Asunta gets off the bus that leaves her just a few meters from San Cesario street in the Villaverde Alto industrial park. She sits in her red plastic chair and changes her trainers into black high-heeled boots that cover up to mid-thighs and kept in her purse. The rest of the uniform (school cloth miniskirt, short sweatshirt, bare belly button, lipstick, blue eyes, two little black stars under the eyebrows and the hair in a short ponytail) is worn from home. She speaks distractedly, hardly paying attention to the few passing cars. The drivers (always men, always alone, middle-aged, almost all Spanish) slow down to take a look and decide whether to stop or keep looking.
When it is removed the overallsAsunta is Elvis, a 32-year-old Ecuadorian boy with a delicate appearance and a pleasant face. She gets up late, goes out to party with her friends on Saturdays, takes her mother for a walk when she has a few free hours and on Sundays she does marathons of series on Netflix without leaving the warm blankets on her bed. She lives with a friend on a street with a name of promise: Beautiful love; They share a small flat but blessed by an altar made up of at least 15 saints, dozens of candles, plastic flowers and a large plate of jelly beans. Elvis, dressed as Asunta, crosses himself before leaving the house.
In another era, when there was no pandemic, curfews or measures to prevent contagion, the girls on her street knew that the afternoon would be slack if they saw her standing in her chair. “If Asunta is not working, there is no work,” she says with a smile. The coronavirus has reduced the activity of this polygon in the south of Madrid, the largest sex market in Spain, to such an extent that few remember a worse time. “On Saturdays at 6 in the morning, for example, this was a coachman, I got more than in the whole week; now I only come from Monday to Friday, a few hours in the afternoons, because there is no one ”. She survives thanks to her regular customers, whom she charges more expensively because she treats them more lovingly and spends more time than with new ones. Asunta cares for men of all ages and accompanies them in all stages of their life. “I know some of them as single, married and with children. I tell them ‘I see that you already have the seat in the back, are you already a dad?’ They spend their lives with me ”.
He moved to Spain at the age of 24, encouraged by his mother who works in Madrid as a nursing assistant in a geriatric center. “In Ecuador I did not go through poverty, I was studying an English degree at the university, but since I got a visa, I left it to come here,” he says. Within a few years of arriving, it just happened. One night, six years ago now, Elvis dressed as Asunta and chose a street in the Latin section of the polygon, the same one where he still charges the rates agreed by all the workers, still in force: 10 euros for French, 20 for full.
“Option? Here almost all of us are migrants, women and transsexuals. Of the few options we have, we have chosen the one that seems least screwed up to us ”, says Antonella, one of the prostitutes in the polygon.
There are three empty chairs on the opposite sidewalk. In a few minutes, a black van arrives. A tall woman comes out from the back, she is dressed in a long down coat that she always leaves open to show the abysmal cleavage of large silicone breasts. Undaunted, she takes one of the chairs. It’s Antonella. After a while, turning the corner, Marcela appears, dressed in a short black lycra, more modest. The two have known each other for more than twenty years, when the focus of prostitution was in the Casa de Campo. The two share destiny and past: both are 40-year-old transsexual women, independent, currently without a partner, they send remittances to Ecuador and assure that they like their work – “because no one sends us, we come and go when we want” – . Marcela has been a prostitute since she was 14 years old, Antonella began to do it when she arrived in Spain, 20. They do not mind talking about figures, they say that before the pandemic they earned up to 2,000 euros a month. “Now I make 1,100 or 1,200, but it is still much more than what I would earn in other jobs,” says Antonella.
The Villaverde polygon looks soulless. Many of the premises are abandoned and the empty lots are shared by drug addicts and prostitutes who use them to carry out their service when the client does not want to do it in his car. They are decrepit spaces with mountains of rubble, gnawed mattresses, condoms, handkerchiefs, drug remains and waste of all kinds.
Despite its decline, a singular order marks the pace of work in the vast space of the industrial estate. Sex workers are distributed in the same way and have occupied their seats in the same place for decades. In fact, some lock their seats to any gate when they finish their shift. It is important to mark the territory so that your regular customers can find them, who have also been the same for years.
In the polygon there is a tacit and implicit distribution agreement that everyone respects and is determined by nationality, gender identity and the degree of drug addiction. The rectangle that limits Acebeda Street to Real de Pinto Avenue is an area for cisgender women (people who identify with their genitalia at birth), most of them Romanians who, when they can afford it, live in the rooms of an aparthotel a a few meters from your work area, in the same polygon. The streets that cross the avenue to San Eustaquio are the territory of transgender women, most of them Ecuadorians. And, finally, the most depressed part that borders the San Cristóbal neighborhood is the drug buying and selling area.
However, the distribution is flexible and allows trans women like Juanita to work in Romanian territory. “I feel good here, I don’t like working with transsexuals, I like being with women, if I get bored I’ll talk to them, they are my friends, we protect each other, when they have they give me, when I have, I give them” , Explain.
Juanita is Peruvian and is 34 years old, with very long straight hair that she is very proud of, a black shadow coloring her eyelids in a feline way and huge breasts implanted on a male body whose shirt does not even hide the nipples. She does not use a chair, she is protected by a religious cross marked on the bark of the tree trunk where she has been leaning for four years, a few hours after getting off the plane that brought her from Peru. The sketch was marked by her boyfriend, “the cross of death” so that no one dares to disturb her.
Juanita is one of the few prostitutes who defied the strict confinement decreed for the months of March and April. He kept standing behind his marked tree and, against all odds, made enough to survive another day. There were few customers, but there were. She worked until the police returned her home under threat of a fine if they saw her standing there again. Without money, without papers and “with problems with the police”, he could not request any help and was left on the street. Thus began his little pilgrimage together with other people who are in a similar situation to hers (migrants, without papers, without work). First they slept in a square in the middle of the old town of Villaverde Alto, then they moved to an island between the entrance roads to the neighborhood and, after complaints from neighbors about the smoke from the bonfire they light for cooking, they ended up installing their six shacks a few meters from there, in a field next to the train tracks.
Juanita lives with seven men of different nationalities who do not exceed 35 years in a perfectly visible camp from the street that connects the polygon with the first houses in the neighborhood. Juanita raises her arms, smiles and amusedly greets the neighbors who stop to watch. His colleagues, when they are not working on a construction site or moving, ask for money at the supermarket door. The only one who prostitutes herself is her. “I don’t have a schedule, what I’m hungry is, and then I come here. When I get 10 euros, I go to the Day and buy a two-liter peach juice, two chicken legs, a bottle of oil, onion, tomato and eggs, and I cook the broth for my countrymen ”. That is the meeting point of the camp, the bonfire on which the broths are cooked for Juanita who, after finishing the stew, returns to her tree back to work.
Right next to Juanita’s regular is Maria. Without a tree and without a chair, she waits standing; he copes with the cold gale by smoking one cigarette after another. Unlike the rest of the workers stationed in the surrounding streets, María does not show an inch of cleavage, only high-heeled boots and a black miniskirt could give her away. She came to Spain from Romania six years ago, when she separated from her husband. He was 23 years old and had a daughter of four. Some friend told her about the good money that could be earned at the polygon and, above all, that it was fast. She had never prostituted herself before. “Everything is starting, I am not a person to lose rings, I have a daughter and I needed money soon.” After two years he got a job in a hotel restaurant and left the polygon. She worked day and night, earned well and was able to move with her daughter to a house just for them. It was a good time, so good that it did not prevent the hard blow that the virus gave him. The shock put her out of a job in March and forced her to return to the same corner she had left thinking she would never return.
Some afternoons – a night closed with winter time – Fernanda appears, 45 years old, blond curls, well dressed, loaded with arepas, coffee and hot cornstarch. “Since there is no work, I have to earn a living in another way,” he smiles. You have found a temporary job at an outsourced office cleaning company. She has a dependent minor daughter, so she also sells homemade snacks to prostitutes who continue to endure long waits. “If I see that things are bad, I put on my heels and stand up again; my regular clients are all older, a population at risk who are afraid, I’m not doing very well ”, he clarifies.
Antonella recounts the scenario in which she now finds herself: “If the gag law [Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana] it destroyed our work, the coronavirus has brought disaster “. She is angry and feels disappointed by the NGOs that, she says: “all white and studied come to the polygon to save the poor whores.”
“Would you do another job if you had the option?”
-Option? Here almost all of us are migrants, women and transsexuals. Of the few options we have, we have chosen the one that seems the least screwed up.