The Courier Ch. 08bycaligula97236©
Chapter 8 -- "Socrates' Mistresses"
Maria Elena woke up early and set up the kitchen so Cecilia could prepare breakfast. Cecilia entered the kitchen with a rather concerned look on her face, partly because Pedro was still in bed sick, and partly because correctly suspected that she had interrupted something between her housemate and Victor.
As usual, the prisoner focused on serving her host and making sure he was ready to go to work. She assisted him dressing much in the way a wife would help a husband get dressed; brushing off his suit and straightening his tie. He was flattered by the attention and happy for the companionship.
Cecilia attended to her nephew, pretending not to notice what was going on in Victor's room. She was in an awkward situation, because she was determined to forestall any romantic involvement between her host and her housemate, but she knew that there was no point in trying to openly confront either of them. She did not want to tell Kim what was going on either, for fear that the prisoner would be moved and she would have to resume doing everything in the house. Instead she reasoned that if she could keep Maria Elena occupied until her trial and introduce her to other young criminals, eventually she would settle on a more appropriate partner, one closer to her age and social stature.
Because it was Saturday, there was no field trip and no P.E. class for Cecilia's exchange group. The students had their language class in the morning and were released at noon. Maria Elena did not have to work on Saturdays, so she would attend class with the norteamericanos and, like them, be free in the afternoon.
After class Maria Elena was planning to go back to Victor's house and wait for him. However, Cecilia was determined to keep her occupied. In the middle of the afternoon she took her housemate to a nice two-story residence at the western edge of Danube City, almost into the countryside. It was the home of Vladik Dukov, who was the son of the country's Prime Minister. Cecilia also learned that Criminal # 98946 lived there, because she was married to Vladik.
"That house used to belong to Spokesman Vladim Dukov, before he got elected Prime Minister. But now he's living in the Prime Minister's residence downtown, so he turned his place over to his son and his wife Tiffany."
"That's her name before she was arrested, Tiffany Walker. I call her that, and I suppose you will too, once you two can talk to each other. Her married name is Tiffany Walker-Dukovna, but her official name is Criminal # 98946."
"98946? Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna told me her number was # 98945...and Tiffany is # 98946..."
"Yes, because they were arrested together, along with another American girl called Susan. It's a long story, what happened to those three...but the short version is that Tiffany and Susan were arrested with Kim for smoking pot, but then they got released while she went on trial and got convicted."
"But...then...if Tiffany was released...why is she collared?"
"She came back to Danubia."
"She came back on purpose. She knew she was gonna get arrested, but she came back because she had to."
"On purpose? But..."
"It's a very long story. You'll find out about it soon enough. Now...look over there."
Cecilia pointed down the street. Just a few doors beyond the house was a yellow sign with an electronic sensor.
"Those yellow signs mark the edge of the Danube City collar zone. If you go past any of them without having your collar turned off or re-programmed, an alarm will go off. If that happens, you'll have to kneel next to the sign and wait for the police to come get you. Don't try doing anything else except kneeling next to the sign, or you'll get in serious trouble."
"What happens when the police come?"
"They'll take you downtown and there will be a hearing to find out why you went past the sign. You'll be switched, but how many strokes you get will be determined by what you were doing that set off the alarm. If it was just carelessness or not paying attention to where you are, normally you'd get 20 strokes. If it was something you had no control over, like being on a city bus that gets diverted and takes a different route, you'd just get 10."
"That's not fair...If you're on a bus..."
"No, it isn't fair, but it's up to you to stay within the collar zone. That's how they see it."
Cecilia led Maria Elena into the house and to the back yard, where several women already had gathered. Spokeswoman Lee-Dolkivna was present, along with Tiffany Walker-Dukovna and three young Danubians. All of them were naked. Cecilia was the only person still dressed among the group. After saying hello to the others in Danubian, she quickly undressed as well.
Maria Elena knelt upon seeing her Spokeswoman, but Cecilia told her to stand up.
"This is one time you don't kneel. We're all equal here."
In the back yard there were two plastic chairs and a large tub of warm water, along with bottles of shampoo, combs, towels, and several bowls and pitchers. It turned out that Maria Elena had been invited to participate in an ancient Danubian tradition: the weekly hair washing and re-braiding.
Danubian culture considered a woman dishonored if she appeared in public, or even alone in front of a male relative, with her hair unbraided. Women kept their hair tightly braided at all times, except on Saturday afternoons, which was the only opportunity during the week they had to let their hair loose to wash, comb, and re-braid it. Danubian women normally did not touch their own hair, but instead gathered with female friends or relatives to attend to each other. The tradition was considered very intimate because it was the only time it was socially acceptable for Danubians to touch a person of the same sex. Maria Elena did not realize it at the time, but for her to braid her hair with Kim and the others was an important gesture of friendship towards someone who barely knew them.
The Danubians were introduced as Eloisa, who was Kim's best friend; Tatiana, who was a fellow Spokeswoman from the Ministry of Justice; and Valia, who was another friend of both Kim and Eloisa. Eloisa stood out, because she was very pretty and had blond hair, which was rare in a country where most people's hair was brown. Maria Elena looked hard at her...because she seemed...very familiar...
The women took turns sitting down and loosening and shampooing each other's hair. After everyone's hair was clean, they drank wine from a large goblet while waiting to dry out for the final combing and braiding. The goblet was a symbol of equality among the group; women who shared the intimacy of braiding also shared the intimacy of drinking from the same cup.
Cecilia taught her housemate how to braid Eloisa's hair while Kim and Tiffany braided each other's hair. However, the big surprise came at the end, when it was Kim, not Cecilia, who braided Maria Elena's hair. Supposedly Kim held custody over the prisoner, but in that backyard they were not Spokeswoman and client, but instead two women sharing an ancient ritual. The fact they both were naked was an important part of that ritual, because without their clothing they were equals. Both understood that as soon as the Spokeswoman put her clothes back on, Maria Elena would have to kneel for her. However, Kim was determined that her client clearly understood that she saw her as a person and not a foreigner, in spite of their very different positions in Danubian society.
For most of the afternoon the others chatted in Danubian, with Cecilia translating whatever she thought was important. Towards the end, Kim and the Danubians started singing. Maria Elena recognized the song...and the voices. Suddenly she realized who she was with...three of the singers from the band Socrates' Mistresses! Yes, of course she recognized Eloisa...and Kim and Valia...they were from that controversial New Age band! They were international celebrities, and here Maria Elena was...sitting naked with them and having her hair washed!
The entire experience that afternoon had a profound impact on a person who had come from a country that still placed great emphasis on wealth and social status. She couldn't even begin to imagine spending such time with a famous Latin American singer or soap opera star. However, in her new life she had shared an afternoon with three famous singers from Danubia, who thought there was absolutely nothing strange about her being in their presence. She still felt that she was nothing, just a pathetic dishonored prisoner, a failed drug trafficker with a squalid past, an uneducated low-life. And yet, that was not how the people in Danube City saw her. Yes, she was a criminal, but she also was a person who had her place in society and, as long as she understood her responsibilities, was worthy of being treated with respect. To the three Danubians, she was Kim's client and a member of Cecilia's household, so of course she was welcome as part of the group.
The afternoon ended in the traditional manner, with the husbands and fiancés of the women showing up together to retrieve their respective partners. It turned out that all of the women were married with the exception of Cecilia, who was engaged. Jason, as always, was completely naked except his collar. The other young men were dressed. For the first time Maria Elena saw Victor's nephew Vladik, who was in full police uniform to greet Tiffany. The criminal, in spite of the fact that she was his wife and very pregnant, got on her knees to greet her husband. Like Kim, Vladik was a public official and it was Tiffany's Path in Life to kneel for both of them, as a display of respect for their positions. The other four men were musicians from Socrates' Mistresses.
As dictated by ancient tradition, each of the men had brought a flower that he put in his partner's hair. The only member of the group who did not have a man picking her up was Maria Elena. As an uncommitted woman, there would be no flower for her, no gift marking the renewal of her relationship with her beloved and the world around her. In her imagination she pictured Victor, standing among the others in his dark business suit, holding a flower to put into her hair. She was determined that, soon enough, his Path in Life would include bringing her a flower every Saturday afternoon.
Kim turned to her client:
"We're singing tonight at the Socrates Club; would you like to come?"
Before Maria Elena could say anything Cecilia interjected:
"Of course she would...I'll make sure she's there. She'd love to see you sing...and also have a look at the club."
Actually, that wasn't Maria Elena's desire at all; what she wanted was to go back to Victor's house and spend time with him. However, before she had any time to react or think of a reason she shouldn't go, she had been drafted to join Cecilia and Jason to see Socrates' Mistresses perform live.
The group said goodbye to Tiffany and Vladik, who stayed behind at the house. The others boarded a trolley to go downtown. Jason and Maria Elena had to stand, but the others, to show sympathy and solidarity, chose to stand with them. It was just starting to get dark outside when the trolley stopped in an old section of the city just outside the ancient wall.
The Socrates Club was a unique institution, because it was the only place in Danube City where criminals could meet and socialize. The club occupied an entire block: there was the main building housing a restaurant and dance hall, an adjacent building with small rooms that could be rented by the hour, and an old armory that had been converted to a fitness center and gymnasium. The clientele were mostly criminals and ex-criminals, but anyone in a romantic relationship with a criminal was welcome as well. An important rule of the club was that, whether a person was collared or not, clothing was strictly forbidden anywhere on the grounds. Criminals always showed up naked, of course, but ex-criminals and other visitors had to surrender their clothing and other belongings at the check stand right inside the main entrance. The rule was that anyone who had completed their sentence had to show respect to those still collared by entering the club completely undressed.
The Club's importance extended far beyond being a simple haven for criminals. Most evenings started with people speaking on stage to recite poetry or express their feelings, followed by live performances of musical groups of criminals and ex-criminals. Singing was a hobby for many club members, but for the more talented performers, singing at the Club could turn into something much more significant. Most famous Danubian musicians started their careers performing naked on stage in front of hundreds of fellow criminals.
Performing at the Socrates Club was how the most famous Danubian group of them all, Socrates' Mistresses, got its start. The group had been the most popular band in Danubia for more than five years. Their music also was popular throughout Europe, especially in the countries immediately bordering Danubia. In the US sales of anything by Socrates' Mistresses was boycotted by all the major music stores, but the group had a fiercely devoted following among political activists and university students, who obtained their music off the Internet or from friends who had visited Danubia.
"Socrates' Mistresses" performed live at venues in Danube City and Rika Chorna, sometimes to very large crowds. The band also was a fixture in the Central Plaza during national holidays such as New Year's Eve, the Summer Solstice, and the Day of the Dead. However, the group had their start in the Socrates Club, and it was in the Socrates Club where they always introduced new songs. No matter who else in the world liked or bought their music, Eloisa and her fellow musicians considered the clients of the Socrates Club their core audience. In spite of the group's fame, their source of inspiration and their "home" remained among Danube City's criminals.
The band had a unique style of singing that combined traditional Danubian female vocals with instruments that ranged from ancient to modern. The music typically was classified as New Age, although the overall sound was distinct from most New Age music in the US. The stage performers included five women singers and 10 male musicians. Eloisa was the leader of the singers and ultimately had final say over the band's musical direction. She had the most beautiful voice that Maria Elena had ever heard, as well as an instinct for music unmatched by anyone else in the group. Kimberly Lee-Dolkivna was the lead singer for any song in English, but when performing she always deferred to Eloisa's guidance.
Upon entering the front door everyone in the group undressed and stuffed their clothing in cloth bags. Other friends of Kim and Eloisa showed up and undressed as well. When the band members surrendered their clothing, all of them held on to a single item, a Ministry of Justice collar with a broken latch. Cecilia explained that Socrates' Mistresses always performed in the nude, and during performances they always wore the collars assigned to them when they were criminals. "It's to remind them, and everyone else who's watching them, where they came from and how they got their start. Actually, it was Kim who thought up the idea a few months after they got released. The others really liked it, so that's how they always sing."
Once inside, the group sat at a row of tables that had been pushed together. There were a total of 35 naked young people sitting at the tables: the stage performers and various wives and friends. The women of the band all were married to other band members, but the remaining men also had brought their wives. Cecilia introduced additional members of Socrates' Mistresses, although Maria Elena was too overwhelmed by the large group to be able to remember any of the Danubians' names.
However, one new acquaintance very much stuck out for Maria Elena. A second young Asian woman joined the table along with her Danubian husband. She looked like a slightly older, slightly more heavy-set version of Kimberly Lee. It turned out the woman was Kim's older sister Cynthia. Cecilia greeted her very warmly; obviously they were very close. Maria Elena immediately noticed that both Cynthia and her husband were wearing collars identical to the one Jason had on. Apparently, just like him, they were performing Public Penance for the Danubian Church. Their bodies were deeply tanned and it was evident they had not worn any clothing for a very long time.
The club's main room was very large, capable of fitting hundreds of customers. In the center was a small stage: in front of the stage there was a large dance floor, and beyond the dance floor were dozens of tables for sitting and dining. The food at the club was simple and cheap, consisting of salted deep-fried vegetables and dishes full of fresh blackberries. The only drinks available were organic beer and water.
The club, as always, was full to capacity. Maria Elena estimated there might be over 700 naked people in the room. She was a bit overwhelmed seeing so much exposed human skin: bare bottoms, penises of all imaginable shapes and sizes, naked breasts, uncovered vaginas. Several nude waiters wearing orange tennis shoes moved among the tables, taking orders and delivering food. A few of the collared criminals had switch-marks on their backsides; some fresh, others faded, from punishments administered a week or two before. Many of the naked women were pregnant, including several sitting at the Socrates' Mistresses tables. As bizarre as the scene would have been for anyone not familiar with Danubian society, it was obvious that it was a typical evening for everyone in the room.
The band members excused themselves to get ready to sing, leaving a reduced group of about 20 people. Immediately they had to consolidate and give up several tables to other customers, leaving Maria Elena sitting between Cecilia and Cynthia. It turned out that Kim's older sister was much more approachable than the Spokeswoman herself and was genuinely curious to know more about the stranded Colombian. Cynthia and Maria Elena exchanged numerous details about their lives, but Cynthia also was interested in learning more about Colombia. Cecilia translated with a mischievous expression, all the while running her hand up and down Jason's thigh and occasionally touching his penis. He sat quietly, blushing because he had a furious erection.
While Maria Elena was talking to Cynthia, various singers performed on stage, most of whom performed very melancholy-sounding music. Part of the conversation included telling the newcomer what the songs were about; all of which were very serious themes. The entire genre was very different from what she was used to in Colombia; cheerful Salsa that either talked about sex or the joys of dancing.
Maria Elena realized that not only the sound, but the very purpose of Danubian music differed from Latin American music. In Latin America the purpose of popular music was for light entertainment and dancing, while in Danubia the purpose of music was to make a person reflect on serious subjects. That change suited her just fine, because in her current situation dancing to rapid happy music was the last thing she wanted to do. The songs coming from the stage were very sad-sounding, but at the same time were very relaxing and calming to her frazzled nerves.
Cecilia excused herself and tapped Jason on the shoulder. Even though he was fully erect and embarrassed, he immediately stood up. The couple exited through a small door in the back of the room. For about 40 minutes Maria Elena and Cynthia sat in uncomfortable silence while they waited for their translator to return. When she came back, leading Jason by the hand, she had a much more relaxed look on her face. Jason was no longer erect, but his bottom was red. Apparently his fiancé had spanked him. When the couple sat down, she resumed her conversation as though nothing had happened. Within a few minutes she started stroking his thigh again, occasionally touching his penis.