Bruce sucks up his ice-blended coffee on Orchard Rd, runs the mouthful of sweet crystals around for a taste, swallows. The Coffee Bean and Tea-Leaf. Not his favorite coffee shop, but OK, it passes, and it's convenient for an hour or two of quiet contemplation before things start, before he finds some dinner, before he kick on across the road to the 4FoW. A Spinelli (San Francisco’s best) Spin would suit him better, the ice is finer, the coffee less bitter, but outlets seem few and far between these days. He makes a mental note to Google their locations.
The table has a nice vantage of the footpath. Young Singaporean girls in their ultra-short jean, inside pockets visible, their white singlets and push-up bras, chatting with friends, briskly gesticulating, walking fast. And those ambling ones, generic Asians, maybe even in a cheong-sam, a tight skirt, nothing ostentatious, and a tight top, an LV handbag and a lean hungry look. And so slim, narrow waist, trim buttocks (as they say, there's a Latin term for this), thin thighs.
Bruce loves this town. Old man, single, financially secure so long as his job lasts. Lecher. Typical nomad, it's his new word for 'expat'. Is it merely because they are slimmer that he finds these girls so attractive? Discuss.
It is after work on Wednesday and evening is hanging around like these hookers, it's half-light, it's a half-real world. He feels sticky and warm, man we’re in the tropics, and so welcomes how the ice-coffee cools the inside of his body, at least as far it can get down into his throat. Every now and then when he has cold drinks like this his oesophagus goes into a spasm, as it does now. The drink is too cold. He pauses from drinking, it's sitting - just - there. And he waits, sighs. A central chest pain. Another heart attack? He can’t belch, his stomach is unavailable. Then the mucosa warms the ice, melts, his body heat, and the constriction eases, the ice-coffee slips past. GORD. Is there no health problem he doesn’t have?
Birds, the feathered ones, in the many plane trees (not fruit tree, there is no orchard here anymore), have begun their evening chirping, and slowly, as it builds up to a 76 trombones effect without him noticing, their combined song has become a roar. It covers the bursts of traffic that flow according to the traffic light’s rhythms. Maybe not throat-singing Ferraris and Maseratis, let them scream, let them roar. White noise. He has one of his several thousand unread books in his hand and he is not reading it carefully.
A person is beside him. Her presence sudden, blue sparks, ozone, she's here to hunt him down, that's all she does.
He looks up at her and sees the thin ridge of angular cheeks, smile showing small teeth constrained in expensive wire, bright green eyes and a line of mascara going up at the outer edge to emphasis her exotic face, as if she needed that. She is one of those women who had been walking in front of him, parading past several times, up and back in the previous half-hour.
She had at last caught his eye, his Nordic blue, hers emerald green, held his gaze past that special time, into the who's going to be the first to break zone, and then smiled at him, the killer. However he had been lost in reverie, not in his book, but somewhere else, even further away than Cloud Atlas. Some place where a tightness in the chest from ice-choke didn't mean impending death, myocardial infarction, spilled coffee and an unpaid bill. He had hardly been aware that he had been making eye contact, and every working girl looks at him like that anyway, like he was target demographic. He was now looking away, into a nowhere, but she didn’t notice that he was more than day-dreaming, he was willing himself to stay alive. She only saw a man. With a wallet and a sex-drive. Or perhaps she saw more. Probably not.
"I can join you?" she asks. Slim, in a dark green, eye-matching, body-hugging top, white skirt, tight.
”I'm sorry?" The background bird chirping, he didn't hear. "Of course, of course,” he says, ever the gentleman. He shuffles his chair back and nudges the table so that she can slip past the pole onto the chair opposite him. It doesn't have to slipped far, there is not much to her body.
And soon the banalities are out of the way. The special massage price, so cheap, how come?
"Tomorrow, I go back Hanoi. Need have some money." The implication is that she hasn't been making much. Good English, pleasant GFE personality, nicely faked sincerity. He is surprised, genuinely.
"Why do you not have so much money? Such a pretty lady!"
"It very quiet, too many girls. And I spend my money on my plane ticket, need always to be work. Work, work. Go to home and come back only three month after. And," she tapped at her mouth, "my teeth is expensive."
"You should marry someone here. A dentist maybe."
"Yes, yes," she urges. He seems to have pressed a button. "I need husband for come here. Get visa for many entry."
"Well you would need that, I guess. So many entries," smiles Bruce.
"If can get marriage with local man, can get visa. Ten thousand dollars."
"What is ten thousand dollar?"
"For husband. We pay ten thousand dollars for Singapore man get marry."
"You pay the man ten thousand dollars if he marries you?" Bruce immediately thinks of E@L as a likely candidate for an arrangement such as this.
"Yes, he get money. And girl get visa."
Bruce drums the table with his empty coffee container. This too, is hard to swallow. He texts E@L.
The evening is advancing quickly enough, no hurry. E@L was otherwise engaged anyway. She knew of a Thai place, we wonder where, for dinner. She ate slowly, noodles, picking sprouts form her braces. She is not in a rush now. Her flight is early in the next morning, one customer tonight - Bruce - and that's enough. And they stand to move away, collect their stuff, her LV, his man-bag with iPad, and walk across the road to the Hilton where he is staying as usual.
"You have condom?" she asks before they get too far from a 7/11.
"Me? Why? Don't you have a condom, surely you can claim it on your tax!"
She smiles, gets the joke. "We cannot carry condom. Working girl on the streets cannot carry a condom. Police. You know this, I am sure."
"No, not at all. Really? Why not?"
"Police can make arrest against you if you have a condom. For being prostitute. It illegal for girl to work on streets, so we don't carry condom."
Bruce shrugs, impressed. He's never thought of that - why would he? - and it makes sense. There are so many of these details in the world, where the devil lies in wait. Have a condom, must be a prostitute. No condom, must be a charity worker seeking donations.
"You don't have condom?" she asks again.
"Yes, yes, I have several in my room. The hotel supplies them," he lies.
Within two weeks of this mythical incident not having taken place, the immigration department cracked down on these marriage scams - she wasn't joking about the $10k. And then, later, local newspapers talked of the aggressive tactic of streetwalkers on Orchard Rd.)
"... Pointing to the increasing number of sham marriages - from four to five cases a year in the past five years to 12 cases this year - Second Minister for Home Affairs S Iswaran said this is a "significant rise" and is "probably symptomatic of a larger trend".
"So we want to introduce new laws to send a strong deterrent message to individuals who contemplate entering MOCs (marriages of convenience) for the purpose of obtaining an immigration facility such as Permanent Residency, long-term passes and visas," he told the House.
But, while there is a "desire for vigorous enforcement" in clear cases of marriages of convenience, he cautioned against unfairly penalising genuine marriages. Several Members of Parliament were concerned over how gratification could be proven.
..." [My emphasis]
Streetwalkers getting more blatant at Orchard Road.The NewPaper
"Foreign women touting sex services are no longer just operating around Orchard Towers.
They are now covering areas as far as Far East Shopping Mall.
The minute they spot a potential customer, usually a male tourist, they would approach them with offers of 'massage'. Said one expat: "It’s like running a gauntlet. If you make the mistake of looking at them, they’ll be all over you in seconds."
Anywhere up to eight years ago, walk anywhere from the Marriott to corner of Tanglin Rd, and E@L would be given the look, sometimes a question. Then it went quiet for a few years, or perhaps he didn't walk there as often as a resident, but yeah, as this hypothetical and nowhere near 100% true story suggests, it might be "on the rise" again in the areas not immediately adjacent to the 4FoW.
(E@L knows the birds aren't in the plane trees, but the other ones. Larches? Elms? Jesus, E@L knows fuck all about treeology. And those trees are down further anyway, by Paragon.)