Inside, pasted to a grubby wall are erotic photographs and charts of the body, notes about diseases, numbers for doctors and timetables for psychology sessions. As the woman potters about, she tells her story, a familiar narrative. Having become pregnant and seen the factory she worked in shut down, she took a job as a cleaner. But the family she worked for put pressure on, insisting they should adopt her child, and she felt she couldn’t keep both job and baby, but neither could she go hungry. There was one avenue to walk down. “I prostituted when my child was sleeping,” she sighs. “But it was weird, lying there in a room as guys looked in your door before deciding. I just remembered I had to bring food to my house and I had to pay bills so there was no choice. But I spent my life working in that room. I missed out on so much.”
Occasionally, she pauses to assist the union members coming in from the early morning to collect the unlimited condoms their £2.60 monthly membership allows them. Among them are two sisters in their thirties. At first they’re wary, but they agree to talk. “We started by ourselves, nobody came to us and offered us,” they say. “Since we started we can eat what we want, buy the clothes we want. That’s why we do it.
“But look, why feel bad? We’re not here because we like it, but it’s a profession and we’re not going to be grumpy and be treating people badly. If we’re there working, we’ll be smiling. In any profession you need to be like that. And the sex is pleasurable, honestly. So if people look down on us we don’t care. And when people ask, we tell them we’re prostitutes, although often they don’t really believe us. In fact the worst part of it is probably that we have to pay 130 reais [£35] per day for a room each. The owner makes the most money, so many girls rent an apartment so they make more, but for us that’s too dangerous. So we prefer to pay.”