Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A Walk Through Town

Walking to work this afternoon, I passed an old man in an old, wooden blue kiosk. “Iron Repair” was painted over the door. I wondered how many people these days take their irons in for repair. I found it sad to see an aging man in a dying profession.

A few feet further on sat an old man on the side of an entrance ramp, selling low-quality gasoline out of plastic bottles. He is there from morning to evening, rain or shine. I don’t think either of these pensioners foresaw how they’d be spending their golden years.

I walked under a dark bridge, then took the stairs back up to the street. Along that street, prostitutes gather. I knew that from the bloody condom I saw once on the street and the beer cans, vodka bottles and cigarettes boxes that line the road – the numbing devices needed in that profession. But I usually walk that stretch in the mornings, before anyone goes to work. Today, at 1 p.m., a few prostitutes were already out.

For the girls themselves, young, thin and heavily made up, I felt only sadness. But what I found really disgusting was the men hanging about. There were two police officers, drivers of old Zhiguli taxis, and several youths just squatting aimlessly nearby. If the girls want to sell their bodies to earn money, I feel that is their decision. But for the men to assume control in this profession, as if they have some claim over the women’s bodies, is really gross.

One afternoon I drove down that street with our driver, Sergei. On one corner, I saw a few girls that clearly looked like prostitutes. A little further down the street, on the other side, a bunch of girls stood together in a huddle. They seemed to be teenagers and were dressed in typical clothing of young girls – skirts, pants, furry jackets. I thought that they were students.

“No,” Sergei told me. “They were prostitutes.”

I asked him how much they charged. He said he didn’t know, but guessed $2.50 to $4 per hour.

“It depends on how they negotiate,” he said. “Sometimes they’ll take one girl to serve two men. And then she’ll charge more, maybe $5 an hour.”

He told me that special, high-class call girls charged up to $100 an hour. “They come right to your house,” he said. “And they are the type of women you’d never in a million years guess work as prostitutes – girls who have jobs with international organizations during the daytime.”

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