The Best Policy
From The True Chronicles of Bruce.
Nong had small teeth, short teeth. Memorably short. Very little distance from the biting edge to the gums. What had she worn them down chewing on, Bruce wondered?
Still, he admitted to himself, she was very pretty. With sparkling dark eyes, long wavy hair worn loose, smooth dark skin and soft high cheekbones above a captivating set of dimples*, she carried her still excellently proportioned Thai body with an erotically charged casual ease. But she was not so young anymore. On closer inspection, her muscle tone was more mellowed than the other girls, her tummy a few centimetres too loose now after several pregnancies. She no longer had the saleable hard-body of her youth. She admitted to being 32. She admitted to having only couple of long-term boyfriends from overseas. But she was not available to the customers like Bruce on a daily basis any more: she was now the mama-san of this small beer-bar at the far north end of Pattaya beach.
In this capacity she stood in for Louis, the French manager of the bar, who only came in for one or two beers around 10pm to check on the nights meagre takings. Nong sorted the girls out, made sure they were healthy and ready to work, made sure they were fed, encouraged, prettified; she checked their lists of fines and credits for Louis to later tabulate against what they still owed him for rent and for personal cash loans; she made sure they called out "Hello, welcome!" to all the potential customers passing on the way from the Dusit Resort to the nearby stand to grab a tuk-tuk or taxi along Beach Rd to Walking Street...
The beer-bar Nong was running was one of a pair in the open space at the bottom floor of a Japanese club (Susie). The provenance of this old place was uncertain as was the choice of the three elaborate Roman style columns** which bore the weight across the front of the building. They could not have been selected by owners of the Japanese club, surely not. One hoped that they pre-dated the refitting of the place as bars and were in keeping with its original use. Maybe a small hotel was once here? A bank?
Each beer-bar had its drinking area at the opposite end of the space to the other. They were run as separate businesses, managed by different people and the girls had a fierce but not quite serious rivalry. The bars were mirror images of each other, architecturally reflected at the central pillar and the door at the back of the bars which led to Club Susie. Around that door of dark-glass were lighted signs in green, red and pink curly Japanese script***, presumably inviting entry and promising all sorts of Nipponese thrills in the discreet "karaoke" rooms upstairs. Several shelves of ambiguously Japanese trinkets, like Hello Kitty dolls, flanked the door. Buddhist prayer flags and winds chimes danced in the slight on-shore breeze of evening out by the front of the bar, under red and green striped eaves. Both of the drinking bars were decorated with large yellow and black diamond tiles. There were chrome-framed mirrors behind the glass shelves which held bottles of Galliano, Midori , Vermouth, Cointreau, Cognac, Johnny Walker (Red and Black) whiskey, and of course Tequila, the bar-hostess's standard short drink. Several show-bottles of twisted glass sported colored fluid that tempted no-one, not the most desperare hard-case. The mirrors reflected harshly back into the customer area all the bright fluorescent tubes and the red colored snake-lights, as well as the mirrors of the equally garish opposite bar. It was not a visually quiet place.
Pattaya Bar, 2001
Business? It was quiet in that sense. Bruce was the lone, early customer. He sat and watched the sunset from his red vinyl stool, trying to drink slowly to avoid a sour Thai stomach which would be the eventual result if he continued his preferred Pattaya diet of Chang beer and chili noodles for too many days at a stretch. He turned and hunched his heavy frame forward stretching the blue Hawaiian shirt Ooh had chosen for him in the market yesterday, and leant over the bar to see what the girls were doing. Noi was writing in her diary, practising English. Ooh had been trying out some new makeup style to go with her denim shirt, one which pinched her small breasts into something approaching a cleavage, but had paused to send a txt message. It failed to go. She had no credit on her phone-card. She complained to Bruce: "I owe seben towsend baht, my phone calls!" Bruce shrugged. He was giving her 500Baht for each day she spent with him already. What more could he do? He would buy her a present on the last day. Or maybe a present for her baby in Bangkok.
Mama-san Nong had been seated on a white plastic chairs at one of the marble dining tables, writing something silently for a while. She pushed back the chair and moved gracefully to behind the bar and placed herself in front of Bruce. She wore a conservative black halter top which left some inches of her slightly flabby belly exposed above her grey pants. She smiled a well practiced genuine smile at him. Those short teeth. "Kha Bruce, can you hep me with write letter my terak in London."
Bruce smiled back and put his beer holder down.
"Of course. What have you written so far?" he asked.
She seemed a little embarrassed at the short letter that had taken her so much time to compose on the table. "My dahling, my terak. I miss you. I love you." She looked up and said, "That is all I heb so far. You must hep me, hokay." She handed the letter across to him.
Bruce dropped his chin to his chest in order to hide his amazement and amusement as he read. After a silent spasm shook his shoulders he looked up, took a deep breath, cocked his head and said, in a mock-serious tone, "And DO you love him?"
Nong's falsely genuine smile disappeared and what seemed to be a real expression came into her face. She pursed her mouth slightly like she was trying to hold back a laugh. Her brilliant eyes flashed at Bruce, sending waves of understanding and communion into his, and her cute dimples rapidly deepened. She was eternally beautiful at this moment, even though her teeth were nearly worn away, even though her tummy was not so taught, even though she was mightily old at 32. She looked at him without guile or pretense. When she spoke to him, he was certain she was being honest. He had never heard a Thai girl speak so truthfully.
"I love his money," she said.
* Bruce was a sucker for dimples.
** I'm picking them as Composite Order.
*** Hiragana script is the curly one.
OTHER MONKEYS SAID
I think I may have been to that bar!
I haven't been there myself, I was at church playing the organ, but Bruce obviously visited it often in those days... ;-)
Last time I, err, I mean last time HE looked, it was gone.
Pattaya bars come and go. So do Bruces. I enjoy his chronicles.
Indeed they do. Indeed they do. And so do I.