It was past midnight; half an hour past the witching hour. I had dozed through the serial I had running on my laptop, waking up in fits and starts, to reconnect with my longtime favorite character, DCI Tom Barnaby. He’s losing his hold on me it seems! I wouldn’t have dozed on a Barnaby serial two years back. Anyway, the murderer was found and another murder case solved in Midsomer by Barnaby, and it was time I dropped off to sleep.
As usual, I switched off the lights and went to draw the curtains a wee bit apart to allow light from the street to filter in. And as usual, I peeked into the street below my window.
It was a weekday, and I expected the street to be deserted, only this time I saw this young girl standing almost in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night, trying to keep warm. It was a cold and windy night.
“Prostitute,” I pronounced.
I wondered why she was at this intersection. It wasn’t a section of the city frequented by streetwalkers. Besides, I didn’t think there would be much traffic down these roads so late into the night, in the middle of the week. But then I guess she knew better, and soon I did too, as the cars whizzed past.
On any other day, I would have forgotten about her before I reached my bed. But that night, sleepy as I was, I continued to stand and keep watch. There was something about her face and general appearance which caught my attention.
Our home stands at the corner of an intersection, so I had a good view of the four roads that diverged from there. And the streets are so brightly lit, I could see the girl clearly. She stood facing me and I noticed she did not dress the way a woman in her profession does, neither was her face done up with heavy make-up; in fact, she wore almost no make-up: a light pinkish lipstick (no dark eyeshadow) and light make-up around her eyes. Her hair wasn’t curled, permed, frizzled or done up. It fell around her face, up to her shoulders. No unusual coloring; ordinary, everyday hair.
Her jewelry comprised a pair of modest danglers. Nothing about her: clothes, footwear, or hair was loud or garish. Her clothes were those of an office executive. She looked like one of the many smart, office executives who passed beneath my window every day. Her body language and posture did not support the stereotypical street-walker.
I do not know if it is politically right to say this, but then I’m not a politically right person most times. I had felt disgusted at the first fleeting sight of her. However, the initial revulsion I had felt when I first noticed her, dissipated. There was something about her that was so vulnerable. She seemed out of place in this scenario. Even when she stood and watched the cars whizzing past, and called out and waved to some who slowed down, she didn’t sound like the person I assumed she was.
She was neither brash nor bold and didn’t look like a hooker; she didn’t sound like one either. This intrigued me because she was the antithesis of what I had read, heard, and seen of women who were streetwalkers.
Fifteen minutes passed. And then another five dragged by. I told myself I was being utterly stupid. At my age one doesn’t stand at a window, well past one’s bedtime, to surveil an unknown woman who knew what she was about. No amount of cajoling could coax my feet to walk away from my vantage point of observation to a decent night’s sleep. I had to watch, I wanted to know more.
I wrapped a shawl around my shoulders, leaned against the glass pane, still hidden behind the curtains with a clear view of the girl.
I could tell that the night was getting colder. She stamped her feet; rubbed her hands to keep warm. Then she took out a packet of cigarettes from her coat pocket and lit up. She stood in one place, almost in the pathway of oncoming traffic. If it were daytime, she’d not be able to stand on the road without being run down or hauled away by the police.
Cars whizzed by. She stood and watched, turning to see if any stopped ahead. There were the cars with youngsters who shouted derogatory remarks and guffawed as they sped past her. She didn’t react. Her expression didn’t change. She maintained her emotionless demeanor. The only time a flicker of a smile played on her lips and her face lit up was when some cars slowed down as they approached her, some out of curiosity I suppose, most to avoid hitting her.
Then a car drove up right under my window. It stopped at the pedestrian crossing and I guess the driver gestured for her to come to him. She was like a child who’d been promised an ice-cream or chocolates or a day at the beach.
She ran across and this time she had a broad smile on her face. She was pretty, and young too. I could see her better where she stood, below my window, facing me, with the streetlight on the opposite side lighting up her face.
Ah! Finally, she gets a customer; I thought and didn’t like the way I thought that. Don’t ask me why. I felt sad and sorry for her. There were many things going through my mind and it had all to do with how young and bright she appeared, and how sad that she was on the streets like this.
Anyway, I saw her talking to the person in the driving seat. Some words floated up through the quiet night. Negotiations, I announced to no one in particular. However, something wasn’t right. Her expressions and the way she spoke didn’t look like she was talking business. If I hadn’t been observing her, I’d have thought she was talking to someone she knew and exchanging small talk.
Then she made gestures and expressions that showed contriteness, helplessness, and if I’m not mistaken, she appeared ashamed… no, regretful! I realized the man in the car was in no mood to be a customer. He seemed to be talking to her about what she was doing and why. She wrung her hands, raised her shoulders in a sign of helplessness and slumped them in resignation. And I heard a lot of, “No Señor. Si Señor.”
It was a long, slow conversation of about five minutes, and she smiled a lot and nodded in agreement to whatever was being said. Then she stretched out her hand to take something from the man, and I saw a packet. I thought, (awful of me) that’s a lot of money. “She’s a great negotiator!” I whispered with something like respect.
Then instead of getting into the vehicle, as I expected, she slipped something which looked more like money from under the packet and put it into her pocket. As she thanked the man, she took something from the packet and popped it into her mouth. She went chomp, chomp like a squirrel with a stuffed mouth.
The man drove off.
He had counseled her, in my over-positive opinion, handed her some money and a tit-bit to munch on. What! Can this be happening! I was totally awestruck. What a man!
The girl finished what she was eating and stood for a while. Then she saw headlights approaching and sprinted right into the middle of the road, in front of the approaching car, waving both her arms wildly. What now, I thought, with bated breath.
This was so unlike her… since I had been observing her for some time, it surprised me. This was like a serial unfolding before my eyes. The car slowed, swerved but didn’t stop. She ran alongside a few paces, saying something to the driver. Then gave up as the driver sped up. She stood looking after it.
A few yards up, the car stopped. She ran down the road. I couldn’t see much of what was going on, I couldn’t make out her expressions or words. But I saw the door opening and the girl getting in. And then she was gone. “She’s taking a lift home,” I said with relief. I wanted a good ending. I wanted a hopeful ending. Whatever my mind said to the contrary, my heart said: she went home.
I like to think the sudden, wild burst of energy and emotion had something to do with her encounter with the previous gentleman. I also like to think that she hadn’t been putting on an act for the kind man. I want to believe that one act of compassion had taken a young girl off the street for one night at least. I want to believe that goodness, kindness, and compassion still roam around the streets and linger around the corner, waiting to help someone.