19 January 2005|
I picked up a prostitute yesterday. Quite by accident, I assure you. I was sitting in the parking lot of Wendy's in my car after dropping a friend off.. we'd been shopping for computer hardware, which is one of my favourite things. There's such an art to building a computer, making it unique.. it's the whole creating thing. Anyway, I was sitting in the parking lot munching some fries just prior to pulling away when a bedraggled looking girl came up and knocked on my passenger side window. You can't be too careful, so I opened it just a little.
The girl: "Hi, can you give me a ride?"
"Where are you going?"
Ordinarily I'd tell her to sod off, but looking at the torrential rain coming down in sheets, and the absolutely saturated girl outside my window who did not appear to be any kind of threat, and thinking that it wasn't really that far to Royal Oak by car, I got sympathetic: "Sure."
She eyed the Wendy's bag as I put it behind my seat, giving her space to sit down. "What are you eating?"
"Just general Wendy's food."
"Can I have some? I'm starving."
From the look of her, I didn't doubt it for a moment. She was a skinny little thing, as much as I could tell inside her dirty but still puffy Hilfiger jacket. Her soaked jeans clung tightly to her scrawny legs, and her hair was plastered flat and disordered about her face. Where her hands stuck out of her jacket they were thin and gaunt, as was her face. She couldn't have been more than sixteen. What could I say?
"How about I just buy you something? We're still in the parking lot, after all, and if you're hungry you should eat."
So I did. I took her inside and bought her her choice, ignoring the looks from the staff. She had a bacon classic combo. It was $5.99. $5.99 is nothing to me, but judging by the way she enjoyed the food I bought her, it made a big difference. I have no doubt that she eats, though probably not a lot. She's probably skinny because she's a crack addict. Or heroin. Whatever. She had that look, the prematurely old look that comes with hard drug use.
"What's your name?"
"Hi James, I'm Sasha."
She got the food to go, and took it back to my car. I didn't want to cross several lanes of traffic on the busy main street, which I would have to have done twice to get her where she wanted to go, so I opted to take the back roads and come up on Royal Oak by surprise. It wasn't a good plan, I realised when we were moving, because I have no sense of direction. So I had to have her navigate. While we drove, she devoured her food and asked questions. I answered very generally, of course.
"Where do you live?"
"Vancouver, quite a way from here. I'm just out and about since it's my day off."
A pause while she ate, and probably tried to work out how to approach the subject that was on her mind. This was business, after all. "Where do you work?"
"In a call centre. It's not bad, but hardly fulfilling." I wasn't about to ask what she did. Questions are rarely welcome when you're on the street. Besides, I already knew the answer.
"Me, I'm working." she said, glancing across at me.
"Everyone has to."
Another awkward pause. She was probably trying to work out how stupid I could possibly be that I just wasn't getting it. "I mean, I'm working outside."
"Ah." More silence, just the sound of the car, the traffic outside, the rustle of her paper Wendy's bag.
Eventually, she seemed to have decided to just forget subtlety. "Do you want some company?"
Of course, I replied as though I hadn't realised, "Oh, no, thank you," and then, just so she didn't feel she had to keep trying, "I'm gay."
It seemed to make a difference. Like the tension, somewhat, left the atmosphere. I mean, not just because she didn't have to try any more, but because I clearly had no idea that she was a prostitute, and was just being nice without hoping to gain anything out of it. I hadn't given her a ride and bought her food because I was after anything. I had given her a ride and bought her food because I was that sort of person. That sort of person isn't exactly common in her world. People either do things for you because they want something from you, or they're Doing Good, probably so that they can feel better about themselves.
As we rolled to a stop at the corner she indicated, she crumpled the top of the paper bag and looked over at me. "That was nice of you. Thanks."
And then she was gone, standing on the corner in the terrible rain, clutching her wet paper Wendy's bag. She gave me a little wave as I drove away, and a tiny, heartbreaking smile.
That was yesterday. Today the weather is even worse, and I'm sitting here in my ergonomic chair in my warm, safe office environment, in climate controlled comfort, staring out at the rain through the floor to ceiling windows, and thinking about little Sasha out on a corner somewhere.
Reads like fiction, doesn't it? Like I'm trying to make some sort of point, or set myself up as some kind of great humanitarian. I'm not. I don't have a lot of sympathy for street people, prostitutes, and the like. There are social programs and shelters and things, and while they're never adequate, they could help them if the people would only take advantage of them. But they don't, and that's their own lookout. And yet attitudes like that are hard to maintain after seeing how hard Sasha was holding onto that paper bag.
The Wendy's name, the Wendy's logo, and the "It's better here" slogan are all trademarks of Wendy's, and are used here without permission.