Our house was invited to a hair party. Obviously I don’t mean the building itself.
It was fun, seeing everyone dress up (we had a large shared house at university, twelve of us); I hadn’t planned to do anything myself, just go in a foxy dress, but after being enlivened by the preparatory atmosphere, crazy wigs and colour changes, I got into it and borrowed someone’s can of black hair spray and used the remnants.
It wasn’t the most successful transformation: I’m small, fair-haired, soft looking. The can exhausted its contents half way through so it was a streaky mess and stained my skin, until I looked like a coal miner's daughter. But the combination of a short lycra dress and the multi-tone hair must have made me look edgier than I am..
The party was at a house 30 metres along the road from us, and we lived in a dodgy area. There were many prostitutes operating locally – I would look at them some in concern when I made my way to lectures in the daytime, wondering what had decided their path and, well, what their lives were like, and we lived opposite a ‘brothel’ (it was a two-women operation, and the Arab men who parked their Mercedes outside would squeeze past in a horribly suggestive way as we passed, if we were unfortunate enough to be leaving as they parked their status symbols).
That night, we went to the party en masse. It was close enough to my house for me not to ask one of the lads to escort me when I wanted to run back for a moment, for what, I can’t remember. Maybe to wash some of the black smudges off my face..
But as I went home for a temporary respite I saw a prostitute walking towards me, very purposefully. I saw myself through her eyes: the crazy hair, the short, tight lycra dress, the high heels. I was scared. I realised she thought I was a prostitute and thought she would be angry at me, a new girl operating on her territory. I tried to be as nonchalant as possible and sped up, but I was alarmed, it was a whole different world for me. She was really pounding along the pavement after me, matching my increase in speed with a corresponding increase.
But she caught up with me; “you working tonight, love” she asked. Answers flashed through my mind but I thought if I said I was in the middle of a fancy dress party it would be ridiculing the way she looked (as I looked like her) so I weakly said no. .
She spoke for a short while, her much more than me, due to my embarrassment. She really wanted to talk, it burbled out of her. She was very warm and she tried to give me sage advice and she told me to take care of myself..
Her care and concern made a great impression on me; I couldn’t have disillusioned her that no, I actually was one of the pampered members of society, I had a mother and father who took care of me and sent me to private school and I was bright and hgot entry to a good university. I couldn’t have said: “but no, I’m not a prostitute”. That night, we were totally levelled. I can’t even remember what she looked like; I just remember thinking that she was a wonderful member of society, her warmth and care really touched me. I meet privileged people everyday who don’t realise that they’re the lucky ones, but complain bitterly about the hardships they face. Well, she touched my life in a way that they haven’t.