On a stool I perch, for ten hours a day, watching the world go by, rubbing cocoa butter into my tanned skin, patent red boots twinkling in the light. I sit and I dream. Paint my nails. Comb my braids, re plaiting them into tight corn rows.
In my case is a hand mirror, marbled green – a gift from my Aunt who lived in Almeria. As a child she would let me stay in her cracked white hacienda, the mirror would sit on her mahogany ladies dresser. She said to me once, “Carmel, I see you looking in my special mirror, one day you will grow up to be the finest senorita in town. You will wear a red flower in your hair. You will dance on coffee tables – slamming your shoes to flamenco, dressed in monochrome polka dots. You will be just as I was”.
When I became old enough, and in her eyes ‘a real woman’, she gave me the mirror, so I could be like her ‘forever beautiful’.
Today, I look through it; the reflection I see would bring disapproval from my dead Aunt. I swear she is looking down on me, over my shoulder, raising her eyebrow, cursing under her breath. Though my face is made up, and dusted in bronze powder – my neckline, chest, and waist are bare. I am wearing pink rhinestones on a chain around my ankle.
On the other side of the window that I face every day, gazing out across the water to the other window girls over the way, stands a group of English men. They are pointing and laughing at me. One of them slams his palms onto his chest. He cups them and grimaces at me, his friends laugh. The man pushes his fist down his trousers, making a tent shape that points straight to me. They say bad things. I do not speak English well, but I know that no matter how much they humiliate me, they will return. They will part with their money after sitting in the coffee shops. They will make me dance for them, all of them sat in a circle, pushing notes into my underwear, leering, and trying to grab me. They will be thrown out of the club by Hans, I will wipe the oil and glitter from my skin, and return to the window as they take a kicking down the dingy alleyways at the side of Koestraat.
The English men, dressed in cheque shirts, with short gelled hair, and always, yes always stinking of alcohol, they come to this part of town, to celebrate marriage. Their wives to be, the women who love them, they let them come here in big parties. Like apes they run around the canals, throwing up in the water, drenched in sweat. We watch them, and try to turn the other cheek. We are the silent women, for there is no voice behind a window pane. All we can do is watch. Try to entice. The tourists come from all over the world, to smoke hashish, catch a peepshow or two; some of them bring their wives. That I don’t mind. But the gangs, of English men who smell of cheap aftershave, they howl and shout at us like animals. To them we are not real women. We exist behind glass. Like real flesh mannequins who will dance at the flash of a leather wallet stuffed full of Euros.