“Alright, so here’s what you need to know.” Alex said. He leaned in until his lips were but a centimetre from my ear, words tip-toed out of his mouth and danced their way into my ears in a way that raised the hair on my skin. Tantalised, I listened intently. “You will meet him here, at this exact spot in approximately 25 minutes, I’ve arranged it all.” His name is Steven, he works in finance, his nipples are sensitive and he’s a Taurus – if you know what I mean.” I didn’t.
Alex continued with his brief. “He drinks overpriced craft beer because he thinks it makes him different from the other middle-aged post-divorced men, but he will treat you to overpriced vodka cocktails so, apples and oranges. He’ll most likely open a discussion about your favorite car in the first ten minutes just so that he can show you a picture of his latest mid-life crisis. Just go with it, it keeps him sweet. He always smells great and he’s a good man overall so, just have fun!” I couldn’t help but feel a little like a baby sitter listening to the frantic listings of a child’s bedtime routine by their freedom-deprived mother embarked on her first night out in a year.
Alex scribbled his contact details on a whiskey dampened napkin before folding it up and placing it in my hands. “If you have any problems – give me a call.” I was in it now, there was no turning back now. Well, I probably could have turned back, but for a reason unknown to my consciousness at this time, I wanted Alex to like me.
I suppose I was approaching it as more of a blind date than a job. If I looked at it any other way, would I be considered a sex-worker? And if so, was I comfortable with that? As I minimized the experience to overcome my self-judgment as much as possible, my mind meandered down an alternative path. I couldn’t help but wonder what happens if he doesn’t like me, does he get his money back? How does this work? Is there a money back guarantee on my time? I was midway through composing a frantic and lengthy text message to the number that had been scrawled on the napkin Alex left behind when I felt a tap on my shoulder.
For the second time this evening I was approached at the same spot by a man I had never met before. A man of grand stature, his eyes drooped with tiredness, his shoulders hunched and his mouth rested slightly gaped, he appeared strikingly bovine in nature, is that what Alex meant by ‘he’s a Taurus’?
“Alex told me you’d be here”, I heard Steven’s voice mutter from behind me. I turned to welcome him with all the ‘tits and teeth’ I could muster.
“Hello, hello, welcome! I’m Alouicious, let’s get you a drink!” I exclaimed in my best telephone voice. I sounded offputtingly like a holiday rep overenthusiastically trying to usher unsuspecting holiday makers into a false sense of certainty that they would have a good night if they stuck with me.
Steven nodded at the bartender, “I’ll have a pint of Raging Bitch,” he ordered. , I filtered the words ‘Why yes you will, if you play your cards right’ through my mind until they were just thoughts – I’m on my best behavior.
In the interest of being as honest as possible, straight off the bat, I judged him. His clothes hung from his bloated body in a clumsy and disheveled manner, his stubble was less Zach Effron and more Tom Hanks in the beginning stages of his castaway beard growing process. I took one look at Steven and wondered what on earth had gone wrong and how on earth we would be able to find in common.
“So, er, do you like cars? “, he asked, just like clockwork. I replied with honesty.
“I don’t drive, but I’ve always liked the idea of doing up a van to travel Europe in. I’d drive through the Eurotunnel and begin in France. Id kit it out with a bed and a kitchen, and cover it in fairy lights – like you see on Instagram.” I replied, waiting to see how he would manipulate this into showing me a photograph of his Ferrari.
His raised eyebrows held his surprise high on his face. I began to panic, unsure about whether or not I should be putting on a persona, establishing a new, more attractive character for the client. I tried to back-track my statement.
“But, the fast ones…” I started to waffle in an attempt to be someone who he could relate to.
Steven stopped me from talking. He told me about the time that he travelled across Europe in a campervan in his youth. How he’d ended up in Portugal where he fell in love with a man named Lucas. He told me a whirlwind tale of adventure and heartache. Of unfair societal expectation, of emotional persecution and one of the hardest decisions he’d ever had to make. He ended up back in the UK, in a loveless marriage to a woman so that his family would accept him. In a series of secret letters, he learned about how Lucas had moved with another man, because he couldn’t wait for Steven.
He eventually got divorced. He had started hiring Alex, not for sex, but to spend time with someone he couldn’t be abandoned by. I realised at this point. that when he asks about cars, he’s not creating an opportunity to show off his latest mid-life crisis. He is just trying to figure out what version of himself his companion will accept.
By the end of the evening I was exciting over potential travel plans. He was sharing debaucherous tales of the places he had been and people he had met along the way. He was interesting and fun and had a thirst for life that I had not expected. He warned me how dangerous it is to not live your life completely as yourself, and told me about how damaging it is to conform to others expectations. I left the bar that evening feeling fulfilled, reflective, and £450 richer after Steven slipped a small wad of £20’s into my hand on our way out. I had almost forgotten I was being paid for the three hours we spend in each other’s company.
The term “don’t judge a book by its cover’ has been muttered from the mouths of wise people for countless years, yet so many of us consider ourselves to be a good judge of character without considering the implications of judging character quickly. My evening spent with Steven was the first time I had really realised that these judgements can be damaging and stunting and not at all the extrasensory perception I had once believed my habit to be. He made me think about the people that I had encountered that I never got to know, the layers of human that lay beneath the surface are more layers that we can connect with. I’m grateful to Steven for teaching me not to judge a Taurus by his bovine nature.