So I was in the kitchen in order to fix drinks for the three of us, May Linh, whom I knew for about a month, Lily whom I knew for two or three hours maybe, and me, whom I’ve known for ever. Both of these women had agreed, I hoped, to old Mr. Me’s contract to live in the nude, and more weather permits, in my secluded house by the beach I had purchased for that purpose in this southeastern Asian country.
As of now, I didn’t know what to do with the drinks. The two of them were drinking white wine, with ice cubes in it, and I was drinking beer. And I wondered how I could bring everything all in one trip. Then I thought that if I’d take with me only three drinks, considering the day’s emotions, considering that there were now TWO naked beautiful Asian ladies stark naked somewhere in my house, considering that this was my first beer of the day and god knows I needed one, three drinks wouldn’t be enough.
So I got a big ice bucket out of the back porch and filled it up with ice. Then I put a bottle of white wine and three – no four – cans of beer in it. Then I thought better of it. I put the beer cans away and got four bottles of beer, a Belgium beer, recommended by Carter, in the ice bucket. Then I got three glasses, two big wine glasses, for the ice cubes, and a beer one. For once I would be drinking beer out of a glass but I guess the occasion commanded it. Thus the Belgium beer. Then I got more ice in a bowl for the wine.
On my way back to the porch, going through the office, I noticed a new laptop and a pair of red headphones. I was surprised for a second but I knew right away I should have known better: Lily was carrying her own air time, of course.
Once I came back to the terrace, night had fallen. I couldn’t see May Linh and Lily so I figured they would be in the garden. I turned around the porch and, sure enough, that’s where they were, both nude, with their rubber boots, and they were squatting and May Linh was obviously explaining something to Lily although I couldn’t hear. So I poured their wine and grabbed a beer and I really enjoyed the next cigarette, watching them, two pale silhouettes in contrast to the dark forest behind them. Then I heard that the nightly jungle ruckus had started.
God, I thought, I didn’t know how May Linh would react and what she would say, if anything, when she’d find out I had found pot while she was away. And I knew she’d find out eventually when she’d see me smoking French joints. I was wondering how this would spell out with her. And now Lily!
Then May Linh saw me from the garden and they both came walking back to the porch. They wore only rubber boots. Again I wished I could paint and again I felt I knew what Gauguin was feeling. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.
There were three armchairs on the porch. I sat in mine, May Linh automatically got hers and Lily had to sit in the third one, which was facing us, turning its back to the sea. This composition was perfect for me because, for the first time, I could have at leisure a good look at Lily and god knows it was a sight, to my eyes at least. She seemed surprise at first, if not amused, by my manic gaze but she seemed to quickly forget about it and she would cross and uncross her legs. I was getting the most of it.
May Linh had to have told Lily about old Mr. Me I guess and Lily was showing no anxiety whatsoever toward me. Still, I figured the view of the ocean was better. So I got up, explained what I thought and we moved the chairs around a little bit and we were soon all three of us looking in the same direction, looking out at the darkness of the ocean, at the big sky. I could sea fishing boats’ lights far out at sea.
So I was sitting near the railing, May Ling on my left, and Lily a bit farther on her left. Now I could hardly see any of them without turning my head, and I didn’t want to break my neck. So I figured I had to be patient and we just remained like this for a while, in silence, drinking, me smoking (Lily didn’t smoke either). That was nice.
At one point, May Linh got up and told Lily to follow her. She did and they went to the kitchen but May Linh came back alone, with more beer. She poured a glass for me and a glass of wine for her. I was ogling her and again the maniac in me was taking over, she was so close and so beautiful and she didn’t mind and she had nothing to hide. She sat next to me.
We were silent for a while.
“You know,” I said, “I didn’t need anyone else. I was ready to see how we could have lived just the two of us. I liked it very much during the three weeks we spent together.”
“Me too,” said May Linh, and I could tell she meant it, “but I didn’t plan this. And you told me you wanted three women…”
“Yes but that was before…” I cried. “I never mentioned it again.”
“Yes but it’s in the contract,” she answered.
That was true.
“Did you show the contract to Lily?” I asked.
“Of course I did,” she said, a bit offended that I’d ask, “and I explained the whole situation to her.”
I wondered how she put the gamahuching part into words while explaining it to Lily…
“Where’s Lily now?” I asked.
“She’s fixing dinner,” May Linh answered.
“That’s what I guessed,” I said. “Are you going to always boss her around like that?” I asked but with a smile that said there was more curiosity than malice into my question.
“No,” May Linh said, “but I figured I owed you an explanation and I thought it would be better if she wasn’t here while I talk to you.”
We paused for a minute. I probably lit a cigarette. It’s always what I do when I don’t know what to say or do.
“I know Lily since she’s born,” May Linh started. “She was born in my little town just about the time I had to come back to live at my parents. Her father was a very good looking young man from another ethnic and a good man for what I remember of him. He had married a good young woman from a village up in the mountains and they had settled in my neighborhood. They had Lily. You remember I told you that I taught English to the neighborhood kids?”
Yes I remembered it. It gave her something to do after her asshole husband had repudiated her rather violently.
“I thought English would eventually be worth something for these kids in spite of the poverty that was our lot,” May Linh continued. “Lily was a good student and remained a single child. I always liked her. Then her father died from one day to the next. We don’t know what took him, a heart attack maybe, I don’t know.”
I could imagine. In villages, people are superstitious, on top of being god fearing folks. ‘Yeah, I saw him yesterday and he was doing fine’, would say the good people, signing. And they would be scared, imagining something mysterious was maybe hovering over their village, that maybe they needed to make more sacrifices, more offerings to the already fat monks. Well, maybe this man simply had a heart ailment that nobody knew about and he died of it one night – in his sleep, he should be lucky – and it’s as simple as that.
May Linh was back to her story. “Lily and her mother struggled – the Party was all powerful back then (still is I thought) – then several years later the mother remarried with a guy from another village close by. He was working on construction sites in Middle-Eastern countries somewhere and he was coming back twice a year and sending money every month. Lily was seven when her first brother was born, then another brother came the following year, then, two years later, a sister. Everything was fine until one day, all of a sudden, the money stopped coming and no one ever heard of that man again. I think he must has died on a job site and was just buried somewhere like a dog, like a lost soul,” May Linh was saying.
Then again, I thought, maybe he found another woman and is now living like a king in Paris, Chicago, New Orleans or Shanghai or Hong Kong. There is always work in the world for a good construction worker. But I didn’t say anything about this of course. Then again it’s true there is danger in his line of work, especially for a poor Asian fuck working construction in the Middle-East.
“So what happened?” I asked.
“What I know is that the family survived the first few years, on money they had saved I guess. But, when she was fourteen, Lily had to start working to pay for the schooling of her two little brothers, and later her sister. She found a job in a massage parlor, in the outskirt of the little city where we lived. This place had a decent reputation I guess. At least that’s what I heard but I don’t know really because I’ve never been in such places. Anyway, that worked pretty well for everybody and, somehow, Lily seemed to like her job. I taught English to Lily’s brothers and sister, among other kids, but I made sure those three were working their butt off, in English and in school, for their sister’s work. And they did. All three of them are very good students, the oldest boy is even joining a university in the capital this fall. And it will certainly be the same with the two others.”
“So what’s the problem?” I asked.
“That’s the problem,” May Linh said. “Lily, in a provincial massage parlor, couldn’t make enough money anymore for her brothers to keep going to the good and expensive schools they deserve. So, with her mother’s approval, she had finally accepted an offer from a ‘pleasure house’ in the capital. The ‘owner’ had given the mother 2.000 coppers in advance and guaranteed that Lily, if she worked hard, could make as much as 500 coppers a month and that would do it for her brothers. So Lily was ready to go, knowing perfectly well what was awaiting her, and she knew that if the guy gave her mother so much money it was also because of her eyes, and her naivety maybe. So she was glad to see that I had come back to town last week so she could come visit and say goodbye to me. Then she told me that she was leaving the next day for the capital. And that was yesterday…”
There was a long, long, pause.
So I understood that’s when she told Lily that she, May Linh, had a much better deal for her and I understood they both had to make quick decisions. That’s why no one asked me anything I guess and the reason why Lily showed up out of the blue only few hours ago at the train station. I also realized at that instant that the two women that were here with me were single children in a way. Coincidence?
“2.000 coppers, that’s a lot of money in this country,” I said.
“Yes, it is,” May Linh said.
“I guess that’s how they get the girls and then the family can never again get out of debt,” I sighed.
“Yes, I guess,” May Linh said.
I thought of it for a minute.
“So you paid the pimp back?” I asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“How did you do that?” I asked.
“I wired the money to him with legal interests and I had witnesses and a legal receipt.”
I understood then that she had spent her whole first salary, and more, for this.
“I’ll give you your money back,” I said.
“No,” May Linh answered, sharply, “I told Lily she’ll pay me back while here.”
“OK,” I said, “you did the right thing I guess. But are you sure this is what Lily wanted, coming to bury herself here in this jungle with two old idiots like us?” I asked.
May Linh laughed, and that was worth noticing because only then could I see her sharp and white uneven little teeth.
“Why don’t you ask her?” she said.
Iconography: Pablo Picasso – Nude Woman in a Red Armchair 1932
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