I learned early in my sex work career to be wary when a client asks to meet in public. You read occasional arguments around safety (for both parties) suggesting it’s a better way to start a date. But in my experience it often results in disappointment. It can of course lead to waiting around for an hour, trying to remain optimistic as the gradual realization you’re being stood up sinks in. The other more common thing is that it indicates you’re dealing with a guy who’s hyper-nervous about hooking up and looking for some way to back out. If you’re already in his hotel room it’s a lot harder for him to balk. But if you’re in a bar or a café, he can book at any point and there’s nothing you can do.

I have that usual sense of wariness when Ben messages me since he’s quite clear he wants to rendez-vous at a bar before anything goes down. I’ve been in the business for a about a year at this point (enough to learn the potential pitfalls of public meetings) and I’ve come to Amsterdam to work. He’s asked to meet in one of the pubs in the Red Light District; that web of hookers and pot cafés perpetually packed with tourists, which locals avoid at all cost.

He’s visiting from the north of England and tells me he’s staying in an area hotel. He proposes we meet first, have a beer and the make our way back to his hotel. I flirtatiously suggest arriving at his place with some beer and enjoying our precoital libations naked. But he’s insistent on the starting point. We have to meet there if he’s going to be able to feel comfortable with me. After a dozen messages back and forth I finally give in. If it turns out to be a flop I can find a way to make the best of it; stop into a coffee shop for a joint and then sees what’s happening in one of the area’s many backrooms.

I’m a bit taken aback when I first see him. Perched on a wooden bench next to the door, he’s wearing a tweed blazer with a sweater vest, a striped tie and a pair of grey flannel slacks. He’s dressed like he’s in his 60s. But his apple-cheeked grin and sparkling eyes give him the air of someone around 25. That combination of youthful looks and nerdy fashion sense always gets me hard. I resolve I’m going to fuck this kid through the wall. He offers his hand as I walk towards him, but I bypass it and lean in to plant a kiss on his lips. “Welcome to Amsterdam,” I say. “Let me grab a beer.”

A minute later I’m seated next to him and we clink of glasses. “To a beautiful evening,” I say, as I squeeze his skinny thigh. I’m surprised to learn that despite his youthful appearance Big Ben, as his friends call him (a joking reference to both his statuesque height and slight build) is 40. Today in fact, is his birthday. He’d come to Amsterdam for the weekend to celebrate and for his last night, he wanted to treat himself, that treat being me.

He’s hilarious in that self-effacing British way that’s impossible not to smile at. We joke about politics and celebrities. Most of his England-specific jibes go over my head. But I smile anyway and pretend I get everything. He knocks back the last of the suds in his glass and announces he’s going to grab another. I’d totally forgotten my initial apprehension about meeting him in a bar. But as he stands it comes flooding back. For a split second I think his seeming inability to assume an upright position is the result of being much drunker than I’d first thought. But when he reaches behind the bench to withdraw a thin black cane, I understand what’s going on. As he crosses to the bar, his thin wobbly legs seem nearly incapable of movement. Ben hasn’t invited me here in case he wants to reject me. It’s in case I might reject him.

My suspicion is confirmed moments later when he returns to the table, this time leaving his cane leaning next to the bench instead of tucking it behind. He stares into his lap for a moment, before flicking his eyes up to meet mine. “Sorry ’bout the stick,” he says, gesturing to his cane. “If you want to leave that’s okay.” I just squeeze his leg again and wink, saying I’m not going to let a silly little cane get in the way of me playing with a guy as sexy as him.

I’ve had clients with a whole range of disabilities and movement impairments but I don’t make a habit of asking about their condition. Normally, I don’t have to since they usually give me the details immediately, often before we’ve met. But Ben doesn’t say anything about his situation, except acknowledging that it exists. Somewhere into our third drink, the facts start to trickle out. At 40-years-old, he’s been living with HIV for half his life. The movement impairment isn’t something he was born with. It’s a result of avascular necrosis; a condition induced by the HIV where blood supply to the bones in his hips is being cut off, causing them to gradually die. For the moment he can still walk, but eventually he’s going to be in a wheelchair and then eventually a bed.

Understanding the realities of transmission and safer sex practices, someone’s status is hardly at the forefront of my mind when we start fooling around. By this point in my life I’ve had multiple clients and a few lovers with HIV and it’s never perturbed me. But for some reason with Ben, it’s different. I can’t pinpoint exactly why. But in the moment the physical manifestation of his condition is freaking me out.

His own view on his situation hangs somewhere between relative optimism and quiet resignation. It’s not death he fears, he tells me. It’s spending the rest of his life alone. We’ve been sitting for over an hour and his initial offer was for two, so I give his skinny thigh another squeeze and suggest we hit the road. There’s a light rain falling as we step out of the bar and I instinctively take his arm, worried he’ll slip on the slick cobblestone street. Again, I can’t tell how much of his movement impairment can be attributed to his condition and how much is the alcohol. But he’s leaning on me so heavily I doubt he would have made it back on his own.

His hotel is probably a 10-minute walk at a normal pace, but it takes us nearly half an hour to get there. He’s holding onto my arm fiercely for support, but there’s also something affectionate in his touch. The sign at the door of the place he’s staying indicates guests are forbidden after ten. But there’s no one at the desk so we slip through unnoticed and into the elevator; a tiny mesh box really, barely big enough to fit two people, and head up to his floor.

Despite the negotiations around meeting spots, it occurs to me as we step into his room that we’ve had very little dialogue about what he wants in terms of sex. I help him to the bed but instead of lying down, he remains perched on the edge, much as he was when we I arrived at he bar. I run my hands under his sweater, gently tweaking his nipples through his shirt. “You never told me what you like,” I say. “Well,” he says. “Since it’s my birthday, I do think I’d like a good shag. And if you’d give me your piss after I’d be very happy.”

Part 2 >>

(devondelacroix@gmail.com)

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