Sitting at a table in Long Street, Cape Town, I’m not quite sure who I’m looking for. Her voice was sweet on the phone, yet I found her in one of those ‘call-girl lines’ hidden away in the classifieds. She was under the title “Dirty, Pretty Things…” The advert has since been removed.
Cindy (27) finds me straight away.
“I thought that funky colour would match your voice,” she tells me excitedly.
She’s been a sex worker for nine years, but hates the word:
“I’m a call-girl in the week and a real-girl on the weekend.”
Her skin is a beautiful mocha colour and her black wavy hair reaches just over her breasts. It’s hard not to notice them; her red blouse is buttoned much too low, matching the pretty red lace bra underneath.
“Why do you do it?” I ask. Better not waste any time, she seems a little nervous.
“I caught you noticing my broken blouse. Sorry about that… wild client.”
Only then do I notice her blouse is torn and isn’t intentionally buttoned so low. Strange she used the word “broken.”
“Why do I do it?” she continues, “I ask myself that every birthday, every Easter, every Christmas, every day. I guess it’s fun, you know. I turn guys on by making their wildest fantasies come alive over the phone. It gave me a kick to know I was so powerful. A horny guy is very vulnerable… His heart’s racing. His crotch is throbbing.”
I look down. She notices.
“Does that word make you uncomfortable?”
“No, not at all. I’m surprised you didn’t use something cruder.”
“Oh yeah? I may talk dirty, but here it’s a proper interview, you know.”
She lights up a cigarette. Her hands are well manicured, painted in bright coral.
“When did it become more than just a voice?”
“That high of turning them on soon fell away. I needed to touch them, experience it for myself.”
Her voice quickens: “I had my first sexual experience at 13. I was swimming in a public pool, minding my own business when I caught a boy about my age staring at me. It didn’t mean much, you know. We kissed and touched under the water. I never asked his name but he was allowed to touch me like no one else had. That’s when the fantasy of reality begins. Nothing beats it.”
“So, you enjoy having sex with strangers?”
She plays with the ash-tray, avoiding eye-contact:
“It pays my bills, you know. During the World Cup, I made enough to pay off my mortgage and buy a cute car.”
“Don’t you consider itself ‘dirty money’?”
“Listen here, I work hard for what I got! I aim to please!” she says, glaring into my eyes. Her voice then softens again.
“During the World Cup, I experienced businessmen from Germany, family guys from France and sex fanatics from Holland. We played safe.”
“Yeah, but a condom isn’t full-proof,” I tell her quickly.
“I know. I’ve had my scares: six torn condoms and three mistakes.”
“You tell a guy he can tie you up and have fun, but he’ll go bananas and forget to wrap his tool.”
“The guy will always apologise, but he’ll never ask you to call him back and get tested together or offer to pay for the abortion.”
Cindy’s child is three years old.
“Tommy* is the one I didn’t get rid of. I was so close though. It was a bad month. I had taken three morning after-pills in a four-week interval. Stupid. And had an abortion two months before. The gynae told me if I killed it… him… I could never conceive again.”
“Do you know who the father is?”
“No. But, I’m pretty sure it’s one of my regulars. They have the same eyes.”
“He visits me once a month, when his wife is at her parents. If he wasn’t married, we’d be together.”
“How do you know?”
“We share a bond more than just sex. He’ll talk to me about his job, his in-laws, his stress and then show me a pic of his little boys playing in the garden. I want to show him Tommy, how much they all look alike, but then I freeze. He still asks me about those months I was missing. Those months of freedom to have my child were bliss. I felt real, you know. I was an independent woman, a caring mother, a role-model.”
“Why go back?”
“Waitressing doesn’t cut it and I hate sitting behind a desk.”
“What about exotic dancing?”
“Teazers? Haha… had a blast there for a while, but my son needs me in the evenings.”
I refuse to ask how much she makes, but she insists in telling me.
“You’re not exploiting me by wanting to know. Business is business. I charge a few hundred bucks for a blow-job and up to a grand or more for the full deal. Blow-jobs are more popular, but my least favourite. There’s something so much more intimate about it… No kissing on the mouth, ever. Regulars give me extras: jewellery, weekends away or a pretty dress. Never lingerie. They don’t want to picture me with someone else while wearing it.”
She lights up another cigarette.
“That turns men off: to know how many, how often and how… I may objectify sex, but I’m never just the object. I don’t want to be seen as a piece of meat. Cindy is my playful name and that’s how it is. When I’m home, I’m Mommy.”
“How much longer? What about your son?”
“I haven’t really figured that out. On Parents’ Day, I’ll be absent. At his Matric Dance, I’ll be absent. At his wedding, I’ll be absent.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve put him up for adoption. I’m HIV positive. The bastard who gave it to me raped me. No condom. No name. No payment. Just a lifetime of guilt. My little boy is young enough to forget me still. I don’t want him to see Mommy dying.”
She starts to cry and fidgets with the napkin: “These are dirty, pretty things: my body, my memories and my mistakes. Yet, my little boy was the first man to give me real love. I can’t imagine not seeing him grow up, but I have no choice. And now I’m sick, so I’ve stopped the real stuff and gone back to being a call-girl.”
“That’s how we found each other…”
She smiles and lights up one last cigarette.
“’Don’t fall in love’ was the biggest lie I was told. I’m going to die with no one by my side, because I was too afraid to experience it. Sex, any time. Love, never. Those are two of the dirtiest, prettiest things…”
> Prostitution has been illegal in South Africa since the 1957 Sexual Offences Act (SOA). The purchase of sex was added as an offence in a 2007 amendment.
> Fears of increased prostitution during the World Cup led to calls for prostitution to be legalised and regulated; in order to help control AIDS and STIs and for the protection of the sex workers. This, however, did not fall through although businesses like Teazers were highly popular.
> Prostitution is illegal in most African countries, except for Ivory Coast, Ethiopia and Senegal.
> “Prostitute” comes from the Latin word prostituere; which means to set forth in public and to expose, dishonour or use for unworthy use.
> Prostitution is regulated as a profession in countries like the Netherlands and parts of Germany.
> Human trafficking is primarily used for prostituting children and women and is now described as “the largest slave-trade in history” and is set to out-do drug trafficking.
> The homicide rate for female prostitutes was estimated to be 204 per 100 000, higher than any other female occupation.
- police documents
- various newspaper articles