This summer is ridiculously hot. I don't even feel cool when I'm naked, especially since I spend much of my time sharing body heat, my skin pressed against another's, the stickiness between us like hot red bean paste oozing out of a bun. It's the worst here in P's apartment; she has no air conditioner, only an old fan sounding like a dying engine and pushes hot air. P is the kind of "chicken" who makes great money yet chooses to spend it on wants over necessities. No filtered water? No problem, as long as she can buy Prada.
She runs her hands through my hair, manicured fingers jutting through rivers of sweat on my scalp, fake rhinestones scratching the tender flesh. She drags her damp palms across my face. P's a sparrow of a woman—I barely feel her riding me—but she isn't as frail as she looks. She scratches at my chest as she props herself up with her boney arms, and then suddenly, she decides to yank my arms above my head, her thin digits clasping my wrists. Half-heartedly, I try to free them, allowing her to wrestle me back into place. I soon give up the struggle, gasping frailly.
P's hips rotate with an intensity I'm sure might injure most women. Her breath escapes erratically, its residue chilling random areas of my damp skin before it joins the humidity in the room. I wince—a loose spring in the mattress shifts and jabs me uncomfortably in the back. Without interrupting P's rhythm, I slide away from it. She needs a new bed.
Customarily, clients come to my apartment, but P prefers her place although it isn't ideal. I think she takes pleasure in her ability to make me travel to this shithole if the price is right.
Back hunched, long hair grazing my hipbones and causing an irritating tickling sensation, P kneads my stomach as she struggles through a powerful climax. The contractions of her muscles induce me to spill into her. There's no barrier between us; P relies on spermicide and contraceptives. I've never asked her if it actually works, but there's clearly a story behind the bumpy, elongated scar on her lower stomach.
P collapses on top of me, the two of us glued together in the sultriness. I hug her close and tenderly kiss the crown of her head, my lips left briny. During sex, she loves to dominate; afterwards, she likes to feel weak and protected.
"I heard that boy from Dongguan is taking a lot of the business," she sighs, still catching her breath. "I saw him yesterday at 7-11. He's not that handsome, just young."
But I do. Ricky, a pink-haired fairy. The foreigners love him. They think his broken English is cute. He's stolen a couple of my regulars. I make enough; it's not the end of the world. Eventually, all fresh meat gets old. Nonetheless, he apparently makes HK1,200 per client, which is irritating.
"Do you have any more customers tonight?" P breathes.
"Two more. The next one's at a quarter past ten," I say, a reminder to her that I'm leaving in 20 minutes. "You?"
"No, no... no more dates until tomorrow night."
If she makes it until then. She sounds exhausted. I stroke her back, fingertips tripping over its blanket of clamminess and her protruding vertebrae. The heat is getting to my head. I blink twice, squeezing my eyelids tightly each time, but it doesn't stop P's image from blurring into a streak of coral. It's the lava lamp's reflection. I don't know why P thinks it enhances the mood. It looks like she's been stabbed enough times to cover the room with her blood. My red-tinged arms paint me as the murderer. I turn from the macabre illusion and look outside the window adjacent to the bed, the only one in her flat.
P's place is certainly deplorable, but it has an amazing view, especially at night. It offers a snapshot of a great cityscape lighting up the sky. The soundtrack of nightlife accompanies the brilliant visuals. But the sounds of music and laughing floating up from in between the buildings don't pique my interest. All I see in Hong Kong is too much light, too many people, and not enough common sense. Skyscrapers are rammed together like a labyrinth, and a journey across the city rarely comes without a traffic jam or a rubbing of elbows with someone you don't even want to look at. Nothing smells right; durian fruit or sewage snuffs out all the appealing aromas. It's no better than Beijing. Although I grew up surrounded by cacophony, I'm still not immune to it.
When in Hong Kong, I rarely leave the "farm" in Yau Ma Tei. Sometimes I'm a "duck" offering sexual relief to women, mostly "chickens" or whores who've spent most of the day itching others' scratches. Other times I'm a "goose," often providing pleasure to businessmen who are too important to leave their metaphorical closets. Many times—almost everyday—I'm both in one night. A duck-goose isn't a rare breed around here, but I'm still one of the best, a high-commodity.
You see, being a duck and a goose means you have to deeply understand the physicality of both men and women. However, it isn't only about how well you perform in bed. Frequently, I find the sex is an extra. Many of those who hire me need attention or an emotional experience unattainable in their everyday lives.
This isn't prostitution—it's social work. If people in this crazy city didn't have us, they'd lose it. Hong Kong's flowing toward the pit, and without the farms I think it would have already reached Hell, which is where I believe I am now.
My body is overheated. It's like P's melted into me, yet there's a little relief near my collarbone, something cold and wet: P's nose... and, tears? Before I know it, she starts sobbing. I'm aware of her body again as it shakes.
"I don't know what to do!" she bawls.
"About what? What is it?" I murmur, lacing my voice with artificial sympathy.
I pull her chin up to see more of her face. Her eyes look gouged, thick mascara and false lashes painting the two slits black. It looks like war paint under the red light. She can't see my lack of expression, but my sweaty embrace tightens as I continue the charade.
"He'd take me to nice places and treat me a like a princess. I was going to move in with him. He rented an apartment in Central, and last month, I picked out all the furniture. I thought I would finally be able to stop working, but tonight he told me it wouldn't work out. Why?" She starts hyperventilating through her blubbering, breaking up her rant into chunks of nonsense. "I... loved him. I... I r-really did. I thought... h-he was going... to leave h-his wife. H-he... he even g-gave... me... a ring."
P raises a trembling hand, a small silver band wrapped around her ring finger. It looks like an insignificant piece of aluminum snatched out of a UFO catcher. This is the first time I've seen her with a ring, and about the hundredth time within the past five years that she's pined to me about lost love.
"He'll come back to you. He's just nervous." I stroke her cheek, whispering sweet, shallow nothings to her. "How can his wife compete with you? You're beautiful, younger than her, I bet."
"No," she says with a finality that makes my hand stop momentarily. "He... moved his wife and son i-into the apartment." I mentally admit, that is cruel. "H-he was using me... it was a-all a game to him, but I s-still love him!" I roll my eyes as the crying revs up again. "H-he'll know what he did... i-if he comes back here... a-and sees me hanging in my room!"
"Don't say that, please don't say that. He's not good enough for you. Find someone else. There are many men around who'd beg to be with you."
This is about the fiftieth time P has threatened suicide. Death by drowning in the ocean, by jumping out of her apartment and falling 20-something stories like Leslie Cheung, by stepping onto the MTR tracks and getting flattened into a pathetic mess by a train. However, she's still here, my little indecisive P. Why do people think killing themselves will make those who have already moved on feel bad, anyway?
"How about you?" Her pupils peek through the globs of black around her eyes and my gaze softens in the nick of time. "Do you want me?"
The sincerity in her voice bothers me. Buying time to formulate a proper response, I kiss her deeply. Bitterness fills my mouth. Her saliva is mixed with melted cosmetics.
"I do," I lie, "But I'm not good enough for you."
"Who says? You're always there for me, and you understand how hard it is to work here. We'd be good together. We could—"
"I'm sorry." I suffer another iron-laden kiss for her sake before I slide her off. "I have to go."
I don't respond to P's protests as I pull my clothes back on and stuff the money left on the dresser into my wallet. I don't make eye contract with her again until I get to the door. She sits on the bed, distorted by the light, hair disheveled. No longer begging, she simply stares at me, crying much more softly now. Pouting.
I don't give in. I exit without hesitation, leaving her to bathe in red. I know when I see her again in a week or two, P will be as good as new.
I knew K wouldn't be an everyday client from the tone of the first SMS message she sent me. I was about to check my phone when it vibrated. The number was withheld but I opened the message anyway. It read something like this:
RE: Your online advert
Young woman seeking sexual encounter.
Available from 21:00, commuting from Causeway Bay.
Willing to pay HK700, price negotiable.
By the time I got home, I had read the message multiple times, snickering to myself. It was desperately trying to sound experienced, but it reeked with naivety. Clients normally state their sex and a prospective meeting time and place, if they have a valid objection to coming to my apartment. I set the price, and I never care where my customers travel from as long as they don't stand me up once they've made a date. And, it definitely isn't necessary to specify a sexual encounter is desired.
Lounging on my couch, I replied:
sexual encounter? really?
My phone danced:
I would like a regular date.
I don't have any specific preferences.
Sounded good to me. I made things clear:
Flat 12, 23/f
133 Wing sing ln
Yau ma tei
I figured the person, realizing they were in over their head, wouldn't respond again. Yet less than five minutes later, my phone jumped:
When the time came and my bell rung, I thought a door-to-door salesgirl had coincidently come to beg me to buy something at the same time I was expecting my "young woman seeking sexual encounter." But before I could tell her I wasn't interested...
"I'm here for, um... the 10 o'clock session."
The short girl with the button-down white blouse tucked into a knee-length black skirt was indeed my customer. An office worker, not the type to take the risk of being caught seeking my services. She shifted her weight, lingering uncomfortably in my doorway, and then bumped her glasses up.
I bobbed my head slightly, not knowing how to proceed. Her appearance was intimidatingly pristine. She blushed and averted her eyes, making me feel like a lousy host. An awkward, apologetic smile tugged at my lips as I motioned her inside where the awkwardness continued.
We sat at the edge my bed in silence, staring straight ahead. She was obviously a nervous newbie, so I couldn't get annoyed about her wasting my time. I decided to break the ice.
"I'm guessing it's your first time doing this?"
She nodded. "But I've been thinking about it for months."
"You're not a virgin?"
She looked me straight in the eye for the first time that night, lips in an offended line.
I cleared my throat. "So, what do you want to do? You said you wanted a general date." It was a necessary question, but I was uncomfortable asking it. The way her hands were folded in her lap made her look juvenile. I felt like an older brother about to commit an incestuous act.
Blood rushed to her face as she blurted out her response. "I... I'd like to practice having sex. My boyfriend broke up with me earlier this year, and when I asked him why he wanted to end everything, he said I didn't excite him enough. I know it sounds shallow, but I want to improve in bed for the sake of my future relationships."
Practice having sex, it definitely was an uncommon request. I tried not to laugh at the oddity and the hint of mint from her breath; she'd definitely thought everything through.
Unprompted, as if she were simply changing her clothes, K calmly removed her blouse and lay back, waiting for me to complete the rest. Nonetheless, I was reluctant to act. I didn't want to be the cause of any future regrets.
"Are you sure about this? There are things you can use to... um, there are other ways to practice, you know?"
She bolted back up, her former timid expression eaten by annoyance. "When your motorbike is broken, you go to a mechanic to fix it. If you're sick, you go to the doctor and get pills. I want to have sex, so I hired a prostitute." I flinched. The way she said the title of my profession was slightly demeaning. "Is there a problem?"
There isn't anymore, I thought. She obviously knew what she wanted, and I was getting paid. I gave up trying to "save" her.
During my duck sessions, it typically takes a while for me to feel arousal, if it ever comes over me at all. That night was slightly different. While K wasn't a virgin, her tightness implied she certainly hadn't been around the block. I shuddered at the unique experience.
"Should I... should I hug you? Or... keep my arms here?" she gasped.
I'd forgotten I was supposed to be coaching her. I looked down, her body rocking with the driving of my hips, arms anxiously glued to her sides, eyes not knowing where to look. Her performance, or lack thereof, was a D-plus at most. Embarrassing. I gave her tips on how to earn higher marks, not that I thought it'd help her dismal sex life.
"You could wrap them around me... that's it. Don't be so tense. Relax. You could drag your fingernails across my back, some guys like that sort of thing."
Sandwiched together, her heartbeat drowned mine out. I wasn't even doing anything special.
"What should I... do now?" she managed between desperate moans.
Nothing. Before I could respond, she had an anticlimactic climax, a yelp that would've been killed deep in her throat. Not bothering to seek my own, I climbed off her.
A moment of quiet dragged by before she spoke again, breathless. "How was I?"
I wondered why she thought it necessary to ask since I believed the answer was pretty obvious. Of course, I didn't say that.
"It doesn't matter what I think, all that matters is whether or not you enjoyed it."
"You don't have to lie. I told you, I'm here to improve."
Cornered, I gave her a polite version of the truth. "I think you should relax more, let yourself go. If you do that, things would improve instantly. And don't be afraid to take initiative. You're more like a spectator instead of a participant, if that makes any sense."
"Hmm..." She nodded introspectively, but I didn't have time to keep her around long enough to have an epiphany. It was at the top of the hour and I was expecting another client.
"It's almost eleven o'clock," I prompted.
"Really? I should get going then."
I watched her dress. It was cute how she produced an extra set of underwear from her bag and wore those instead. The ones she came in with went into a plastic bag before disappearing into her purse. When she finished, she produced the fee from her wallet and handed it over.
"This is too much." I was holding HK1,000.
"Two-hundred is for tip."
I sighed and tapped the bills on my forehead. Tipping is unheard of in Hong Kong. I don't know why she thought prostitutes were different. It was as if she imagined we were living in some sort of alternative universe where patronization didn't exist.
Calmly, I removed the extra 200 and handed it back to her. "I don't take tips, no one around here does."
"Oh, sorry." She made her way to the door and turned hesitantly. "T-thanks."
I chuckled, not in an effort to make her feel bad, but because I truly couldn't hold it in. "No one around here says 'thanks,' either."
K's visits are no longer painfully awkward, and the unconventionality of my being her teacher of sorts is less apparent. Over time, she grew bold enough to request certain positions, some I'd never heard of before but that she'd researched. Naturally, K still has her quirks; she carries a small notebook listing all the sex acts we've done, each with stars representing her skill level.
K now pays for two-hour sessions. We have sex for about 80 minutes or so then chat the rest of the time away. K doesn't look it, but she's a great laugh and good company. I've found she gives me a refreshing break between the waves of weirdos and yawn fests I have to service. We've basically become friends, although our companionship doesn't extend farther than my apartment walls.
Didn't extend, rather.
After I finished showering away the must from P's flat, K arrived at my place in good spirits, but she expressed she wasn't interested in sex. She'd come to say goodbye.
"... more serious since we met three months ago. And now David and I want to take our relationship to the next level, so I won't be coming here anymore. You've taught me a lot though"—a little giggle—"hopefully David will benefit from it."
We lay on my bed, stroking each other's hair. I knew something had changed in her life when she got highlights.
"So that's what's up? I was thinking you were gonna tell me someone at work caught you around here or something."
"Yeah right. I look so plain, even if I turned into a street walker and stood in front of my office building no one would notice."
K in a short skirt and trashy make-up. Nope, I couldn't see it.
I poked her cheek. "It'll be long nights without my student."
"Hey, we can always hangout somewhere. I heard there's this new bar in Admiralty with a great atmosphere. We should check it out sometime."
"I don't hangout with clients."
"But I'm not your client anymore."
"Or former clients."
"I don't mix my job with my personal life. It's hard to keep things platonic."
K knitted her eyebrows in concern. "You know, maybe you should quit. You're handsome, smart. There are many other more fulfilling things you could be doing. Sometimes it's as if you don't like this job."
"Nah, I'd rather do this over anything else." My smile appears slowly, an incredulous reaction to my own words. K doesn't notice.
"Suit yourself." She rises out of the bed, and then tentatively opens her purse. "I don't have to pay you, right? I mean, I did take your time..."
K is eternally clueless. "Of course you do, and I expect a tip as well."
She whacks me harmlessly with the bag, and we both enjoy a good laugh. I'm glad she can laugh about that now.
I'll miss her.
I became a prostitute in an attempt to fix myself.
In my "past life" I was a lawyer in Beijing for five years. I didn't care for my job. There was nothing exciting about shuffling papers around for hours and writing long reports. A chronic feeling of guilt was a side effect of my career as well. I hated being the arm of the government, fighting against people who I thought were innocent.
I only persevered to make my father happy. That is, until I broke down one night in my office. I was in pieces, not knowing whether to cry or stab myself in the neck with my ballpoint. I was bored with my life, and if the monotony continued, I was in danger of doing something drastic.
As I contemplated a solution to my problems, the male prostitutes I'd heard of during my business trips to Hong Kong came to mind. They appeared carefree and in control of their lives. I realized I wanted the same, to call the shots and create my own schedule.
I spent the rest of that night studying escort profiles online, then creating one for myself. By the next day, my family believed I was being sent to work permanently in Hong Kong, and when the end of the following week came, I already had a flat in the city and serviced three customers. I'd never felt so powerful, relaxed and liberated in my life, and the cash flow was excellent.
Regrettably, all those positive feelings were as temporary as an aphrodisiac. I think I'm still in Hong Kong for the easy money. I no longer feel whole or free. To an extent, I feel like a slave because my schedule now revolves around A, and he's only been a regular of mine for about three months.
On the surface, he's unremarkable: mid to late 30s, an investment banker with a generic face seen all over Hong Kong, a patch of early gray in the sweep of his bangs. However, under the surface there's nothing pedestrian about him. I discovered his sadistic nature quickly during our first date. I was left extremely sore and scarred in various places. But I wished he'd pay for another hour. Not for the money, but for me to experience that strange, comforting helplessness for longer.
A's encounters are awesomely devastating. I dare not schedule anyone after him. By the time he leaves, I'm barely able to move or think.
I can't help but feel anticipation before his sessions. I usually try to block him out of my mind by keeping busy between clients. Lately, I've been watching documentaries. The slow, expressive speech accompanying them permeates my brain in a way that's able to temporarily push A to the side of my mind. Not to mention, they're quite interesting.
Yesterday, I watched a science documentary about space. The stars, comets, and nebulae, I took them in over my beef-flavored cup noodles. The nebulae were my favorite, how they had all types of colors and formations. It's incredible how a cloud of gas can be so beautiful, especially the Cat's Eye Nebula. The HD photographs of it blown up on my screen where entrancing.
And tonight, I'm ironically covered in pretty "nebulae," which mirror the Cat's Eye formation, their powdery gradients of color disrupting my even tone, the deep purple in the middle of them easing into a faded blue. I expect a ring of red to be coming next on the outer portion of the one on my forearm. A darkening orange appears and looks as if it won't disappoint. Normally, A is unrelentingly vicious, yet this evening he's carried out a foray on my body, a signal he's been feeling stressed.
I watch the colors bubble to the surface of my skin like a slow, antiquated clip of animation. My nose tickles with the smell of tobacco released from A's frowning lips. Its odor eliminates K's lingering scent from the sheets. I breathe in the smell, sucking it in until the amalgamation of sweet and sour turns predominantly ashy.
This makes sense. Two weeks ago, I saw a documentary on Smell-O-Vision. If there was Smell-O-Vision for bruises, I suppose the stench would be a heavy, imposing one like cigarettes. Or mildew. Or...
A stinging sensation on my shoulder interrupts my musings. A bit of smoldering ash has curiously found its way onto my skin, my punishment for trying to resist A's presence.
He sighs. I turn towards him.
"It's not like I said every day. I told her we should have sex at least twice a week," he goes on as if we'd been talking all along. It's more natural than it seems. His wife is the usual topic of his tirades. "Twice a week, is that asking for too much? When I come back home, I feel stressed. I need it, but that bitch doesn't seem to understand. Are you listening?"
I nod. Unconvinced, his eyes narrow. "What did I just say, then?"
I summarize his complains. Satisfied, he continues. "The problem is they think they're equals... All she has to do is take care of our son. Being a mother doesn't entitle anyone to make sex into a commodity. Prices, figures... I deal with enough of that at work. I shouldn't have to beg or pay for something I need. We're not going on holiday to Australia anymore. I'd have the money if I didn't have to spend so much on all you prostitutes."
As terrible as it sounds, the plural on his last word bothers me more than the misogynistic tone of his diatribe.
"Prostitutes..." My face heats when I hear the envy in my voice.
A's noticed it, too. His countenance darkens, and the air shifts between us. He's annoyed. My palms turn clammy.
"You think you're special, don't you?" A asks, his deep voice lethal, threatening me to answer in the affirmative. He puffs out a plume of smoke and drags his cigarette across my back. I hiss sensually. "Well, you're not. You put out more than the others, but that's because you're desperate and pathetic. You're not any better than the others."
He snickers as he flirts with the idea of stubbing the cigarette out on my back. My heart slams against my chest as I uselessly grasp at the sheets. This is new, and I'm not sure I can handle it.
"The session's... over," I manage, eyes pressed shut, titillated by the taunting pricks of heat.
The warmth from the cigarette disappears, but I don't hear him leave. Instead, he starts to drag something else along my skin, poking at my spine with it. It feels like pieces of paper, the sharp edges leaving behind a sting. Paper cuts.
"I'm the customer. It ends when I want it to." The sudden clarity of A's voice makes my eyes pop open. His face is next to mine, lips grazing my ear. The prickling ends on my back when he spreads the fresh, new bills—not paper—across it.
"I'm paying for another hour. You want me to stay longer, don't you? Hmm?"
I hear myself admit it, surrendering to him completely. Control is what A strives on, what makes him high.
He nibbles my earlobe, sinking his teeth in just enough to send my nerves wild. "I'm giving you 300 extra. Today's your lucky day, isn't it? What's the magic word?"
"That's right, you should thank me," he whispers. "I don't know why I even pay you. You're dirty enough to do this for free."
A's right. I would.
He demeans me further by sweeping the money to the floor, knowing I'll have to crawl around to collect it later. It's likely he'll make me do that before he leaves. Next, he positions himself behind me. He slowly slides his soft, white-collar hands from my shoulder blades to the small of my back before they settle on my waist. The harsh upward jerk of my hips threatens to take me over the edge. I force myself to stay grounded. The pain induces a cold sweat. I'm unsure whether or not I dislike it.
"Don't look down," he growls. "I want to see how pitiful you look right now."
I comply, my face staring back at me through the headboard mirror I bought in response to A's demand I purchase one. My expression is honestly deplorable, the hollows of my cheeks sinking deeper as my jaw clenches, beads of sweat flying out of my tasseled hair, busted lips agape. A's only contribution to the image is his wildly thrusting midsection. I'm alone in this humiliation, as it should be. This is his fantasy, spawned from the moment he saw my photo online: neat dark-brown hair, slightly tanned skin, vacant eyes, ready to fulfill anyone's desires.
My face is damp with the mixture of sweat and silent tears. Before the shame can weigh my head down again, A grabs my hair and violently pulls it back up.
My reflection tells the story of a complete loss of control and possession by a passion it hasn't proactively sought in years. I'm relinquishing myself to an apathetic jerk, but it doesn't matter. How can you develop the desire to seek anything meaningful when you ultimately see your body as nothing but a tool for others to use?
A fog of lust begins to eat my image. I wonder how broken I'll be when A is through with me.