Three or four years ago a new magazine appeared on the Bangkok scene. The format was very impressive, glossy full colour and well written. It appeared to be aimed at the trendy young traveller, somewhere between the backpacker and the sex tourist. As it approached its peak I saw an article by a staff writer in the editorial column; they weren’t seeking articles from expat writers he said, because their only topic was bargirls.
Well cop that young Harry.
I had no writing ambitions in those days, my principal interest being bargirls, but now I’ve settled down and although the magazine seems to have slipped from the scene, when I write I still try to avoid the subject of bar girls. Those of you who were kind enough to read my earlier opus, River of Dreams, will know that it was not about a bargirl, it was about me. This is about a bargirl, with no apologies.
I’ll be vague as to the location of this bar, merely saying that when I called in there last year it was a bulldozed site. When I first lifted a glass there I had been heading for a more fashionable area and I was set upon by a group of young ladies and persuaded to enter their establishment for the more refined gentleman. I’ve always had a soft spot (and some times a hard spot) for the average looking girl that works hard so I was prepared to take a chance. Once deposited on a bar stool I was abandoned as the girls headed back to the street to look for more suckers. Not a single request for a drink, this did look promising. Casting my eye around I noticed that the fridge was being filled by a lady that who was definitely a cut above the average. More and more promising by the minute. Noticing my interest she gave me a beautiful smile and said she would be there in a moment. She was worth waiting for. She pranced around from behind the bar, and I mean pranced, some women have it and some don’t. About thirty I estimated and boy, did she look good? And her name was the same as that of a former true love of mine.
Did I play pool she asked? I looked at the table. I saw a worse table once but it was in a Whyalla pub back in the sixties. I seem to remember some hoop things on that one. Not only was it a crappy table but on two sides one’s cue and elbow intruded either into the next bar or the alley way. The concrete pillars that held the roof up were also legal obstacles. Sure I played. It was soon apparent that she was an expert, not only on this table but on any other one so after the first loss I inquired about the stakes. Table stakes she said, ten baht. I settled in to enjoy the evening. The other girls wandered in and I bought drinks, cheap drinks by Bangkok standards, and all of them drank real liquor, no plastic wine glasses of coloured water in this bar. This was real Sanuk and as I approached my twelfth consecutive loss to the dismay of my cheer squad a Farang entered the bar, walking to the back and checking the till with an air of proprietorship. He was not a well man and he settled down with a large vodka to watch the play in surly silence. After his third medicinal drink he came to life. As my opponent missed a rare shot, and there had been no sand bagging for a customer here, he snarled that he had taught her better than that. We played again and he criticised her every shot; as I racked the balls, the loser’s privilege, he got up- now the life of the party, and challenged her. If you can beat me he said I’ll buy your boy friend a drink. She was reluctant but as they walked over to break I searched my pockets and found an American ten dollar note, a left over from a trip to one of the economically baffled countries to the east of Thailand.
“I’ll back you, Da,” I said, “this is for you if you win”. He started well but, rattled, he made an early error and she cleared the table. His girls were ecstatic and Da danced around the bar waving her ten dollar note. I drank my drink and watched him. He was furious, red in the face he threatened her with a finger, “I’m playing you again for a thousand baht” he screamed. (Fucking moll)
“Too much,” she said, “I no have.”
“Yes you do, set the balls up”.
“I’ll play you for a thousand baht,” I said.
My hands ached for his scrawny neck but it was his bar and security guards patrolled the complex. He looked at me and saw the violence in my face; he looked at my over flowing check bin and realised what he had done. I won by three balls.
I bought the cheering girls a drink each, by this stage the noise had attracted other customers and the bar was packed. I bought a vodka and walked across to him, handing him the drink. “I had you between a rock and a hard place there,” I said. His face twisted into a sour grin, “Do I get another game?”
“Sure,” I said, “table stakes”.
He laughed and beat me twice. We got along but would never be friends.
The midnight hour was upon us and I was loaded. I called for the check bin and deducted the thousand baht that he didn’t have, put my arm around Da and said, "let’s go." There was real anguish on her face. “I can’t leave till two,” she said. Drink had made me cynical so I started to leave and as I walked away she called out, “Come back early tomorrow.” Sure I thought, me or another mug.
Waking late in my solitary hotel bed, I vaguely recalled the surprised look on the doorman’s face when I came in alone, I replayed the previous night. Always willing to admit I may have been wrong, I wandered back to the bar about seven that night and ordered a beer. Da was there in street clothes, jeans and tight top, she refused a drink and said, “Finish quick and wait outside on the Sukhemvit corner.” Ten minutes later she was there and with her holding my hand we jumped the Sky Train and headed for Patpong. A great night followed, she knew every fun place and she knew everyone. We finished at the Grace Hotel disco, laughing at the dancing Arab men while their fat women watched in mystification. It was as exciting as a long anticipated date between teenagers but when we ended up in bed the night progressed beyond the wildest of teenage dreams. She was the greatest of all-round bargirls, some are good in bed, some out, but Da had it together everywhere.
After a few days I went back to the Philippines but business and pleasure brought me back to Bangkok on at least a monthly basis. Always I headed for Da and money was never better spent. One thing left me wondering, but as someone who never queried a good thing I didn’t take it further; she would never leave the bar with me I always had to wait for her outside on the street for a few minutes. Well experienced in the ways of bargirls I still couldn’t quite work it out.
Six months after we met I flew into town; cleansed the road dirt from the body and headed for Da’s bar; bright eyed and bushy tailed as we Australians say when eminently ready for a good fuck. Da welcomed me ecstatically but the bar owner sat there looking considerably more worse for wear than usual. Great claw marks scarred his already ugly features; several bandages covered more severe injuries. Feigning concern I inquired after his health.
“It’s her,” he howled, “She’s nearly killed me.”
He had my undivided attention.
“She’s crazy, keep away from her,” he advised me. “I’ll fix her though,” he said, “I’m going to a lawyer tomorrow.”
“An expensive procedure,” I murmured with raised eye brows, “Why not just fire her?”
“I can’t,” he moaned, “We’ve been married for three years and the bar's in her name.”
He looked at me sorrowfully, “You’ve been knocking her off haven’t you?”
Presumably he took my silence for acquiescence but it seemed we were at an impasse. I found it impossible to sympathise with a man who allowed his wife to stay out all night, perhaps he never went home either, which possibly accounted for his injuries, bargirls seldom allow their steady boyfriends or husbands the same leeway that they expect themselves. Fellow Australian he may have been but he was only a Victorian after all, so I said I was going south for a few weeks to meet up with a couple of mates and he could have a clear run at her for that time. But if he hadn’t sorted it out by the time I got back she was fair game.
“Fair enough,” he said.
My enthusiasm for the night dampened I went back to the hotel and watched a bit of TV; I had an early flight to Phuket but sleep evaded me and I was just considering going down Sukhemvit for some fried rice and watch the bargirls having supper, always Sanuk, when the phone rang. My girlfriend was downstairs they said. I shrugged off a frisson of unease (Regina from Angeles? Linda from Vientiane? Thuy from Saigon?) and said I would come down. It was Da, so never one to look a gift horse in the mouth we retired for the night. Some time before dawn after a particularly passionate session she cried and said she loved me. Dopey wasn’t her husband she said, they merely shared a flat and occasionally a bed. He could have the bar, there was money in a bank account in her name but she had saved that, not him. Worse, her real husband had found out where she was and come down from Isaan, he wanted her to come home or, failing that, money. Could she come to Phuket with me, money wouldn’t enter the equation, she would be my girlfriend.
Hmmmmm. How long had she worked bar I inquired.
Sorry darling, too long I thought. If there was a God and he loved me I would have met you in the first week. So in the time left before my flight I gently untangled myself from her physically and mentally and promising to ring I headed for the airport.
When the Great Scorer marks against our names, lies told to women don’t count.
© Julian. All rights reserved by the author.