I remember feeling awkward all over, as we sat on the clumsy bed, our back against the wall. I was never good in an alien environment, more so in such a setting. But it still felt somewhat good though, with her head on my shoulder. It felt more natural this way, more relaxed.
“So what you want to know?” she asked me, her index finger scratching playfully on my thigh.
I thought about her question for a while, and about all the things that I heard about the sex trade before. All the stories about exploitation, human trafficking and what not. I wondered if it was the same with her. So I asked her about her story. About how she ended up in Singapore. In my mind I pictured a sob story, influenced by what I used to hear.
However, life is not often as dramatic as what you would get from the big screen or the internet. She raised her eyebrows at me,before letting out a laugh. “You’re the not first one who asked me the question, you know,” she said matter of factly.
She let go of my hand, stood up and walked towards a drawer that was located at the corner of the room. I watched as she opened the top shelf, and pulled out a box of cigarette. Her fingers removed a stick of cigarette from the box, and pointed it at me. “You want one?”
I quickly shook my head, and she casually shrugged in response. She took out a lighter from the same shelf, and lit up her cigarette. Looking at the way she walked and handled the cigarette, it felt like I was watching a Hollywood movie. She was the female protagonist, cool and calm, someone who has been through a lot in life before. While I’m the small boy with no experience.
She took a deep breath of the smoke in, before puffing it out. Her eyes never left the ceiling during the process, after which she looked back at me. Her eyes had this hint of sadness in them, but yet at the same time they were cold, as if she had came to accept the hard part of life. “So my story eh?” she grinned as she said that. I guessed it was not the first time that she was telling it.
I nodded, and pulled myself to the edge of the bed. She took another puff of the cigarette, gave a sigh, and began her story.
“I come from China, as you would have guessed, based on my accent,” she said. She grew up in a small village in the northern part, where her family had been generations of farmers. Her prospects were dim as a girl, as she never attended school before, and her parents were eager to marry her off. After all, among five siblings and being the only girl, she was pretty much seen like a liability.
Despite her lack of school, she knew how to think forward though. She knew that life was not going to change much for her if she stayed. She would end up marrying a random guy, bear him a ton of children, and endured a life of mediocrity as her mum did. As her grandmother did. It was not how she wanted her life to be.
She was not the only one who wanted to leave her village, as her neighbours and friends were already doing that. It was a common trend though, as life outside the village always looked and sounded sweeter. So she asked and probed around, searching for a ticket to a better life. Her escape came in the form of a distant cousin. She was working on a tiny island called Singapore, according to relatives, and was earning big bucks from her work. Dressed in expensive clothing and a Prada bag to match, her cousin was the source of envy among her relatives during family gatherings, herself included.
Naturally she asked her cousin for tips, and if it was possible for her to follow her cousin back. To her surprise, her cousin was not only open with sharing about her experiences, but was willing to introduce her to the work as well. Their first talk together was something that she would forever remember.
“If you are willing to change a bit of your mindset, you can earn quite a lot of money and be independent you know,” was the first line that her cousin said to her. Of course back then she understood none of it, and only coming to Singapore did she realized the meaning behind those words.
Her cousin told her numerous stories about the city with its towering skyscrapers and bustling population. About the glamorous lifestyle, the huge shopping malls and the high class transportation system. It was an efficient bait, as she grew more and more attracted to her cousin’s stories. Her cousin showed her pictures of parties with white guys, of the beautifully furnished room that she claimed to live in, as well as a car that she was driving. It all seemed too good to be true.
By the time she actually asked about her cousin’s job, the bait had already worked its magic.
She was of course appalled and shocked, when she found out that her cousin was involved in the sex trade. Traditional values and beliefs were still strong in her hometown, so selling your body was unsurprisingly a job choice that not many would consider. Still, she was attracted to the life that her cousin was living, and she was a girl who knew how to weigh her options. Without the educational qualifications and not wanting to be trapped by marriage, selling her body was the easiest and fastest choice. She said yes to her cousin.
What happened next was a flurry of events. Her cousin put her in touch with an agent, and in turn the agent helped her to arrange for everything. Her passport, her flight ticket, and even her arrangements in Singapore. She only had to send in her details to the agent, and agreed to have a few photos taken of her. It all took only a few months, and before she knew it, she was telling her parents that she was heading to Singapore to work with her cousin. It was lie though, because it was her so called agent that sent her to the airport.
It was her first time being in the airport, and the first time she was taking a plane. Never in her life had she travelled so far from her home before, what more to an entirely different country. But still she held on, despite all her anxiety. It was a new opportunity knocking at her door, and she looked forward to it.
Despite her knowing the nature of her job, the first few days seemed more like a vacation than work. Like a tourist, she was brought to different places around Singapore, with everything paid for. The woman that brought her around told her that with the money that she will be earning, the is the life that she could enjoy. As a village girl in the big city for the first time, she was mesmerized by all the different sights and sounds. Her life back in her village pales in comparison with what she was seeing. She was brought to stay at hotels, eat expensive meals and chauffeured around in a BMW. If they wanted to convince her, they really did a good job.
However, it all came to a stop one week after she landed in Singapore. The woman that brought her around told her that fun time was over, and now it was time to work. She was brought to a flat unit, which she would later learn to call HDB units. She was required to share a room with two other girls, one from Vietnam and the other from China. The room was lightly furnished, with only three mattresses on the floor, and one shared wardrobe.
“You will be staying here until you repay the agent’s fees,” the woman coldly said, far from the personality that brought her around in the first week. There was a sudden change in demeanor in the woman. But she was not surprised though.
While others may lament the fact that their ‘agents’ were leeching off them, she was already well aware of what was in store for her before accepting the flight to Singapore. Her cousin told her as much. It was a sacrifice she was willing to make. It was just like business, she told herself. You are bound to struggle during the initial phase. The trick was to focus and not give up. That was what she aimed to do.
She was fast to pick up the trade. In the first few months that she was here, she learned English on her own, and picked up some tricks to better attract her customers. She would spend on makeup and lingerie to make herself more attractive, and that in turn led to her being higher in demand.
And all out of a sudden, she began to speak in English. “You’re different, you know. From other guys that visit this place.” Her Chinese accent was gone, replaced with an English one. If I was meeting her for the first time, I would not have guessed where she came from. She crushed her cigarette on the table, and blew a breath of smoke towards me. I coughed under all that smell, and she laughed a little.
Her hands met my face, as she rubbed softly against it. “In fact, you’re supposed to be the last customer that I will have for a long long time.” I stared at her in confusion, and could not resist asking her why.
Her eyes gave me a long hard look, before turning back to the floor. “No one in their right would want to stay forever in this job, you know? No matter how much money you make.” Her voice was softer now, gentler. “Besides, I’m starting my own business.” And she gave me the sweetest grin ever.
I stared at her in amazement, humbled by the story that I heard. There she was, struggling to make a better life for herself, while I was too busy worrying about my relationship status. I felt ashamed of myself. I tried to say something, to make the situation feel better, but all I found was a lump in my throat.
She seemed to sense the change in mood me, and put her fingers on my lips. “Shh… enough of talking now.” Her voice was soothing, like a lullaby. “Lets just enjoy the remainder of the night together, shall we?” She leaned in, her lips inches from my ears. “My name’s Elly, by the way.” And then we kissed.
P/s: The official cover is out yay!