Behind The Smile
An audiobook snippet
1 A Close Call
“Oh, bloody hell, girl! What have you gotten yourself into this time?” thought Lek as she was waking up yet again.
She had not slept much at all that night so far. Her ‘boyfriend’, Ali, was still asleep and the fumes coming from his open mouth told her that he must have been very drunk last night. She had not noticed at the time, as she had been quite out of it herself. Her backside was still throbbing though where Ali had tried to take her and had beaten her in his frustration at not being able to manage it. She could have one of the boys do him over for that, she thought with some degree of satisfaction or even report him to the police. She decided she would, if she were bruised. Yet he had seemed such a nice man earlier that night. It just went to show that you never can tell.
She wanted to get up and leave, but she had not been paid the 1,000 Baht they had agreed on; yet she was frightened of him waking up in case he wanted to try doing it again. It was not in Lek’s nature to take the money from his pocket and sneak out, even though it was rightfully hers already. There was nothing for it, but to lie there awake, watchful, letting him sleep and hoping that the sleep would put him in a better frame of mind when he did wake up. Lek gave him one more furtive glance and prepared herself for a long wait. It was 5:35 a.m. and she could not reasonably expect him to surface much before 9:00 a.m.
The night before, Lek had been working in ‘Daddy’s Hobby’, a bar off Beach Road when a thirty-odd year old Arab, Ali, had sat down. Things had been very quiet for her up until then, although most of the other girls were ‘out’. Lek had gone over to him to take his order and make him feel at home, as she had done with other customers thousands of times before. Lek and Ali had introduced themselves and Ali had ordered a bottle of ‘100 Pipers’ whisky, soda water and ice. Within minutes and with customary Arabic hospitality, he had offered her a drink and she had accepted gratefully. After all, she had thought, you never knew where things could lead, it was getting late and she was more than a little bored.
Looking back over events, Lek thought she had seen some danger signs even at that early stage. Why hadn’t she listened to her instincts? They had always stood her in such good stead before. Ali had already been drinking before he got to her bar – she had noticed that, but then he had ordered a bottle of whisky. It was not unusual to see Arabs drinking alcohol, but he was drinking this bottle too quickly and insisting that she kept up with him. Maybe ‘insist’ was too strong a word, but he certainly wanted her to go drink for drink with him and he did not want to take ‘no’ for an answer.
They had finished the bottle and Ali had asked her whether ‘she would like to go for something to eat’ – one of the many code expressions in her profession, which could lead to lucratively-paid nocturnal employment. And sometimes a meal too. She had accepted, but instead of going to a restaurant or his hotel, he had led her into a noisy disco, where he seemed to know a group of other Arabs. (She had never found out where he actually came from because his English was poor and her Arabic was non-existent; she had guessed at Abu Dhabi).
She had not been acquainted with the establishment, but it had been too full and too noisy for her tastes. The toilets were smelly too and Ali was acting ‘weird’ in front of his mates, showing off; showing her off; but also just showing off in general. He had also bought another bottle of whisky and danced in an odd way, pulling her about just a little too much, pawing her, mauling her even, parading her in front of his friends.
She should have seen it all coming then, she thought. Ten years in Pattaya had taught her a lot, but she could still be too daft to listen to her inner voice. Sometimes, anyway. If she hadn’t been such a good-natured person from birth, Pattaya could have done terrible things to her character.
Should she listen now? Get up; get dressed and sneak out, giving up the 1,000 Baht? No! Sod him!
She smiled to herself: ‘Sod him’ was a pun on what he had tried to do to her last night. The prick! But he hadn’t been able to get it up! And serve him right – she had no sympathy. He had not said he wanted sodomy, if he had she would not have gone with him. Well …., not for 1,000 Baht anyway, she joked with herself. They had left the disco after an hour or so, at about 1 a.m., and had gone back to his hotel with his friends in tow. Luckily, they had not wanted to go inside with them, but they had laughed and joked in an odd way even though she could not understand what they were saying.
They had slapped him on the back and winked suggestively at her. Immature, she had thought at the time, but still weird for guys of their age. Maybe they had led sheltered lives. Maybe it was their first taste of freedom away from their village and the watchful eyes of their elders. She had seen the same sort of behaviour from some Thai villagers on their first trip to Sin City otherwise known as Fun City, Paradise or Pattaya, depending on your moral outlook. Anyway, they had eventually arrived at his room and all seemed to get a little more normal. Ali was certainly drunk, but then so was she. Ali offered her a shower and she had taken him up on the offer.
He had given her a clean towel and waited outside for her to finish and while she got into bed, he had taken a shower too. Everything back to normal, she had thought, she could handle this now – she was back on familiar territory. Then he had switched out the light and made his way over to the bed, tripping over a shoe or something in the process. He had muttered something in Arabic, she had giggled, and then he had jumped on the bed and got weird again. It was hard to explain. He had torn the sheets off her, but without hurting her. He had frightened her certainly, but not too much. At first, anyway. Then he had thrown her over onto her front and, putting an arm around her waist, had raised her bottom up towards him.
OK, she had thought: doggy-fashion – she liked that! However, he was trying to put it where she did not like and he was getting angry that she was not co-operating. He had begun muttering in Arabic again and had begun slapping her backside hard like a cowboy on a horse in the films. Very hard – much too hard. The shit! Maybe she would go to see the boys about him. The wanker!
Anyway, after 10 minutes or so, he had collapsed on the bed next to her without achieving his mission. He had said something undecipherable and had apparently gone to sleep fairly quickly. She had seen it all before: bloke has a few drinks; gets randy; drinks too much; cannot get it up and blames the woman in his embarrassment. The wanker! No need to get violent though, she thought.
A lot of men were just like little boys in bed: with their egos and tantrums and oh-so-easily hurt pride. One day she would find a good man that wanted to take care of her and love her and … was not married, she smiled.
She lay there wondering whether he had bruised her or whether he had made her bleed even! Oh, she hoped not! But would she make him pay, if he had! However, she was not the vindictive type and she soon got bored planning hollow acts of revenge that she knew she was very unlikely to carry out.
It passed the time of day, well, night though and she was soon asleep again for the umpteenth time that night.
Ali could feel someone beside him when he woke up, but he could not remember who it was or even which sex it was. He had woken up facing the person, but had not opened his eyes yet. He decided to roll over, turning his back on his partner, while taking a sly peep. Please let it be a woman, he thought. He really did not want his colleagues from the oil rig to catch him with a boy. He had seen them on the way home last night, had he not?
Oh, please let it be a woman, he repeated to himself as he rolled over. Oh, thank God for that! She was pretty good looking too! In fact, very good looking and in the prime of her life, in her late-twenties, he judged. Oh, he could walk tall in front of his mates later and boast of his abilities. He could not quite remember what they had gotten up to and, for the moment, he did not care. His mouth felt as dry as the desert sand. He had to get some water and a couple of aspirins very soon. Getting up would surely wake her, but what was her name? Oh, shit! Still, he could bluff that one – at least it was not a man or a boy!
“Lak, Lek, Lik,” he mused. Sounded familiar. He settled on the middle one, as he was the middle son of three. Inch Allah! He decided to go for it and leapt out of bed, picking up a towel as he headed for the bathroom. Safely inside, he downed a glass of water, grabbed the aspirins and sat on the toilet seat to recover. He had moved too quickly and his head was spinning. What a night that must have been!
No wonder The Prophet Mohammed discouraged alcohol, which itself was an Arabic word, if not an Arabic invention. He would be a good Muslim from now on he told himself and not drink ever again. His parents and the scriptures were right. He turned on the shower and sat there looking at it running for a few minutes, while he tried to piece together his movements of the night before.
He had fancied one of the katoy boy dancers in a pub called ‘Night Fever’ in Boyz Town and he went there whenever he could get away from his friends. He had been there last night, but surely, he had not spoken to him? No, he knew that he was too shy to ‘come out’ at this stage in his life. So, he had wandered about for a while and called in a quiet, empty bar on his way back to meet his friends.
That is where he must have met Lak, Lek, Lik, he reasoned. Oh, yes. He had had a bottle of whisky on top of what he had already had to drink. It was starting to come back to him as he got under the shower and the cool water began to take away some of the fog and some of the pain.
Then he had gone to meet his friends, albeit a couple of hours late and had bought another bottle of whisky by way of an apology. They had all had a good night and gone their separate ways. That was it – no harm done! He would go out now, smile at Lak, Lek, Lik; give her what she asked for, within reason and everyone would be happy. He roughly dried himself off and opened the door.
She was sitting up in bed with the sheets pulled tightly around herself up to her neck, looking at him straight in his eyes. She had the frightened look of a rabbit caught in a searchlight. It unnerved him, but he did not know why.
“Good Morning, Luaek,” he mumbled, as boldly as he dared. “Did you sleep well?”
“My name Lek,” she pouted, “and no. I not sleep good. You want shag me in bum and I not like. You hit me too much! I not happy. Maybe I go to police tell them ‘bout you. Police take you Monkey House and man shag you in bum and you not like same same me.”
Ali had thought it was going too well, but he said:
“Venez, venez. Go shower, Lek, and we talk about it after you finish.”
Lek pulled the towel, which experience had taught her to keep by her pillow, around her and hobbled off into the bathroom without giving Ali another glance. She bolted the door as hard and noisily as she could and began to sob audibly.
At least, she hoped it was audible from outside. So, she turned the shower on and made even louder cries of pain, just to make sure. She inspected herself in the mirror and was pleased to see there were no signs of blood or bruising and as the cool water started to take the sting out of her beautiful bottom, her plan was unfolding.
After showering, she again donned the towel and limped into the bedroom, where Ali was sitting in anticipation, already dressed. A good sign, she thought to herself, she had escaped a replay of the previous night. She sat down gingerly; making sure that Ali was well aware of her discomfort and gave out a squeal of pain.
“Oi! Oi! Oi! I hurt!,” she moaned, rubbing her right buttock. “Oh, Ali, why you hit me too much last night? I good lady for you but you hit me too much. I think you kill me. You crazy. I think I go see Mama San ask her what do. Maybe go police, you not good man, Ali.”
She was getting dressed without showing a square inch of flesh, as only women brought up in a small house with a large family know how to and Ali did not dare to ask to see the marks. In truth, Ali was a kind and decent man and flashes of the previous night had already started to filter through to his blurred consciousness making him feel quite ashamed – he could not remember ever having hit a woman before. He knew he had to appease her and he knew that that meant money, although not necessarily a lot. He said:
“Lek, I really very sorry. I not know what happen. I very drunk. J’etais mal. I think man put something in my drink, drugs or something like that. I want make you happy: buy you very good eating in good restaurant and pay you for say ‘thank you’ too. Je suis desole. I very sorry, please forgive me. I have good heart, truly. I not hit mademoiselle before.”
Lek looked up at him from the bed with her big, brown, doe eyes as she was combing her hair and wiped away a tear.
“OK,” she simpered, “but I want you give me 2,500 Baht for go to doctor for cream and eat in ‘Savoy Restaurant’ and I not want see you again. You crazy sometimes. I not believe you any more! Not come to bar look for me. I have boyfriend take care me there.”
Actually, that was the last thing that Ali was considering doing anyway, so he nodded his assent and looked as contrite as he possibly could. Inwardly he was relieved; he felt that he had gotten off lightly. It would cost him a quarter of a days pay on the rigs and he had escaped a brush with the police.
He knew that unprovoked assault on a Thai was taken very seriously indeed and that it would mean at least a few nights stay in the notorious Pattaya gaol or ‘Monkey House’, as it was even less affectionately better known plus a fine of probably 20,000 Baht, half of which would probably go to Lek in compensation.
He could even be deported and blacklisted from re-entry into Thailand. Then his friends would have to know why he did not want to go to Pattaya on their next regular vacation. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. Better to pay up now and try to learn from the experience, if he could only remember exactly what that experience was.
Lek finished getting dressed and put on a little make up – she never used much anyway and did not really need it. Ali thought she looked a little happier, which cheered him up too and within 10 minutes they were walking out of the hotel into the hot morning sunshine. Lek had already discarded any pretence of a limp as they turned left out of the hotel and started to walk the 300 metres north along Second Road towards the junction with Central Pattaya Road or Pattaya Klang, as it is known in Thai, where the Savoy is situated on the corner.
Lek loved this time of the day – about 11 a.m. – because Pattaya did not really ‘get going’ until about 10 a.m. and everybody and everything was full of the life, promise and hope that a new day brings – except, of course that in Pattaya it is all about the night time, so the day kicks off a little later. She sauntered along with a spring in her step and a smile on her face, keeping about two metres behind Ali.
She did this for several reasons: firstly, because she knew that most Arabs preferred to walk in front of ‘their ladies’; secondly, because she did not really want to be seen with him (many men were casting appreciative eyes over her, as they always did, and from behind Ali she could smile back, without upsetting his pride) and thirdly, because of a joke she had heard the other week that always made her smile.
She repeated it to herself: ‘a survey in Afghanistan revealed that most women walked three metres behind their men before the U.S. intervention, but that after the intervention this had increased to ten metres. When asked why, most Afghani women replied, smiling: “Landmines”’. She put her hands over her ears and mentally said: “Boom,” giving a little hop and a smile at a passing farang (or foreigner). She was one of the most beautiful women in Pattaya, which meant one of the most beautiful women in Thailand, which meant one of the most beautiful women in the world and she knew it.
No man would not call her beautiful and she could take her pick from any of them, and they would happily pay for the privilege. It gave her a feeling of power and a sense of self-worth, even though she realised that she had only about five years of the good life at the top left. She had led a
remarkable life by the standards of most Thai women. She had met hundreds of men from almost every country in the world and most of them had been kind and generous and, unfortunately, married. None of them had ever taken her ‘home’ to their country, but she had stayed in the best hotels and eaten in the best restaurants for about a decade. Most of her relationships were not one-night-stands, as most people imagined.
She did not want those. Her strategy, honed over the years, was to try to find out something about the man first. She always wanted to know: how long he had left to stay in Thailand; where he came from; how old he was and whether he was married. The longer he had left in Thailand, the better a relationship she might form with him and the more chance she had of getting him to fall in love with her.
Country of origin was important, because she had preferences of where she wanted to live. She favoured Britain, but America, Canada, France or Germany would do too. Also, age was important, because it could affect his visa status in Thailand and knowing whether he was married or not was obviously essential.
Her average relationship, using the knowledge gleaned from these four questions, lasted two or three weeks. Very, very rarely had anyone left her before their flight home. Sometimes, she had been with the same man for a month or more. Some men had even taken her to other Thai cities as a companion and interpreter. She had flown to Chiang Mai, Phitsanulok, Ko Sa.m.ui and Phuket at other people’s expense many times.
Sometimes men would come back and ask for her, because they had met on previous holidays. Others wrote sporadically or sent emails – not that her written English was even passable, but some of the older women specialised in reading these letters to the girls and drafting suitably romantic replies.
Lek did not often get into all that; it seemed a little bit too much like cajoling or begging and a little bit seedy or dishonest. There had been a few scary times too, but too few to mention. Not many men, it seemed, would fly all the way to Pattaya to cause trouble and risk spending ten years or more in the ‘Bangkok Hilton’, life in which could be likened to scenes from the film ‘Midnight Express’. She had never been cut or raped as had happened to some other girls. Some girls had even been found murdered and there were rumours that some girls had disappeared into foreign slave brothels abroad against their will.
She hoped that they were only rumours, but she had never been caught up in the darker side of the sex industry. She did not even want to think about child prostitution or paedophilia, but she had always kept both eyes open for this kind of abuse. She would not have hesitated to report it to the police.
She had even managed to save a tidy sum for her contingency plan, when the inevitable retirement day arrived and she would go back to her village to live, unless she met a wealthy, single foreigner, who wanted to take her and her daughter back to his own country. That was the goal; that was the ultimate dream and she had been chasing it for 10 years. The contingency plan was to open a small shop in the village and marry a kind farmer. True, she would probably have to settle for quite an older man in this scenario, but she had had a good innings so far and she would take care of him, if he were kind to her daughter.
If she had stayed in her village, she would have been married to a farmer of her own age for about twelve years by now and have three or four children. Not that those were bad things, but she had had to leave and now she told herself that she was glad she was not shackled to the routines of a house and a farm, watching the world pass her by on the television screen.
She had friends who had chosen married life straight after school and she felt that most of them envied her playgirl life-style, her racks of beautiful clothes and her stories, backed-up by photographs, of fabulous locations with wealthy, generous foreigners, who thought nothing of spending as much on a single meal, a bottle of wine or a present, as most farmers earned in a month.
Her village friends and family had respect for what she had done, despite the way she had chosen to accomplish it. They were not hampered by Western morality and double standards. Were not most of the people who condemned her or ‘felt sorry for her’, as they more often phrased it, the frumpy wives of the very men who came to Thailand to meet girls like her? She had no time for them or how they thought.
Would they fund her lifestyle and provide for her mother and daughter if she did not do what she did? If what she was doing was so wrong, she would pay for it in Karma herself one day. She had no problem with that; so long as her ageing mother and nearly teenage daughter were all right. “Give Good, get Good. Give Evil, Get Evil” was her motto,
And the monks’ motto. And what was good enough for the monks was good enough for her too.
In her state of reverie, she had forgotten about Ali and she now found herself alongside him, his arm wrapping itself around her waist to steer her into the restaurant.
“Oh well,” she thought, “it’s a free lunch” and Lek, like most Thais, was very reluctant to turn down a meal.
They sat in the air-conditioned section on the left and Lek ordered spring rolls and fish cakes to start; followed by a huge Red Snapper, which was to be cooked in a fish-shaped dish at the table itself and boiled Jasmine rice. Lek demonstrated her gastronomic expertise and table manners by ordering a perfect combination of sauces for the appetiser, helping Ali to titbits and attending to the cooking of the fish, while eating her own food at the same time.
They ate a fine meal, but hardly spoke, which was due equally to Ali’s poor command of the English language, the tension between them and their hangovers. When they went their separate ways forty-five minutes later, both were pleased that the relationship had ended on a happy note.
Lek watched Ali turn right, presumably to go back to his hotel by Soi 9, gave him a small wave and dashed across the busy Second Road weaving in and out between the dozens of motorbike taxis and Baht buses that were waiting at the lights. She turned right into Pattaya Klang and walked the two hundred metres east looking in the shop windows to the next turning on the right: Soi Buakhao. She calculated that she had taken enough precautions to shake Ali off, if he had decided to follow her. She did not like men knowing where she lived.
She was as happy as a songbird and it radiated out from her. She felt that everybody could see how happy she was. She had landed herself in a tricky, potentially dangerous, situation, because she had not listened to her instincts, but she had played the bad hand she had been dealt like a Mississippi card-shark and had come out of it with as much money as many Thais earned in a month and she had eaten well.
Lek was waiting at the junction of Soi Buakhao and Pattaya Klang for a ‘Baht Bus’ to take her home, but she changed her mind and decided to walk around the corner to the Thai market opposite the Naa.m.chai Restaurant and buy a new skirt to celebrate. It was a very hot afternoon in June, but the market was alive, as it almost always was and Lek meandered through the fruit stalls at the front buying articles of fruit here and there, chatting to the market-traders and fellow customers on her way to the clothes stalls at the back.
She spent forty-five minutes at her favourite pastime of shopping for clothes before eventually settling on a beautiful white skirt with her western star sign embroidered in sequins on one thigh in the front. At fourteen inches long, it would show off her beautiful legs; being white, it would show off her tan colouring and the star sign would give men a reason for looking down there, if they had not thought of one already.
She was a Leo, born in early August and although she did not know a lot about western astrology, she thought she was a typical female lion. She had read about Leos being aggressive and dominant, but in her opinion that only applied to the females. After all, it was the female lion that pursued and killed the prey. Male lions slept a lot and demanded to eat first.
They only came into play if a predator or rival came on the scene and then it was only for the selfish defence of his progeny and his wives – he did not necessarily defend them for their own sakes. What a joke! She also bought a short white blouse, which tied at the mid-rift to finish the outfit, and then hopped on a Baht taxi heading south and home.
You can buy Daddy’s Hobby from the bookshop in the title bar.