1862

“Hello love, how are you today?”

“Hello darling, where are you off to in a hurry?”

“Hello Sir, do you mind if I walk along with you a bit? Just a walk and a chat is all. No? Your loss.”

Ah, the next one looked promising. “Hello Sir, how can I help you today?” He gestured, almost unnoticeable except for those who knew what to look for. And she knew alright. She followed him, led him to a dark cranny, took his money, and opened her legs for him. He did not say a word, but then they often did not. After it was done (which took no time at all) she let him go on his way, before coming out of the corner herself. The money was safely tucked away between her body and her clothes. If she struck lucky once or twice more today she’d be good till the morning. Not that morning or evening meant a lot in this underground cave. She could tell the time by the types of people walking past, not by the position of the sun.

She wandered a bit further down the tunnel. There was Red Jane, there was French Annie. Hi girls, hello there. Not much doing today, right? No, same here. Must be fair weather out. Rainy days were usually good for business, with everyone fleeing downstairs. It made men less nervous, if it was busy. They were less noticeable, the ones that slipped away with a woman. While she walked the length of the tunnel she kept her eyes peeled for any men. That one? No. That one? Oh no, he had a lady with him. What about that one? Maybe. She followed him for a bit, just to be sure. But he did not gesture. A pity, as he seemed like he would have some money on him.

At the end of the tunnel she reached Jim with his barrow. “You all right love? What can I get you today?” It was not lost on her that her daily chat with Jim was one of the few times where she was the buyer and not the seller.
“Just an apple please, Jim.”
“Ah, slow day is it? Yes, it is a right shame, it feels like there are fewer and fewer people every year. I still remember the first days. Two million visitors a year! And now? Well, it’s not to be helped I suppose. Still, hang in there eh? That’s all we can do.”

She nibbled her apple slowly. It was a dilemma – as long as she was eating it she could not take any customers. But the slower she ate it, the longer she could trick herself into thinking she was not hungry. But she was very, very hungry. At least it was Sunday tomorrow, and she could spend a bit of time in a warm church. The wine at communion always warmed her. It was unholy to think of it as wine, she knew that. It was a sacred blood offering. But still, it was more use to her as wine than blood. And in her trade it did not do much good to think about holiness and sin. She knew her soul was stained beyond redemption.

The apple was really gone now. She flicked the seeds into the dark and sighed. The pips bounced back from the brickwork. A rat rustled away in the dirt. This bit of the tunnel was particularly quiet. She slunk into a recess that probably used to be a stall selling souvenirs. Here she was invisible. Here she could disappear. She imagined sinking into the bricks, becoming one with the walls. She had stopped dreaming about getting out of the tunnel, long ago. Her whole world was down here, in this vast cavernous space. And they provided a service, really. By being tucked away here they were out of sight and out of mind. Above ground everyone could continue with their lives and pretend they did not exist, and pretend that the men really just used the tunnel to walk from one side of the river to the other. She was a secret, they all were. From the most celebrated tunnel in the Empire it had become the one that no-one spoke about. Sometimes she thought they would just brick up the entrances with them all in here, stuck walking back and forth forever. She would not even mind it that much.

It was time to get going again. Time to find another willing customer.

“Hello there charmer, want to have a chat?”