It wasn’t easy to find a prostitute in Riga. Even the taxi drivers, who are usually prepared to take you straight to the local Sodom and Gomorra, were reluctant when asked. ‘It is forbidden,’ they told me. And that seems odd as Riga still has something of a reputation. It’s not for the museums that cheap airlines fly in plane loads of English visitors every weekend: it’s for stag night parties. It also has another reputation: there are many stories, shared online, of men who follow a prostitute to an apartment, where a big man asks them to hand over their phone and money and then tells them to bugger off.
I found Daniela in a massage parlour, just outside Riga city centre.
‘How come you speak English so well?’
‘Thank you,’ she says, tugging at the hem of her skirt. She sits on the only chair in the small dark room, I sit on the edge of the bed. Bon Jovi is singing. ‘I learnt it at school and I had a relationship with a Greek man.’
She is 29, about 1m70, a brunette with a nice face.
‘So you’re a writer.’ She giggles from time to time. When I was introduced to Daniela and chose her over her platinum blonde colleague, I hadn’t told her I wanted to see her for an interview: I saved this bit of information until we were in the massage room. ‘It’s the first time I’ve met a writer in the flesh,’ she says. Professional flattery is clearly one of her skills. She tells me she reads quite a lot: Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe. ‘I like scary stories.’
She went to a technical school, and before she took this job she worked in a shop, as a hairdresser, a dancer, and as a bartender. She’s had lots of jobs.
‘Why did you become an erotic masseuse?’
‘Because of the salary: it pays a lot. In a shop I made 300 a month, now 2,500. I’ve been doing it for 2 years now and I like it. My colleagues are nice and I meet a lot of people, from many countries: China, Denmark, Germany’ – and a long list follows.
‘Are you good?’
‘No one is complaining and people come back to me.’
‘Do your friends know?’
‘Just one friend,’ she says hesitantly…‘Actually I have a lot of friends who don’t understand this type of work. Some don’t care: they judge me on who I am, not on my profession. I’m not stealing, and I’m not selling drugs, so… But I prefer not to tell.’ She thinks about it for a second. ‘You know, kids are told it’s bad.’
‘You don’t think it is?’
‘No. Taking drugs is bad, maybe smoking is. Erotic massage isn’t. Body to body massage isn’t.’
‘You don’t have sex with your customers? Not even if they pay a lot?’
‘No, it’s a principle. Well, if it’s a regular customer and I like him, maybe.’
‘A lot of British people come to Riga, also to this club. They expect sex, right?’
‘Not all, but many, yes. It’s hard to find here. This is not Amsterdam.’ And she talks about Thailand, and says that a friend who went there had asked if she could bring her something. ‘Playing cards, I said. But you know, it’s not allowed. No gambling, no casino, no playing cards. While prostitution is open: you can choose: boy, girl, dog. But no playing cards.’
‘You like to travel?’
‘Actually, no. I don’t like change. I don’t like to change my phone, apartment, perfume, friends, or food. I’m a person of habit. Travelling means going to a country that you don’t know, where everything is strange: the language, the people. When I was 20 I lived in Lithuania for almost a year. I liked it. The people are nice, it’s clean. Much cleaner than here.’
‘Really? I think it’s clean here!’
‘Then I’m curious about Amsterdam.
‘But the world comes here, you say. Is there a difference between the customers?’
‘I like English people. I don’t like Turkish people, they are rude. And I really don’t like customers from India, because they are dirty.’ She laughs scornfully. ‘They can wash for hours, but they will still be dirty. German people are nice and polite, French too. And I like Italians,’ she smiles.
‘Do you have a boyfriend at the moment?’
‘Does he know how you make your money?’
‘Of course not. He thinks I’m working in a casino.’
We don’t speak for a moment, Kate Perry sings. She tugs again at her very short skirt.
‘How do you dress normally?’
‘Like a normal girl. But not a dress like this, a lot longer. With my body I can’t wear short dresses. I’m a normal girl.’
A decent girl she means.
‘Because men would maybe stare at you.’
‘Some times, when I’m having a good day and I’m on the street, men smile at me and I like it, I take it as a compliment. Some days, bad ones, I don’t want anybody to look at me, and I wear sneakers and my glasses.’
Change of subject.
‘What do you think of Europe? Do you like the EU?’
‘No, first of all, the Euro has made life much more expensive. You know, the government promised that prices would remain at the same level, but that hasn’t happened. It’s two times more expensive. I see nothing good coming from the EU.’
‘But maybe some roads have been built with European money?’ I venture.
‘They built a lot of things, very expensive things. Like the bridge, I heard it’s the most expensive one in the world. But why? This small country doesn’t need it! Or the library near the river. Something was wrong with it and now it’s been closed for two years. We didn’t need it anyway. Most people are poor, don’t make a lot of money. And it’s not that they simply give us the money, the EU. We have to pay it back.’
‘Did you vote?’
‘No, I never vote. They’re not honest. For example, to join the EU, before nobody was in favour, but it turned out that 86% was for… I have the feeling it was manipulated.’