A hard slog of a morning’s shift working at the Airport and I was on a break, confronted with the blare of the large oblong TV screen in the staff room. On it was a juicy chunk of advert for a TV program sandwiched in between the bland, white, crowd-pleasing bread of the morning breakfast show.
‘Grannies working as escorts!’ the screen screamed ‘They’re topping up their pensions!’. And there was a frankly old woman in a dressing-gown, hobbling down the stairs with a walking stick. Apparently she worked part-time as a prostitute. ‘I like sex!’ she said with a bright, expansive smile as she sat in her kitchen wielding her teapot. ‘I have no inhibitions. And men love it!’
Okay. Right. On the drive home from work I debated the issue in the royal court of my mind where I am undisputed Queen. All the way home I was thinking, well if it makes her happy then good luck to her. It is not illegal to work as a prostitute, so she has every right to her own business. I think everybody has a right to their own business, because I might be wrong. There could be a God.
Other people can do as they wish, I decided, but as far as I’m concerned, prostitution is way out of the ballpark for me. My brush with it as a troubled young woman alone in a strange city was enough to put me off it for life. It’s a nice fantasy, but I found the reality of it dangerous and degrading.
I am not keen on allowing men I don’t know to eat me up and fill me to annihilation point with the alien beat of their unknown lives and saliva and sweat and dirt and semen. And then for them to just leave, while I lie staring dirt-caked at the ceiling, wondering exactly when the blazing electric light ends and the shadows begin.
My life has to be simple. Prostitution is not simple. A woman has to have a hard head to handle it, especially in frail old age. Anyway I am not going to work as a prostitute. I have a loving husband in a marriage of 20 years and am very happy. So that’s settled then.
Later on my laptop after lunch and my usual two cups of tea, I researched the program. It was a UK study of three mature aged women who worked as ‘escorts’. I balk at the disrespectful word ‘granny’, but what intrigued me was that this 85 year old woman absolutely refused to call herself a prostitute. She had created a mystique. She worked as an ‘escort’, she said. She entertained gentlemen and charged them for her time. She advertised herself on an Internet website, revealing her breasts and inviting men to ‘share forbidden fruits’.
Actually I’m kind of awestruck by the sheer tenacity of this old woman carrying on the way she does. 85 years is as old as I optimistically expect to live. So many people that age are in a nursing home with all kinds of debilitating afflictions and here she is, nonchalantly ticking over her life by amusing herself with men.
Or maybe the wheels will come off in a sad and undignified way. Most of her family are not talking to her because they see this diversion of hers as compromising the kind of social obligations expected at her age. But she has continued to work as an escort. Sex makes her happy even just thinking about it, she says.
The oldest profession has always drawn censure from mainstream society and probably always will. It is, by its nature secretive and can therefore be quite risky. One might ask if prostitution is the best thing that an old woman can do with her time. But then again near the end of one’s life and still of sound mind and body, would it be only natural to turn to doing the things that make one happy?
For my father, nearing his eightieth year and finding himself ‘still here’, what makes him happy is researching the history of Ancient Rome, collecting sea shells and birdwatching. No conflict with family there.
Is it selfish of this twice widowed old woman to pursue happiness in a way that conflicts with her family relationships and perhaps puts her life at risk? Is she running from confronting what she describes as an acute sense of loneliness? Or is it that the family is trying to suppress her instinct for sexual freedom? Near the end of life, should one temper their desires with respect to other people’s wishes and their family duties? Or is the woman’s predilection simply none of the family’s business?
I can’t decide. I can’t even decide if I should decide. What do you think?