Indecent ProposalJuly 3, 2011
I’d arrived ten minutes late and perspiring – sweat trickling down the sides of my face on a baking hot Saturday morning at one of those chi-chi, overpriced Phnom Penh café/bars that have been appearing over the last few years. And so having found a comfortable berth on a cushioned wicker sofa my eyes wandered around the room taking in a stream of visitors to-ing and fro-ing; they were an interesting crowd to behold.
Centre stage was a middle-aged Englishman with an ursine frame who just couldn’t keep still and spent thirty minutes pacing the room nervously in between sips of espresso. Then adjacent to my table were a pair of rheumy-eyed American queens with their slightly over-the-hill local paramours in tow. To my rear was another American – a cocky, preppy frat boy type with a chubby and incessantly yapping female friend looking not unlike an overinflated beach ball. Then a table or so away were a quartet of newly arrived Pattaya types mulling over condo purchases – chancers, chumpheads, mouthy blowhards, all four of them. An eclectic Phnom Penh crowd to be sure, but like most of these disinfected BKK1 places, the prevailing vibes were of boredom and a lack of good sex.
Places like this, full of drab sweaty white folk and skulking mouse-like local staff, only seemed to magnify her presence. She was always a fine sight at the best of times, but today she had surpassed herself as she pranced saucily into view, beaming like a diva about to five a special gala performance. She was full of life, full of health and her magnificence contrasted sharply with the human flotsam and jetsam on display elsewhere in the room.
In public, and our meetings were always in public, she rarely looked me squarely in the eye even when being seriously amorous, but would instead frequently squeeze my hand in what seemed to be a genuinely loving manner. Her company was electrifying, and I’d long before begun to sense the hold, power and control she was gaining on me. And there was no way she could have failed to sense the human charge flowing towards her from my direction.
It had been fifteen weeks before when I first noticed her raven black hair, as ever tied tightly back, after decanting from a tuk tuk and entering the noisy, tatty, paper-strewn room where she waited tables. She was gliding effortlessly between the cheap, blue plastic tables when our eyes first met and it was just a week later that we had our first expensive expedition to a shopping mall.
These costly mall outings with what I figured to be a quintessential local husband hunter soon became a constant source of amusement in my drab life and I’d spend intolerably lonely weekends sipping from tins and sitting like a coiled spring while and waiting for her to call.
When she’d phoned me earlier today it had sounded like she was speaking from a noisy café and I could hear male Khmer voices in the background. She didn’t want to go shopping as she had something to tell me. We ‘needed to talk’ and so here I was. Inwardly I was wild with curiosity. What could she possibly want?
As I stood up to greet her, those slender brown fingers reached around the back of my neck in the most intimate way possible before drifting down to hold both my hands in hers as she settled her gorgeous back against the wicker sofa and leaned over to kiss my left cheek . She whispered into my ear, ”Today, I will sleep with you, but you must pay me $300,” and then she allowed her eyelids to droop, half covering those enormous slanted almond eyes as if she was about to take a brief nap rather than wait for my response.
This continued for a few seconds before she looked appraisingly at my face trying to predict my reaction. Her eyes then narrowed and locked into my own like a teacher awaiting a response from a particularly slow-witted pupil and seemed to be whispering, ‘How could you possibly refuse?’
On my part there was a dignified silence consisting of a nanosecond of temptation followed by a sharp tap of my moral compass, a moment’s reflection and some time taken honing my impersonation of a person making a decision. I felt spacey and the word ‘no’ slipped out.
We sat there avoiding eye contact, both of us taking in the gravity of the situation.
From her there was no ‘aw-shucks’ grin; just the look of a dead fish that’s been rather too long on the slab, then a second of obvious throat lumping and finally a glare at me as if I was the fifth horseman of the apocalypse. Her normal Olympian arrogance deserted her and it was a truly dismal sight to behold as her dusky skin tone became almost pale to the point of luminescence. If she’d been standing, I think her knees would have buckled.
After ten seconds that seemed like a month, she rallied slightly. ”That’s OK, ” she finally uttered in an unmistakably querulous tone.
She looked like she needed to go and take a soothing walk in some nearby woods or maybe lie down in a darkened room for while. On this occasion, however, the darkened room would not be mine.