She inched forward, laid her hands over his shoulders and teased:
- Why do you look so miserable, sir? Is there any way I can help ease away these sorrows for you?
The man coldly flicked her hands off:
- Please don't trouble me miss.
- Ah! So you feel troubled. How about you help me, I help you and you will no longer be troubled!
The stranger frowned and retorted:
- Help you? What does that mean? Does someone like you even need help? And as for myself! I don't need you to help me with... that. Please go look for someone else. You can help me by doing just that!
Thu was taken aback by the stranger's attitude. From his response to his demeanor, there was something different about him, something that separated him from the countless men she met. Strangely, this man did not seem to come here for an evening of pleasure, but rather... As Thu pondered, he continued:
- Feel free to assume that I am crazy, or that I am dense, or whatever pleases you, as long as you would just let me be.
- I can help relieve your troubles. And you can help me with something to eat. Would you, sir? Please?
Realizing that she was unlike any prostitute he had met, Tuan became curious. He smiled and asked:
- How long have you been in this business?
- Very long! For as long as I can remember.
- I find that there is something different about you, you are not like the other women here.
- I also find you very different...
Tuan wished to learn more about this girl before him and interrupted:
- I would like to invite you to the inn where I am staying. There's something to eat there, what do you think?
As it turns out, he is no different than the others, thought Thu. She coldly responded:
- Just pay me in full and then we can go, do whatever you wish.
Tuan stood up, gave her the money and called a tuktuk to take them back to the inn. But instead of entering the inn, Tuan brought Thu to a nearby food booth. Without her input, he ordered a plethora of food, some quite exquisite, and invited Thu to sit with him. Her eyes opened widely as the trays of food were placed on the table. She faltered "... you ... you..." He understood and replied:
- Please, help yourself. You're my guest...
Before Tuan had the chance to finish his sentence, Thu ran her chopsticks from one dish to the next and voraciously devoured the delicious dishes. Tuan watched in pity without saying a word. This little girl now sitting before him is so different; she's more like a street urchin than a prostitute, but why is she doing deplorable job. Hearing Thu's voice, Tuan snapped back to his present:
- Are you not eating?
Tuan shook his head:
- Then you won't mind if I take some of this food with me.
Without waiting for a response. Thu stood up for a box and immediately crammed all the leftovers to bring home. Surprised, Tuan inquired:
- Who are you saving the food for, your family? If you mix all the food together like that, how is anyone going to eat it?
Uninterested, Thu responded:
- I have a friend back home, we are very close. She's the closest person I have.
Then, Thu grabbed Tuan's hand and urged:
- Let's go to bed, sir.
Shocked, Tuan asked:
- Why are we going to bed?
Then, it was Thu's turn be stunned:
- Didn't you hire me to sleep with you?
Tuan chuckled softly, and lit his cigarette:
- I am not that kind of person, miss. I thought that you were very interesting and wished to know more about you. Nothing else..
Thu stood up:
- Thank you so much for the meal, sir. I have to go home and continue earning a living now.
After she had finished, Thu turned to face the door. Tuan beckoned to her:
- Hold on! I will pay you in full. I just want you to sit here and talk with me.
Thu turned around and looked at Tuan:
- Of course! What do you want to talk about?
Tuan motioned at a chair for Thu to sit:
- You look very young to be in this profession?
Thu curtly responded:
- I have to make a living.
- Is there nothing else for you to do? Where are your parents?
His question startled Thu; no longer able to master her emotions, tears suddenly streamed down her cheeks. Choking with emotions she sobbed:
- You think that everyone is as fortunate as you? You think I really want to do this for a living?
Realizing his mistake, Tuan clasped his hands and quickly apologized, but Thu continued:
- Did you know, sir? This is the first time in my life that a man has apologized to me. This meal is the greatest gift anyone has given me. I have never eaten such fine food. I crave them, but sir, I never have any money. I get beaten and abused. I endure them just to find food to feed myself. I have no family. Since I was eight years old, I have been beaten, starved and forced into this occupation. What does an eight year old know? They hit me, starved me, and I was very afraid. When I was eight years old, an older, Western man no younger than my grandfather hurted me, I amost fainted from the pain. When I was sixteen seventeen years old, I displeased a patron so they beated me and chased me away. Not only that, but they still made me pay a large amount of money because they said they were feeding me all this time. I wanted to escape, to hide, but I couldn't because if they caught me, then they would kill me. You are the first decent man I have met, did you know that....
Tuan could no longer contain his tears, Thu smiled and said:
- If you don't mind sir. Would you tell me your story?
(To be continued)
Translated by Khoi Vu. Original version in Vietnamese entitled "Em Chẳng Còn Chi - Phần 2"