The Girl Next Door

Her hula-hoop went round and round as we unpacked our hire car. She’s about my height but slender, although her true form was hidden under a shapeless, sleeveless knee-length dress. The hoop bounced off her tummy, her back, her sides, giving hints to the size of her waist and every now and then accentuating a slight tummy. I guessed her age to be late thirties or more. Her hair is straight and tinted brownish-red, and her Asian face is covered in freckles. She deigned not a look our way, concentrating on keeping her hoop going full circle, her eyes hidden behind sunglasses and her thoughts who knows where.

It wasn’t a regular hula hoop, being of larger-than-normal circumference from what the toy stores sell. It seems to be built of segments that can be added or removed. Each segment has two tiny, quarter-sized metal weights embedded. Our neighbor at the Desert Rose Inn was out for her exercise, standing in the parking spot reserved for her room.

Alice Springs is kind of a quiet town, and as we unloaded our suitcases and tucked clothes and toiletries into small cabinets and on the bathroom windowsill, we listened to the Central Australian crows and gulahs break the silence of the hotel parking lot. The neighbor in the apartments across the way hung her wet clothes over her second-floor railing to dry, a young woman passed by on her bicycle, her tires whirring, and the wife of our hotel proprietor walked by with a couple of spare light bulbs, calling now and then to an old German Shepherd with ancient hips that kept her company.

Desert Rose Inn, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia


Our neighbor had company, too. As it turns out, on a regular basis. The visits seem short—about half an hour, as indicated by at least one chap who rode up on a bicycle last night while I was sitting in the communal lounge. Their visit must have been pleasant, for he was grinning when he left, even as she sort of shoved him out the sliding door with a cheery farewell.

Prostitution is legal in Australia. The newspapers carry ads in the classified in numbers that speak to the availability. The ads are a bit cheesy, but always brief. “APPLE flower in bloom. Friendly, pretty face. Unforgettable g/f service. Anything you want. In/out.” Or, “COCO 100% Pretty young spirited gal on holiday. Dream body, more fun, no rush. CBD. In/out calls.” And “LIYA. 100% new overseas uni [university] student, very pretty, naughty & looking for fun, very friendly service.” Each ad names the temptress, describes her assets, and is followed by a phone number. I’m not sure of the coding, but I guess “in/out” refers to where the transaction takes place—in a hotel room or someplace designated by the buyer.

In a recent Sunday issue of Territorian, the Northern Territory newspaper, Natasha Bita penned an article called, “Skilled sex work visa call.” Bita informs us that “foreign prostitutes are demanding the right to work in Australia as ‘skilled workers’  on 457 visas.” Work visas, I think, are valid for two years, and include “skilled occupations” such as gardeners, cooks, fashion designers, entertainers, dancers, horse riding instructors, etc., to the tune of 624 different kinds of jobs. The Scarlet Alliance (I couldn’t discern their mission from the article) asserted to the Senate inquiry into the visa applications that “sex work is no less skilled than other occupations” on the skills shortage list. Some of the skills listed by the Alliance include “working with condoms and dams, negotiating prices and services, performing sexually transmitted infection checks, making risk assessments and establishing boundaries.” The Immigration Department holds firm in its decision not to allow the visas, noting that there is no degree or diploma awarded to confirm a skilled status. The Australia unions concur, on the grounds that some employers will “pay less and exploit people.”

Our girl next door is quiet and unobtrusive, although a curiosity. In between appointments, she wears a fluffy pink robe patterned with panda bears. She comes to the communal kitchen in this attire, talking to no one unless she’s carrying a cell phone, and then she returns to her room after warming up her supper. Sometimes her curtains—which for all of the apartments cover a full sliding-door & window arrangement about eight feet in length—are mostly closed. If she doesn’t have a client, then the curtain is opened to an angle, showcasing her profile as she reclines on her bed, a knee and thigh peeking from her panda robe, while she watches movies.

I only saw her smile once. She was talking on her phone, her face at the window glass although she wasn’t looking at anything in our parking lot. Was she talking to a girlfriend? A lover? Does she have a child? In that moment, she looked like a teen-aged girl next door.