Eighteen months after Sasha left.
In my dingy bedsit room, I get ready to go to my appointment. It’s going to be with someone new. I consider my skinny jeans and tight shirt in the mirror. I often wonder what the johns see when they meet me the first time. I’m not what you call a stunner, but I’m good looking enough. I have dark hair, pale skin and thin lips. A few freckles make me appear a little younger than my age. It costs to keep my hair under some control but I have to do it for the sake of my job. I run my fingers through it again. My Old Spice deo. Shit, where is it? Found. Apply. I give myself another once over before heading out to face the world.
To save money, I ride the bus to my meet. I sit down upstairs of the double decker where I can disappear into my own world for a while. Through the smeared window I can see the dirty streets of Haringey turn into the greener Islington, inhabited by people who have money and class. The streets here are arranged into these clean lines like the kind of life the well-off lead. Seeing how the other half lives reminds me of my time surviving in squats and the reasons why I love and hate London at the same time. I like it for its openness; it’s a place that absorbs people from all over the world and all walks of life. But it’s unforgiving to those who have nothing, like Sasha and I when we were younger. We used to laugh at ourselves; I was the stray dog and he the alley cat. I’d watched Sasha sell himself on the street but I was too hopeless to help him. We were not creatures who could be good for each other. We’d been co-dependent and we’d eventually destroyed one another. The city swallowed us—two homeless kids with no prospect—and it unceremoniously dumped us in a deep dark hole without resource to crawl back out.
While I pass the time pondering about my past, the bus soon reaches my destination. I get off, and take the short walk to this neat town house off Essex Road with a small but organised front garden. I feel my usual nerves about meeting a new john. Every time I go to a client’s house, I feel like I’ve set foot in a film set. I’m just a street punk pretending to be a confident escort. No matter how long I’ve been doing this, the first time is still strange. I take a moment and gaze at the dark green door. Deep breath. Check myself again, and ring the bell.
I don’t expect the man who opens the door to be this good looking in an unassuming kind of way. Most of the time, my clients scowl and furtively glance around, as if I wear a big sign to announce to the neighbourhood that they’ve ordered an escort. But the guy in front of me smiles, revealing straight white teeth, and he holds the door wide open. Once inside, he shakes my hand, his palm firm and warm. Then we hug awkwardly, and he introduces himself, “I’m Ali. It’s short for Alastair.”
“Liam.” I grin back.
I guess he’s in his thirties, fit, wearing a simple blue shirt and dark jeans. He is a couple of inches taller than me, which makes him about six feet. His hair’s light brown and the eyes are clear green like two pools of tropical sea. They are striking and unmissable. It is a cliché to say eyes are the window to the soul, but they do tell me a lot about the men who hire me. And this man here has beautiful eyes. My eyes on the other hand are dark as maybe they make my soul impenetrable.
“Want a drink?” Ali asks, while I am still contemplating about him. I’ve kicked my worst drug habits but I still indulge in cigarettes, dope and alcohol. I say no to a drink, though. Maybe later. Alcohol makes my nerves worse. Yeah, no matter how long I’ve been selling sex, revealing myself to a stranger is not easy. He pours himself a small shot in the wood and chrome kitchen, and takes a sip. The house smells clean. I can glimpse the TV and the books in the sitting room and a sofa covered in cream canvas. I like the decor, which seems as understated as the man, even though it’ll have nothing to do with me. I only expect to use the bedroom, not the rest of the house.
He gazes at me. “Shall we?”