Calle Montera is a street that runs from the famous Puerta del Sol to the Gran Via. During the day women shop here for shoes and clothes, at night men come to buy something else: the end of Calle Montera is where streetwalkers hang out and wait. Some lurk in porticos, others sit on the benches in front of McDonalds.
Isabella is 24, from Romania – most of the prostitutes, about 50 of them, look Eastern European. She arrived in Spain seven months ago.
‘Do you like it here?’
‘Yes,’ she says, a little hesitantly. ‘I have two children in Romania, she adds without being asked. ‘Roxane and Christie.’
She agreed to talk in her hostel, around the corner. Her ‘office’, she calls it, which exists of an old iron bed, a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary, one chair and a little table with a bottle of water and a box of condoms. The door doesn’t close properly, and through the gap I can see Isabella’s colleagues climbing the long stairway with their customers. One floor down an old lady watches the door and does the laundry for all her girls. We can hear the Spanish soap opera she’s watching.
‘Where is your husband?’
‘No tengo. Divorced.’
‘Who is taking care of the children?’
‘Does she know what you’re doing?’
‘No, she doesn’t know I work in the street, she thinks I work in a bar. Not as a prostitute, hombre!’
She shows pictures of her little children. ‘I call them on Skype. Last month I saw them, in December. I’ll go back for Christmas. What type of iPhone have you got?’
‘I have 5.’
‘Do you take all customers?’
‘If they pay, yes.’
She has a cold and is constantly sniffing. This no surprise as it’s November and not the kind of weather for wearing just a T-shirt, a leather top, a very short miniskirt and very high heels.
‘What school did you go to?’
‘No school. I’m from Bucharest, from the city.’
‘Why did you leave?’
‘Porque no tengo dinero, hombre! It was not possible to get a job there.’
‘Are you good at your job?’
‘Yes, I make more money than my friends.’
She is better looking than they are, and has an aggressive sales pitch: she and her friend cornered me.
‘Do you like Europe?’
‘Si, me gusta.’ She gets up from the bed, checks her face in a little mirror and says: ‘I wanna go back to the street now, come.’