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The Day I Wasn’t Sold into a Russian Prostitution Gang

By Periscope @periscopepost
The day I wasn’t sold into a Russian prostitution gang

Trabzon is famous for its hamsi (pictured) and Russian prostitutes (not pictured). Photo credit: Gabrielle Jackson

When the beautiful woman in the long black coat approached me, the thought crossed my mind that she could be a Russian prostitute. I was in Trabzon, a port town on the Turkish Black Sea coast famous for its hamsi (Black Sea anchovies) and Russian prostitutes. I was here en route from Istanbul to Georgia and we were both waiting for the Tbilisi bus.

She didn’t speak much English, this beautiful woman named Fatma, but I discovered she was from Azerbaijan, has a Russian mother and an Azeri father. She was sweet, and keen to take me under her wing, and even while I scolded myself for wondering whether she was a Russian prostitute, a few things happened to make me not completely forget the idea.

First, she told me she’d been for a job interview in Trabzon to coach the Turkish national gymnastics team and said she was now going to Georgia to renew her Turkish work visa. Why Georgia, rather than Azerbaijan, went unexplained. And why the national team was based in Trabzon, I’ll never know.

Second, the bus manager pulled a face at me when she wasn’t looking that unmistakably said, ‘Stay away from her – she’s crazy!’

Third, she had no luggage. When I enquired as to why, she told me she had a bottle of champagne, some chocolate and three pairs of underwear. Apparently that all fit in the massive Louis Vuitton handbag she was carrying. Now, I don’t actually know any Russian prostitutes, but if I were writing a book that featured one, these are the kinds of things she might carry around in lieu of luggage.

But then again, she kept being incredibly kind to me. Fatma translated for me through the border, carried my bag and led me to the toilet. I put my suspicions aside again and instead stared out the window and dreamed about how lucky I’ve been with the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been.

This reverie was interrupted by Fatma, now my seatmate, complaining about the woman behind us. Loudly. To be fair, she had been speaking on the phone for a fairly long time. And when she wasn’t on the phone, she was listening to loud music. So she was a bit annoying, but I was reading my book and not really noticing. Fatma, on the other hand, was trying to sleep and noticing everything.

At this stage, I thought I may be the only sane person on the bus and decided that I would not talk to anybody for the rest of the journey. It was about 6pm and we were due to arrive in Tbilisi at 8pm. I could stick that out.

Instead of arriving in Tbilisi at 8pm, however, we arrived at a bus stop café that looked far from fetching. It looked like a place they’d stop in a horror movie when one or more of the passengers gets decapitated by a lonely restaurant worker who then escapes on the bus. Left alone in the freezing night, the passengers turn on each other, and the heroine (ie me) has to escape into the snow-covered hills in inappropriate clothing only to be found, after a series of close encounters with a cliff, a bear and a mental villager, alive – but only just – by Interpol sniffer dogs.

None of that happened. Instead, I realised I had no money and Fatma paid for my dinner. Then, when I had to feign sickness as an excuse not to eat the cold fried kidney she dumped on my plate, she jumped out of her seat to fetch me a hot cup of tea. Even while she was performing this act of kindness, I was considering why I’d never before realised that the act of eating cold fried kidney was probably one of the essential characteristics of a serial killer, or at least with the tendency to be involved with serious criminal activity in the form of Russian prostitution gangs operating out of Azerbaijan.

But she can’t be planning to rob me, I thought – trying to be logical – because she’s just bought me dinner. Again, I relaxed and tried to be calm.

Back on the bus, I was enjoying my book in peace when the fight broke out. The noisy woman behind us was sharing a joke with the bus assistant and Fatma had lost patience. Fatma turned her head and started scolding her. Then it escalated. Fatma stood up and began yelling.

After quite a bit of shouting, Fatma turned back around and all was silent for a few seconds. Then the woman made a ‘tut, tut, tut’ sound. Not good. Fatma jumped out of her seat and reached passed me to lay a punch. By this time she had taken off her long black gloves to reveal a fistful of diamonds, which would hurt, I surmised, when used in a punch. Luckily some nearby men intervened and prevented an all-out brawl. I was unharmed in the incident.

After taking off her diamonds and putting them inside the Vuitton, Fatma made us move seats. By now, it was clear I was in her clutches. Nobody else on the bus spoke English and they all thought we were mates. I had to move with her. I had to stay on the good side of the crazy lady.

I again spent some time staring out the bus window, albeit with slightly less enthusiasm than earlier.

I tried to think rationally. I’d already established she wasn’t trying to rob me. She knew I had no money and the clothes I was wearing were a pretty good advertisement that I had nothing much of value to steal.

That’s when I realised: She was going to sell me into a Russian prostitution gang, probably working out of Azerbaijan!

I started to think of the ways she might lure me to the gang. In her charming, kind manner, she would insist I stay with her and that’s when I would be ushered into a black Mercedes with tinted windows and driven by a man in a black beanie with a gold front tooth and a big gun and smuggled off to Azerbaijan, where men with lots of oil income would pay BIG money for a red-headed Russian who spoke no Russian!

Why do I have to be a trailblazer, I asked myself? Why am I on a bus with no English speakers going to a country most Australians don’t even know exists? Well, you’ve always wanted to do things nobody else has done, I sighed to myself. This is what it feels like to go it alone. It’s lonely and scary! For a moment, I felt a teeny wave of self-congratulatory euphoria wash over me. That feeling didn’t last long, because I felt I needed to make a plan to get out alive.

How would I get out of this? Every time I thought I was on to her, she did something nice. What a professional! But punching another passenger was beyond the pale. While Fatma slept, I spent my time trying to get eye contact with other people on the bus and smile. Not one person smiled back. To be fair, I probably looked like some kind of loon, half standing in my seat, squished in between the sleeping assassin and the window, staring at people with a manic smile on my face. It was clear I had no friends on that bus.

When we got off the bus at 2.30am, inexplicably six hours late, there were a number of taxis waiting. I rushed to collect my bags and then bombarded the taxi drivers with the address of my hostel. One of them nodded. Excellent.

‘OK, bye,’ I said to Fatma, with slightly too much enthusiasm.
‘What do you mean?’ she asked.

‘I’m going.’

‘I’m coming with you. This is Georgia. I’m not leaving you alone with a taxi driver!’

Shivers.

The taxi driver was now asking for a phone number for my hostel, clearly not understanding the address I had written down in Latin text. I didn’t, but Fatma grabbed the address from me and was translating it to the taxi drivers. The street she was saying sounded like the one I had written down, I told myself, and reluctantly got in the taxi with her. I had some landmarks written in my notepad of what the hostel was near and I looked out for them with desperation. The cinema was one such landmark and as we passed it, I yelled like a mad woman that we had to turn. Fatma told me to be quiet. The taxi driver ignored me. He stopped, consulted another taxi driver, then did as I had suggested and turned at the cinema.

She escorted me to the door of my hostel, and as we knocked, casually said, ‘I may as well stay here if there’s a bed for me. It’s too late to go to my hostel.’ For the love of God, she’s thought of everything!

Of course there was a bed for Fatma – we were the only customers. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep much that night. I kept waiting for the Russian gangsters to show up.

The next day, Fatma showed me around Tbilisi. She changed my Turkish lira because the banks wouldn’t. She showed me where to go to eat. She showed me some photos of her gym team and offered to host me in Baku. Even if she wasn’t there, she said, I could stay with her parents, and she showed me their photos too. It was now starting to seem like a pretty elaborate plan to get me into a prostitution gang. I wondered how late she was waiting to make her move.

Later, when I grilled the multilingual hostel worker, who had spoken to Fatma extensively in Russian, I discovered there were pretty credible explanations for the all the gaps in Fatma’s story. It was just Fatma’s lack of English that had left all those gaps, not a Russian gang operating out of Azerbaijan but in Tbilisi just for one night to pick up some Russian-looking Australian prey.

I started to think that maybe Fatma wasn’t the crazy lady. I started to think that title pretty much belonged to me. When I went back over all the slightly mental things I’d done, including sneaking off to another hostel while she was finishing her drink in a restaurant (to book for the following night so she wouldn’t know where I was), I wondered why she was even hanging out with me.

I never got to the bottom of the fist fight, but we enjoyed our last evening together and I started to think we could be friends if we spoke the same language. When I said goodbye and tottered off to my new hostel, however, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief. I needed to leave the crazy behind, even if it was all mine.

When I arrived at the new hostel, it wasn’t just with a bit of embarrassment at my assumptions about Fatma. There, I was confronted with another Australian, an American and a Spaniard. It turned out I was no trailblazer, after all, just a suspicious racist (against Russians) with a rather wild imagination.

A version of this story first appeared on KebabQuest.


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