At the counter, a barman flicks the handle of a beer tap and a frothy jet shoots out into two frosty glasses. A waitress brings them to Charles Chow and I. We are stationed at a strategic table near the dance floor. Perched on high rattan chairs, Charles and I survey the tables occupied by women, swathed in dim light. I chew a French fry and look at my watch. It is nearing 11 pm and the party is warming up.
Like a star cluster, red, green and blue laser lights beam down on the acrylic-covered LED dance floor, which bursts into a grid of colourful lights. Smoke billows down in clouds from two overhead machines. A DJ, togged up in a gold holographic shirt with bandana over his head, yells into a mike and deep-bass rhythms accompanied by rapid drumbeats and a synthesizer melody blast from speakers. The dance floor quickly fills up with people, with two hookers forming the centre of attention as one of them performs a dance move called the Cabbage Patch.
The girl in a miniskirt and a burgundy halter top bends her knees, thrusts her pelvis repeatedly and wriggles like a worm while her partner, a taller floozy with flowing hair and clad in a spaghetti-strap tank top with a buckle puts her hands together, forming fists and moves them in a horizontal circular motion while turning at the same time.
From a nearby table, a girl with a dark complexion and long hair parted down the middle slinks over from a nearby table. At almost five-foot-five, she’s wearing a strapless, seamed corset bodice and a beige skirt in gold-sequined tiers. She places a hand on Charles’ shoulder. ‘Want a dance?’ she asks, smiling.
Eyes aglow, Charles leads her by the hand to the dance floor, and they gyrate. Several other hookers are also in action. If dancing is a prelude to romantic sex, why should it also be a prelude to commercial sex? Why not skip the dancing and get straight to business? The music ends in a crescendo. Charles orders a raspberry spritzer from the bar, and he and his partner return to the table. The girl is Thai, no more than twenty-five, and she shifts her stool closer to him.
‘Cheers!’ Charles says, and lifts his glass. ‘You’re a good dancer.’
Glasses clink. ‘Kob khun ka.’ The girl sips her juice and extends her hand to Charles and I. ‘My name Maleen. Means flower.’
Her hand feels like a bag of soft chicken bones. She leans forward to Charles’s ear. ‘You want short time with me?’ Wow, she works fast. He smiles, inches closer to her and kisses her, slipping his tongue into her mouth. She reciprocates, exploring his mouth with her tongue.
‘How much?’ he asks, wiping his lips with the back of one hand.
‘Three hundred ringgit.’
‘Too expensive.’ He wraps an arm around her hip. A tactical mistake; it means he’s keen and price is the only consideration.
‘I’m not prostitute.’ She shakes her head and bats her eyelashes innocently. ‘I’m university student from Bangkok. I’m nineteen years old only.’
Fact or lie? Her lowered lashes veil a message I cannot decipher.
‘Gimme market price. Two hundred.’
‘No, I don’t do this always. I just need money urgently.’ She glances pitifully up at Charles.
‘Three hundred, we go karaoke bar. Then have short time.’ Charles asks.
‘Karaoke bar? What’s that?’
‘A bar to sing.’ Charles holds up an imaginary mike and puts it near his mouth.
‘Huh? Oral sex?’ Her eyes widen. ‘No, I don’t do that thing.’
I burst out in laughter that leaves me coughing. How could a university student not know what a karaoke bar is?
‘No, no, singing.’
The Thai girl hesitates. ‘Excuse me, I’m going to the toilet.’ She gets down from her stool and weaves between the tables to the back.
‘What do you think of her?’
‘Her English’s no good, but it doesn’t matter, it’s the body and attitude that counts. She has killer legs, lovely body and is tall for a Thai.’ Charles’s face glows with excitement. ‘Think I might take her.’
‘I better take a leak too before we make a move.’
As I step into the washroom, I recognize the beige skirt in gold-sequined tiers. I gasp and shuffle back a step or two. With her back facing me, Maleen is standing at a urinal, lifting up the front of her skirt and producing a stream like a fireman’s hose. I skedaddle back to Charles. ‘I’ve got news for you, my friend. Maleen’s a transsexual.’
His lips curl as though he has just swallowed bitter cough syrup. We abandon our table and sit at another table in the patio overlooking the traffic-choked drag. Massive pots of marginata cane, dracaena and traveller’s palm – all with wide-spreading foliage – are ranged on four sides, creating a tropical ambience. We order new drinks and tidbits.
Charles sees a petite, well-proportioned brown girl standing alone at the periphery of the patio. Her peep-toe high-heel clogs make her butt stick out and her backless dress reveals smooth, satiny skin, inviting caresses. She’s smoking a cigarette, and her eyes are scanning the customers in the patio. Charles gets up, approaches her and they speak. Her hair is styled in a bob with irregular layers, shapeless and free-flowing.
He returns to our table with the girl in tow. ‘I’ve a short date. Want to wait? Or we can call it a night.’
I scrutinize her from her head to feet. No hair on the upper lip, great. No Adam’s apple, so far so good. I glance at her feet. They are proportionate in size to her body, fantastic. A small, silver cross dangling from her neck indicates that she is likely a Filipina.
I lean over to Charles and say in Cantonese dialect, ‘She’s a girl.’ He smiles at me. I revert back to English: ‘Go ahead, enjoy yourself. I’m leaving after I finish my drink.’ I take a swig of my beer and wave goodbye to him.
Charles escorts the Filipina to a waiting taxi in a rank. Under the street lamp, the road sign is visible: P. Ramlee Road.
I sit straight and square my shoulders, and my eyes flick up and down a girl passing by. Her curvy body in a skin-tight, V-necked jumpsuit can conjure concupiscence in an octogenarian. She notices me and her lips part in a smile. I return a grin and she walks straight to my table and sits down.
‘Are you Japanese?’ Her voice can shatter a tulip glass.
‘No, I’m local. You’re a tourist?’
‘I’m employed here on contract.’ Her eyes are wide–set and her nose is flat.
‘A maid? You don’t look like a maid. You come here often?’
‘Sometimes, if I need money.’
‘Why here, why not other clubs?’
‘Many foreigners come here. I like Japanese tourists. Small dick, big money.’ She giggles, dimples appearing in her cheeks.
I finish my Bir Bintang. ‘I gotta go. Bye.’
Disappointment disfigures her face and she remains seated, scouring around with her eyes. I mosey to the sidewalk. On both sides of the drag, a myriad of nightfall’s characters – party animals with glazed eyes, transsexuals with shifty eyes, hookers with flirtatious eyes, and womanizers with lecherous eyes – pass by me as I stroll to my car in a hotel’s basement parking.
As I step into the washroom, I recognize the beige skirt in gold-sequined tiers. I gasp and shuffle back a step or two. With her back facing me, Maleen is standing at a urinal, lifting up the front of her skirt and producing a stream like a fireman’s hose.
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