By Michael Chu
“Bye, Ringo. See you tomorrow morning.”
The four-year old boy with a cherubic face smiled and said “Yes, Mom,” which sounded more like “Must you go now?” He went on to hug her and buried his face on her tummy. Chye Lian lovingly placed her hands on the back of his head and held on, soaking in their embrace. She bent to kiss him on the forehead saying, “Be good okay? You hear me?”
“Ah Lian, you’d better go. Otherwise, you will be late for your work”, said the boy’s grandpa.
She wore a short-sleeved, knee-length white dress with small imprints of orchids. Her shoes were white and came with pointed heels. Slung across her right shoulder she brought with her a smart-looking, white, half-leather handbag. For transport she took a taxi off the road.
Plying in the opposite direction of the main flow of the evening traffic she reached her hotspot in a jiffy. The neon lights bearing the name “Boogie Wonderland” was alight and strains of a contemporary love ballad seeped through the tinted-glass main door. Things were brewing and getting bubbly. Happy hours would be due in half an hour. She felt comfortable coming back again to her domain once in a few days. This was the place where Johnny built contacts for her. Johnny dealt direct with new clients in person. Subsequently, she would deal directly with them. She never solicited direct from new clients as far as possible. But there was no appointment for tonight and Johnny had none on hand. So she had to come and work the ground, so to speak. The economic crisis could well bear part of the blame.
“Rose, you look gorgeous this evening,” Johnny said with a broad smile.
“Only this evening?” she asked, and settled herself onto a high stool facing Johnny at the bar counter.
“Here, let me pour you a dry martini. It’s on me.”
Leaning towards her he spoke in a hushed tone, “That guy over there with a bottle of ginger beer came in about ten minutes ago. I think he is not expecting anybody. Why not go and cheer him up?”
She turned around to sneak a quick look. “Do you know him?”
“He ain’t no friend of mine. He looks alright. Much more decent than many, I dare say.”
“That’s for me to find out,” Rose said, and turned fully to take in the stranger while gearing herself up for the approach.
The guy was stocky, clean-shaven and bespectacled. He wore blue jeans, checkered long-sleeved shirt and ankle-high boots. Quite good-looking. Probably in his early or mid forties.
He gazed in her direction from five metres away and their eyes locked. He smiled boyishly and she, without much of a second thought, winked her right eye. Seizing the opening she hurled herself down from the stool and moved casually towards the prospect.
“Mind if I join you?” Rose said.
“Not at all. I’m Jason.”
“Hi, Jason. You can call me Rose. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too.” he said and shook her hands firmly as with a formal introduction.
Their table for two was against a brick wall with a glowing lamp, which hardly dampened the general dimness of the bar. Settling herself comfortably and catching the mood charted by love songs in the air, Rose progressed to work on her bait.
“I haven’t seen you around here. Do you come often?” Rose wanted to know.
“Oh, I frequent places like this if you see what I mean.”
Rose smiled. This would be an easy catch. Like they say, looks can be deceptive. “It would cost you, you know?”
In his Proton Saga he thrust her X fifty-dollar notes.
“Here, return you $50.”
“Nah, you keep it. You are of much greater worth than you could think of or imagine.”
“You’re much too kind. But seriously.”
He wouldn’t listen and interjected with, “No, you keep it.”
‘Okay, if that’s the way he wants to play it,’ thought Rose. She then placed the monies securely into her handbag.
“Where are you taking me?”
At this she froze up and asked, “Is it safe?”
“No problem,” he said. “It’s much more comfortable than a cheap hotel.”
His was a four-room flat with centralised air-conditioning. The air-conditioning and light to the living room were already activated, and all the curtains drawn when they came in.
“Are you sure nobody is in the house?”
“Believe you me, it is safe. Take a seat first. We will have it in the living room. It’s more open and relaxed here,” Jason said, and excused himself to the master bedroom.
Rose casually put down her bag and approached the TV cabinet to behold a silver-framed photograph of Jason, his wife and a young boy of Ringo’s age or so. She felt uncomfortable at this sight and thought of Ringo and her abusive, alcoholic husband. Her stomach churned at the very thought of her husband. Still, she forced herself to rationalise her undertaking of yet another assignment. ‘Ya, that’s it. It is only a paid job like any other and it is my way of supporting those who mean the world to me.’
Jason came out of the room dressed as before, but a serene and graceful lady (his wife!) was with him.
Rose immediately felt her heart skipping a few beats, making her somewhat breathless, and her cheeks became flushed with warmth. The next thing she expected was to be caught in the middle of a spat between these two lovers. However, the wife’s eyes and Jason’s cheerfulness confounded her.
“Look here, I’m sorry, folks. Just give me a minute and I’ll be out of this place for good.”
Ignoring her plea, Jason said, “Rose, this is my wife, Adele.”
Adele shook hands with a hesitant Rose and said, “It’s nice to meet you. Please have a seat.”
Rose sat down in a daze and was filled with embarrassment. She was too weak to get away as fast and as far as possible. ‘Could have been worse if this flat is in my neighbourhood,’ she consoled herself.
Before she could recover her composure, Adele had offered to get her a cup of Milo. They all had Milo there and then in the living room.
Adele then let the cat out of the bag and said, “We are here to help you.”
Shoving her hair with the right hand, Rose uttered, “How can you help me? I’m doing what I can.”
“We’ll put you on a programme of counselling and skill training.”
“Ya, but I’ve got mouths to feed back home.”
“You’ll be paid an allowance throughout the programme and thereafter until you are self-reliant.”
“What’s the catch?”
“That’s a long, long story. We’ll tell you someday. But there is really no catch.”
Just then a little boy came out of the master bedroom and said, “Mommy, I can’t sleep.”
“Come here Martin and say ‘Hello’ to Aunty Rose.”
“It’s Aunty Chye Lian”, said Rose brightening up and wiping her tears of joy. “You are such a fine boy Martin. I hope you will grow up to be an accomplished person,” Rose said while touching the boy’s head briefly.
They talked some more in the living room to get better acquainted, and finished off their Milo in due course.
“It’s getting late already. We’ll send you home Chye Lian. Martin, go and get your shoes ready.” Jason said. “This is my card. You can come to my office tomorrow morning at 10 am.”
Chye Lian motioned to return the X fifty-dollar notes.
“Keep it. It’s your first installment for this month under the programme. We mean business.” Jason said with Adele seen to be nodding her head in encouragement.
Chye Lian rendered a smile that had not been evoked for the past six degrading months of self-denial and delusion. She could see that it was unnecessary for her to stage a Chinese-styled mock protest; these guys were forthright.
“Well, I enjoyed doing business with you guys”, Chye Lian said and proceeded to hug Adele and gave Jason a firm handshake.
‘Mommy will be there at night for you now, Ringo. Maybe, just maybe you could forgive Mom for her deplorable decision. Even if you don’t, at least try to understand what haunting nakedness and depravity Mom has gone through. Ringo, I love you. Be strong...’
“Pastor Jason, how was Operation White Rose last night?”
“It went very well, Senior Pastor. The candidate is coming for the programme. As a matter of fact, I’ll be seeing her this morning.”
“Good. See me directly if more funding is required.”QLRS Vol. 1 No. 3 Apr 2002