The city is full of business cards promoting escort services. Thrown on every pavement, the cards say, “Fulfill your dreams.” Sometimes I give up. Not on the notion that women and girls will stop being a commodity. But on managing to collect all the cards as I bend down with my laptop on the way from my apartment building to Movieing café.
Sometimes I feel like Don Quixote, only my giants are real.
Michael, a regular, sits outdoors at the café tonight, facing the street. I am sitting behind him. Three young women pass by, dressed in miniskirts, talking excitedly. Michael is staring at them, and then he turns to the guy at the table next to his and asks, “Do you see these beautiful T-H-I-N-G-S?”
The guy replies in a tired tone, “They are fourteen, maybe sixteen. Let’s stretch it and say that they are eighteen and only look underage.” My night vision is so poor, I didn’t realize they were teens. Surly now, the guy surely will reproach Michael. But instead he says, “Either way, they still look plain.”
“How old are you?” Michael, forty something, asks.
“I’m twenty one,” the guy replies, and then he adds, “they look like they are from –” he mentions a club, which seems to imply that they are dressed like sluts, hence unworthy of his attention. At least, that’s what I get from his disgusted tone and body language.
The teens cross the road and disappear. Before I get to reproach Michael, a woman shows up and approaches Larry, someone I know at the cafe. “May I use your phone, please?” she asks, looking flushed. “My battery died, and I got stuck outside of my boyfriend’s apartment.”
“I don’t have a phone,” he replies, only I know that he does.
“Take my phone,” I say.
She takes my phone and makes a call. Nobody seems to answer. She tries again. Still, no answer.
“Send an sms to your boyfriend,” I say. “So he’ll know it’s you.” She texts him, but from her own phone. I thought her battery had died, yet this seems to work for her.
“Where are you from?” I ask.
“The Ukraine,” she replies. “People in your country are so kind.” Gu-Eun also used to say that.
“What was the face for?” I ask Larry when she leaves. He definitely made one.
“Last summer,” he replies, “a woman also showed up after midnight and asked for my phone with the same pretext. She also called the same number twice, and nobody answered. At 2:30 in the morning, I got the first phone call of many from her pimp, who blamed me for her absence.”
I’m thrilled for the woman and hoping she got away safely, and he continues, “The pimp cursed me and threatened me, calling me constantly at all hours of the day and night. I had to tell him again and again, ‘I just let her use my phone. She said that her battery died, bro.'”
He called a pimp “bro.”
“It took a while before the pimp believed me.”
I can tell that the experience scared him. Merely thinking about getting threatening phone calls from a pimp now terrifies me too. How tragic it is, that our fear blinds us to how much more terrified these women must be.
Isaac, a soul brother who used to work at the café, shows up with Gabe, another regular. Gabe is leering at the women who walk by. “There are many hot asses here tonight,” he concludes.
That’s what women are to him: “asses.”
Isaac ignores him and says, “Let’s dance.”
It’s very late. The street is dark and empty now. The music is mellow. Michael, Gabe and Isaac start to dance. Their movements are slow and round, sensual and pure. As if magically stripped of their sexist roles, they let their soft, almost vulnerable side come out. And I get a glimpse into a future in which teen girls will be safe from men leering at them—the kind of future in which no woman or girl will be sacrificed because “men can’t control their urges,” or because “that’s how it has always been.”
After Sweden and France, more and more countries will make laws against Johns and will work together to bring an end to prostitution. One day, all women and girls will have equal rights and opportunities and will be respected EVERYWHERE. Watching the men dance, leisurely, as if time itself has slowed down, I can see the potential for a decent world. And I’ll hold on to that vision for as long as I live.