Ain't Like The Girls Back Home
They dock every year. This time, we’re finally eighteen. Cause for celebration: a four-day port call bender and the end of high school. Natalia is going to Georgetown, Ana has a ticket to a front desk at some Argentine hostel, and I’m waiting for A’s to confirm my new life in London. For these men who roll into the city, we smash bronzers in bags full of mineral oil and shake them before drowning our limbs in tan. Iron our straight black hair even straighter. Wriggle greyish green contact lenses over our pupils, eclipsing our dark irises. Pack our breasts in push-up bras and fasten platform heels to our feet. We call ourselves fun, ready to flap up, up, and away. They call us sirens, absolving themselves from crashing. Cliffs and rocks materialize from our calls. Sirens because the sea’s wild, uninhibited, uncontrollable nature needs to be tamed. Underneath our sweet smiles, our sing-song tones, our budding desire for touch—we hide monstrous wings, scaly claws, and strummed harps to lure them. To hunt and discard.
We catch them wiping their foreheads with their round white hats, stretched down Lockhart Road, red-faced and sour-breathed, just like every other foreigner who rips through Asia without curiosity or a sorry. They descend to refuel, a neighborhood away from the old police station, cat-calling and wide leg-waddling down sidewalks teemed with strippers. Bar maids. Call girls. Girls, like us, with soft tender hands gripping around poles in the dark, clasping hard brass keys on the way home, or bracing doorknobs ready to exit. Girls we could be for one night, flying astray from our landlocked shores. Girls who give plump pecks on these men’s cheeks, with constrained mouths of want, asking: “How long, mistah?” “How much you have?” They like it when we use our unblinking eyes and whole bodies. We like it because they are easy.
When they see us strutting in the crowd, pulling on neck tabs and bow ties, they offer a “Beautiful,” and “So exotic.” We link arms and join them on the dancefloor and bar tables, and straddle their laps on unsteady stools. We “ain’t like the girls back home,” or “don’t do this for money,” or remind them of their wives, and only a few will give us grief. Some wrinkle their noses and yell, “Easy!” still succumbing to our beckoning. Sailors are gullible. Gullible is uncomplicated. Uncomplicated is achievable.
The boys at school do not touch us. I think it is because we grew up together. Our families raised us to be mighty like clouds, to rain and thunder even when out of sight. They’ve witnessed us soak the backs of our skirts red, sprout coarse fuzz from under our arms, and swell out of our chests. Now that we’re here, the girls are not. Somehow that is to be mourned. We wanted something other than wings, claws, and harps. They deem us too precious to be hunting and killing. Too special to be a fleeting moment, a memory to which they will keep returning, too known to become forgotten.
As the night extends, fingers woven in fingers move to graze our lower backs, palm the thick curve of our hips, and seize our sides to an unlit corner of Carnegies. I’m watching Natalia, who is minding Ana, who is winking at me. We will go home together, maybe for the last time before venturing out into the world. A world full of these men, the kind who will never ask us what we want. What we need. Why we lure them at all. For these men, we are their stories, myths that will haunt them back home. Whiskey Sours turn into Long Island fishbowls, and the floor begins to suck our toes in, and “Don’t Stop Believing” merges into “Maybe you’re gonna be the one that saves me,” and I still don’t know what a wall of wonder looks like, but I know it is not this.
The sailor I’m holding asks if I’d go home with him. He’s paid for a room nearby,—“Just for tonight,”—teary eyed, voice dripping with yearning. Far from home and pining for a cup of it, he believes one night will quench his thirst. I’m parched too. I want both of his blonde hands through my bellybutton, tearing me from the inside out. I want to claw his back deep red, suck his chest purple, leaving him sweaty and panting my name. I want these things more than I want him. As I nod, Ana runs up crying, “We have to go.”
We turn to Natalia vomiting. Our girl is hunched by the door, hurling reams of flesh colored mush onto the street. People are cheering and booing, circling her—their wounded prey. The sailor she is with rubs her hair, still calling her a beauty. Exotic. Any longer, and she might fall into his arms, his fake care, and his “Just for tonight” only. We may call ourselves fun, but we are not stupid. We cannot look away from a crash and survive. Cliffs and rocks can kill us, and we are not immortal. Ana and I rush over, lending our arms to prop up Natalia, wading into the road for a taxi. The sailor I was with follows behind, shouting, “Hey! Where you going?” I don’t even spin around, so he keeps going, “Hey! Hey! At least give me your name!” Now my lips curl into a grin. There are parts of a girl found in a siren after all.
Ploi Pirapokin is the Nonfiction Editor at Newfound Journal, and the Co-Editor of The Greenest Gecko: An Anthology of New Asian Fantasy forthcoming from Wesleyan University Press. Her work is featured and forthcoming in Tor.com, Pleiades, Ninth Letter, Gulf Stream Magazine, The Offing, and more. She can be found on www.ppirapokin.com. Twitter: @ppirapokin