It’s Nadia’s first time in New York.
In fact, it’s her first time outside of her small town in Russia. After this, she heads to Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, then back home. A month long journey to some of America’s best cities – a dream for anyone, let alone a 21 year old from a small town in Eastern Europe.
But Nadia (not her real name) will see none of them. Not the Statue of Liberty, or the Hollywood sign or the Golden Gate Bridge. What she’ll see in every city is exactly what she’s seen so far in New York – a studio apartment in a busy neighborhood, filled with candles, perfume, cigarettes, lingerie and its most prominent inhabitant: an oversize bed.
Nadia is an escort.
At 5’11, with big eyes, strong cheekbones and a perfect body, Nadia could’ve been a supermodel. Perhaps 20 years ago, when models were celebrated, Nadia might have been scouted at her local mall and been flown to New York or Paris or Milan to begin a career on the catwalk, walking in designer shows and featured in glossy spreads in fashion magazines. But now there are no supermodels. They’ve been replaced by girls on Instagram like Claudia Alende. At 5’3 with a prominent backside and a passing resemblance to Megan Fox, she’s got more than 8 million followers and each of her many posts average over a hundred thousand views. She’s paid handsomely for product placements, YouTube views and all types of modern marketing; how would something as mundane as a photo in Glamour possibly help? These are the new supermodels and Nadia has none of those tools; just the looks from a bygone era and the knowledge that she was born just a bit too late to capitalize.
And so Nadia, and the unicorns like her from every country in the world, is a full participant in the world’s oldest profession.
These sex workers don’t operate in an underground, clandestine operation. Everyone is of legal age, and the consent is mutual. The transactions don’t live in the deep dark corners of the web; in today’s modern digital marketplace, anyone can find it. If you have access to the Internet and some cash, you can order a beautiful girl as easily as ordering an Uber. Photos, a phone call, light vetting and off you go. In a post Trump world, these beauties will never have an issue getting in and out of America; nobody understands the transactional value of physical beauty more than the new President.
Nadia charges $600 for an hour, the rate established by some mysterious algorithm of supply and demand – some are more and some are less, but she’s right in the middle. Of course, she sees only a fraction of that fee, as there are considerable costs to bring Nadia to these cities – travel, housing, protection, supplies, etc. It’s not a great living but for a 21 year old girl who speaks very little English, it’s better than her other options at home. Indeed, Nadia – and the many girls like her – are grateful and cheery and seem blissfully unaware of the potential emotional and psychological damage her chosen profession as an escort may be causing.
Of course, the term escort is a euphemism; she never escorts anyone, anywhere. She never even leaves her small apartment. It’s a solitary profession. She never sees any of the other girls making a living doing the same thing all over the city – at any given time, there are a dozen or so apartments being occupied by girls like Nadia. Beautiful, foreign, with a tentative grasp on English and an even smaller understanding of normal sexual behavior. They cling to their Spotify lists like bibles, using the music – along with photos of friends and family back home – like some sort of childlike mementos.
The days and nights blur. The men come and go, each virtually indistinguishable from the next. Nadia turns herself off during their visits, going through the motions of what she thinks they like – a combination of what she’s seen on tv and from her limited personal experience. With each new client, she retreats more and more into herself and “Nadia” takes over. Every customer uses a condom, full stop; safety and hygiene are never an issue. If her neighbors ever wonder about the constant moaning coming from her apartment, they’ve never shown it. This is New York, after all, where strange sounds come from every orifice; its citizens are virtually trained to keep their heads down and ignore their bizarre surroundings.
It’s a warm spring day, and Nadia finally has a chance to see the greatest city in the world. She sneaks out for a dawn walk, surprised to see that the city is already in full swing. There are people everywhere, cars screaming, restaurants open. The city is awake in all its chaos and splendor, and Nadia is struck: she’s literally never seen anything like this. As she heads into a coffee shop to sample her first cappuccino, her phone buzzes. After a short conversation in Russian, Nadia’s face falls and she hurries out of the café; the fancy coffee will have to wait, as her first client of the day will be there shortly.
It’s 7 a.m. and another day at work is starting.