At last, the autumn is here. That time of the year when the ground is positively gleaming and there are golden dried leaves to kick about. The evening breeze has a chill to it and she hugs herself tighter with a bagel-stuffed face. She tosses a penny at the guitarist’s laid out hat at the tube station with an innocent smile. Her friend, Bianca is never punctual and it gives her enough time to gaze at the pretty hoardings and posters of the upcoming Broadway shows and motion pictures. The Kensal Garden tube station is like her second home. She spends hours out here just looking at these beautiful pictures and observing these people with their robotic faces going about their day. Not one shares a smile with the fellow commuter and it is assured that not one will help a person in need in this alluring city. It is in this station that most days, she retraces her steps back in London. Innumerable people come to London from different parts of the world and more than half of the Roma population from Romania comes here to make a living. She is one of them and her name is Ana.
It was not too long ago that Ana was shipped to London from Romania with her two sisters. They were told that they would be given bread and cheese to eat every single day. Cheese! She could not believe her ears. Cheese! Every single day! Was London a magical island… thought the 16-year-old Ana. She did not even remember her mother buying cheese in the past few years. It was a luxury item, after all. London seemed like the answer to all of their problems then. It was the time for the monsoons to come pouring down and father was sure that their shanty could not survive it this year. So, when he was given the option to send his daughters to London in search of a living, he leapt at the idea. Did he think of what kinds of job will his offspring be offered in the big city? I think not! But, who would when stuck in bottomless poverty, hunger and despair?
Ana met Bianca the very first day she moved to London. Bianca sat at a nearby Starbucks’ smoking section. She did not look Romanian at all. Her tight black top and her denim hot pants were nothing like any Romanian girl would wear. For Ana she resembled a movie star. The luscious, long, brown hair framed her oval face well. Her skin looked like a mixture of milk and honey and her red lips parted stylishly as she smoked her cigarette with poise. She was the quintessential bohemian beauty. Ana certainly looked plain in front of her. Her long black skirt covered her ankles and her mountain jacket camouflaged her shapeless body well. Ana thanked herself to have worn the headscarf on that day so that her springy hair was hidden from this Goddess. She walked up to Bianca like a little mouse. “I will never forget the look of pity in Bianca’s eyes as she first laid her eyes on me,” reminisces Ana.
Bianca groomed her to be what she is today. She looked after her like an elder sister. She taught her the ways of London and most importantly she enlightened her about ways to make men pay more and come back for more every single night. Today, Ana is one of the most sought after Romanian prostitutes and she can afford to ship cheese to Romania every single day if she wishes. She makes money, a lot of it. So much money that she could not make after begging for months on Oxford Street and Edgware Road, she now makes in one night. She rents out her own apartment in Kensal Garden and ensures that her younger sisters, Flori and Gabi attend school.
A loud thud perturbs Ana’s thoughts about her sisters as she sees Bianca seated besides her with a tear-stained face. “Anton beat me up again. He needs more money and I don’t know what to do,” she cries. Anton is Bianca’s husband and their agent— their pimp in layman’s language. Anton got them high-profile clients and gave them a good cut but since a past few months, his demands have been incessant. Ana holds her hand with compassion, picks up the threads of their daily life filled with murk and boards the train to Elephant and Castle.
The heavy black door of the nightclub opens with a thump as a wave of thrashing music escapes it with almost a physical force. Friday nights are usually packed with a drunken debauchery which means hookers make a lot of money these nights. Middle-aged bankers with their loosened ties scouting for washed up ex-models to make their weekend a little spicier, is a common sight. Bankers have a huge fascination for the term ‘model’ and Ana learnt early on in business to introduce herself as an ‘aspiring model who is in between jobs right now’. “You drop a few fancy names of painters and writers, hint at the knowledge you have for the latest runway trends and order a swanky drink while flaunting a bit of your cleavage in the classy way and the rich man is sure to be a putty in your hands.” Bianca’s tips and tricks resonate in Ana’s mind every time she enters a club.
Ana walks in further with her usual gusto while adjusting the strap of her purple peplum dress. Her suede pumps gave the right swing to her derrière and her new bob hairdo complemented her sexy yet elusive look. Bianca too flaunted her movie star looks and smoothed her golden sequined dress. They settle in their usual corner booth as Gina the bar maid comes over to greet them.
“There is a new group of hags tonight. They seem loaded,” she informs while laughing at her own usage of intended pun.
They look over at the table with a smile and a toxic cocktail of tequila, heroin and crystal meth washes out that remainder of night.
“Flori and Gabi, always remember to text me the address of your business venue for the night and to take the pepper spray,” calls out a disfigured face to two teenaged girls, swathed with garish make up and nylon dresses. “Sure, Ana. You take care of yourself,” responds the younger one.
It was just three months ago that I had read about the acid attacks on two young Romanian prostitutes. Yet today I see two more albeit younger versions of the ones attacked, boarding the same train from Kensal Garden to Elephant and Castle.