Go up K Road after dark, stay on the south side, and head west. Here, in the shadows, you might meet a queen. Ask her the right questions and you could get to know her. Or she could get to know you, depending on your preference.
And how much you want to pay.
Everybody knows her as Beulah, but that wasn’t always her name. At twenty three, she changed her name by deed poll. Solicitation was illegal then, and if you were arrested and charged, it was printed in the newspaper. So, not wanting to bring any more shame to her family by having their name continuously splashed across the crime section of the local rag, and rather than change her profession, she changed her moniker. From the bland and boring ‘Brian Howard’, to the glamorous, exotic ‘Beulah de Reine’.
When she was just fourteen, and still a boy, Beulah heard whispers of a magical place, where standing out meant you fit in; where during the day, all of the ‘cool’ people would flock in their thousands, but at night, people like her were free to be themselves, and more importantly, where you could earn decent cash. This utopia was called Karangahape Road, but everyone just called it K Rd, and that was where Beulah wanted to be. So, one Friday morning she ditched school and hitched her way from her sleepy home-town (where the most exciting thing that ever happened was the annual kumara festival), to the big, bright lights of Auckland City. The first car that was generous enough, or curious enough, to pull over at the behest of her outstretched thumb, took her all the way to Grafton Bridge. She had heard stories about people jumping. Once, a politician’s son was found on the pavement below. Beulah peered around at the hustle and bustle and couldn’t imagine why anyone would ever want to leave.
She headed west along the southern ridge of the road; past the Jewish section of the Symonds Street cemetery, past high-end clothing stores, past the newly fashionable cafes, up and over the Queen Street intersection, past Pitt Street, then over Mercury Lane and across Hopetoun Street — to the end of K’ Road. Here, in the steady light of the streetlamps, Beulah saw for the first time what she had only ever heard of before. Real life, out and proud, fabulous queens. They were pretty, they were powerful, and they were getting paid. And Beulah wanted to be just like them.
That night, the kingdom of K’ Road crowned a new queen.
Beulah’s flat: a government state house, Freemans Bay, Friday night — forty years after her induction to K Road. Sitting at her Formica dining table, relaxing before a night out on the road; sipping red wine from an odd wineglass, smoking a cigarette, a Buddha stick burning, Beulah speaks:
‘Clients? Well, they’re all the same, aren’t they? Men. This one guy paid a girl five hundred bucks and a big bag of crack to fist him up the you-know. I let her use one of my rooms for the job, so we shared the proceeds. We look after each other, ay. Most of us. Most of the time. New girls learn the rules quick, either that or someone will teach them the hard way. We don’t so much have our own corners, but we stay on our own sides of the road and it’s up to the client which side he wants to shop on.
‘Who gets the most jobs? The queens of course. You go see the other girls, you’ll see why. They’re up there in their pyjamas, wrapped in blankets, glaring at everybody. Queens, well most of us anyway, we just want to look pretty and make our money, and maybe have a bit of fun while we’re at it. Oh, we get all sorts of weirdos coming up there. All sorts I tell you. The worst are the cross dressers. They come out in a suit during the day, put on a dress in a half-shaved face at night. They can piss off.
‘Worst job I ever did? Well there was that time I left my teeth on the backseat of a client’s car, that one cost me much more than it was worth. Or there was the time I woke up in a strange house surrounded by all these strange utensils. Don’t know how I got there! So I knifed my way out. Spent three years in The Rock for that one. Why do I do this? Well...what else would I do? And the money’s good. And yeah, maybe if that bastard didn’t do what he did when I was a kid, I wouldn’t be here. But, life happens, and here I am. That bastard? Let’s not talk about that, ay. Everybody else wants to talk about their childhood all the time, but not me. What’s the point?
‘Talking doesn’t pay the bills. Or buy my wine.
‘Or my drugs.’
She inserts the needle
Waits for the blood to flow
And pushes love through her veins.
A low-cut halter-neck reveals
Her surgically enhanced breasts
‘Sin City’ inked across her chest.
A denim miniskirt wraps thick around her thighs
Devilish red boots climb up to her knees
Blonde hair wisps beneath a brown beret,
Disguising a thinning crown.
When she walks, she stalks
Prowling along the pavement,
Surveying her territory.
She is a painting
Hanging in a streetside gallery.
The girls all know Beulah
The queens all know Beulah
The clients all know Beulah;
She’s been here longer than any of them
This is her kingdom,
And she’s the queen of K Road.
This is a chapter from Unknown Places, a collection of short stories about Auckland by undergraduate creative writing students at Manukau Institute of Technology published here this week. The published stories are: