Chapter 9. 'Drugs and Debt Reduction.'
Hu-Fan. Tom's special boom-boom. Mama rings the changes. Chez Mama raided. Ginalyn robbed. Nick. Second Pay-day.
Seeing the girls enter Talent Spot, Mama called Blen over and sat her down.
"I have good news. I have receive an email from a regular customer. He is a wealthy Chinese called Hu-Fan, and he will come over from Kuala Lumpur every year for a holiday with his friends. This time he will bring his friend who need a virgin, and he ask me to arrange her."
Blen sighed with relief. "Oh Mama, I was afraid it would be Bruno, I do not want Bruno."
"Well, Bruno has not made an offer," said Mama carefully, "but I believe he is serious, and he is also very rich. William tell to me he is very, very rich. If you can hook him, you will do very well. It will be a good reward for submitting to his strange requirement, so think about that carefully. Anyway, I have email your photos to Fu-Han, and we will wait what he will say."
"When will he come?"
"In five weeks."
Very shortly after Amor took the stage for her first set, her customer entered the bar and waved her down to sit with him. Amor signalled ladies drink for her and Blen, he nodded, and they came and sat with him.
"Tom, this is my friend Blen, she will chat you while I change."
"OK. You two look like twins, are you sisters?"
"She is my soul sister only," answered Amor.
"OK. Hurry back, I'm missing you."
Tom had beads of perspiration on his forehead, as if he had arrived in a hurry. Blen took a napkin and wiped his face. He began to ask excitedly about Amor. How long had Blen known her? How long had she been in Angeles? Did she have a husband? A boyfriend? A regular customer? Was she popular? How often was she bar-fined? Is she honest? Does she take drugs? Does she get drunk? What is her favourite kind of guy? Does she like foreign guys? Does she like older guys? What does she like to eat? Where does she like to go bar-hopping? What would she like as a present?
Blen lied only about the drugs and boyfriend.
Amor returned in her street dress.
"You look sooo beautiful," Tom told her, and she flicked her head back and smiled. "I don't know how you could look more beautiful," he added, "but maybe if you were wearing this."
From his pocket he took a box, and from the box, a necklace that sparkled colourfully. With a shriek of delight, Amor bent forward to receive it, then slipped off her stool and stood in front of the mirror wall to admire it.
Returning to Tom's lap, she embraced him and pressed her lips passionately against his. "Thank you ... Thank you ... Thank you." She hugged him tightly.
Blen sat in silence, and watched. Amor was perched like a pretty doll in Tom's lap, kissing his face, rubbing his arm and caressing his ego as he immersed himself in the pleasure of her attention.
Eventually, Tom asked, "Now where would you like to go?"
Amor kissed him and gazed up into his eyes, "It is up to you. You are the boss."
They left, bidding Blen goodbye.
Amor led Tom out into Fields Avenue. As they passed through the door, Blen saw Bruno enter. Her heart bounced and she sat, frozen, looking in his direction. He immediately sought her attention, waved, came over, and mounted the stool opposite. While he ordered mineral water, and a ladies drink, Blen remained sullen and silent.
He sipped his water and looked at her purposefully. "I've decided to buy your cherry."
The anger burning inside Blen must have shone in her eyes.
He blinked and added apologetically, "I've also decided to marry you."
Blen frowned in puzzlement.
He elaborated, "Yes, I will marry you, and you will be very rich. You will have a big house, a car, and servants, and all your family can come and live with you."
In the long pause that followed, Bruno could see in Blen's eyes the kaleidoscope of emotions and questions churning inside her head.
"But ... why?" she forced out belatedly.
Bruno replied with the tone of a man explaining the flatteringly obvious, "You are a goddess whore. You are what the corrupt part of every man desires, and I desire you."
"You said you would turn me into shit," spat back Blen.
Bruno was irritated that Blen had spurned his compliment by reminding him of his rashly honest words. "Either you will consume me, or I will consume you. Now, you are consuming me," he said.
Their eyes locked in confrontation, until Blen broke the silence.
"Do you love me?"
"You are a goddess, I worship you," said Bruno.
"Then why you rape my throat?" she challenged.
"You made me do that. You have power that you do not understand and cannot control. You looked into my eyes and you hypnotised me. You told me to take my pleasure as it pleased me. You have dangerous eyes, your looks are commands. You commanded me."
Blen thought of Amor, looking into Tom's eyes, and telling him, "It is up to you. You are the boss," and, in a way, she understood. Tom would never be the boss. He would spend his life guessing what Amor, or his next girl, really wanted; their unspoken wish his command. She paused. "Ring the bell," she ordered.
Their eyes locked again. Eventually, Bruno's face broke into a wry smile. He walked over and rang the bell, and the dancers and waitresses cheered and shrieked uproariously.
When all the girls held a glass in their hands, he toasted, "Blen's maidenhead."
This provoked much vulgarity.
Mama joined them at the table. "I am glad you two have put last night's misunderstanding behind you."
"We understand each other better now," said Bruno. "I will buy her cherry."
"You can bid ... But I already have an offer," said Mama.
"The Chinaman?" asked Blen.
"No. You have a secret admirer. He call me tonight."
"How much has he offered," asked Bruno casually, adding, "I will offer more."
"Who is that?" asked Blen, intrigued.
"I cannot say. Client confidentiality," said Mama.
Bruno's face turned stony. After a short silence, he growled, "You have an anonymous man who has offered 50,000, and I am to pay more."
"Yes," said Mama. "If you give me 50001 pesos, now, you can take Blen home tonight."
Blen choked on her drink. "Just like that Mama?"
"If Bruno wants you. Yes."
Bruno's hooded eyes grew darker. "I will not be made a fool. There is no anonymous offer. You are just holding me to ransom because I have money."
Mama affected frankness. "There is a genuine offer on the table. You can easily afford to beat it. It is pocket fluff to you."
Bruno was close to losing control. He glared at Mama, stood up, and handed his tabs to the waitress. "I will not be treated fraudulently because I am a foreigner. I will beat any open and certain offer. I am a businessman, I will not be played for a fool." He ostentatiously counted out five 1000 pesos and slipped them in his tab-jar. "Keep the change," he told the overjoyed waitress. He then unfurled ten 1000 peso notes, and placed them in Blen's hand. "There, my little goddess, that is but a drop in the ocean that I keep for you. We can plan more, soon." With a final glare at Mama, he walked stiffly out of the bar.
Mama's eyes followed him, then turned back to Blen. "What are you planning Blen?"
"He wants to marry me," Blen said morosely, "but I do not want him ... Who is my secret admirer? Maybe I like him better?"
"He is someone who has seen you and he like your style."
"Was he my customer?"
"No. You did not meet him. But he saw you. And he think you have possibilities."
"What sort of possibilities?"
"He is a movie maker," said Mama. "He want you for a movie."
"What movie? How can I be in a movie? What does he want?" Blen thrust out her chin as she barked each question.
Mama was exasperated. "I cannot answer your questions. He mention only possibilities. But his offer is firm."
"Bruno also say my possibilities. But what is it?" Blen wondered out loud.
She danced the evening out, declining blow-jobs while her throat was still sore.
Amor returned to the lady-house in the middle of the following afternoon. Blen was squatting on the bed with Precious. Girlie had gone swimming with Anabel in the hope of fitting in a bonus short-time before work. Amor clambered onto the bed, and they all hugged.
"Congratulations!" said Amor, grinning at Blen.
"For what?" said Blen, dejectedly.
"For getting married."
"But I am not getting married."
"Not? Everybody is talking that you will marry Bruno. He has paid your bar-fine for one month."
This was news to Blen. "Who tell to you that?" she asked. "I cannot go bar-fine. He has not bought my cherry."
"Mama herself tell me. She say you cannot go short-time. No more blow-jobs for one month. He just want you for himself."
"Maybe he will want his blow-job every night; maybe he will rape my throat again," Blen contemplated, ruefully.
"No. Mama said he is gone away in Europe for one month, he just reserve you for his return."
Blen suddenly bounced on the bed and clapped her hands with delight. "He is gone ... he is really gone?"
"Yes, for one month," Amor confirmed.
Blen bounced some more, and then, as she subsided, said in a lighter tone, the tension in her voice dissipated, "And, Precious also have good news."
"Darren also want to support me," said Precious.
"Also?" queried Amor.
"Klaus will send me support also."
"But, what about marriage?" asked Amor.
"Like Mama say, until I am ask, I must secure myself. It is first come, first served. Until then I must accept all interests," explained Precious.
"Do you tell these guys you still work?" asked Amor.
"I say I will live in the province, but if I do go in the province I may miss a sincere guy. It is too much risk, so I will just take my holiday before they return."
"And you, Amor. How is your bar-fine?" Blen asked, "He seem to like you a lot."
"He is very sweet. It is his first time in Angeles; he has save up because his wife give him a hard time."
"Wife! Oh dear, he is not available," said Precious.
"No, but he love me," said Amor, "he will come back to see me soon, but his wife must think he is somewhere else."
"Did he enjoy his special boom-boom?" asked Blen meaningfully.
"Oh yes. He is so excited. The first time he fuck my ass, he is crying. He call his wife a fucking sadistic bitch. He really hate with her. He wish he meet me twenty years ago"
"It will be your mother twenty years ago," reminded Blen. "Will he bar-fine you again?"
"Yes," said Amor, "but tonight he will go bar-hop, he like to enjoy Angeles."
"Go butterfly?" said Precious, "You must not let him go butterfly."
"He is not available. Let him have his joy." Amor was philosophical. "I like a guy who is available, like you and Blen have. I want Danny. I like to be married."
That evening, at Talent Spot, Mama explained to Blen what had occurred. "It is complicated. But you are a lucky girl. Your pussy is a gold mine.
"First, Fu-Han has email to me that his friend see your photos and is very happy with you. I email that I have already an offer of 50,000. He call me to say to wait, he will talk with his friend. Then he call me to say his friend will pay an option to bid on your cherry, but he want to meet with you first, he will buy a six-week option. I offer another girl, but he does not like another girl, so he will keep his chance to bid with a 50,000p, no-return deposit. He will transfer the money. I will check my account tomorrow, but it is certain.
"Then Bruno come in. He say he will buy now for 50,001, because he is to go in Europe. In addition, he like to marry with you when he return. I tell him I have an option. He say he will beat any offer, but I tell him I do not get an offer for six weeks, then he can decide. He is upset because he can buy you last night for 50,001 pesos but he refuse, now he look a fool - but he is willing to be a fool for you.
"You have hook him. He is jealous even that you give the blow-job. I tell him he can pay your bar-fine while he is away, then you will only dance. He say he do not like you to dance, but I tell him you are my headline girl, so I need you to dance, and anyway, I can guard your cherry if you are in Talent Spot. He has pay a one-month bar-fine. 37200 pesos."
"What does all this mean?" asked Blen, unable to grasp everything at one telling.
"It mean," said Mama, with exhilaration in her voice, "you will keep your cherry for another six weeks, then Bruno and Fu-Han will bid against one another. And, just for staying virginal for six weeks, you get 18,600p, the bar gets 18,600 and I get 50,000. That is just for options. Think how much then they will actually bid for your cherry."
Blen looked down and rubbed her groin. "Why is it my pussy?" Is my pussy different to other girls?"
"It is not your pussy, Blen," said Mama, "It is your eyes, your smile, the way you move. It is your personality they like to fuck. It is never about the pussy, it is all in the head. You can control their minds and do not know you do it."
"Bruno said that also. But I do not make them do bad things."
"You make them free to be what they like to be, but you are not responsible for what they like to be," Mama assured her, "And, there is more." She opened a drawer, took out a cell phone, and handed it to Blen. "This is your gift from Bruno. He will like to speak with you while he is away."
Blen held the phone, and stared at it, bug-eyed. It was better than any she had seen at Savers or SM Malls. It was a touch-pad smart-phone with lots of icons and apps.
"It is subscription. You do not have to pay. Bruno pay. And it is data also, you can internet with it."
Her face fell. "But then, will he call me?"
"He is in love to you. He will marry with you. Of course he will call to you while you are apart. And he has enter his number, so you can call to him." Mama spoke as if admonishing a child to eat its porridge.
Daddy's grumpiness was deflected from the girls by events up Perimeter Road. If there was one thing he enjoyed more than giving vent on the girls, it was giving vent on the authorities. An experienced club owner, Rodney, who Daddy Don knew well, had been locked up on a charge of sexually assaulting his four-year-old daughter.
"Some fucker has sent an anonymous email to the NBI, alleging he's assaulting the girl. That's it. No statement. No affidavit. No evidence. But Rod is locked up, and now and he's being hit for 90,000 pesos for bail. He's lived here for years, he's married with a Filipino wife, he's well connected, but it counts for nothing with these fuckers. One anonymous email and they can wrap him up in red tape. He's in jail, and his daughter is taken away by Welfare. They'll even lock up a four-year-old kid to get some leverage. His wife is trying to raise the bail on security of his properties. But fuck knows how much he'll need to pay to make this go away. The fuckers have asked for 1.5 million pesos to arrange his exit from the country. Well he ain't going. It maybe that someone just wants to take over his clubs. Or maybe get revenge. An anonymous email, an envelope full of cash and the NBI swing into action."
That evening, Blen and Amour developed their double act while on stage, and sat with Precious and Girlie between sets, discovering the workings and delights of Bruno's gift, her new cell phone.
Customers were now very few. Outside, the rain persisted, sometimes light, sometimes heavy. Lightning flashed through the evening sky, and even when the rain relented, electrical storms silently flickered between the clouds, lighting them up at random, beautiful but menacing. Fields Avenue frequently flowed with rainwater, or was plunged into darkness as the electricity supply failed. Brownouts were now routine, sometimes four or five times a day. Inside Talent Spot, these brownouts were marked only by slurring of the music, and a few seconds on standby lighting while the backup generator kicked in.
The bar scene, like a perennial plant, passes through an annual cycle of growth, flowering, fruitfulness, die back and hibernation. It was now in hibernation, and Talent Spot, though well positioned on Fields Avenue, needed a strategy to secure its share of the available trade. Daddy Don and Mama Mutia sat in the rear and discussed a program of promotional events. There were two ready standbys, Daddy's birthday and the anniversary of the opening of Talent Spot. Tuesday 17th October was pencilled in for Daddy's birthday and Monday 13th November for the anniversary party.
The following night, Mama introduced the first promotional changes. Amor was to take Blen's position as headline girl. She had mastered all Blen's moves, and bore a striking resemblance to her. Girlie would provide a short-time service, now to be 'a suck n' a fuck', in the booth. Blen was to become a shooters girl. She would wear a cowgirl costume with bottles of tequila in her holsters and glasses in her bandoleer, and limes and salt etc. She would go from customer to customer selling tequila shots. The selling point was that she would provide the customer with a body shot if he bought a drink for her - and he could take a body shot on her if he bought himself a certain number of drinks. The body shot consisted in taking the after-shot, the lime and salt, from the nipples of the customer, or shooters girl, as the case may be. This could be done very sensuously. Mama was satisfied that this came within the limitations imposed by Bruno's bar-fine.
The evening passed slowly. The girls got a gentle practice in their new roles, but business remained flat. Blen wondered how this would affect her earnings. She would need to sell five or ten shots to earn the equivalent of one short-time, twenty to thirty to maintain her previous level of earning, and that seemed very unlikely. She did, however, have 18,600 pesos in advance bar fine to cushion her for the next six weeks, which would be paid pro-rata in her salary over the next month. To fill the long, becalmed periods, she spent time looking at her reflection and developing a dance that did not seem inelegant in her cowgirl costume, and did not spill the bottles or glasses. At least, being a shooters girl meant she had the opportunity to approach and pitch every customer. She knew that the opportunity to speak with the customer was a necessary precondition to a relationship, or even a bar-fine or body shot, so this was an opportunity to select a preferred customer.
On Thursday night, there was a steady flow, but far from a flood, of customers. By half-past-ten Blen had sold a few shooters, and the evening was ticking over slowly when a Filipino hurried through the door. Seeing Mama, he rushed up, and quickly imparted a message. She pointed to the rear, and as the Filipino made his way back, Mama approached the stage. Waving all the girls to her she began to speak urgently.
As Blen approached to listen, the group was breaking up.
"What is it?" Blen asked Girlie, "What has happened?"
"There have been raids. We must dress properly, no bold shows, no short-times."
Daddy emerged from the rear with the Filipino and came over to Mama. Blen moved in close to listen.
"Mama," said Daddy, "make sure the girls behave tonight. If we get hit, there must be nothing going on, and nothing out of order. Any bar-fined girls must leave the bar. No more bar-fines this evening. Tell the girls that if any of them have anything they don't want the police to find in their bags, to flush it down the CR, now."
Mama turned to the stage, and called out in Tagalog. She gathered the waitresses, and passed the same message, telling then to ensure everybody knew the instructions. Several girls made their way to the rear, including Amor and Anabel. There was one bar-fined girl still in the bar with her customer. Mama approached the customer and explained the situation. He counted his tab, and put several notes in his jar.
"If you are caught in a raid, do not say you are on bar-fine, just say you are friends, do not mention Talent Spot," Mama instructed the girl.
Noticing Blen hovering near bye, she called, "No more body shots, sell the drink only."
She returned to Daddy, and as she did so, the door swang open. All eyes turned anxiously. But, it was only two Papa-sans from nearby bars, who were coming in to confer.
"It's Chez Mama," one told Daddy, "a Mom and Pop place up on Perimeter Road. The Mama-san and all her girls have been taken to the lock up."
"Apparently," said the other, "four Filipino guys came in, and started partying, bought some of the girls a few drinks, and so on. After an hour or two, they bar-fined the girls, and left. A couple of hours later, there was a full NBI raid, and all the girls and Mama-san were taken away. The owner, Paddy, wasn't there, so he isn't involved."
"But, I believe his Mama-san is his fiancée. I think they were off to Davao in a few weeks to get married in her province," said the first.
"Oh yes, I've met them," said Daddy, "Paddy and Joline, A nice couple. I hope this doesn't fuck up their wedding plans."
"If they have any money saved for the wedding they're going to need it," said the first Papa-san. "Apparently, the girls who were bar-fined have sworn affidavits saying they were engaged in prostitution."
"Same old. Same old," observed Daddy. "This is the familiar pattern. Money will change hands, the girls will withdraw their affidavits, and the charges will get dropped."
"I wonder if they knew Paddy and Joline were getting married," said Papa-san two. "It puts a bit of pressure on Paddy, what with Joline being his fiancée, and locked up in that shit hole."
"Well, if they didn't know already, as soon as they find out, Paddy will get a message that if he doesn't pay up soon, she'll be cluster fucked nightly until he does," added Daddy.
Otherwise, the evening proved uneventful. As news of the raids spread, the customers decided to go and stay safely at home, or in their hotels. Mama was watchful, and promptly suppressed any unruly behaviour by the girls. A couple of girls arranged sneak-outs, bar-fines being off the menu. Good order and tedium reigned. The girls' mood matched the grey drizzle that they walked through on the way home.
Friday began with Mama firmly instructing the girls to behave properly at all times. Bar fines were now possible again, but that word was not to be used. The girls were to tell the customer that they could get Early Work Release, if they bought ten ladies drinks, and the waitresses were to be sure that ten ladies drinks appeared on the receipts. No simple, 'BF', or anything like that. Commission must tally with drinks purchased. For the time being, there would be no more short-times in the booth, or body shots, or any lewd exposure in the bar.
During the course of the evening, news began to filter in concerning the fate of Mama-san Joline. Daddy Paddy had retained a lawyer experienced in this kind of case, and it transpired that the girls were ready to withdraw their affidavits. Joline would remain locked up over the weekend, but the prosecutor would consider the matter on Monday, and with the affidavits withdrawn, and evidence from the NBI agents that they had entrapped the girls, it was likely she would be released on Monday. In the meantime, Chez Mama would remain closed, but Paddy hoped to reopen next week.
"We need to keep a central record of how much they're asking," said Daddy, "we need to get a grip on this before it gets out of hand. We're all vulnerable to this gouging behaviour."
Later, some girls returning after popping out for a meal at Linda's in Real Street, reported that there had been a shooting. They had rushed around the corner, to the junction of Vian St and A. Santos, and a few yards down Vian Street there was a body lying in the road.
"It is two guys on a motorbike," one of the girls told Daddy, "they just drive up and shoot the billy boy, then drive off."
Daddy did not appear shocked. "Probably, just the street cleaning department doing its job," he remarked. "Not before time."
At least there will be a body for the family to bury, thought Blen. On San Fernando, when a score was settled, it was a disappearance. The victim would leave home in the morning, and never be seen again.
Whatever the purpose of the shooting, it did nothing to deter street crime. The following day, and quite exceptionally, proactive policing - maybe a reaction to a street shooting in the tourist district - resulted in the apprehension of a gang of street robbers.
A waitress at Talent Spot, Ginalyn, was on her way to work; and as she walked up Teadoro Street in St Maria, towards Fields, she was robbed by a group of youths. Although she may not have looked a particularly attractive target for robbery, she had stopped over at Norma's Money Changer and disappeared behind the awning to ask the current exchange rate for dollars. That may have deceived the robbers into thinking she was changing currency and would emerge with a purse full of pesos. She had merely chatted with the cashier for a few minutes.
Blen, in her cowgirl suit, sat with the coterie, which had gathered around Ginalyn to hear the tale.
Ginalyn told them, "I had just leave Norma, and begin to walk, when I see this big knife pushed at me, by one guy in front. Another, beside me, is pulling at my bag but I do not let go. The guy in front put his knife to my face and tell me, I will cut you, I will cut you, so I let go to my bag, and the guys run away down the street beside. I shout out, but no one help me. The guard from Norma's come over. He cannot leave his post, but he tell me to go to the police station. So I run as fast as I can, up to Fields, and across to the police station.
"The officer ask me how long. I tell him three minutes, so he say, OK, he will see if there is a mobile patrol. He radio, and tell me to go back quick, and meet the patrol car. So I run back as fast as I can.
"I wait five minutes, and I do not think they will come, but they come. I tell them what happen, and Norma's guard tell them where they run to. So one officer say to walk with him, and the other will guard the car.
"We walk down Oak Street, and at the bottom, there is some waste land. There is an old sidecar there, against the wall. Someone is in it, but I cannot see well, because it is behind the building, and it is dark, but it is some boys. The officer call for back-up so we can check the boys. The other officer come in the car, and drive onto the lot. They draw their pistols, and go up to the sidecar, and the boys come out. I do not know if it is the boys who rob me. I say that it is possible, but I am frightened by the knife, I do not remember the faces. One of the officers keep his gun pointed, and the other search the boys. He find a cell phone in the waist of the first one ... it is mine. He then find a knife. I do not recognise it, but he open it, and I see that it is the blade. I remember the blade. The other boy has a screwdriver, but I do not remember that.
"The officer ask where is my bag, and they tell him it is thrown away in Oak Street. We go back to look, but it is gone. The guys are handcuff, and we all go in the car to the police station. They boys are just 15; they come from Agapito. They are not even smart to run away. The officers think they come to rob someone who change their money at Norma's."
"I will be careful next time," said Precious.
Her 27,000 pesos, changed up from Klaus's gift, would be more than enough to kill for. Next time she would take great precautions.
Blen remembered that tomorrow was payday, and she determined to carefully conceal her salary before going into the street. She was now prosperous, but prosperity attracted its own problems in a lawless city.
The following morning, being Sunday, Blen rose early and dressed for church. She had scrubbed her best, white T-shirt so it was spotless, and she had put her best jeans under the mattress to be pressed flat. She had also bought a pair of red plimsolls. Blen wanted to dress respectably for Mass and had reserved these garments for church.
Blen did not pay tax. It had never occurred to her that she should. In Desbilla, if a person wished to make a contribution to society, they did so by putting an offering in the Charity Box at church. Blen wished to share her good fortune, so she took her purse from her locker and examined the contents. She had twelve 1000p notes, and several 100p notes. In her head, she made a rough calculation of the salary she would receive tonight. Maybe 10,000 pesos she believed. She had always been told that one tenth of your income was the appropriate amount to give to the poor. On reflection, she decided she would die rather than benefit from Bruno's 10,000 pesos, and would put that also in the Charity Box. Taking eleven 1000p notes and two hundreds, she slipped them in her pocket.
At half-nine she slipped out of the house, raised her umbrella against the light rainfall, and set off up to MacArthur Highway. She turned left at MacArthur and walked as far as possible towards St Maria II on the left hand side of the highway, which was the easiest pavement to negotiate. Near the church, there was a pedestrian crossing, and there she crossed the highway, though wisely waving at the traffic, because it was not obvious that the traffic paid any attention to the pedestrian crossing.
She bought devotional candles, and found a stand with space to mount and light them, then knelt before them and prayed. She prayed for the same people she had prayed for in Desbilla - her sister, her foster parents, her half siblings, her neighbours, her friends, their parents and their families. Now she added also her housemates, Mama Mutia, Daddy Don, and the girls at Talent Spot. Her prayers were different in one important way. In Desbilla, her prayers were prayers of desperation, the prayers of the impotent. Now she prayed in optimism, as an agent of God, spreading Christian love and charity. She could show her love, and God's love, for her sister and family, by the contributions she made to improving their lives. She could also show God's love for the poor at large by contributing a fair share of her good fortune to the Charity Box.
As Mass commenced, she made her way to the pews, found a seat and participated in the familiar ritual, but did not receive communion. She had not confessed her sins for several years, not since she had begun to feel the temptations of the flesh, certainly not since she had begun to succumb to them. Her compulsive masturbation was not the sort of sin she felt comfortable confessing to a male priest, and she felt she could not sincerely promise not to do it again. Her compulsion had grown stronger through her teens, and since arriving in Angeles, she had frequently had to leave her bed to rub herself to a climax in the shower cubicle.
At the end of Mass, as the crowd streamed away, she went to the Charity Box and joined the small queue to push her contribution into the box. Folding her 1000p notes, she stepped forward and pushed them through, into the box.
As she turned away, a figure stepped in front of her. "Excuse me, Miss."
She looked up into the face of a Western guy.
"I wonder if you could help me. I'm a visitor to the Philippines, and I don't know what amount is considered appropriate to put in the Charity Box."
"As much as you can afford," said Blen, thinking to herself that he could probably afford to put in as much as the rest of the congregation combined.
"Oh," he said, and paused, "I saw you put in a blue note, would that be 1000p? Is that what people normally put in?"
Blen, felt annoyed. She thought to herself how stupid some foreigners could be. "No, we are poor people, 20 pesos, 50 pesos or 100 pesos are what we can afford."
"Well, maybe I should put in 1000 pesos." He flourished a 1000p note he happened to be holding.
"That will be acceptable," Blen said, and walked by.
A few yards further on she heard him calling, "Miss, Miss."
She stopped and turned as he caught up with her.
"Thank you for your help, you were a great assistance," he gushed.
She fixed him with a look of rebuke. "Do you require any more help to spend your money?"
"No, I don't usually require help to spend money, but I'm new here, it takes a little time to adjust, to know how much to pay for things, how much to tip, even how much to put in the Charity Box," he explained, "but I'm glad I saw you put 1000 pesos in, otherwise I might have short changed the Lord by 900 pesos."
"I am glad then to have help you," said Blen.
"But it can't just have been a coincidence don't you think?" said the man.
"What coincidence?" enquired Blen, baffled.
"If it had been anyone else, I would have seen them put in 100p, even 20p, and the poor would have been short changed. But, it was you I saw. That can't have been a coincidence?"
"You think God send me to guide you along the right path," said Blen, supposing him to be another demented American fundamentalist, and laughed genuinely at the thought of her being sent to guide foreign men along the right path.
"Yes. Nothing happens except the Lord wills it," said the foreigner simply, looking offended.
Blen took pity on him. "I do not laugh at you. I laugh at me."
"I just thought that if, at that very moment, God sent you to give 1000 pesos, he may have sent an example for me. Otherwise, I could easily have happened on a poor person, but I happened on you."
"I am a poor person also," said Blen.
"That clinches it," said the foreigner, "the Lord sent a poor person with a 1000 peso note as my exemplar. He truly moves in mysterious ways. Why else would a poor person, like you, have a 1000 pesos to donate?"
"Me ... I am a student." Blen thinking quickly, borrowed her ambition for Jesusa. "I study to be a nurse." The small lie made her feel good, so she tried a slightly bigger lie. "My money is from my father, he is generous." She felt even better.
The foreigner changed tack. "What happens after church, here? At home it's very social, but here people seem to do their devotions and go home."
"Yes. Go home," said Blen, encouragingly.
"I'm hungry, I haven't had any breakfast. Is there somewhere I can eat?"
Blen pointed at the Turo-Turos on the corner.
The foreigner looked dubious. "I'm sure they are good, but I was thinking of something ... more like McDonalds. Is there a McDonalds near here?"
"Only by the hospital," said Blen. "Take the jeepney for San Fernando terminal, you will see it by the hospital."
"I haven't been able to work out how your public transport works," said the man. "Look, if you would be so kind as to take me there, I would be more than happy to treat you to breakfast."
Blen again fixed him with her accusing, rebuking eye. "Do you try and pick-me-up?"
The foreigner was distraught. "Goodness ... No, no, no. I do hope I haven't given offence. It's that I'm lost and alone in a strange town, and I need help to get breakfast."
Blen thought, He's wet, but harmless, and I'd love to go to McDonalds. "OK, if you promise to behave yourself." She was theatrically stern, enjoying every moment of being the prim, pious virgin for once.
"Of course. I shall be perfectly proper, and I'd be most grateful."
Blen walked him down to MacArthur Highway and flagged a jeepney.
Developed from the WW2 jeep, elongated and with bench seats down each side in the cramped rear, covered by a canopy, colourfully decorated and emblazoned with the owners name on the front and route stops on the side, the jeepney is the traditional means of public transport in the Philippines.
They squeezed in the back, crushed up next to one another. Blen handed a note forward, and called "dalawa". The note was handed from passenger to passenger, until the driver reached backwards over his shoulder and took it. He then reached back with a few coins, which travelled the same route in reverse.
"Let me repay you for the fares," said the man, raising his voice over the revving of the large diesel engine as it laboured to set the over laden vehicle in motion, "I would have paid, but I don't know how."
"What is your name?" called Blen.
He blustered. "I'm terribly sorry, I should have introduced myself, but in all the confusion I overlooked it. My name is Nick. And your name?"
"I am Blen. This trip is a gift from my father," she replied, taking satisfaction that the other passengers noticed that she was paying for the foreigner.
Nick sat, stooping forward, in great discomfort, trying to draw his legs out of the way of passengers getting on and off, until they reached Angeles University Foundation Hospital (AUF). Blen tapped his shoulder, and led him out of the jeepney. She fitted well through the space between the bench seats, but Nick managed to bang his head on the roof several times and catch the knees of every passenger he passed.
Across the road, he could see McDonalds. There was a pedestrian crossing conveniently nearby, and they crossed, and went up into the restaurant.
Blen had not been in a McDonalds before, but she had heard of the legendary quarter pounder with cheese and fries, and she opted for this, with a coke. As Nick queued for the meals, Blen noticed that there were a lot of student nurses, female and male, in their pristine white uniforms, sitting around the restaurant. She confabulated a response in case Nick asked if she knew any of them. In the event, he did not ask.
He returned with the food, and Blen took hers. He then proceeded to tell her about Sunday 'back home' - the small town church - the Sunday lunch - the visitors - the outings - the series of unremarkable tedia out of which bliss is constructed.
She looked at him carefully. He was about forty years old and an American - that was important. He had not mentioned a wife or family - that was important. He was not what you would consider attractive to women, to other women especially - that was important. He was polite, considerate and did not take himself too seriously. In other circumstances, she would consider him husband material. He wore trousers, and a proper shirt, and his hair was clean and had been cut recently. He talked easily. He smiled easily. He went to church. Why, she thought, does God send these guys only to church, could He not send one or two to Talent Spot?
"I'm sorry to be such a bore," said Nick, "I can see I'm sending you to sleep."
"No. It is OK ," said Blen, "but, why are you here in Angeles?"
"I'm a health tourist. I've come here for some treatment I can't afford at home. There are some cosmetic procedures my insurance doesn't cover, but here I can afford to pay for them myself."
"I hope you are not ill."
"No." Nick showed his teeth.
They looked fine to her, but clearly, he felt they needed further improvement.
"I'm having a load of dental work done, difficult procedures which take a lot of work. I have to stay here a couple of months, but the work will last the rest of my life."
"In the hospital?" asked Blen.
"No, there's a reputable clinic in St Maria, they are doing the work for me," said Nick.
"So where do you stay while you are here?"
"There's a hotel, just nearby, it's called the Wild Orchard, it's quite comfortable."
"Is there not a lot of bars there?" asked Blen, suspiciously.
"I couldn't believe it," said Nick, "Whenever I go for a walk, I get all sorts of invitations. It turns out that the street I'm staying on is notorious for ... how can I put this ... oral sex. We don't have anything like that at home."
"Do you try the bars?"
"Oh no. Oral sex repels me?"
"It interest many foreigners," noted Blen.
"I see that in my hotel," said Nick. "Most of these guys are not here to get their teeth fixed."
They had now finished their breakfast.
"I must go home," said Blen.
"You haven't told me about yourself yet," said Nick.
"You just bring me for breakfast, you are not trying to pick me up, remember."
"I remember. I said it, and I meant it. But to be honest, things have changed and I've changed my mind, so I don't mean it anymore," said Nick.
"So, you ARE trying to pick me up."
"I'm not explaining myself very well. I was just hungry, I just wanted breakfast, I didn't realise I would enjoy your company."
Blen's eyebrows rose. "You did not think you would enjoy my company?"
"Not so much, I've really enjoyed chatting with you."
"You are chatting, I do not speak," said Blen.
"You have no idea how attractive that can be in a woman. You're a great listener."
Blen's eyebrows rose again.
"I just wondered whether you could spare some time to show me around, I'd enjoy your company, if you wouldn't find me too boring."
"I have my studies," said Blen.
"And you never have a day off?" pressed Nick.
Blen paused, and stared at him for five seconds, trying to resist the temptation.
"Well, only tomorrow. I am off tomorrow."
"Would you mind, I'd be so grateful, I'm so bored, and there really is no good company at my hotel. Think where you would like to go. You can show me around town, and then it's your call ... You pick the treat."
Blen looked at him carefully. She looked into his dark brown, pleading eyes. She wished she had not lied, but she had. Why act in vain? On the other hand, why not be the girl she wished to be - for just one day - to know how it felt to be such a girl? "We can meet here, at twelve, if you like."
"That's great, just great. Think what you would like to do for a treat," said Nick.
They left McDonalds, and Blen flagged a jeepney.
Nick gave her a 20p note. "Thank your Dad for the journey out, but I'll pay for the journey back."
Blen put Nick off at Johnnies Supermarket, telling him to cross the road and walk up to A. Santos. He stood and waved as the jeepney pulled away. Blen looked back down MacArthur to ensure that he had disappeared, then jumped off at the bottom of Fields, and made her way back to the lady-house. When she arrived, most of the girls were up and engaged in washing, or cooking, or watching TV.
"How did you enjoy Mass?" asked Girlie.
"I was pick up," said Blen.
"By a nice young man?"
"By an American."
"In church! Is he one of those strange Americans?" asked Amor.
"Yes. Oral sex repel him."
Amor silently sympathised with his distaste. "So what did you do?"
"We go to McDonalds for breakfast. I have a quarter pounder with cheese."
"Oooo. That is the oral sex I like," said Amor.
"Will he come into Talent Spot," asked Girlie.
"No. He do not go into bars. He is here for treatment."
"So. Will you see him again?" asked Amor.
"Maybe. Maybe tomorrow."
Precious's face drooped. "Oh Blen, I expect that you will come out with us tomorrow?"
"Tomorrow evening I will," Blen assured her. "Tomorrow afternoon I will show him around. He will take me for a treat."
"What treat is that?" enquired Girlie, suspiciously.
"I choose. But I do not know what to choose," answered Blen.
"What is expensive?" asked Precious.
The girls passed a pleasant twenty minutes, thinking of expensive treats.
Blen, Precious, Girlie and Amor grew excited as evening approached, anticipating receiving their salaries.
At the end of the evening they gathered around Mama who totalled their earnings for that day, added that amount to each of the brown Manila envelopes with their names on it, explained the calculation, sorted out any queries, and handed over the envelopes.
"You girls wait a while, we can look at your credit," said Mama, and they waited while she finalised the salary for the couple of other girls whose payday coincided.
The girls compared their salaries. Blen had received 12,900, a lot less than for her first 15 days. Her blow-jobs had previously provided most of her salary. Now that Girlie was doing the blow-jobs the change was reflected in their incomes. Although Girlie's service had not proved quite as popular as Blen's, with Belle's bar-fines, she received 9000 pesos, a remarkably good salary for the time of year. Blen's salary was as large as it was, because of the pro rata bar-fine paid by Bruno to preclude her from going short-time. Precious and Amor both received 6,100 pesos, largely reflecting their stints with Darren and Danny respectively.
Mama then produced her ledger, saying, "It is rent day today, I'll add that to your credit first," and she finalised her accounts.
"Blen, your credit is 5,250 pesos including rent. You have bought a lot of costumes. Girlie, your credit is 15,742 and Amor yours is 19,540. Precious, you have paid all yours off. Your accounts have now been open for one month, so any unpaid balance today will have 12 ½ % interest added to it. How much do you want to pay off now?"
"Here is my salary Mama," said Amor, "how much is owed after that?"
"Another 13,440p," calculated Mama.
"Still 13000 pesos!" Amor was disappointed. She opened her purse, pulled out a roll of notes, and counted. She proffered a bundle to Mama. "Is that 10,000 pesos?"
Mama counted. "Yes. 10,000. Thank you." She made entries in her ledger. "So with interest you carry forward 3,870 pesos."
"Here is mine," said Blen, and offered the full amount due, taken from her salary envelope.
Girlie took the money from her envelope, added 1000 pesos to it, and handed 10,000 pesos to Mama.
"Thank you. That leaves 6,459 pesos after adding interest. That is just twenty blow-jobs, so you can clear your credit next month.
"Now girls, you have all earn well, most girls will earn far less than you, it is like that at this time of year. You have all had repeat customers. That is the way to earn. If you please a customer, he will bar-fine you out for several times, so make sure you please your customers. You also see that there are other opportunities to earn, so be open to the other opportunities I will offer to you. They will help you pay your credit, and send money home."
As the girls made their way back to the lady-house, Blen asked Amor, "Why do you not pay all your credit, you have 13,000 pesos from the Masters of Uranus, 3000 from the B.O.W, 10,000 from Danny, 1,500 from the photo-shoot and also tips from your customers."
"Yes, but I spend maybe 15,000 pesos on shabu, and I need some money to live," replied Amor.
Blen was horrified. "Amor, how much shabu is that? Maybe you take too much."
"I will take less, just a little bit sometimes," said Amor, shamefaced.
"How much do you have left?"
"3,500 pesos," said Amor.
"Oh Amor, after you work so hard and earn so well, please be careful, I thought you would be free today."
"I am the most in debt," said Girlie. "I have 7000 pesos left from my tips, but I will send money home tomorrow, that will leave me enough, and I will have more tips. Next month I will be free."
"Tomorrow, I will open a bank account," said Precious. "Mama is correct about the customers. If you keep them until they return home, they will give a big tip. Darren give to me 10,000 pesos. Now I can save money for my future."
The girls were curled up asleep by three-am.
May 5, 2018 in romance