Sophie’s Secrets — Chapter 16
The name she uses is Fatima, and it’s a bit incongruous for someone hailing from the Lower St. Lawrence region. But we’ve agreed to use it for reasons that will become obvious. Gazette columnist Marc Lalonde ventured into the shady world of prostitution for you and came back with stories he hopes will help you, his faithful readers, understand why some women choose to sell their bodies to strangers to make a living. This is the first installment in the series.
If you’ve ever driven south-east from Quebec City you’ll recall the rich farmland on either side of the highway and the majestic beauty of the river. This is the landscape Félix Leclerc saw from his beloved Ile d’Orléans as he strummed his guitar, composing what would become the province’s most beloved poetic anthems. The author of Moi, mes souliers would have understood how one lonely girl with a big imagination would travel to Montreal in search of a better life than what her rural roots would let her grow into.
As a kid, she wanted to be a comedian. She dreamed of being on stage and making people laugh. After CEGEP in Quebec City Fatima applied to the Conservatoire d’art dramatique in Montreal, as well as to McGill in French literature. She didn’t get her first choice but McGill give her the excuse she needed to pack her bags and never look back. Moving to the big city would be a shock, but one she was prepared for.
She finished her degree 18 months ago now works part-time in a bookstore. But like many of her generation, she has hefty student loans to pay back. Fatima believes paying this debt quickly is key to her future financial happiness, so she started looking around for opportunities that would be more lucrative than part-time retail, not that this narrows the field very much.
It didn’t take her long to realize the best bang for the buck, so to speak, would be prostitution. She thought about it for a few weeks, researched her options, considered the pros and cons, devised a working method, and plunged in.
She’s in a long-term relationship and lives with her partner on a tree-lined street in the west end.
You know the sound records made when the needle scratched across the grooves? You’ll have to imagine it right at this very moment.
“She has a boyfriend?” Victor the Unsexy was befuddled. “Does he know what she does?”
“She has a girlfriend, actually,” replied Marc as calmly as he could. “And no, she doesn’t know.”
It wasn’t common for a newspaper editor to be speechless.
“She’s bisexual, yes. Or at least, she’s in a lesbian relationship and sleeps with guys for money.”
“You’re going to mention that?”
“Why, to have people confused and stuck on the wrong part of the story? No. It’s her business who she sleeps with — in more ways than one in this case — and I’m going to keep it that way. Her sexual preferences isn’t the reason for this series. Her job is. That’s what I want to explore.”
Victor snorted like you’d expect but resumed reading.
It is a common assumption to believe that prostitutes do it for the money, and in this case that assumption is not wrong. On top of clearing her student loan Fatima wants to start saving for her future. Being a twenty-something in the 1990s means not having a retirement fund paid for by your employer, unless you work for the government, but that sort of work interests her less than sleeping with strangers for cold hard cash.
Not everyone is in the habit of thinking about sex workers on a daily basis. And were it not for this assignment, I wouldn’t, either. But Fatima’s story drew me in and it is my hope that by sharing it I can make you see women like her in a different, perhaps more tolerant, light.
“Why are you moralizing?”
“Shit, yes. Do you mind reworking that last bit so it’s less preachy?” This was not actually a question.
“So after blowing a fuse on her sexual orientation you want to accuse me of being a moral scold? Why, is that a rule of the universe that editors must drive writers insane at least once before publishing anything?”
“I’ll need the revised draft by morning,” Victor answered as he reached for the phone on his desk.