A few weeks ago I came up with an idea that I thought would be a savage twist on the Whore-R Story theme. I had just seen the film Lilya 4-Ever, about a girl from a typical Ukrainian provincial shithole who winds up abandoned to prostitution and sex slavery. The movie is genuinely gut-wrenching and even unbearable at times to watch-even for a seasoned American john like me. So I gots ta wondering: How would a real-life whore from a real-life provincial zhopa react to watching a film about her life? And how would she react while with me, her john? Would she still be able to fuck me after watching Lilya 4-Ever? Would I be able to fuck her? Is this really funny?
The film was directed by a Swede, Lukas Moodysson, but its cast was almost entirely Russian, the dialogue almost entirely Russian, and it was shot on-location in an FSU shithole (actually in the Russian part of Estonia, but it may as well be any forsaken hellhole between Brest and Vladivostok).
Lilya 4-Ever is not just a brutal viewing experience, blowing away critics and leaving viewers thoroughly speechless. More importantly for this newspaper's purposes, it's a relevant film. As the rolling credits claim, "This film is dedicated to the millions of children around the world exploited by the sex trade." It wasn't just for art-house bleeding hearts. Even the right-wing National Review named Lilya "The Uncle Tom's Cabin of the anti-trafficking movement." (It's funny, but I was going to write here that Moodysson donated his profits to organizations fighting human trafficking, but when I went back I realized I was wrong; Moodysson, a loathsome hippie if there ever was one, has already moved on to another hot topic.) In the DVD, the extra features include a UNICEF plea on behalf of sex slave victims, and a horrifying Amnesty International promo about Russian atrocities in Chechnya. In other words, watching Lilya with a whore I've paid for would be the equivalent of being a 19th-century plantation owner who has his slave read Uncle Tom's Cabin to him in the morning, before forcing the slave back out into the fields for another day's work.
* * *
I found Masha on the internet. She was advertised as nineteen, and she looked it: lithe, with small breasts, a tiny waist and a baby face with puffy lips and a small chin. I told her that I wanted to take her for the night-she told me her fee was $200, a pretty sum when you consider that you can pay roughly that for one of the choicest offerings at Night Flight.
But I had another agenda: I wanted not only to have Masha watch Lilya 4-Ever with me, but to also let me videotape an interview with her. No sex, no skin either-just an interview. She asked for $1000-but I quickly talked her down to $300, explaining that she wouldn't be required to fuck me on tape or even strip down before the camera.
Her only requirement: "Dengi v peryod"-money up-front.
Masha agreed to meet me at 8:30 at my metro stop, Lyubanka. She called my mobile, and I walked out to meet her. I was pleasantly surprised-in her tight black jeans and tight rynok biker jacket, she was even thinner and girlier than I'd imagined. As I approached, I saw her give a look to a large, hunched flathead. He glanced icily at me, then disappeared around a corner.
"So, pay me now, up-front as we agreed," she said, right there on the street.
"No, I only pay once you're in my house," I said.
"But we agreed to pay up-front."
"Sure, I'll pay you when we're in my place. But not here on the street."
I figured, what if she takes my money, then just decides to run. What would I do, grab her and force her to my house? With her screaming? And a loaded flathead hiding around the corner? Even if I could fight him off, Lucas Moodysson's minions would chase after me with their cameras, yelling, "Ja ja, you are a very bad herren! Leaff ze gurl alone, you exploituh!"
Finally Masha relented. "Okay, let me just talk to 'someone' and see if it's okay." She didn't want me to see who this someone was-the flathead, obviously-so I went to get some smokes, and told her I'd meet her in 5 minutes.
I was a minute late, and she was looking for me, smiling and appearing a little more relaxed. We walked to my apartment, where she grew nervous because the number on my building isn't the same number as the real street address I gave her. She had obviously given her flathead my address, just in case something went bad. I had to show her a ZhEK notice posted in the podezd to prove to her that the address I gave her was right.
For my part, I was a little worried she might want to invite the flathead in. So once I brought her inside, I locked the safe locks on my steel door from the inside, and hid my keys. You can kinda see how a john might think he could really have his way with a girl, should he be so inclined:locked in my apartment, keys hidden:
But I wasn't thinking like that. This wasn't about desire, this was about doing a job. Like Lukas Moodysson, I needed my Whore-R story for professional reasons, although you'd probably have to knock a lot of zeroes off of Lukas' takehome pay-as in every single zero on his check-if you wanted to compare the fruits of our exploits:
Masha couldn't understand why I wanted to interview her, on video or otherwise. Was I trying to get the awful, tragic story of a prostitute?
"Is it really interesting?" she asked me. "Every prostitute's story is the same. You're desperate, you need money, something bad happened. It's the same with every girl. Why would Americans be interested?"
It was difficult to explain to her, and I found myself selling the idea like a sleazy Hollywood director. I was pretty damn impressed by my pitch, convincing her that the truth needs to get out, that I want to show prostitutes not as victims or freaks, but rather as regular human beings doing a mostly-shitty job, sort of like the poor Ukrainian guest-workers stuck in shitty construction jobs. She agreed with me, and said, "Let's do it."
* * *
Within 15 minutes, Masha switched from grapefruit juice to beer. We were sitting in my kitchen. The flathead called her on my cellphone-I could hear his loud snarl through my mobile, muffled yelling punctuated by "blyad!" and "blya!" She told him everything was fine, and eventually hung up on him. She was feeling more comfortable, opening up to me, almost as if grateful that someone-an American-was interested in her life story.
Masha was born in Feodisia, a coastal resort town in the Crimea. Her father had done jail time, so she was raised mostly by her grandparents. There was no money to be made in Feodisia, or anywhere in Ukraine. After her grandparents died, she was practically alone. She'd fallen in love with a young man who told her to move to Moscow with him. But when she arrived last year, he disappeared.
"Here I was in Moscow, with no money, no friends, nothing. I could do only one thing-sell myself for sex. What else could I do?" she said, sipping her beer.
"Did you find a pimp or an agency? How did you fall in?" I asked.
"Well, I:I wound up living in a train station for a period." She laughed uneasily, and grimaced. "I don't like talking about it."
"Which train station? You mean you started being a prostitute there?"
"Yes, it was awful. This one period - please don't ask me about it."
"Okay!" Now I was worrying that I was losing good copy-I hadn't yet moved her to the family room, where the video camera was set up.
"Anyway, after some time at the train station, I had enough money to get my own room. Now I rent my own room in someone's apartment. It's much better, to have your own room, your own place."
I stopped her and brought in the camera, got her acquainted with it by showing her some film I'd shot of a burning building in my neighborhood. I wanted to make her comfortable with the camera before interviewing her-people usually clam up or get self-conscious when the little red light blinks on.
I set the camera back on the tripod, then sat down next to her on the old Soviet sofa and asked her to start again with Feodisia and her life in Ukraine.
"I was raised by my grandparents because my mother died when I was one-and-a-half, and my father spent time in jail," she started.
"How did your mother die?" I asked.
"She worked in the railways. She was run over by a train and died."
"Oh. I'm sorry."
"No, I'm used to it by now," she said, with a pained laugh. "My father was thrown in jail at that time."
"Extortion. He did time twice, for most of my childhood. Once he sat for three years, and once for six years."
"Was he cruel, a tough bandit type?"
"Yes. I didn't know him much, but he was very bad, very cruel. I don't see him at all."
"Was he rough? I mean did he beat your stepmother or:"
"He beat me," she said. "He never beat my mother or stepmother, but he beat me a lot. I don't acknowledge him as my father. Right after my mother died, he took another wife, and they had a child. Then he was thrown in jail. When he got out, he left her and took another wife. My grandparents took care of me that time. They raised me."
"Were they good?"
"I really loved my grandfather. He was so nice and selfless. He died in 1998."
"He cut his veins."
"You mean suicide?"
"Yes, he had a disease that made the bones fall apart, I don't know what it's called. He couldn't move, he was in pain. He didn't want to be a burden to us. We had no money and it was difficult. One day I was home and he was in the other room cutting lemons. I heard something like water spilling on the floor, and he fell. I walked in-there was blood everywhere. Well:that's it, he died before the medics came."
"You saw all this?"
I didn't expect this kind of story, not from her. Not for this experiment. It was really starting to cramp my mojo. "What about your grandmother?" I asked.
"She died in 2003, of the same condition. That's why I left a year later for Moscow. After she died, I had no reason to stay there."
She told me this without even a hint of self-pity. I even tried to give a piteous, dramatic "I'm so sorry," but she instinctively laughed and pulled away from my middle-class sentimentality. I could see now that Masha's mix of frankness, verve and matter-of-fact tone came from surviving events unimaginably awful, yet when you survive them, they become almost like someone else's story, a story you know by heart but don't exactly feel. I think she also enjoyed recounting this for a camera, for an imaginary foreign audience-it raised a story that she thought was banal and shameful to something dramatic.
"What about your sexual history or your attitude towards sex, I mean:"
"You mean when did I lose my virginity?" she asked. "I was eighteen."
"You mean just last year?"
"Yes. I don't know why, I just was never the type when I was in Feodisia. I had boys, but I never let them have their way with me. Then when I met my boyfriend last year:"
Masha's boyfriend enticed her to Moscow, then abandoned her to the vokzal wolves. She worked her way out of the train station-again, she wouldn't talk about it-and set herself up via the internet, which she said she liked better than having to work a tochka or salon.
"I work for myself," she said. "I don't want to work for anyone else."
"You don't have a pimp?" I asked.
"Not even protection? What about that big guy I saw."
"He was:my boyfriend:well, nothing, he's not important. As for protection, well of course, sometimes you have a client who thinks he can just not pay you when he's through. When that happens, I have friends I can call, and they visit the client and get the money from him."
"They fuck the bastard up, huh?"
She laughed. "You know Russian mat'? How funny!" she laughed.
"How long have you been working?"
"Since last May. I don't plan on staying in this, but I'm realistic, I know that I don't want to work in a kiosk making kopeks. I hope to get enough money to get an education-I'm back in a local high school now to finish my diploma there so I can get into an institute, because you see I didn't finish high school in Feodisia. You can understand why, with my home life. So I plan to leave this job and get an education. I'm finishing my ninth grade now," she said, laughing. That was impressive-taking tests at a Moscow high school as a 19-year-old whore from Ukraine.
"So what has been your worst experience? Any real perverts, like S&M perverts or that type?"
"No really bad perverts," she said. "I'm lucky I guess."
"Who's your worst client or experience?"
She laughed, cupping her hand over her mouth. "I don't know: The only people I don't like are hachki (Caucasians). And French men, I really don't like them. But the hachki are the worst, I really don't like them and won't have them as clients." Suddenly she regretted saying that. "You're mad at me for saying that, aren't you? I can see your expression changed. I'm sorry."
"No, it's fine, it's just that I like Caucasians, especially Georgians, and sometimes I'm mistaken for one myself."
"No, you're not like them. They can be very brutal to Russian girls, as clients I mean. Of course, there are probably a lot of nice hachki. I had a friend, a hachek-oops, I shouldn't say hachek, right?-he was very nice to me."
"So you mean some of your best friends are hachki?"
"What do you mean?" She giggled again.
"Nothing, I'm just being a jerk. You're really nice, I'm glad I bought you-I mean, that you're with me."
"Me too," she said, and laughed again, working on her second beer.
* * *
Suddenly my "Lilya" experiment didn't seem like a clever nihilistic joke, but I had to go through with it, much as I dreaded it. I told Masha what the movie was about, angling it in such a way that she wound up suggesting watching it herself. "I'm curious, of course, because it concerns my own life," she said. "I'd like to watch it, if that's okay with you."
I felt like a real jerk, like a playground asshole setting up the school loser for a huge joke for everyone's enjoyment- but I wasn't enjoying this at all. Obvious questions could not be avoided, such as, did I really expect to be here, doing this, as I near 40 years old? I had an idea in my head about how this article would turn out-it was supposed to be horrible in a funny way:
We popped open a couple more beers, sat back on the couch-she crossed her small legs over mine, and moved in close to me.
Lilya starts with the sixteen-year-old heroine jumping off a freeway bridge -then cuts back three months earlier, to her provincial Ukrainian town. Lilya, played expertly by Russian uber-babe Oksana Akinshina, is excitedly preparing to leave her shithole town for America. Her mother met a Russian-American immigrant online, and he'd come to marry her and take her back. But at the last minute, Lilya's mother tells her that she's going to have to stay in Ukraine for awhile, while she and her new husband get set up in America, and then they'll bring her out. The movie is shot in verite style, and as Masha noted, everything, from dialogue to the barren look of the town, seemed too real. For me, the worst part came early on, during the scene where the mother says goodbye to her bitter daughter, trying to coax Lilya to at least "give your mother a hug goodbye." Lilya gives her mother an intentionally fast, cold hug, then walks away, cold and angry. The mother clearly can't wait to leave: "Nu ladno," she says, and walks out of their apartment for good. And then:as the mother is getting into her new husband's BMW:Lilya runs out of the dour podezd, wearing cheap pajamas and tapochki, out into the bleak courtyard, with its pitted dvor roads, bare birches, mud and puddles:and she screams at her mother not to leave her, clutching her, begging her, in hysterics. Her mother screams back not to make it so painful, and Lilya begs her not to abandon her-the mother, hysterical, pushes her away, slips into the BMW, and the car speeds away. Lilya runs after the car, screaming for her mother, and trips and falls into one of the mud puddles. And the worst part-a dog, one of those strays you see here, which seem to have some German Shepherd blood, trots up to her with folded ears, then looks into the camera and nervously moves out of the frame.
Masha kept looking over to me-she sighed heavily, and made a comment about how familiar it looked. But she seemed more concerned about how the movie affected me.
From there, the movie got a lot easier to watch. Masha's reaction was surprising. She wasn't crushed by the movie the way so many reviewers were. Instead, she kept calling Lilya's character a "dura," or fool. When I developed a headache during the film, she moved behind me and started rubbing my neck, fussing over how I was uncomfortably seated, and apologizing for not being good at massaging.
Her most interesting reaction was to the scenes of provincial partying-when local hooligans piled into Lilya's apartment, blasting shitty Russian pop, sniffing glue, drinking vodka, having bad sex and jumping around. Masha loved those scenes, jumping excitedly on the sofa, because they were so recognizable. "Exactly like Feodisia," she said.
Somehow this led to an anti-Orange Revolution rant, to the point where I had to pause the film. Every whore I've met from Ukraine has ranted against the Orange Revolution, and Masha was no different. She explained that everything got even worse for the Russian-speaking part of Ukraine-"Yuschenko's people are just throwing their rivals in from the Russian-speaking parts jail and taking their factories, that's it. We now have less money, less work, it's terrible. And really, I'm sorry to say this but:the Americans. Well, I don't want to offend you, but the Americans organize this Orange revolution for themselves and:I'm sorry, I shouldn't offend you, but this is bad for us, it's destroying us." She wanted to go on a tirade-I imagine she and her friends have bitched about this a million times-but she kept stopping herself, saying, "I don't want to offend you." Which makes me wonder: how would all of the bleeding heart UN, EU, feminists, National Review moralists and other righteous prostitute-avengers view Masha's and the other Ukrainian whores' anti-Orange Revolution opinions? As "false consciousness"? Does her opinion that Ukraine should not try to join the progressive EU but rather Russia and Belarus count? Is it valid? If not, then does she exist merely as a 2-dimensional object, giving purpose to Western crusaders looking for an issue, the way 9/11 gave Bush a purpose? Is she even a human being to them, or is she merely a victim who needs to be saved?
I experienced Lilya 4-Ever differently through Masha's eyes-after the mother-abandonment scene, it struck me as much more crudely sentimental and manipulative than the first viewing, piling bleak tragedy upon tragedy. The most effective parts are those which simply showed flat provincial life as it was, the barren landscape, the dark cold stairwells, the boredom, the loud bad popsovi music. The worst parts were Moodysson's crude Christian symbolism, which he admitted was intended to play an even bigger role in the film, but the Russian actors were so good that he had to edit a lot of his angel-crap out.
As the movie wore on, Masha was losing interest. She was more concerned about how I felt - was I tired? Would I still want to sleep with her? Did the movie hurt my impression of her? I asked her what she thought of the movie - she said it was good. "Bol'no?" I asked her, meaning "painful." She quickly added, "Da, bol'no." But she didn't mean it - she just didn't want to disappoint me. In fact, the maudlin ending to Lilya 4-Ever, with its suicide scene and bathos-heavy angels scene, left her completely bored.
The only scenes that really got to Masha were the sex scenes. And lemme tell you, they were truly awful. The camera shows the fucking from the point of view of Lilya on her back-middle-aged men grunting into the camera, pouring sweat and clenching their teeth, pounding away. You look up and see these grotesque, wet faces with age lines and flabby chests:then cut to Lilya, this beautiful teenager, looking distantly off to the side, feeling nothing: Masha literally couldn't watch them. She yelped, grabbed my shirt and hid her eyes in my chest, laughing and yelling, "Uzhas! Urod, koshmar!"
And I was the guy who was going to be:that aging guy on top of her. The wince-factor shot through the roof during those scenes.
* * *
"Do you want to sleep now, or...?" Masha asked.
The movie was over, we were both somewhat depressed. She said she liked it, that it was "painful" and "accurate."
The light bulbs in my shitty Soviet chandelier in my TV room buzzed.
"I'll take a shower," she said. "Do you have a towel?"
She undressed and folded her clothes over the back of the old sofa. She was as lithe and attractive as the internet photos, except perhaps her hips were a little more developed. She took one of the longest whore-showers on record, a good 15 minutes. I think she shampooed her hair with the expensive Japanese shampoo that my attorney, Morris U. Snideman, gave me as part of a care package he left me before he flew off for an extended "fact-finding mission" to Thailand last spring.
We lay down in bed, and she asked me how I like sex. I realized, I didn't like sex. I had no perversions, no fantasies, no desires. I vaguely wanted to help her, but I was too self-conscious about all the literary baggage that goes along with feeling pity for a whore. The fact that I couldn't contrive an unmediated emotion or response annoyed me even more.
I kissed her head, her hair. Like a good prostitute, she didn't move to kiss me on the lips. God knows how many cocks those lips have seen. "I don't want to talk about the time I lived in the vokzal:" Her nipples grew hard on her small breasts. She kept fumbling around and trying to find a way to please me. She reached down and grabbed my unit, and to my surprise, it responded. At first.
Then I moved my hand down to her shaven snapper. It was...the driest flap of skin I'd ever felt. Even leather has more moisture than her vagina did. I tried to rub her clit, but it was like massaging a dried, salted tumor. She pulled away. Out of curiosity, I put my middle finger into her hole, and dug inside. It was even drier inside, absolutely dead-dry, like fingernails on a chalkboard dry. It was strange that there was even a hole here. I tried to get it wet by moving my finger in and out a few times, but given her dryness, I was more likely to spark a fire with the friction than I was to squeeze one drop of juice.
"I'm sorry, it's not pleasant," she said, pulling away. "What do you want? Let me please you." She giggled and jumped on top of me. I tried to get her to blow me without a condom, and she refused. "I don't do anything without condoms," she said. She grabbed a rubber from her bag, opened it, rolled it down my shaft: and down was the direction my erection went. After sucking and slopping for a few minutes, my hard-on was gone. I may as well have stuck it into a tub of ice.
"I'm really not experienced," she said. "I'm sorry, it's my fault. You don't like me, do you?"
"No Masha, I do like you. You're fine, it's just that I've had a rough day."
She wanted to fuck, but I couldn't. There followed about a 30 minute attempt at a handjob, which finally led to something like an erection. She quickly seized the moment-by leaning up and grabbing a white can of foam lubricant with a pump top, which she pumped into her palm and then applied to her vagina. I rolled over and on top of her, and she stuffed my already-receding dick inside. It went in-but to what the Europeans would call "the abyss." The lubricant was lukewarm, the most horrible lukewarm I'd ever felt. I never knew how bad lukewarm could feel-sort of like being 40, the middle of life, the middle of everything. Dry, flaccid, not even dead. I pumped, trying to fantasize about some good experience from my past, but I couldn't conjure one up, and within a few minutes, my hardon was completely lost. And this is where I did something so amazing that I'm ashamed to remember it-I actually FAKED AN ORGASM WITH A WHORE. I just wanted it to end, and I didn't want to hurt her, not after those stories she told me, not after watching those awful sex scenes in Lilya. So I pretended that I came. She wanted to take my condom off herself, but fearing that she might discover that I hadn't cum, I literally ran out of the bedroom and threw the condom into the toilet.
There followed more apologies and excuses about her lack of experience, which seemed odd, given the year experience she'd had with untold numbers. She wanted so badly to please me-"I won't feel right unless I've made you orgasm," she said. We took a cigarette break. It was already 3 am. We lay down, talked, and she started to stroke me again. This time, I managed to get hard.
"Do me from behind," she said, turning around. It was a great view, much better this way, a perfect narrow back spreading out at the waist: She didn't apply more lubricant, and what was inside had been mostly absorbed. I got inside and started to fuck her, and could literally feel her drying up as I pumped, the lubricants evaporating from the friction. It was tighter and dryer than an ass-fuck, and almost as unpleasant, particularly because there was none of the perverse pleasure you get from fucking a girl in the ass to make up for the fact that her hole was dry and pained.
I managed to cum quickly. This time she rolled the condom off and threw it away.
Now, I just wanted to be alone. All of the pity I felt for her - gone, just like that.
She stayed the night, but after coming I didn't want to be with her. I left her in the bedroom and slept on my couch. I slept poorly and couldn't wait for her to leave in the morning.
It was nice to know that the experience hadn't changed me a bit.