Nicole stormed into the living room and flopped down on the sofa, without waiting for me to offer her a seat. Did anyone ever teach this girl any manners? Clearly not. Or she was not a very good pupil. She reached into her red plastic bag and took out a semi-finished pack of Virginia slims.
“You got a lighter?” she asked me, holding a thin cigarette between her fingers.
“I don’t smoke, sorry.”
“Well, you’d better start. Helps you relax. Might explain why you are so tense all the time,’’ she told me and looked me straight in the eye, forcing me to lower my gaze. “You got any matches or something?”
I never allowed my tobacco-loving friends to smoke in the house, asking them to go outside to our small courtyard, but, based on her behaviour up to now, it did not look like Nicole would agree to do that if I asked. I contemplated lying to her that I had no matches in the house, but something told me I’d better do as she asked. There was a matchbox in the kitchen, which we kept for a rare occasion when we had to light candles, like for power cuts or a birthday cake - I grabbed it and handed it over to Nicole, who lit her cigarette and deeply inhaled.
“Now, that’s better,’’ she said and crossed her shapely leggings-clad legs, putting them on prominent display.
“I am sorry, Nicole, I don’t think I understand..’’ I began, only to be interrupted by her.
“Stop saying you are sorry all the time. Listen, I have a proposal for you, so hear me out. I know I’ve been pushy with you and all, but what else did you expect me to think? You with your stupid photos. You are lucky it was me who caught you in the act. I can only imagine what Geraldine would have done to you right there on the spot,’’ she said and chuckled, showing her slightly yellowed teeth - her smoking habit was showing.
Geraldine was another cleaner working for the management company, a large, boisterous woman, who recognised no authority. I have no idea why she hadn’t been sacked yet, but somehow she managed to stay on with us despite her completely irreverent behaviour, which often bordered on insulting.
I remained silent, waiting for Nicole to get to the point. She was quite a talker with her long winded arguments and over detailed introductions.
“Anyway, I’ve been thinking all day about what you told me about your… how to put it… cleaner fantasy. At first I thought you were fucking with me. Especially when you said you wanted it because all you want is a simpler, less stressful life. Come on! No one in their right mind would call a cleaner’s life easy and free of stress. Can you be honest with me and tell me what you want? And, based on what you tell me, I think I might have the solution,’’ she looked me straight in the eye. At least she was not giving me her trademark sexy cougar smile. That would have made me blush right there.
“Nicole, I am sorry. I am not sure I want to have this conversation. This is very private,’’ I told her, looking away.
“Very well,’’ she said and stood up, an unfinished cigarette clutched between her fingers. “I was trying to be nice and understanding, but you are not being co-operative. That leaves me no choice, but to go to your line manager to talk about your odd behaviour. I am very concerned, I am. What if you are a stalker, who is after me, an innocent, honest girl? Haven’t you seen stories in the news?”
“No, no, Nicole, wait,’’ I said, my voice trembling a lot more than I would have liked. I am sure she noticed. I was like putty in her hands and, strangely enough, I did not find the feeling entirely unpleasant. “Please take a seat. Yes, you are right. It’s a lot deeper that I told you. Actually, the opposite is true. It is precisely this life of hardship and stress and humiliation that I am after. You know how we always want what we don’t have, even if we don’t really need it. It’s irrational, but it’s very true. I’ve always wanted to step down from my path, to escape the rat race, as they say. To climb down and feel unimportant, to feel trapped, to get this feeling of no escape.”
Nicole listened to me very attentively.
“And your desire is to become a female cleaner? There are male cleaners too, you know,” she said at long last.
“Yes, that's true,’’ I said after a short pause as I gathered my thoughts. “I am not gay or anything, in case you are wondering. I just think that to satisfy my urges fully it has to be as a female cleaner. This way the change of fortunes is absolute and irreversible. Being a male cleaner just wouldn’t cut it for me. It will be just silly dress-up, but what I want is serious role play and total immersion into the role.”
I ended my response and looked at Nicole. She had finished her first cigarette and lit a second. Going back to that moment, I still cannot believe how I gathered the courage to tell her everything. As a person, she was completely out of my comfort zone - a rough girl with no manners and, by the look of things, very little education. She was rude and abrupt and had no sense of style. Yet there was this inner strength in her that I felt immediately and made me trust her. Or, rather, submit to her authority, hoping that she would do me no harm.
“This is good. Thank you for being honest finally, David,’’ she exhaled a menthol-flavoured smoke cloud between us and smiled her cattish smile. “Now hear me out. What if I told you I could make your dream come true? To help you experience that life that you so desire? What would you say to that?”
“But, this is just a dream. I don’t think it’s possible,’’ was my response.
“It is possible, believe me,” she told me, sounding a bit like a school teacher talking to a stubborn kid. “You are obviously obsessed with your cleaner fetish. If you don’t do anything about it, other than taking occasional pictures of working girls, it will only get worse and worse. It will not go away. Isn’t getting what you want the best cure for strange wishes and excessive desires? Imagine having your dream fulfilled. This will allow you to take a step back and see it for what it’s worth. You will be cured. Or, if not, at least you’d get the satisfaction that you are after. A win-win situation, is it not?”
I had to admire her way with words, which was very unusual for someone of her background and education. She certainly had a point. This desire was eating me from the inside. It had already cost me my marriage and it could cost me my job if, as Nicole pointed out, I was unlucky enough to be caught by someone a lot less scrupulous than her. But, in practice, what could I do? It was one thing to fantasise in the privacy of my bedroom in front of my laptop, it was something else entirely to go out there and actually experience it first hand. That was incredibly scary, but also unbelievably exciting.
“What do you have in mind?” I asked her.
“Now we're talking,’’ she said and gave me a reassuring nod. “First of all, this will require some mild investment so that you can look the part. I did some minor research online already. Never knew there was such a huge market for female impersonation, but you should consider yourself lucky: you are not very tall, not terribly athletic, your face is delicate enough to be considered feminine with the right hairdo and some makeup. Of course, you have no hips to speak of and no breasts, but that’s not anything we can’t fix. There will be nothing drastic, all will be cosmetic, but still incredibly life-like.”
“And after we are both satisfied with your appearance, I have a plan. There is a late night shift at the Auchan mall that I am doing twice a week. It starts at 20:30 after all the shops are closed and runs until about midnight or 1 o’clock, depending on the workload. There's nobody there but us - a group of cleaners - and a couple of guards on the first floor, that don’t bother us most of the time. So you can do all the cleaning you’ve dreamed of and experience what life is like for a cleaning girl like me. I am warning you this is no fun but looks like “no fun” is what you are after,” she finished laying out a cunning plan, that left me completely flabbergasted.
“What’s in it for you?” I asked her, still processing the information.
“Well, you seem like a rich enough fellow,’’ she responded and theatrically looked around the living room. There was nothing even remotely rich there; as a matter of fact, the room screamed “basic middle class” with its hardwood uninspiring Ikea furniture, but, for someone like Nicole, my house could possibly be considered posh. “I am sure you would compensate me handsomely. It is your dream after all. Don’t worry, I won’t overcharge. I actually find the whole project exciting. How about this? Obviously you will pay for all the prosthetics and makeup and clothing and what have you. We want you to look your best when you are ready for prime time. And then you’d work my evening shift for me for at least three months. You will do the work, I will get the pay. I don’t like that night shift very much and I've wanted out for a long time, but kinda need the cash, if you know what I mean. What do you say to that? Do we get ourselves a deal?”
I had to admit that sounded extremely exciting. The fact that I’d be doing a night shift really minimised human contact - my biggest fear was to be discovered by someone I knew and to be put on the spot. But could I really be turned into a convincing enough female to play that part convincingly? There will still be people there - other cleaners, guards - what would they think of me?
“Nicole, this sounds… interesting,’’ I told her. “But I am afraid this may not work out. I just don’t think I would make a very convincing girl. I don’t want to be ridiculed or have other cleaners talking behind my back or reporting me to someone.”
“David, listen. I didn’t want to tell you this so as not to hurt your male ego, however small it may be, but you are not very masculine. I’ve met girls that looked stronger and chunkier than you. Of course, we won’t be able to make a Monica Bellucci out of you, but I am more than convinced that, with some effort, you’d be able to pass as a cleaner. A lot of them are pretty rough-looking, years of hard work does it to you, you know. You may even end up quite pretty by cleaners’ standards,’’ she chuckled.
“I can see you are still having doubts. Let’s do it like this. We, or rather you, will buy all the stuff for your transformation. I did some research for you already - see how excited I am about this project? And if you decide that you are not convincing enough or change your mind for another reason, we’d just stop there. I don’t want to force it on you. It is your fantasy, after all, not mine. I am just here to find a replacement for my late shift. Oh yes. My fee. Almost forgot. I will have to spend some time with you and all. I think 100 Euros per visit is very reasonable. I did look up fees that professional feminisation experts charge for the transformation, it’s totally insane, I can’t believe anyone would pay thousands for this stuff - you’ll be saving a lot of money with me! So, what do you say? I am kinda tired of selling your own fantasy back to you!”
“Well, let us give it a try,’’ was my response.