She didn’t want to be here. But she didn’t really have a choice. Being here meant she’d probably earn her rent for the month, and she really liked having a place to live. She’d probably earn more than her rent if she played her cards right and caught the right fish, but the pickings weren’t always easy. Nor were they always appealing, if she could say that about them. It had become just a job and she was fairly detached from it, but maybe not enough not to prefer one sample over another.

She walked past the security at the entrance after a cursory frisk. They knew her and knew she wouldn’t be any trouble. Besides, her being inside was good for business. She walked past a corridor to the toilets to her right and then the kitchen on her left, the aroma of fried onions and garlic and meat invading her nostrils. She wished she’d eaten. The job was usually easier when her stomach was full. She could think clearer. Maybe she’d get a customer to sort that out for her. There was always one who was quick to accede to her every request and tend to her every need. And she hardly ever had to try hard to find one.

The music was loud, but not deafening. It was one of the things she preferred about this club. At least here she could almost hear herself think. Chairs and tables weren’t cramped in every available space either. There was a proper dance floor that was struggling to get to minimum capacity, possibly because the music was a little too laid-back to be dancing to. The DJ was probably in a mood; he got that way when too many people came round to the booth with song requests. And it was still “early” in the night. People probably weren’t drunk enough not to care that other people were watching them show their lack of skill on the dance floor.

She walked past the bar adjacent to the kitchen. She wanted to sit on the other side of the club. It wouldn’t do to make it too easy for people. She turned left and approached the bar just behind the kitchen, a spot where she could see the entrance and anyone coming in. They also would be sure to see her as they came in. She sat on a stool, her orange dress riding high up her thighs. They were shapely thighs, although she would have preferred if they weren’t so overtly on display. But they also made the job easier, so she put up with the show.

She smiled at the bartender, a slight man who’d become a friend and was the only person who didn’t judge her for what she did, for who she was. He didn’t talk much, so maybe he judged her silently. She chose to believe he didn’t, and it helped that he always greeted her with a smile and asked how she was doing. He set to work preparing her usual: a mojito with much more lime juice and soda water than rum. Getting drunk wasn’t the wisest thing to do in this line of work. Dangers weren’t lurking around every corner, but it could at times be a dangerous job. She had to keep her wits about her.

She placed her purse on the counter, the bodice of her strapless dress falling with the movement of her arms to show even more décolletage. She didn’t bother to pull it back up. The goods were for sale anyway. She crossed one leg over the other and turned to look around the club. She watched as people saw her, noting their reactions with a mixture of amusement and melancholy.

They didn’t really see her. Oh they saw the legs on her and the dress that looked like it had been painted on. They were enraptured by the almond-shaped eyes and the full lips. But that’s all they saw. They saw her as a product, as something they possibly could afford. Maybe they could if they had a little more money, if they were taller, if they were fitter, if they were funnier and more confident, or (God help her) if they tried harder. They didn’t see what lay beneath the surface, nor were they interested in finding out.

They didn’t see the girl who’d been forced into this life because she didn’t know any better. A girl who’d been thrust into the big bad world way too early by a person who should’ve protected her from it. They (that’s both men and women) instead saw the slender arms they wanted touching them, the hair they just couldn’t get to sit so gracefully on their heads, the legs they couldn’t take their eyes off of (she really does have nice legs), and the body they wished they had.

They’d look at her and very often they’d stare. Then some would turn away, suddenly shy and trying to pretend that they hadn’t been staring. The more confident ones smiled at her, the cocky ones winked, and the lewd ones could do anything. Women often had a less-than pleasant reaction to her. She caught the dirty looks they shot her way and the envious eyes. Once in a while a snide remark would make its way to her. But the men could be mean too and weren’t above discussing unflattering stories about her amongst themselves, stories that also made their way to her.

Its was an awful feeling, as if she was completely clothed but still naked to the world, her flaws in full display. She hated it. She hated that she couldn’t hide, that she didn’t blend in. Even with the minimal makeup she wore, she was too attractive to go unnoticed. She didn’t even have to dress skimpily to catch someone’s attention. She was fetching no matter what she wore. You’d think she’d love that, that it would get to her head. You’d think she’d revel in the attention and would milk it dry. But she didn’t want any of it.

She didn’t want the ogling. She didn’t want the wandering hands. She didn’t want the attention, the insincere niceness. She didn’t want the favours with expectations. She didn’t want to be just another body added to the count. She wished that people weren’t so aware of her. She wished that she could be unremarkable and unrecognisable. She wanted to be able to fade into the background, to escape attention, to go unnoticed.