It took me a while to work it out.
I’d met Luciana in the street during the Carnival in Brazil and she invited me to stay her afterwards in her apartment on the other side of Recife. But from the moment I stepped inside I knew it wasn’t going to work out. You can meet people in the street, enjoy their company, even become lovers; but you only get a clear idea of who they are when you see how they live.
Her apartment was airy and spacious, filled with chic furniture that you only ever see in catalogues. It felt empty and expensive. She’d told me that she worked in interior design but even so I wondered how she managed to maintain a place of that size alone.
The overhead lights were too dim to read by at night but then there were only three books in the house – all of them gifts from friends and all unread. A large TV was mounted on the wall opposite her bed and there wasn’t a single fruit or vegetable in the refrigerator. A maid came twice a week to cook and clean and it was like sharing the house with a paid stranger.
She also had a tiny Yorkshire terrier that ran manically through the place leaving piles of piss and shit behind him. No matter how many times I kicked him he wouldn’t stay away from me. Man, I hated that dog.
Of course Luciana’s cell phone never stopped ringing and it seemed there were a litany of ex-boyfriends who each rang up three times a day. There were also friends from Sweden, Italy and Switzerland who rang once in a while and I wondered how she managed to meet so many foreigners when she didn’t speak any English. If you’ve already worked it out then you’re probably a little sharper than me.
The intoxication of Carnival fading away Luciana dropped all notions of romance and confessed that she was a ‘stripper’ in a night club. By that, of course, she meant ‘prostitute.’ Later that night I heard her tell a guy on the phone that it would cost him $70 to take her to a hotel.
Luciana was at the high end of the business and in a good month she must have cleared $2000 – a lot of money in Brazil. Her ‘friends’ in Europe also helped out once in a while and she was going to visit one of them in Italy later that year. When she was feeling down she admitted that she hated what she did and that was why she bought all the expensive furniture. An attempt to find consolation in material things.
At times I found her courageous. She had been ostracised by her family for leaving her abusive husband and he had kept custody of her child. For all that she maintained a positive outlook and sheltered friends down on their luck, many of whom ripped her off without a second thought.. She’d had few positive experiences or inspirations in her life and was trying to make it as best she could.
Other times she just seemed to be an ignorant tart. She never listened to a word anyone said and ran the house like a spoilt princess. She spiked my tomato sauce with meat on the grounds that vegetarians didn’t know what was good for them. She dismissed anything she didn’t understand and, on top of all that, she only let me sleep with her once every few days.
Why I endured a week in her apartment I’m not even sure. It was probably a mixture of apathy and an anthropological study in the home life of a prostitute. I’d watch her sat slumped in despair on the couch and then the phone would ring; she’d look at the number, make a face and then answer:
“Oooh! Hi baby!”
It wasn’t easy to live with someone as false as she’d become. Then again, what did I expect? Patience, education and understanding aren’t qualities you look for in someone who betrays themselves for a living. Her self-esteem was so low that she couldn’t accept a compliment without looking for the ulterior motive. Every time I’d buy some treat from the supermarket that I knew she liked she’d refuse to believe I’d bought it for her.
You can have sympathy for so long. My decision to leave was accelerated one morning when. after ignoring me for a couple of days, she woke up and tried to do something particularly vulgar. This will never get published if I saw what…
She wept with laugher at the aghast expression on my face.