By Victoria Tomashevskaya
We’re long accustomed to the idea of hiring a babysitter or handyman to help us out. Now, a new service has appeared on the market, called ‘friends for hire’. Around twenty young people work in Minsk, ready to become ‘yours’ for a few evenings at an affordable price.
As in any business, fees are charged, with an advance payment required. Customers must be aged over 18 and, naturally, no ‘intimate services’ are offered. Anonymity is guaranteed.
The Internet advert reads: ‘Company, a chat, help with repairs — we can suit every fancy’. I call and a pleasant male voice answers, “Yes, I can go with you anywhere: weddings, parties, receptions, presentations or business meetings. I just need some warning, to give me time to prepare. Some people just want to take a walk through the city, go for a coffee or to the cinema or theatre. Meanwhile, others want to go to the countryside for shashlik. A couple of times, I’ve been asked to repair something in the house — such as a tap — or to sharpen knives. I always do my best to help, since women can be lonely. It’s not difficult for me to assist.”
We agree to meet but I feel rather worried, strangely. In fact, we get on well. I choose our rendezvous — a quiet cafe in a Minsk backstreet. As we arrive, several women sitting nearby turn to look at the tall and charming young man. I feel my shoulders push back quite proudly. He introduces himself as Nikita and explains that he’s neither an actor nor a psychologist. He has a technical education but his chosen profession didn’t suit him. When he heard of the new service he realised it could be perfect. A year ago, his neighbour asked him to pretend to be her date, walking past the windows of her former boyfriend’s home, to make him jealous. Nikita was so believable in the role that he returned home 30 minutes later with a black eye and bruises, bestowed generously by the irate ‘rival’. Several more cases arose with girls asking him to assist. These days, his diary is almost fully booked, although he tends to work through word of mouth, rather than Internet bookings.
He explains, “Of course, it’s a strange way to earn a living. I don’t tend to talk about it; not because I’m ashamed but because people make certain assumptions. Of course, it does no real harm if people assume things that aren’t true. I try to understand each female client’s feelings, to know what they need. They often have particular emotions which are upsetting them, so I try to keep in touch and maintain a degree of friendship — although the profession rather frowns on that. My own feelings rebel against ‘playing it cool’ however; I like to feel that I’ve truly helped them overcome whatever is worrying them. It takes time, of course. Once, I was walking down the street when I saw a former client with a man. She hadn’t had a boyfriend for many years and had developed quite a complex about it but our meetings relaxed her, helping her overcome her fears. There have been a few cases when I haven’t taken money. I went to the cinema with a young shy girl, watched the film and chatted; it was a pleasant evening, so I felt no need to charge. Once, I went with a woman to an evening book fair. As a psychologist and a true literary scholar, she was great company so I refused to charge. She was very surprised and presented me with a book.”
Hiring a man also presents the opportunity for a ‘shoulder to cry on’ — you can spend hours telling him about your ‘awful’ former boyfriend while your companion remains silent, attentively listening and nodding his head. He can even give you advice. You can consult him on issues relating to your career or purchasing a car. It’s a service probably only available in Minsk as yet, but who knows how popular it could become.