‘Come, follow me,’ she says, with a jerk of her head. Her hair is secured in a bun with a red barrette.
Ah Lek saunters after the lady-pimp for about twenty paces and enters a budget hotel. They start to pass the reception area where a hotel-keeper, a Chinese man in his fifties, is sitting behind a shellacked wooden counter.
Ah Lek throws a glance at him and their eyes meet for a moment. The old man glowers at him and shakes his head. The geezer’s body language causes a momentary tensing of Ah Lek’s body.
The lady-pimp and Ah Lek enter a room on the first floor. Though small, it is fitted with a double bed, a chair, a closet and a droning air-conditioner. A tall, big-boned girl with a mass of thick dark curls is sitting on the bed, legs in lotus position, and reading a magazine. She’s wearing a red skirt and a plaid shirt, and glances up at Ah Lek for a moment.
Ah Lek stiffens his posture and turns to look at the chocolate-coloured woman. ‘She looks a bit like you. Is she your daughter?’
‘Don’t bother whether she’s my daughter or not. You want to take her or not? Price is two hundred ringgit. Eighteen years old only.’
Ah Lek gazes at the girl’s langsat-coloured thighs, and he unconsciously parts his lips. ‘I don’t have two hundred with me. One hundred and fifty?’
‘No, one hundred and eighty ringgit.’
Ah Lek suddenly chortles. ‘Okay, agreed, hundred and eighty.’
His laugh makes the hooker gape at him, and he catches sight of her face again. Ah Lek is about to reach for his wallet when a gut feeling makes him hesitate and he asks her, ‘Adik (Sister), can I see your I.C.?’
The hooker, swallowing hard, looks from Ah Lek to the lady-pimp.
‘Why? Why do you want to see her I.C.?’ asks the she-hustler.
‘To make sure, she’s not underage.’
‘You’re a very annoying client! I don’t want your business,’ the lady-pimp says, opening the door. ‘Get lost, get lost.’
Ah Lek, letting out a huge breath, strides out of the room. As he passes the reception, the hotel-keeper beckons him with a wave of his hand. Ah Lek approaches him and the hotel-keeper leans close to his face.
‘Luckily, you didn’t take that girl,’ he jabbers in Cantonese. ‘You knew what I was trying to hint to you just now?’ He wags a finger in front of his face. ‘It’s a nasty set-up. When a customer opens the door to leave, a conman will barge in. The conman will threaten him with a police report, say that he has committed statutory rape. Sorry – ’ He wipes off the saliva droplets he sputtered on Ah Lek’s face. ‘Of course, the conman is only after his money. And the mother-hen (lady-pimp) is his conspirator.’
At 10 pm, Ah Lek starts his browse in Chow Kit district. The stores retailing textiles, shoes and clothes have closed, so he knows working ladies hanging around cheap hotels to solicit clients are easy to spot. He passes two budget inns but they are ‘clean’. Further ahead, he spies a working lady outside a motel. From twenty paces, her silhouette is like that of a Barbie doll’s; from five, she’s a chocolate-skinned watusi in her thirties with long hair. High cheekbones dominate her face.
Ah Lek asks her price in Malay language.
‘Eighty ringgit, including room.’ Her voice is as smooth as silk, which attracts him.
They enter the motel and take the lift to her room. The air-conditioner is running. A boy, around four or five, is sleeping on the bed.
Ah Lek turns away from the boy, looks at the floozie and chuckles. ‘Your son?’
‘Don’t worry about him,’ says the hooker who starts to undress. ‘Even if he wakes up, he won’t know what we’re doing.’
Ah Lek eyes the sleeping boy and strips. ‘Why don’t you let him stay at home?’
Naked, the hooker lies on the bed, an arm’s length away from her son. ‘I cannot afford a baby-sitter.’
‘Why not send him to your parents?’
‘They’ve enough problems of their own. I don’t want to trouble them.’ From under the pillow, she takes out a strip of condoms, and tears a packet off. ‘Quick, quick, before he gets up.’
After prepping Ah Lek, the hooker and he are a tangle of limbs, and she gives him a taste of her sensual skills until he moans.
Thirty winks flash past.
‘Mak (Mummy), what are you doing?’ asks the boy, who has awaken. He rubs his eyes.
The hooker wears a pinched expression but her voice is calm. ‘Don’t bother, son. Just lie down.’
‘I’m uncomfortable with your son looking at us!’ Ah Lek huffs and rolls away.
The hooker considers the situation for a moment, gets up and goes to the closet. She takes out a sky-blue blanket.
Ah Lek and she are in each other’s arms again, and she pulls the blanket over him.
‘Mummy’s playing the lion dance with a friend! Please lie down quietly.’
From under the blanket, Ah Lek laughs deep in his throat.
Ah Lek walks to a liquor store at the junction of Petaling Street and Sultan Road, which is a hang-out spot for Indian transsexuals and Indian hookers. On a previous occasion, he picked up a fair-skinned thangachi (girl) at the store for a romp in a budget hotel on Petaling Street. He was satisfied. At the present moment, two male customers sitting separately at the tables are drinking Soong Thai and Thai Girl, but there are no hookers.
He saunters to a back alley to check the market for East Malaysian tootsies. A section of the lane reeks of putrid stench from the waste bins. At several back entrances to the joy houses, bouncers beckon to passers-by.
He steps inside a brothel and climbs the rickety wooden stairway to the first floor. The area is carved into cubbyholes made of plywood. The cubicles have open ceilings. Voices chit-chatting in an alien language tell him the hookers are Kadazans and Ibans. A flesh-peddler with a pockmarked face leaning on the door jamb starts to follow him.
A woman with shapeless body tries to pull him into her room. ‘This woman gives good service,’ the pockmarked-faced pimp says. ‘You want? She’s got hard breasts. Twenty only.’ The pockmarked-faced pimp mumbles something to her and she grins, revealing a missing front tooth.
A tall, big-boned girl with a mass of thick dark curls is sitting on the bed, legs in lotus position, and reading a magazine. She’s wearing a red skirt and a plaid shirt, and glances up at Ah Lek for a moment.
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