddled together at one table, enveloped in a cloud of cigarette smoke, gossiping in their native Spanish. It was a tongue few of their Anglo patrons understood or cared to learn. Bilingualism was out of favor even among Americans of Latino origin, many of whom were abandoning their native tongue. Hispanic culture had become a laughingstock after Mexico dishonored itself by agreeing to enslave its citizens to pay off the debt it had accrued to its colossal neighbor.
The dancers' staccato speech hummed in the background, almost drowned out by the blaring music to which the woman on stage stripped. The occasional guffaws from the slave women's table added a comedic aspect to the women's performances. There had been many such evenings recently, and Salma was concerned that if business didn't pick up the dancers would be taken out of their haven and assigned to something even worse.
Finding tobacco smoke abhorrent, Salma had positioned herself far away from the other women, perching herself on a stool at the end of the bar next to an air conditioner. She gazed at the door through her tortoise shell glasses, hoping someone would enter and relieve her of the boredom that accompanied these slow nights. Her beauty and dancing ability attracted patrons who lead interesting lives or at least had good stories to tell, and time passed more quickly when she attached herself to such a man. Or maybe she brought out the best in them, for it was she whom everyone wanted to watch.
The least likely of the dancers was the most entertaining. Teasing her patrons with her body was a game she played well. But never did she give them all they wanted.
Salma watched a man dressed in a sportcoat and tie walk through the door and stride past the woman at the register, oblivious to the banner behind her that read 'COVER CHARGE TEN DOLLARS'. Before he could disappear into the audience, the cashier had to tug on the tail of his jacket to stop him. Credit card receipts fell onto the counter as he removed a ten-dollar bill from his overstuffed wallet to gain admittance, and he awkwardly replaced them into his billfold as the cashier stuffed his money into the register.
Salma chuckled as the man stumbled down a step. Rather than being repulsed by his demeanor, she found it cute. Her best male friends were shy. Lacking what psychologists called social skills lead them to be candid, for they were without the wherewithal to posture and act macho.
Shy people's isolation led them to think outside of the box, that is, to see the world differently than the glib confident people who usually got all of the attention. Once she had drawn them out, conversations were quite stimulating, and free from innuendo and lies. This guy might be fun.
The man tentatively approached a table near the stage, but then looked around and stepped back, removing himself from the spotlight. Her experience told her that despite the awkwardness in his demeanor, hidden inside might be a capable individual who commanded respect in whatever was his milieu. The man spotted a table along the back wall and took a seat. He relaxed a bit until the waitress came over to take his drink order, and then looked like he wanted to melt into the wall.
As the new customer watched the woman on stage jiggle her boobs in face of a patron sitting along the runway, Salma noticed him nervously tapping his finger on the table, with his right knee bobbing up and down. The sportjacket and tie he wore, though of good quality, did not match each other or his trousers. His face was handsome but his hair, though neat in front, stuck up in the back and his beard needed a trim. The top button of his shirt was fastened so tightly that she wondered how he could breathe, and it looked like his head was going to explode. When she looked into his eyes, even from a distance she could see that the lenses of his wire rim glasses were clouded with grime. The fourth finger on his left hand was not adorned by a wedding ring.
Curious, Salma took off her glasses and strutted over to his table. His eyes widened as she took off her coverup, exposing the black thong teddy she wore underneath. Leaning forward on the back of the chair across from him, her breasts spilling out of the flimsy garment, she announced, "I want you to watch me up on the stage so you'll know exactly what you are going to get when you buy me a drink and I dance here for you."
He looked at her and said nothing.
She lingered at his table to let him admire her beauty, for she knew she looked hot tonight. Purple lipstick coated her lips and a thin stripe of dark blue eyeliner highlighted her eyelids. Mascara on her long eyelashes made her orbs deliciously sad. Shiny black pumps adorned her feet. Her long black hair was gently curled and descended below her shoulders.
She sashayed over to the disk jockey's carrel and dug through his stack of tapes and CDs, tossing aside the recordings of the contemporary pop divas who offered nothing but gaudy outfits and suggestive lyrics. She guessed that the man to whom she planned to attach herself might be a fan of the Rolling Stones, and she enjoyed dancing to their songs. Amongst the CDs was one of the groups' greatest hits albums, and she presented it to the DJ to play.
She mounted the stage and the spotlight tracked her as she strode to the center. Just before the music began, she flashed a toothy smile to the man she intended to seduce.
'Jumping Jack Flash' then blared over the sound system. Mimicking Mick Jagger, the famous lead singer of the group, she strutted back and forth across the stage, her mouth opening wide as she made ersatz vocalizations into an imaginary microphone. Her movements showed off her ample bust and graceful curves, enlivening the small crowd.
Catching her breath as the song ended, Salma surveyed the audience. The man was having an animated conversation on his cellular phone; gesturing as if the other party was seated across from him, making her wonder if he had even seen her dance. Before the music started again he hung up and looked toward the stage, exasperation on his countenance. She smiled at him again and he smiled back, putting her mind at ease.
She took little notice of the other men in the audience, even the ones who regularly tipped her. Why the new man's reaction mattered so much made her curious. She surveyed him again, and noticed nothing special.
But that was it. His plainess bespoke a sincerity that was a rare trait among people today. He was not the least embarrassed by his appearance. He was sure of himself. Despite sensing that he was not quite in style, he seemed to know that whatever was good about him would shine through. Whatever he said or did for her would be from the heart.
'Honkey-Tonk Woman' began playing. It was during the second song that the dancers shed their clothing. She had started out wearing less than usual and, to keep her audience's attention, would play the tease by removing the teddy deliciously slowly.
As her torso went through an array of serpentine movements, her fingers toyed with the shoulder straps, moving them on and off her shoulder, and all the while she sported a lascivious smile. As the music played on her movements became more overt and her audience witnessed larger and larger portions of her breasts become visible. She finally let the garment fall to her waist, but hid her breasts by folding her arms in front of herself.
She then spun completely around and her arms fell to her sides, allowing those on either side of her to view her nipples in profile, while the men directly behind saw her bottom twist and turn to the music, as she ground her pelvis into an imaginary crotch. She suddenly turned to face them; again hiding her breasts behind her folded arms, and then flung her arms to her sides to the cheers of the crowd. She finally shed the teddy, revealing only a black g-string underneath as the song ended and the music paused.
While she was removing her teddy and exposing her bosom, the new customer had abandoned his table in the back and taken a seat along the runway.
The third song began to play. She moved to the spot onstage closest to her target, turned her back to him, and began undulating her pelvis in his direction while lightly caressing her torso, finally bending over to tell him peek-a-boo through her legs. Then getting down on all fours on the stage, she crawled to within inches of his face, looked him straight in the eyes, and began mouthing the words to the song, 'I Don't Get No Satisfaction.'
She was not surprised when a ten-dollar bill materialized in his hand, which he gingerly inserted into her garter belt as she sat before him on the runway with her legs spread apart. As she came through the audience after her set and thanked everyone who had tipped her with a kiss on the cheek, he called her over and asked her for a table dance.
She ran back to the dressing room, giddy over the invitation to dance from the stranger. Hardly any time passed while she retouched her face and slid back into her teddy. Though the stranger was different from all of the others, she still did not understand why he seemed so special.
Perhaps it was his resemblance to her mentor, her cousin Antonio, a professor of anthropology. Salma enjoyed his discourses on the last years of the Aztec Empire and the fall of Montezuma, as well as about what might have happened in the Americas if the lords of the Valley of Mexico had studied the invaders and adopted their ways instead of worshipping them as gods and becoming their slaves.
Shy and bookish, Antonio was in love with a history professor who had divorced a man who had been unfaithful to her. Her cousin was a devout Catholic, so Salma knew the two would never marry. Her cousin and the woman to whom he was devoted came together to family functions and they had been inseparable for ten years, but everyone who knew them doubted that they had ever even kissed. Her heart sunk as she wondered if either would be sent to El Norte.
She returned to the dance floor and sat down at the table to which he had retreated, now feeling as awkward as he did even being in the bar. His eyes surveyed the curves of her body but for some reason she did not find his gaze uncomfortable.
"Would you like a cigarette?" he asked.
Eager to please her new acquaintance she nodded yes, even though she didn't smoke. The stranger opened up a new pack of cigarettes. She fumbled to get one out and just held it between her fingers, hoping that he would forget about the need to light it. But he took out a pack of matches, so she put the cigarette in her mouth and leaned forward for a light.