Brace Yourself was the secret pseudonym I gave her. Brace Yourself because you never knew what you were going to get. She was like a hurricane stopping by briefly to collect a few dozen condoms and a hot chocolate with five sugars in it.
She wanted to move to Central America and save the turtles. Said she didn’t need much out there, as long as she could stay on her methadone script. When I was off work for six weeks following emergency surgery, she acted like my colleagues had personally hospitalised me.
It used to be just the condoms, nothing else, no chat. She couldn’t wait to be rid of us, in case the ten seconds she spent in our company were ten seconds that lost her a punter. But then stuff changed.
Like, it turned out that she was being pimped, and that there was no emergency housing that would provide support for addictions. This might have been a bit more useful than arresting her fucking clients, but there we were. One night she got in the car and bawled for her mother and it was heartbreaking. There were these two ladies in the back of the car, too – government researchers who were seemingly way out of their depth. I remember one of them gingerly reached out and patted her arm, said there, there. Brace Yourself was starting to rattle and she had to get back out and make money. I called around everywhere but nobody could do a goddamn thing. I’d never dealt with anything so heavy before.
The amazing, fantastic thing was she got out of that situation by herself. Kept working. Yes, she still had a habit, but she was out there on her own terms now. And after that, we had this connection, I guess.
She was a few years younger than me and you might call her ‘spirited’, if you felt like it. When she chose to give someone a piece of her mind it was a joy to witness. I was in my mid-twenties, plagued with self-doubt over how professional I really was – oversharing tales from my faintly ridiculous personal life, that kind of thing. But it wasn’t like anything was going to shock her, and if it made her laugh then cool.
So then this one time I gave her a lift to buy smokes and she comes out of the petrol station yelling, I got you a present! A little multi-coloured crab on a keyring, soft and stuffed with sand. I rarely use keys now that I live on the road, but it still comes with me. I wonder where she is now, and whether someday we’ll put the world to rights over gin and tonics in the Port o’ Leith, someday when things are sorted, in whatever form that takes.
Some details have been changed to protect anonymity.
Nine is a writer, editor, DJ and international pet sitter from Northern Ireland via Scotland. She would still be working with women like Brace Yourself if funding cuts hadn’t shut the project down. Nowadays she divides her time between Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and the rest of the world, and writes about sex work every so often.