We meet in a far corner of the lobby of the Holiday Inn. She is on time, and dressed rather conservatively, more like a salesperson than your everyday hooker. Layla is a high-end call girl, with a professional looking website, although the pictures are somewhat more flattering than reality. She is, according to her site, a classy lady, caring, and well-educated, with a happy attitude towards life. A good conversationalist and an attentive listener. 34 years old, petite, blond with hazel eyes, full lips and long legs. 1.66m tall (5″4), 90-60-90.
‘Yes, I’m probably the most professional girl on the island. And definitely the most reviewed.’
‘You are?’ Sounds like TripAdvisor. ‘Do you ask your clients to leave reviews?’
‘No, I don’t, but they do it all the same.’
‘Are you good at your job?’
‘I think so. My customers think so. The nice ones come back, so I can establish a relationship with them. I like that. I’m a good communicator. I like to make people happy: if they’re happy, I’m happy. I only do the things and the positions I like. And I ask the clients what they like and if there’s a match, it’s good.’
Layla is Russian, and has lived in Cyprus since last year. Before that she lived in Ireland for 10 years. She seems a little nervous: she’s probably used to meeting strangers, but not to being interviewed by one.
‘I had a normal job before, as an English translator and interpreter. Now I also teach English to Russian-speaking people, part-time.’
I must have looked a little surprised as she asks: ‘Did you think I could do the escort thing full time? I don’t want to shop all day, or lie on the beach, I need to do something that is mind-stimulating.’
‘Do people know about your other job?’
‘No. Only my sister knows. I live a double life. It’s not bad or good, it’s what it is. Society labels it as bad, for me it isn’t. I can do this job for maybe another 5 years and then it’s over: it is mostly about looks. So I’m enjoying it while it lasts.’
In fact she looks a bit like Xaviera Hollander, the Happy Hooker, the world’s most famous working girl back in the ‘70s.
‘Many people think it’s impossible to enjoy what you do.’
‘Nonsense. I do this by my own choice. I choose the time, the people. I’m in charge.
‘Is it possible to have a boyfriend?’
‘I’m single most of the time. Maybe I subconsciously think “men are bad, they just want sex, stay away.”’
‘Maybe you could meet somebody through your work, a client you really like?’
‘Well, I had clients I like, but we never crossed that border – not paying – because we would always remember the start, how we met. I guess I’m still waiting for a knight on a white horse.’
‘You’re an escort, but also an immigrant. Do you consider yourself an immigrant?’
‘No. I probably was in Ireland. There I was actually living. It was like home; I had friends, I had a good life. I’ve only been here a year, so I’m more a visitor. It’s good here too: the lifestyle, the weather. I have a good life, I have some property. And with all these Russians I feel quite at home in Cyprus and besides they’re bringing all the money,’ she smiles archly.
‘Are most of your clients Russian?’
‘A mix. Russians and Cypriots.’
‘How do they differ from the Irish?’
‘It depends on the men of course, but most Mediterranean men express themselves more romantically, they say nice things.’
Another green tea and beer.
‘Has the crisis affected you?’
‘Yes, prices went down. And I have a lot less customers, especially during the day, maybe 30% is left. It used to be maybe 12 men paying 250, now it’s 4 times 150 a day.’
‘Did the crisis change the way people look at Europe?’
‘People don’t like Europe anymore. They feel they’re better off without it. It was better when they had their own currency. Of course people with common sense know the crisis is the result of borrowing and spending too much. I agree with them.
‘What do you think about the EU?’
‘I’m happy with it. You know, getting an Irish passport is one of the best things that ever happened to me: it has given me freedom, to travel but also the psychological freedom to be able to do whatever I want, no restraints. And the fact that I’ve worked and paid taxes in Ireland for 10 years also makes it easier to live in the rest of the EU. If I go to a Cypriot hospital, the Irish health insurance will pay for it.
But a lot of people abuse this. I know many Polish or Latvians in Ireland who only worked a little, maybe part-time for a year, then they start to claim benefits, not only for themselves but also for their children who still live in Latvia. And I think it’s also quite strange that all these Eastern Europeans can travel freely, people who hardly speak a foreign language, like these Roma, or begging Bulgarians, while highly educated and rich Russian managers can’t, they have to go through a lot of trouble to get a visa.’
‘But the Roma are gypsies: professional travellers.’
‘You know what I mean. And I know what I’m talking about. Before I had my Irish passport, I had to fill out a pile of documents just to go to Milan for 6 days. Now I’m free to go!’