When old Mr. Me devised the contract by which Asian ladies would live in the nude with me, I was pretty sure I’d be the one deciding who would or would not stay with me in my remote house by the beach in this always warm southeastern Asian country. As it turned out, I only hired May Linh, Lily and then Maggie showing up later quite unexpectedly.
May Linh brought Lily to save her from the brothels that were her destiny. As for Maggie, she had fled from a powerful and corrupt Hong Kong tycoon whose reputation she had ruined and who had promised to kill her. So she was hiding with us. That very day, while May Linh and Lily were away, we had with Maggie a stormy telling-off which ended up in violence. Eventually, as night fell, we both came down from our high horses. The house was a mess and there was no food left.
“Look, let’s go eat something somewhere,” I told Maggie.
“I told you I’m not going anywhere,” she said and now I understood better why.
“Look, I know a place, not in the village, not in town, in the swamps, and they cook hot and spicy crawfish fished right out of the water and it’s delicious. And there’s nobody there other than one fisherman’s wife cooking the crawfish and the locals coming to eat after working in the paddies all day long. Maybe there’s a lost tourist or two, but that’s it, only fishermen and peasants, and nobody cares, they don’t even speak English there and those crawfish are fan-tas-tic. Come one, I wouldn’t take you anywhere if there was danger, would I?”
“How do we get there,” she asked.
“We take the motorbike, it’s a little bit less than an hour drive to reach the lowlands, but it’s a nice ride through the jungle.”
“Ok then,” she said, “I’ll go, I’m hungry too and crawfish the way you describe it, I don’t think I ever had any.”
“You’ll like it,” I said.
At the crawfish place, the cooking lady spoke to Maggie in her dialect and Maggie couldn’t understand a word. The lady, a fisherman’s wife, then looked at me, as if I could understand her better. So I got up and went with her in the kitchen and showed her I wanted crawfish, right out of the boil and hot and spicy, which is pretty much all that she did in there. Then this lady said “yes, yes” with a big smile and she meant ‘ok, I’ll get on the crawfish right away’. So I gave her a big smile, then looked for the cooler. I knew there would be no vodka and no tomato juice, so I took a bottle of white wine for Maggie and got ice cubes for it and grabbed a couple of cold beers.
Then I joined Maggie back on the sorry terrace. It was a nice evening and there was a bunch of people with no teeth smiling and eating and drinking and feeling good about themselves and their day’s work and wives were at home cooking. Indeed, old Mr. Me was the only one there whose ‘wife’ wasn’t cooking. These guys and women there saw us arrive, saw that Maggie didn’t understand squat – and they knew right away she was Chinese – and then they saw old white occidental me walking through and looking stupid and getting drinks.
It got them curious for a few seconds but then they forgot about us and left us alone and didn’t care and Maggie, eating and drinking again, looked like she was feeling a lot better now, just like me, and I wasn’t quite sure anymore if the surge of violence I remembered experiencing that very afternoon had really happened. Yet it had and I was eating crawfish with Maggie. That goes to show you never know what life has in store for you. It got me thinking of all the occasions in my life where I should have been maybe more assertive. Maybe being mister good guy is a sure path to frustration and doom. Well, considering the day I just had, it certainly did make me feel this way. Anyway, there was nothing I could do about it anymore and I was too old to change now.
I had on a pair of pants and a nice shirt, and thongs. Maggie had the dress and heels she had bought at the airport in the duty free shop, JC Penney or another made in China, something she would have never worn anywhere but turned out just a perfect fit now that we were eating crawfish with our fingers. Maggie’s lips were shining with hot sauce and I could tell she was relishing the food.
So I asked her: “do you know what’s the difference between eating crawfish in New Orleans and eating crawfish here?”
“No,”, she said, “what’s the difference? They’re spicier here?”
“No, they’re spicier there. But in New Orleans you eat crawfish over the local newspaper’s pages, The Times Picayune, here you eat them over a plastic sheet.”
“Yeah,” Maggie said, “and there’s not Cao Cao’s face printed on it.”
And we laughed, finally.
She had followed me on the Vespa with kind of prudence and when she sat behind me she didn’t know what to do so I started and as we gained speed, she put her arms around my waist and I could feel her against my back and I liked that. We were riding through the jungle, there was hardly anything or anyone on the road and after a while I felt her relax behind me and abandoned herself to the fate of that night I guess. And fate was, in this particular case, old Mr. Me. And I could still drive a bike. And now there we were, eating crawfish.
“You know you can’t stay with us,” I told Maggie, as matter-of-factly as I could. “If your Cao Cao is half as powerful as you describe it, he’ll find you here eventually. You’ll have to go.”
“Yes, I know,” Maggie said and I saw a flicker of sadness pass on her face.
The cooking lady came and asked if we wanted some more and I said yes. So she wrapped the plastic around the trash, spread a new sheet, asked us if we wanted more to drink, I said yes and now we were understanding each other perfectly, and soon we had a new load of crawfish and plenty of drinks on a clean table so Maggie and I dipped our fingers in the hot sauce again.
“Look,” I said, “this is what we could do. I still have friends at the French embassy and I’ll get you a visa and I’ll buy you a one way ticket to Paris. How about that?”
“Paris???” she was surprised but I could tell she liked the thought. “That’d be nice. But I don’t speak French?”
“It’s alright, for about two thousand years, Paris has been full of foreigners and you won’t get lost.”
“But what would I do there?”
“First, you’ll have a chance to survive…” I said.
“Yes, I don’t think Cao Cao would go look for me all the way in France…” and she smiled.
“…and once there, you can do whatever, just like in Hong Kong if you want. I’m sure you’ll find some guys in Paris who would be happy to have a mistress as exotic as you, Parisians but also Russians, Brits, German, Spaniards, whatever type of man you like. Paris is a lonely city, more than half its inhabitants are single and live alone. You wouldn’t have any difficulty to find one who would be more than happy to sleep with you and show you around. Better yet, you could even find a nice guy, an architect for example since you like architecture so much, and he’d be already divorced and you could still give him kids, or not, as you wish, or a surgeon, or a lawyer, a Jean-Michel or a Patrick or a Arnaud and maybe it wouldn’t be the high life you had before but it could still be a good one and that would be your new life if so you wanted. In any case, I’m not worried, you’d find your way in Paris.”
“But where would I stay, I don’t know anybody there and I have no money?”
“It’s exactly because you don’t know anybody there that you’ll be safe in Paris. When you arrive, I’ll send you to a friend of mine, he’ll put you up at first.”
“How do you know that?”
“I know,” I said.
“Is he an old pervert like you,” Maggie asked with a smile.
“He’s old like I’m old, he’s only two years younger than me. So you consider that I’m a pervert I guess.”
“It’s a joke.”
“Sure, a joke…”
I didn’t like that joke too much.
“Well my friend is not a pervert like me I guess. He’s a great artist, a great musician, a great painter and he’s a great guy. His atelier is in Aubervilliers, just a bit outside of Paris in a somewhat working-class neighborhood and nobody there will even notice you.”
“Does he speak English?”
“Yes, he does, he’s American.”
“An American in Paris, huh…”
“Yeah. I think it’s Oscar Wilde who said that when good Americans die, they go to Paris. I guess that would work too for a good looking scared Chinese women. So, how do you like that idea?”
“Yes, it’s great, thank you. How long will it take for the visa?”
“I don’t know. I’ll call tomorrow but I’d guess it will take about two weeks.”
“Do you think I’ll have to get out of the house?”
“No, I’ll deal with it from here, then we’ll go to the capital and we’ll get your visa and take you to the airport and you’ll be in your merry way.”
Maggie was silent for a very longtime and we were done eating crawfish.
“Why do you do this?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe because I want to thank you for what you did for me.”
“What did I do other than bringing troubles?” she said, somewhat sadly.
“Well, as far as I am concerned, I had a chance to look at you naked, I mean to really see you and meet with you in more ways than one and I must say it has been great so far. I think May Linh and Lily like you as well. You’re funny and smart and you have a good heart, only, I noticed, you just get crazy jealous sometimes.” And I smiled to show her I wasn’t judging.
“I’m sorry about that, I should have never talked to you this way. I didn’t mean it but when you didn’t come back, I was alone and I got scared, alone in this house in the middle of nowhere. Then I saw you come home so drunk and I was pissed you had a good time while I was scared alone and I thought you must have been with one of those little whores and it made me feel old and ungracious – why would you go to a whore when you could have had me? I thought – so I snapped. And you were just with your friend. I’m sorry.”
“It’s alright, at the end, I got the most of it I guess,” I said.
We were silent again. We went to wash our hands and I paid the bill, leaving just enough of a tip that they would forget about us. We were finishing our drinks before going back.
“There’s one thing though,” I told Maggie. “May Linh and Lily will come back in a couple of days. I don’t want them to arrive in a house all messy and stuff. Why don’t you help me tomorrow to clean it up and make it real nice for their return? Anyway, it will probably be our last days just the two of us together.”
“Sure. I know I’m a slob, I’ve always had maids and servants but I’ll help you and we’ll make it nice for them, they’re great women, I love them both very dearly, more than I thought I could love anyone, and I’m so sorry to have used such disparaging words about them when I was mad.”
“You know, I’ll have to tell them about your story and that you’re leaving.”
“Yes, I know.”
We drove back in silence but I could feel her behind me on the bike, and she was holding me tight, there was trust and affection in the way she was holding me. Once we got home, we took a shower together, hanged a little bit more on the front porch, smoking a French joint and drinking and watching the ocean and the big sky and I knew she was starting to realize that she would soon be gone from this place and I’m not sure but I think she was starting to miss it already.
Then, to my surprise, especially considering what had already happened between us today, she led me to the bed, took charge of everything and we had the sweetest love making yet, the regular way; I mean she made it feel this way, love making, and maybe she felt it too a little bit. And I was very surprised with all the energy old Mr. Me had been able to muster in that one day.
Iconography: Abstract by Ellar Wise from a John Everard’s photogravure 1950. Original: Oriental Model, published by Robert Hale Ltd., London in 1955. More of John Everard’s work on blog extraordinaire http://lapetitemelancolie.com/tag/1936/