"Never thought I'd end up like this…" Kim murmured to herself.
She looked around her surroundings, taking in the dim lights, musky air, and touching bodies. She worked in this so-called 'Dreamland' as a bar girl, and tonight was her first working night. She shouldn't have trusted that man, Tran Van Dinh, when he offered her this job. But how could she refuse? She needed shelter, food, and water.
Kim walked around carrying her tray, and collected empty beer bottles from tables. Her job was pretty easy; she just had to clean the tables and serve drinks to the customers. When the Engineer offered her this job, he assured her that she wouldn't have to do the funny business, as that was reserved for the prostitutes. But after an hour of her first night, she wasn't getting her hopes up of finishing this night untouched. Especially because of the glances several patrons were sending her way.
"Kim!" The Engineer approached her, his left hand holding a thick wad of cash.
"Ah, there's my princess. Now, come 'ere little girl, and see that man. His name's Chris, and he's taken a liking to you. What do you say?"
Kim glanced at the man. He was that GI giving her sidelong glances throughout the night, but not in the dirty way the others did. She could tell he was uncomfortable, and she watched him say something to his friend. She guessed that the GI's friend was behind all of this.
Looking back at the smiling face of the Engineer, Kim swallowed a lump. "Uh, Mister Tran—"
"Engineer. You may call me Engineer, little princess."
Another swallow. "Yes, of course. Engineer, I was thinking of…uhm, cleaning the countertop of the bar. It's so grimy, don't you think? I better get to work!"
Kim hurriedly turned away, but the Engineer caught her arm. He was still smiling, but his eyes were as sharp as daggers.
"Now, now, my pet. You don't want to disappoint me, do you? And you know what will happen if you disappoint me, right?"
"Y-yes, monsieur Engineer."
The Engineer patted her cheek, smiling. "Now, that's a good girl. Do your job, and make it quick."
He took the tray from her hands, and he pulled Kim towards the waiting GI and his friend. The Engineer put the tray in front of Kim's face, then he pulled it aside like a curtain.
"Voila!" With that, the Engineer and the GI's friend left.
Kim stared at the man, and the man stared back. It was awkward in the extreme, and finally, the GI looked down at the floor, putting a hand on the back of his neck.
Then he said, "Uhm, this was a mistake. My friend, John, set me up for this. Sorry."
He then took a step back.
Kim could see from the corners of her eyes that the Engineer was watching them.
She stepped forward and said, "I-I like this song. I'm not sure what it is, but I find the saxophone relaxing."
The GI, Chris, looked at her in the eyes and even gave a tiny smile. "Dance?"
He extended a hand, and although nervous, Kim accepted it.
They danced awkwardly, stiffly, neither looking at each other. Kim could still feel the Engineer's gaze on her back.
"Might as well get my job done…" she thought.
Kim looked at Chris's eyes and said in a small voice, "My name is Kim."
Chris smiled at her and softly replied, "Well, nice to meet you, Kim. I'm Chris."
They both chuckled, and after that, well, things got awkward again.
Taking a deep breath, Kim wrapped her arms around his neck, having to stand on the tips of her toes (God, he was tall), and in her best 'seductive' voice, said, "I like you, Chris."
It didn't work like how Kim expected it to. Chris pushed her away, clearly annoyed. "Oh, Jesus. Don't talk like that."
"What did I say?"
"Just…you-you shouldn't be here!"
Chris pulled out his wallet, took some money, and then pushed it into Kim's palm. He looked into her eyes intensely, as if pleading. "Get the hell out of here."
Kim stood there, confused, as he started to walk away. She barely noticed the Engineer charging towards her until he dug his nails into her elbow and pulled her back towards the GI.
"What's going on? You don't like her?" The Engineer's nails dug even harder in her skin. She could feel the wounds and bruises starting to form.
Chris came back, annoyance evident in his face. He gave the Engineer a rough shove and pulled Kim behind him protectively. "Don't mess with her. Of course, I like her."
Kim could see the Engineer's eyes darting around. She knew he was thinking of something bad. Before he could sell her to the other men, Kim quickly played her part and said, "I like him, too."
The Engineer smiled. "Ah…well then, take her away."
Chris stepped forward as if to punch the man, but Kim held him back. She didn't want to get in trouble, even if that meant satisfying the need to punch the greedy Engineer.
"No. Please, don't say a word. Just come with me."
Chris glanced at her and sighed. "Okay."
The two of them crossed the room, avoiding the other prostitutes and men who were shamelessly getting at it in the bar. Kim led Chris up a small staircase and into the room the Engineer gave her. It was small and simple; it only had a small bed, a small window overlooking the city, and a small table with a basin of water and a hand towel. Kim's few belongings which she had managed to save were pushed in the corner.
As she entered the room with the GI following behind her, Kim felt her stomach drop. Chris seemed kind enough, but she was still uneasy, because what man doesn't want a girl's flesh? Kim remembered what Gigi, one of the senior prostitutes, told her.
"Stop that pretense of a virgin if you don't want to get hurt. And don't ever believe those bullshit things that there will be a man who's going to be different, who's going to save you from this hell. You're all on your own here."
When they were both inside the small room, Kim locked the door and turned off the lights. She proceeded to remove her white dress and white shoes. In her mind, she repeated over and over, "Do your job, Kim. Don't think. Do your job, Kim. Don't think…"
She then sat on the bed, waiting. She watched Chris remove his army jacket and drape it on the table. He then proceeded to remove his shirt also. Kim was starting to feel even more uneasy, but she told herself that this was her reality now.
"Let's just get this over with," she heard herself say. Her voice trembled, but she tried to stay composed.
Chris just nodded at her silently, then he sat on the bed facing her. He put his hands around her, and Kim closed her eyes as he unclasped her bra. After a few seconds, Kim felt the cold wind brushing against her, making her feel so exposed.
"Kim…" Chris whispered.
Kim could only shake her head. Chris pushed her onto the bed gently, and he kissed her. It was gentle and full of hesitation, and Kim closed her eyes, feeling the strangeness of this gesture so new to her. His lips were soft and warm, and then they were gone. She opened her eyes when he pulled away, and she took in a deep breath as she put her arms on her underwear, ready to pull it down, ready to expose herself to this stranger, even though deep inside her, she didn't want to.
But she never came around to doing it, because this strange man prevented her from doing so. He took her hands and held them in his.
They both sat up, and Kim looked at him in confusion.
"What?" she asked softly.
"I said no. We-I can't do this to you."
Kim was secretly relieved, but her mind was still wondering why he had stopped her. Surely it was a trick?
"Monsieur Chris, I do not understand. This is my job, and you paid me to do this," she told him.
"Well, technically, my friend paid for this. But, really, we can't do this. Just-just rest, okay? Sleep here, because I can see that you've been through a lot. Just rest."
"But if the Engineer finds out, he'll—"
"No, don't worry. I won't tell. Sleep."
Kim just looked at him for a few moments, then nodded her head. Only then did she remember that her upper torso was bare, and that the man was still looking at her. She wrapped her arms around her, doing her best to shield herself from his view.
"Here, wear my shirt. It's much more comfortable than that dress," Chris told her as he gave her his discarded shirt.
Kim took it silently, nodding her head in a simple thanks, then turned around to put it on. After that, she lay down on the bed and shut her eyes. In a few moments, she was asleep.