In a life full of ordinary things, I rarely have conversations with unusual or extraordinary people. There is a dreadful predictability about daily conversations which often lead me to drift off into my own thoughts and world. But recently I had a chat with a prostitute. Let me explain.
In one of my earlier blogs I noted that when I walk certain streets in Bangkok and prostitutes call to me I do not go to them because prostitutes are not my calling. I feel my life is to be lived with greater significance than what shadows and seedy side-streets can offer. You may therefore wonder why I recently went to Pat-pong, one of the most famous red-light districts in Bangkok.
For those of you who’ve never visited the area, the street-side food is marvelous and cheap, the night market bustles, and the clubs and restaurants buzz and throb with vitality and excitement.
Thai Food Green Papaya Salad. Photo credit: Thai Jasmine. (I like it hot!)
I like good food, and I also like to observe people. I get both energy and inspiration from certain environments, and often bring my laptop in busy places to write, while observing the world as it goes by.
After eating dinner from a street vendor’s stall, I went into one of the gentlemen’s club to look around and have a beer, which is often reasonably priced.
I was sitting alone on a stool by a counter which wrapped around a pole. I ordered a beer from a passing waitress.
She came before my beer arrived.
“Hi honey, how are you tonight?”
Though English wasn’t her first language, the way she spoke suggested that she had learnt much more than what was necessary to communicate with her clients. She eased up to me, coming close enough for me to smell a cheap but subtle and flowery perfume. There wasn’t any empty stools, so she stood, shifting her weight every now and then between her feet. She was wearing stiletto-like heels, which I was sure she would use as a weapon if she ever got into trouble with a client. They were too high, however, and she wasn’t comfortable walking in them. I thought of nudging her and shouting “Timber!” as she fell. I often get these thoughts when I see women in high heels, sometimes I think of cow-tipping.
I told her I was fine, and reciprocated, “How about you?”
“I’m good honey, I’m very very good. But I can be bad if you like.” She said this with enough authenticity that I didn’t feel any urge to laugh.
“You on business here? looking for some action, honey?”
Always direct. The nature of the business was to earn, which required a certain level of turnover. This meant investing a minimum to assess prospects and, once identified, investing the extra to close the deal. If there was no prospect here, she wouldn’t share a drink, nor much more of her perfume.
I told her I was just taking it easy and having a drink. I said it politely, but in a manner I thought would be clear enough.
“You know the girls in here don’t like going with Africans, but me, I don’t mind, I have seen it all. I don’t mind.”
African? Four years in the region and it still hits me hard whenever someone assumes I am from Africa. I thought of telling her I was a bona-fide Usain-Bolt, Bob-Marley, Blue-Mountain-Coffee, Reggae-Music Jamaican, but I didn’t, as I figured it wouldn’t have mattered.
Usain Bolt (Photo credit: Wikipedia). Would she have seen this lightening pose?
Instead I told her I wasn’t looking for any action, just to make it a little clearer.
A stool was vacated a few meters from us and she slipped away and grabbed it, bringing it back and planting herself beside me. I wasn’t sure why.
When she sat, I understood why – her feet were tired. Then she slouched ever so slightly on the stool, and I understood that her tiredness went much further.
She couldn’t afford to slouch too much as she was on the job, and being constantly watched. She was giving the impression that I was a real prospective client, so she could stay there a while and rest.
“So what’s your name honey? You work here?”
We chit-chatted for a little, I told her I was with a consulting firm doing some work with the government. She had gone for the Marilyn Munroe blond curly look, nicely blended with a white tank top and an airy skirt. Some women are pluses, some minuses, but she was definitely a plus, and I could only imagine how beautiful she had been years before she moved into the shadows. Her face seemed pale, but not as though she was bleaching, more as though her skin was losing the brightness of her youthful dreams. Amidst all the make-up and artificial accompaniments (which included implants, hair, eyelashes, eye-color, and ‘gold’ bracelet), her eyes were the only things that hinted at the real person she was, or once was. There was a certain glint and softness in her eyes which, to me, looked like the thing you would find if you looked at a human long enough to see what separated us from the rest of animals. That thing, that soul-gene that makes us cry sometimes when we watch a sad movie. That soul-gene that makes a child let go of her mother’s hand to run back and give her candy to an old beggar on the street. There was that something in her eyes.
“I don’t mind Africans you know,” she continued, but in a manner that wasn’t pushy or insistent. I got more of a sense that she simply wanted me to take her away to someplace where she wouldn’t be watched, and where she wouldn’t have to stand, and where she would be fine giving me her body so she could have a minute with her soul.
“I been with Europeans, Africans, Americans, all these men are bigger than the Chinese and Japanese that come here. The local girls they don’t like the foreigners, they prefer the Asian men.” I understood from this that Chinese and Japanese were not ‘foreigners’ in the same way the rest of us were.
“I go with the big men who work with the oil companies,” she was mostly speaking to herself, but with her face angled towards me to give the impression that she was working a client. “There is a pastor as well, he’s from out-of-town, but he comes here whenever he’s in Bangkok. He doesn’t know that I know he’s a pastor. I’ve been with a Prime Minister with a group of girls. Lawyers, doctors, engineers…”
“So it was in the beginning, and so shall it be in the end,” was the thought that came to me, and I might have said it if I thought she knew who Bob Marley was and could understand the reference. Instead I took another sip of my beer, and nodded as though I was acknowledging what she was saying, which was really for the benefit of her watchers. I wanted her to rest.
“But they all don’t see me.” When she said it I paused. I had by then realized that her English was quite good, and she was articulate. I had, however, not thought of her as someone who quite likely had come from a very poor background and had invested in her own education.
“They sometimes give me big tips, or come to me when they are in town. They’ll say sweet things sometimes, or tell me how if they didn’t have a wife they’d take me away and marry me. But it’s just a role they play, and this is all just a game. They don’t see me.”
When she said this it hit me quite hard, because the truth is, up to that point, I hadn’t seen her either. We had just been two bodies in a bar being watched by people who wanted us to perform so they could earn.
“My name is Ezekel, but my friends call me Kenny.”
“My name is Rita.”
And like this we started to talk.