As told to Sybil Chan.
She was 27 the day she accepted her first job in the realm of personal services, but they told her she could and should pass for younger.
So, that week, she was 22 to anyone who asked. It was the ideal age, you see: old enough to drink, likely a university graduate (indicating some measure of intelligence and conversational ability), but still young, supple, and desirable. Marketable to a wide range of tastes.
In other words? Profitable.
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Selling yourself was legal here, to reduce it to simple terms, although she didn’t realise that’s what she’d be doing the first day she walked in. She didn’t know she’d become a product named Annika*, the name she gave to her new work persona.
This pseudonym didn’t only protect her on paper — it safeguarded her sense of self. She could detach, dissociate, disappear. Annika would do all the work while she watched from a safe distance, praying each time she’d come out with her dignity intact.
This was only temporary, she told herself. This didn’t define her, didn’t negate all she’d accomplished and hoped to accomplish thereafter.
On a cool September evening in Melbourne, not-yet-Annika pushed the call button next to an unmarked metal door. A female voice crackled through the speaker: “Hello.”
“Hi, I’m here for the interview? From the Craigslist ad?”
The buzzer rang. She pushed the door open to a long narrow hallway lit with strips of multicolour LED lights; floor-to-ceiling mirrors lined the right wall, closed doors lined the left. “Come down to the end,” called the voice.
Later, when asked what she imagined to find there, she honestly had no answer. She’d come in for a club promotion and modelling position; she’d known in an instant that hallway didn’t lead to one.
Later, when asked why she stayed a full week once she knew what it was about, her reply came easily: