Mr. Cheng was having a leisurely breakfast, as he did every morning of the week. He had finished his eggs and bacon and was now sipping hot, black coffee poured from a silver coffeepot, a wedding present of twenty years ago. He was also leafing through one of two English-language newspapers to which he subscribed.
Mr. Cheng was one of those lucky people who, having encountered a modicum of success early in life, did not have to work very hard. He was the proprietor of his own little firm, engaged in exporting articles of fashion jewelry which kept him comfortably off. His staff of half a dozen clerks and buyers, after years of routinely performing their tasks, needed little supervision and so Mr. Cheng could afford to arrive at his office rather later than the usual executive.
These mornings, while he appeared as usual to be absorbed in reading the news of the world, his mind was, in reality, straying to something else entirely. His blood, in contrast to his calm exterior, was coursing madly through his body as he thought of the delights that awaited him in the early afternoon. He was now impatient that this time should arrive as quickly as possible, for Mr. Cheng had recently taken a mistress, a young Northern girl of sixteen or seventeen. Every weekday, at lunchtime, he would see her for a few hours in the little apartment off Silom Road not far from his office that he had rented for her. Because it had always been his habit to disappear for two or three hours for lunch, this had caused not even a ripple of suspicion among his staff, for which Mr. Cheng was truly thankful. And if anyone should call him during these hours, the secretary was instructed to answer, “Mr. Cheng had a luncheon appointment and won’t be back until 4 pm, sir.”
At last Mr. Cheng put down his paper and forced himself to look at his wife. She sat opposite him, slurping her rice gruel and picking at morsels of pickled cabbage and slices of Chinese sausage. Twenty years ago he had thought her quite cute and had been mesmerized by her fair complexion. But, at forty, she was now plump and ungainly, and everything she said and did jarred on his nerves slightly. He watched her shoveling rice into her mouth, quite oblivious of his disapproving gaze. He was lucky, in a way, he thought, that she took so little interest in his business affairs. She never questioned the one or two late nights a week he spent “entertaining business associates.” She kept herself busy with playing cards and other amusements with her own set of friends. As long as she did not lose too much money, he never objected.
At last she looked up at him, realizing that he had been scowling at her, and that it was probably time for him to be leaving for the office. “Today is Sulee’s eleventh birthday,” she said, not really thinking much of it. “Before she left for school she asked me to tell you to buy her a birthday present. She has set her heart on having a blonde doll that walks and talks. I also said you’d probably take her to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate.”
He nodded to signal that he had heard and would obey. The secretary could easily take care of the doll, he thought, making a mental note.
At the office he found everyone at their desks busily entering figures into ledgers or other paper work. For some reason he could not fathom, the staff—young girls out of commerce colleges—were afraid of him and always put up a pretense of being hard at work whenever he passed through on his way to his private office. He had tried to talk to them before, not as a boss but as a friend, but found it was uphill going. In the end, he had given up and relied on his secretary to convey any information or orders that he wished to pass on.
In the privacy of his room he buzzed in his secretary and instructed her about the doll. The secretary in turn placed before him some papers and a few checks to sign. He then made a couple of overseas phone calls and sat back puffing at a cigar, waiting for the operator to call back. This was his normal routine that he had followed for years. His business needed very little attention, once it had been set up properly.
At last it was five past noon. The staff would already have left for lunch. He went out of the office and took the elevator to the car park, where an attendant held the door of his BMW open for him. He drove the short distance in heavy traffic to the apartment where Narin was waiting for him.
Though he had a key to the apartment, a slight knock on the door brought her running to open it for him. He went in and shut the door tightly before giving her a hug and kiss on the cheek, sniffing at the perfume which he had carefully selected for her, one not used by his wife.
As usual, Narin had ordered lunch from the coffee shop downstairs, and this was now waiting for him. Today she had chosen Thai food, three or four different dishes to go with the rice. Mr. Cheng had never kidded himself that he had obtained her for any other purpose than to gratify his baser instincts. What talking they did was strictly small talk, or listening to her relating some story from a movie or play she had been watching on television or the video.
Now he was finished. The girl, whom Mrs. Wannee had found him a few months ago, knew what her duties were. She carried the food tray to a sideboard near the door and went into the bedroom. She pulled the thick curtains shut, leaving only a few inches ajar in the middle. The room was now darkened, but there was enough light from the window to be able to see. Mr. Cheng followed her into the bedroom. He would light a cigar later. He sat back in the chair, dragging on a cigarette, and watched the girl undress. Though young, she had learned well the art of the courtesan, and there was a coquettishness in the way she took off her garments and hung them up on the back of the chair. She now stood nude before him except for her underwear. He watched her take off her brassiere, her arm awkward and angular as she fumbled with the hook at the back. She was now naked except for her panties. He gazed admiringly at her slender young body, the light from the window molding the little cups of her breasts that hadn’t quite blossomed into a mature woman’s. Hot desire suddenly overwhelmed Mr. Cheng and he jumped up and quickly tore off his clothes.
Later, for a fleeting instant, Mr. Cheng was disgusted with himself. A fat, middle-aged man of forty, coupling with a girl less than half his age. Of course, he was very gentle and affectionate with her, doting, almost. She was not too badly off, he justified to himself. If not for him, she’d probably be working in a teahouse in Chinatown, along with hundreds of her sisters from the North, serving several customers a day. Besides, when she got really bored and lonely, he allowed her visits to her family. Almost like leave from work, he mused.
Later, as he drove to the office a vision of the girl’s tiny breasts—they were just the size and shape of the lid of his silver coffeepot at home, he thought—kept flashing before his eyes. The vision quickly evaporated, however, as he concentrated on the task of weaving through the traffic.
Back at the office, as he was about to dive into his room, his secretary called to him, “Oh, Mr. Cheng, I’ve bought the doll. They didn’t have a blonde, so I bought a redhead. I think Sulee will love it. It walks and talks.”
Mr. Cheng found the parcel, gift wrapped, waiting on his desk next to a photograph of the little girl for whom the doll was intended. The photograph had been taken when she was nine, and it showed a sweet little lass who reminded Mr. Cheng of his wife, except at an age when she was much younger than he had ever known her. Today was the child’s eleventh birthday, he thought guiltily, and he hadn’t even seen her, having come down to breakfast after she had left for school. Never mind, he thought. He’d be home early and surprise her with the gift himself.
When he arrived home the maid informed him that the young miss was resting upstairs. He went into the dining room and placed the gift on the dining table where Sulee would not fail to see it. Then he went upstairs to shower.
He found the bathroom door ajar and heard the sound of the shower running. Outside the bathroom, thrown carelessly in a heap on the floor, were Sulee’s white and blue school uniform. Carefully he picked them up and threw them into a clothesbasket. Then he poked his head into the bathroom to say hello.
The girl was standing in the far corner of the bathroom showering. She had her back to him. He watched for a few seconds at her girlish body dripping soapy water.
“Hello, darling,” he called out. “How’s my little birthday girl today? Guess what daddy’s brought you.”
At the sound of his voice Sulee turned around but continued with her shower. Mr. Cheng was shocked by what he saw. His eleven-year-old daughter already had the body of a slender young woman. Her tiny breasts, he took in at a glance, were already developing. They were the size of… of the lid of his silver coffeepot, he thought!
“Daddyyy!!!” she called out. “Did you bring me the walking-talking doll I asked for? Did you daddy?”
“Yesss…,” he mumbled, retracting his head and quickly walking to his own room. He sank down on the bed and buried his head in his hands. Tears welled up at the corner of his eyes and trickled down his cheeks, but he couldn’t say for sure what they were for.
Illustration by Alan Van Every
Trirat Petchsingh is a contemporary Thai writer who writes fiction in English rather than Thai. He was born in 1954 in Petchaboon, Thailand but was educated abroad, earning a degree in engineering from the University of New South Wales. In 2007, Bangkok Book House published his debut book, a collection of short stories entitled Thai Mangoes. His short story, Mangoes, was published in the 2010 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology.
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