Nieuwmarkt is warm. It’s 11 am and already the temperature here is creeping up beyond 22 degrees. The market has served us well. Coffee, fresh juice general buzziness, and we wander, as tourists do, heading off the market to the cooler side streets. Laughing at the English boys in the café – beer & joints already started, shirts off, noisy, preening.
And to my left, in a window at street level, is a girl.
Dressed only in black underwear with pink edging, we are eye to eye. Almost. She is tiny. 5ft 2 perhaps. I tower over her.
What I notice is this: she is so young. Her belly is drum-taut and pierced with a pink stud which matches her underwear. Her long light brown hair spills over her shoulders. Her skin is brown-perhaps-fake-tanned. She is pretty, maybe even beautiful. She is so young…..
And I look away. I hadn’t expected her. At 11 in the morning on a hot sunny day. I am… Shocked, horrified, curious, baffled, angry…. My mind goes straight to what she is there to do… the men to be touched and pleasured…the strangers who will have intimate access to her … the cold hard reality of money-for-sex.
The silver haired American couple wandering in the opposite direction see her too. The woman comments “I guess she got the early shift today”…. And it’s so banal….. so strangely normal but completely abnormal….. I’m unsteady for a second. Like the world has just backflipped on me.
I look again for a moment and the Girl looks…what? Bored? Resigned? Dead behind the eyes? Ready for business? What Is that look?
I wonder if I am a prude? Naïve? This lack-of-coolness with what is before me.. surely I just need to get with it…. But I am not alright with this. It leaves me cold and strangely scared…the world I live in does not allow for young girls in windows selling their precious selves to strangers…. And yet I’m face to face with that very reality. What the Hell is going on?
As I walk away, I want to talk to this girl.. Ask her how did she end up here? No…I don’t want to ask her how she ended up because that would mean this is the end…I want to ask how she has come to be here. In street window on a bright Friday morning, opposite half naked English teenagers who are goading each other to have a go; looking out at elderly Americans and a curvy Scottish Woman who can’t quite meet her eye…
All day she flitted in and out of my mind. I find myself wondering if she is a self-employed, gloriously empowered, strong, sassy woman who has chosen this as a means to some other end? Or is she pimped, trafficked passport taken, a powerless victim, voiceless and forced here? Is she educated? Cared for? Loved? In Love? What does she think of her body? What does she think of others’ bodies? Does she enjoy sex? Where does she live? What are her dreams?
And later, back at the hotel, I google Red Light District and mostly, sites talk about the sex trade & the history… but I can’t find the answers to the questions above…other than that, since 2000, the girls have to pay taxes…
36 hours on and I’ve made no more sense of it all…and we’re heading back to Nieuwmarket tonight to a restaurant that has come highly recommended….How. Very. Odd.