Alexia was gorgeous and pouty with jet black hair down past her waist. She was ‘imported’ from Romania, but her boyfriend who was also the club owner said she was first generation Italian because that was better for his reputation. She stood every night in the corner of the club sipping rum and coke, dressed in satin blacks and high boots with Tiffany-like long silver chains around her neck, looking like a miserably caged dog.
It was my fifth holiday in Cyprus since my adoptive father had moved there two years before after separating from my adoptive mother. Every holiday was spent there away from boarding school and my home in England, as all my mother and I did was fight. Cyprus was my land of the free. Cigarettes cost fifty pee, as did bottles of beer and a taxi ride anywhere. My father knew little of what went on and in general chose to look the other way.
‘Who’s that?’ I asked.
‘She’s called Alexia,’ said my friend Fiona. ‘Her boyfriend’s a real bastard to her. She can’t go out alone. No man is allowed to speak to her. He brings her out and parades her in front of his friends, but when he wants to get off with someone else, he sends her home in his Merc with a bodyguard.’
As I sipped my beer in the gloom of the nightclub, illuminated by red and yellow neon beer signs behind the bar and ultra violet lights, sure enough the club owner preened and strutted like a peacock, next to her. She was clearly his property. A balding man with large rolling eyes and a paunch, he had an incongruous ponytail of gathered wisps, pert and perky, wobbling at the nape of his neck. He smoothed it constantly, a desperate memento and reassurance of his fading youth, whilst the other thumb and forefinger clutched an expensive cheroot.
I turned back to Fiona. ‘But how awful,’ I whispered. ‘She’s trapped.’ And I couldn’t imagine anything worse.
Later that night after my third beer, I plucked up the courage to go over. My heart had been tortured by the fate of this poor girl. I was on a mission to rescue.
‘Hi Alexia… I’m Louisa.’ And then I turned to her boyfriend and said.
‘Why doesn’t Alexia dance with me for a bit? I promise I won’t let any men talk to her.’
They stared at each other and he said to her, wafting his cheroot in the general direction of the dance floor.
‘Well okay. Off you go!’
So we danced. It was the first time anyone had seen her dance. She laughed. It was the first time anyone had seen her laugh. And the rest of the nightclub goggled in amazement. A sexy exotic model dancing with an unmade up curly haired schoolgirl, dressed in dungarees. That would be me.
At 17, I had most often been dressed in a school uniform. And out of school my fashion sense was mainly my mother’s, a combination of Dash leisure wear, long skirts and denim shirts. I didn’t think about clothes and it honestly never occurred to me that one should.
At that moment I felt on top of the world. I was helping someone escape their prison. Afterwards they invited me on to an ‘after-hours’ club and I’d never seen anything like it. Strippers, bottles of champagne and red carnations. They were treated like royalty. And I was too. Life in England was boarding school. No boys. No alcohol. No freedom. Suddenly life in Cyprus was wild and crazy. Freedom was within my grasp.
At 4am spent and high on life, I sat wallowing in the back of their Mercedes. It was the latest I’d ever been out, but I thought I was on my way home.
Then Alexia said. ‘It was wonderful tonight. You know it’s difficult for me because my boyfriend likes boys.’
‘What do you mean, likes boys? Likes…like ‘likes’?’
He was driving the car. He looked at me in the mirror and winked. ‘It’s ok though. Luckily for you, Alexia likes girls.’
‘Likes… like, ‘likes’?’ I repeated, suddenly scared to death. Alexia turned around and smiled at me. It wasn’t a nice smile.
Somewhere, somehow, my evening was rotting at the edges. My land of the free had turned sour. I was trapped in a locked car with two people I barely knew and had to all intents and purposes been seen freely drinking and consorting with them all night.
‘Where are we going?’ I asked.
‘I have a room at the Hilton,’ he said smoothing his ponytail. ‘I thought we might have a drink there.’
‘I have to get back before my father wakes up.’ I blurted out suddenly desperate. ‘He’ll kill me if I’m not back. He gets up at seven.’
‘Don’t worry.’ He said. ‘I’ll get you back by six. That still gives us two hours to play.’
I played along. Always the good girl. I played the lesbian as he sat sipping Johnnie Walker from the corner of the room and giving Alexia and I orders. My first thought was, ‘If only I can get through this, I can get home. I never have to go out again.’
And then, hidden from reality under a three layers of champagne and everything seemed highly surreal. I could have been in a movie and disassociation was really quite a nice way to cope with it. Now starring in Boogie Nights.
But a lifetime later, he said. ‘I’ll take your passport and arrange your papers so that you can stay in Cyprus. Alexia needs a girlfriend and we think you’ll be perfect. I’ll set you up in an apartment. Buy you some clothes.’
With that, they took me home and confiscated my passport, which I happened to be carrying in my bum bag (it was the 80s, okay?). All I could think was,
What the hell do I tell my father? ‘Dad, you have to come and help me get my passport because I promised some club owner I would be a lesbian with his girlfriend after we drank all night and I went to a hotel and played their sex games for two hours.’
My father would be absolutely furious and my freedom—which was so important to me—would be utterly curtailed. Telling him was out of the question. Was it possible that I could leave my hated old life and become a lesbian? Sincerely, I wondered.
I was back by six, and my father got up to go to work at seven. He never suspected a thing. Not that night, nor the night after, nor the night after that. I was stuck. The club owner had my passport and knew where I lived. I had to keep him sweet.
One night I said carefully
‘Don’t you think that it would be far easier if I were to persuade my parents that I should go to school here? You surely don’t want my Dad on your case. I could go to school here and see Alexia on the weekends.’
Cyprus was a small place and by then I had worked out that the nightclub owner’s most precious possession was his reputation. No one appeared to know he ‘liked boys’ and as the owner of one of two nightclubs in Nicosia, he was king of his domain. He said,
‘So, you want your passport back then? I’ll give it to you if you swear to come back. I trust you. And even if I didn’t I have copies of it and friends in Interpol who will find you if you don’t come back. Promise me.’
I promised and later that month, I left my boarding school and returned to Cyprus. After all, I was a good girl and good girl’s kept their promises.