Tom pumped his fist at the news. He couldn’t believe his good fortune. The stars had aligned in his favor but, poor Jeff. Too bad for him. Aida would be upset, but it couldn’t be helped; orders were orders.
“What happened to Jeff? How did he break his leg?”
“He fell off a jeepney.”
“How do you fall off a jeepney and break your leg?”
“Yeah, that’s what I asked.” Steve chuckled. Jeff was a drunk, so his broken leg came as no surprise. “He was drunk off his ass in Subic City and coming back to base with some other guys in a jeepney. Jeff decided it would be fun to ride hanging off the back. When the earthquake hit, the jeepney veered into a pothole, bounced around, and threw Jeff. He landed with his leg under him. Ray and Keith said they heard the bone snap. It was sticking out of his leg and everything.”
“God, that sounds painful. Is he all right? Where is he?”
“In the base hospital. He’s doing okay, but he was so drunk he won’t remember anything.”
“Wow. Lucky for me, though. Did Kenny say how long we’d be in Thailand?”
“At least two weeks, probably longer. Kenny didn’t say so, but you’ll probably stay for the whole detachment.”
“Awesome!” Tom was excited at the prospect of another two weeks in Thailand. He loved the airfield at Utapao, the hotel in Pattaya City, the Whiskey a Go Go…Lek. Ummm, Lek. Long-legged Lek. Elastic Lek. Little, tight, brown sex machine. Wow. He couldn’t wait to see her. His excitement rose as he thought of Lek.
“I’ve been talking to you for five minutes. What were you thinking…. Oh. Lek.”
Tom smiled behind a flood of memories of his last trip to Thailand and nights filled with Lek. “How’d you know…?”
“Believe me, Tom, if you talked in your sleep it would be about Lek. I still can’t believe you plan to marry Aida – if you really do – when Lek seems to be the girl on your mind. Don’t you feel guilty? Don’t you feel bad two-timing Aida? What would she think if she knew your only reason for going to Thailand was to cheat on her? As I said earlier, man, you’re a pig.”
“Like you have room to talk. You whore around Subic City and the Barrio with a different girl every chance you get. Where do you get off calling me a pig?”
“That’s just it, Tom, I don’t have a regular girlfriend the way you do. I’m not almost married. If I had a girlfriend, especially one I planned to marry, I sure as hell wouldn’t treat her the way you treat Aida. She’s such a nice girl, Tom. She’s so damn pretty and nice, and, man, does she curve in all the right places. You’re lucky, and you want to throw it all away on a few days of pleasure. I don’t get you. You’re going to regret it one of these days. What if you get the clap and give it to Aida? Have you ever thought about that? You’ll break her heart. You’ll regret losing her for the rest of your life. All because you had to get your rocks off.”
“Hey, I might as well get it out of my system before we’re married. Right? Besides, Lek is clean. She keeps her shot card up to date. What’s the harm anyway? Aida will never know. The only way she’d find out is if someone tells her. You wouldn’t tell her. Would you?”
“I wouldn’t tell her. Well, I don’t know, Tom. No. I wouldn’t tell her. But I’d hate to see you hurt her. She treats you like a king, and it’s obvious to everyone but you she adores you, loves you. Even the mama-san sees it.”
“The mama-san? How do you know?” Maybe that’s why he felt like she always watched him. That’s probably why she had questioned him earlier. Steve liked Maricel’s, too, and visited frequently. He had slept with both Grace and Luz. The mama-san had probably questioned Steve about Aida and his relationship since she knew they were close friends. But Steve wouldn’t give anything away. Nonetheless, Mama-san had been direct with her questions.
She watched everything going on from her perch at the end of the bar. She knew which Sailors were trouble and which were okay. She had a short list of the ones she could trust with a girl fresh from the provinces, and a longer list of those who treated the girls like dirt – Aida had told him that. Mama-san would naturally be aware of a growing relationship between patron and hostess. He had slept with a few other girls in Olongapo since meeting Aida. Beside those, he had slept with only one other woman, Lek, but she was in Thailand. Well, he had slept with Debbie in Singapore, but she was from Texas. Mama-san couldn’t possibly know of Lek, and probably didn’t know of the others. He was safe.
Tom’s head ached from all the thinking and his eyes hurt. He rubbed them with his fingertips.
“You know what? It doesn’t matter, Steve. It just doesn’t matter. I love Aida, and I’m going to marry her. That’s all that counts. So I’d better go and tell her I’m going to Thailand for a couple of weeks; she’ll want to help me pack.”
“All right, Tom. You know I wouldn’t say anything to hurt Aida, but I sure hope you don’t hurt her.”
“I know.” Tom’s hamburger was growing colder by the second. “Are you coming to Maricel’s with me? Aida’s there. I’m going to eat and then go home and pack my flight bag. You want to come?”
“I’ll have a beer while you eat, then I’m heading back to base; it’s been a long day, and I still smell like fuel. I haven’t had a chance to shower.”
“Yeah, I didn’t want to hurt your feelings by saying you stink.”
“How come you don’t stink?”
“I wasn’t in a hurry to find someone so I showered at the barracks.”
They walked together to Maricel’s. Steve ordered a beer and sat with Mama-san while Tom gave Aida the news.
“Aida. Steve told me I’m leaving for Thailand tomorrow morning.”
“Oh, honey ko. Now you don’t go home with me.”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t supposed to go this time, but the other guy broke his leg and can’t go.”
“Who the other guy?”
“Oh. He always drunk when he come to Maricel’s. He drunk when he break his leg?”
“Yes. During the earthquake. He’ll be laid up with his leg in a cast for a while.”
“Good. Now he can’t drink. Anyway, he always a happy drunk and don’t cause trouble, and the other girls they like him. I like him too if he’s not drunk, but don’t let him pay my barfine.”
“He wanted to pay your barfine?” Aida had never told him about Jeff. The guy was a dirtbag and an alcoholic, and always looking for ways to avoid work. Tom couldn’t stand being near him.
“Yes. Last year before we meet. He come to Maricel’s and see me dancing then buying me a drink, but he already been drinking so much and he can’t walk too good. I leave and playing pool with Grace and Luz until he leave. Next time when he come to Maricel’s with his friends he don’t remember me.”
“Does he bother you anymore?”
“No. He never talking to me since he knows you pay my barfine. He never bother me either, just he is always drunk. I don’t like the guy who is always drinking.”
“Well, he’s come to work with enough hangovers.”
“He is a good guy, but not like you, honey ko. You the only guy who make me happy when you come to Maricel’s. I know when I first see you from the balcony I gonna make you pay my steady barfine.” Aida laughed, pressed her head against Tom’s shoulder and tickled his ribs.
“Ow! Aida. Stop. Stop. You know I’m ticklish, Aida. Ow. Stop!”
They laughed together when Tom tickled Aida, their laughter carrying across the bar and rising above the low hum of conversation between Sailors and barmaids, the clink of beer bottles against glasses, the music from the jukebox. Tom caught a glimpse of Mama-san smiling at them. Aida was her favorite, and she had been reluctant to let him pay her steady barfine. Aida told him she had pleaded with Mama-san in private, telling her Tommy was the one she had been waiting for. Mama-san relented after Tom convinced her of his devotion to Aida.
Tom ate his burger while he and Aida chatted. When he finished, and while Aida said goodbye to Grace and Luz, Tom took Steve aside.
“Steve. Keep an eye on Aida, would you?”
Steve gave him a quizzical look and Tom said, “No. I mean check on her, especially if the earthquakes get worse. The volcano too. They keep saying it could blow any day now. We keep the door to the house open so it won’t jam shut in an earthquake. I don’t know what I’d do if anything happened to Aida.”
“I will. Don’t worry about Aida. Lucy and I will keep tabs on her. I’ll get word to you if anything happens. I won’t leave Aida without knowing she’s safe.”
Aida hugged Grace and Luz and made them promise to visit her at home. Steve remained behind talking to the two barmaids while Aida and Tom said goodbye to Mama-San.
“So you are off to Thailand? Well, I hope you enjoy yourself, but not too much. I have visited Pattaya several times and find it an alluring resort. Will you stay in a hotel in Pattaya or is there a barracks at the airfield?”
“We’ll stay in a hotel – we have a van to carry us back and forth. The work days are usually long,” he added, in a feeble attempt to head off the mama-san’s line of thought.
“I see. What do Sailors do in Pattaya when they are not working? Will you window-shop?”
Tom didn’t know what to say. He stared open-mouthed when Mama-san mentioned window-shopping. Some hotels displayed hostesses behind plate-glass windows. Guests selected the girl they wanted and paid the hotel for her services. Tom had never used the service, but plenty of Sailors and tourists took advantage of the easy pick up. He managed to control himself other than the blush that burned across his face.
“I manage to find good deals on jewelry and souvenirs, don’t I Aida?”
“Oh Mama-san. Tommy always bringing me nice presents when he goes away.”
“Yes, and there’s plenty of time to walk around town, eat at great restaurants, and see some great club bands play. We also have tours arranged for our days off.” Tom couldn’t stop tap-dancing. Mama-san listened, the slightest smile lifting the corner of her mouth. “It will be a hard detachment, but we’ll have a little free time. We’ll be back here before you know it.” He smiled at Mama-san and nudged Aida toward the door.
As she walked out she called back. “Bye-bye Mama-san. I will come here and see you after I return from Lamao.”
“Good-bye, Aida, good-bye, Tom. Hurry back.”
Tom could barely meet Mama-san’s eyes. ‘Does she have me pegged or what? I wouldn’t be surprised if I saw her in Thailand keeping an eye on me.’
He and Aida took a jeepney home. The brick held the door as they had left it and they walked in. The damage was minor other than a fresh layer of dust and some broken plates that had fallen off the counter. Aida was relieved; she had precious few personal belongings, sending most of her earnings home before she met Tom. Tom suspected some of the money he gave her went to her family.
Tom started packing, but Aida took over, grumbling over the way he folded his shirts, and muttering about how helpless men were. He was impatient to leave for the barracks where he planned to spend the night. He didn’t want to stay in town and risk being late in the morning, especially if there were more earthquakes. Missing the flight would lead to big trouble. At least the barracks night watch could wake him. In the morning, at the hangar, he would buy some food from the coffee mess, enough to tide him over for the five-hour flight to Thailand. He would probably sleep the whole flight, though.
Tom ate a bowl of rice and pork, brushed his teeth, and grabbed his flight bag. Saying good-bye was hard, especially when thoughts of Lek intruded.