No Going Back

By Rita Nightingale

1 Bangkok
All foreign visitors entering Thailand must be in possession of a
passport endorsed and valid for Thailand. As a general rule, all
foreign nationals are required to apply for and obtain visas from
Thai Embassies or Consulates abroad. Every kind of visa is valid for
90 day period from the date of issue. Customs regulations:
prohibited items. All kinds of narcotics hemp, opium, cocaine,
morphine, heroin; obscene literature, pictures or articles.
(Thailand in brief, Public Relations Department, Government of

I ran a finger round my neck, easing the damp collar of my blouse.
Reaching for my handbag, I extracted my powder-compact, opened it
and peered at my reflection in the tiny mirror. My nose was getting
shiny again. I squinted sideways and applied the powderpuff until I
was satisfied.
Holding the mirror further away, I inspected myself and nodded
complacently. I was looking good. My short dark hair framed a face
which, with its well-defined cheekbones and almost slanted eyes, had
sometimes been mistaken for that of an Asian girl. I always took a lot
of trouble over my looks. My lipstick was just right, my eyeshadow
had that casual look which takes half an hour in front of a mirror to
I snapped the compact shut, slipped it back into my bag, and wriggled
myself into a more comfortable position. The air-conditioned
departure lounge was cooler than the remorseless Bangkok heat
outside, but it was packed with people and the heat was becoming
I'd packed warm clothes when leaving Hong Kong, ready for the chill
of Paris in March; I smiled at the thought, as I glanced down at my
expensive white silk suit and the smart stilettos I'd kicked off. Above
and around the milling passengers, impersonal loudspeaker voices in
Thai and English announced arrivals and departures. Soon the Paris
flight would be called.
My baggage had been checked in, and I had nothing to do but kill
time. I fanned myself lazily with a magazine. Nearby, a couple of
Europeans were playing cards; watching them out of the corner of her
eye was an incredibly beautiful Thai girl. I felt myself becoming
Somebody was tapping my shoulder. I jerked myself awake. A Thai
airport official, coolly immaculate in slacks and crisp white shirt,
stood looking down at me.
`Miss Nightingale?' he asked quietly. `I am from the Customs
Department. Please come with me.'
`I beg your pardon? What...'
`You must come with me, please.'
His voice was neutral, his expression unreadable. I didn't know what
he could possibly want, and I wasn't much bothered; I just hoped it
wouldn't take too long to sort out. It was almost time for my flight.
Irritated, I picked up my handbag and radio, and went with the
He escorted me to an office, where several Customs staff looked up as
I came in. Something about their manner gave me a sinking feeling
inside; this was one of those official hold ups, a piece of red tape that
was going to take time to go through; they won't hold the Paris flight
for me, I thought, and cursed my luck.
Delayed and a random customs check a quarter of an hour before
leaving. At least there wasn't anything that they could arrest me for, I
thought cynically.
Even when the officials demanded my passport and plane tickets, I
still thought it was a routine check. Everybody was speaking Thai; I
couldn't understand what was happening. When I asked what was
going on and why I was being detained, they wouldn't say directly.
One of them gave me a strange look and asked,
'What do you know about heroin?' I laughed; I still thought they were
going through the usual formulas. Then one of them reached for my
passport and cancelled my departure visa. I stopped laughing.
Whatever was going on was serious.
The Paris flight long departed, I was still in the Don Muang Airport
Customs Offices. It was about half past one at night. I was taken to
another room where there were about ten customs officers and
several policemen. There was also a young Chinese man sitting apart
from the others, nervously twining and untwining his fingers. He was
watching everything that was going on, his eyes as hard as flint. My
bags were on a long trestle table. As I watched, the officials began to
unpack them systematically which brought the smile back to my face;
I knew they were on a wild goose chase. They took each item out,
shaking it or feeling it with probing fingers. I watched scornfully as
the pile of garments and other possessions mounted up. As the last
odds and ends were taken from the bags, examined, and placed on the
pile, my smile broadened.
A moment later the smile was gone again. One of the officials was still
exploring the empty bag. He stood it on end and felt round inside,
grunting with satisfaction as he withdrew a large flat leather-covered
board. Discarding it, he delved deeper and began to pull out heavy
plastic bags. The holdalls had been fitted with false bottoms.

I began to tremble. There hadn't been any false bottoms in them when
I'd packed them in Hong Kong Incredulously, I saw the packages of
pinkish-brown stuff being pulled from my luggage. I'd never seen
them before. The official showed them to his colleague: the other bag
was examined. It had a false bottom too.
Some of the bystanders remarked `Heroin! in pleased voices, as if
they had hoped for such a discovery. I felt sick. So that was what was
in the packages. I'd smoked marijuana, but never had anything to do
with hard drugs. I always thought it was a white powder, but this was
more like brown sugar.
There was pandemonium. Several of the officials watching were
clearly delighted at the discovery:; it seemed that I was quite a catch.
They joked and laughed among themselves. Somebody shouted at me
in English,
`You like heroin? They shoot you - they give you thirty years! Ha ha!'
People were coming in and out, staring and pointing. By now there
were police officers in the room, watching the proceedings. They wore
the normal uniform, slacks and short-sleeved military shirt given a
touch of formality by the hard-peaked police cap and the efficient
leather belt slung round the waist carrying hand-gun and
ammunition. I'd passed such men scores of times in the last few days
without giving them a second glance; now I avoided looking at their
weapons. Some of the uniformed men were carrying machine guns.
The guns made a bizarre and frightening contrast to the carnival
atmosphere of the room. I noticed that one of the officers, for no
apparent reason, was wearing a shirt decorated with Mickey Mouse
Nearby, somebody was making a video film of the whole thing; there
were several photographers present. I tried to hide myself behind a
cardigan when I saw the cameras pointed at me, but couldn't avoid
them all. For some reason, I don't know why, there were children in
the room, laughing and giggling at me. The officials even turned the
player on, but they weren't satisfied when it proved to be working;
they proceeded to pull the back off. To my horror I saw that one of the
loudspeakers had been removed. In its place was more of the brown
I couldn’t cry at first. I was completely numb. Then the numbness
gave way to blazing anger, and I did cry, great gulping angry sobs. I
wanted somebody to go out and get the guy who had set me up for all
this. 'Simon....’, I muttered, over and over. It must have been Simon.
Of course, I saw it all now; they should look for Simon, I insisted. He
was still at the hotel, so far as I knew. But I couldn't make anybody
understand. I was taken to yet another room. A woman officer
ordered me to remove my clothes. I was searched efficiently and
without comment, the way an animal might be searched for parasites.
The fright and degradation only intensified the feeling, taking root in
me, that this was some sort of weird nightmare, that in a few
moments I would wake up.All told, this ordeal went on for another
three hours.
Repeatedly, a document was placed before me, an official form on
government paper filled out in the elaborate Thai script. I couldn't
understand it. `What is it?' I demanded.
‘It's a formality, it's nothing; it says that these things were found in
your possession when you were attempting to leave the country. It's a
formality. You must sign it.’ A pen was jabbed at the place where I was
to sign I refused. I refused several times, vigorously Eventually a
police captain arrived. He was calm and reasonable. Even the sight of
his uniform was reassuring; he was clearly a senior officer, he would
take charge of this circus and sort everything out.
He sat down and looked at me thoughtfully Tell me exactly what has
`Can't we go somewhere quiet to talk?' I pleaded. I just wanted to fit
the pieces together, to find out what was going on. He agreed, and
took me to a bare cell-like room, lit by a single harsh unshaded bulb.
We sat down. He took a notebook and pencil from his shirt pocket
and placed them on the desk in front of him. 'You must find Simon,' I
said desperately. 'Simon will know what this is all about.'
The captain scribbled. `Your boyfriend?' `No, not my boyfriend -
James is my boyfriend James Wong, he's meeting me in Paris; that's
where :I’m supposed to be.' Inwardly, I shuddered, and wondered
how long it would be before I got there. 'Simon – Simon Lo he's the
guy I travelled to Bangkok with.' I persisted.
`He had my bags in his room. It must have been him.’
He stared at me impassively and waited for me to continue. I
stumbled on.
`We were staying at the Asia Hotel. I cheeked out from there today.
He must still be there. I know he is.’ He smiled sceptically.
`He must be!' I said angrily. `He was there when he said goodbye to
me - he put me in a taxi there. Why don't you go and arrest him?'
The captain tapped his pencil on the desk and considered. Then he
left the room, and I heard him talking to the customs officials in the
corridor. When he returned, he nodded brusquely. `You will come
with us to the hotel.’ He wasn't going to get away with it, it was going
to be all right; soon I would be on my way to Paris. By now it was early
morning. The captain, another policeman, and two policewomen
escorted me. There was little conversation. We drove in two police
cars to the Asia Hotel in the silence of the curfew: martial law was
then operating in Thailand. Dawn was just breaking. The gilded
temples and lush tropical trees lining the empty streets appeared
through a drizzling mist. I paid little attention to them. The driver
stared at the road ahead occasionally exchanging a comment in Thai
with one of his colleagues. I sat hunched up in the back of the car, a
policewoman by my side, wanting it all to be over. The gates were
locked. We waited grimly for somebody to come down and open them.
One of the policewmen was detailed to wait with me in the reception
area while the others went upstairs. After a few minutes the captain
rang down to say I was to be taken upstairs. My heart pounded as we
stood in the elevator.
The police officers were standing in the open doorway of Simon's
room. He was in there, sitting on the bed in vest and pants, selfassured
even in that stupid situation.
‘There he is!' I cried. Simon looked at me slowly, with contemptuous,
bleak eyes.
"Who are you?" he demanded.
I almost went berserk. I think it was then that I knew, with a hopeless
certainty, that I was in really big trouble.

2 Australia

`We went to Tarronga Zoo last week and it was fabulous ... the
things I liked best were the Koala bears and baby kangaroos....'
`I've got in a bit of a rut here, it's all work and watching telly or
reading, I'm reading between five and six books a week. I haven't
got much interest in anything, so it's time I got out for a while ...'
`After a while Carl and I became more than friends. Nudge, nudge,
wink-wink, say no more!!!'
`Don't worry, Mum, if I get into any trouble you'll hear about it ...'
From various letters home, 1976

Travel was in my blood. It was a fever I had had since childhood. My
father, Harry Nightingale, had travelled the Far East as a regular
soldier before the war and had loved the people and places he had
seen. He used to tell me and my two sisters that the world was large
and exciting. He urged us to travel as soon as we were old enough.
`The world's a bigger place than Blackburn,' he said. I loved travel,
and enjoyed being a stranger, some one from far away. When I
thought of my old friends in England I pitied them. They were stuck
back there, and I was in the exotic East, living the glamorous life I'd
always dreamed of.
My home town, Blackburn, was an industrial town in the north of
England set among windswept moors and the foothills of the
Pennines. We were, and are, a close-knit family. We lived in an
apartment above the Stokers Arms, the pub my parents ran. When I
left school, I did a term's pre-nursing course at a local college, and
then started work as a cadet nurse at Queen's Park Hospital,
Blackburn. I hoped to become a State Registered Nurse, but I never
completed my training.
It looked as though I was going to spend my life in Blackburn, close to
my family, working in the town's hospital. My mother had to run the
pub nearly single-handed; Dad was seriously ill upstairs. I and my
sisters helped out when we could. Though there was lots to be done
there was time for a social life as well. I met John, a tall lean blond
boy from Stockport. We began to see each other regularly. I was
fascinated by him. He had travelled, through Europe to Greece and on
to Israel. He had the glamour I was looking for; he could tell stories of
foreign countries. His friends were travellers; they mostly lived in the
Lake District. It was a different set to that I'd known in Blackburn.
None of them had much money, but that was part of the fascination.
We talked about our dreams of travelling, and our frustration at the
cramped surroundings of Blackburn. Our friendship grew and
developed into something more serious. I was seventeen; I thought I
knew it all. I gave up my job and married John against everybody's
advice. The wedding was overshadowed by the forebodings of
relatives and the knowledge that Dad, who was too ill to attend, was
dying. His funeral followed our wedding by only a few weeks. Nine
months later I left Blackburn with John. We were bound for Sydney,
Australia. A new life, a new world.
I loved Australia. At first we lived in Sydney, where we soon lost our
English pallor. We surfed and swam. We ate prawns and other
delicious food. We spent our free time lazing on Bondi Beach, which
I'd heard about in England and promised myself I'd see one day. John
was unemployed, but I picked up enough work for us to scrape by.
You could have said I was happy, but in reality I was confused and
mixed-up. Only months after arriving in Sydney I was really
For a start, I was terribly homesick. I would never have left Blackburn
if I hadn't married - I loved my family too much. Hardly a day went by
without wistful thoughts of Mum and my sisters, aunties and uncles,
and the pub on the street corner in Blackburn town centre.
Also our marriage was going wrong. Daily, in a hundred little ways,
John and I were drifting apart. We didn't talk about it to each other -
we spent most of our time together arguing - but I didn't need telling
that things weren't working out. I was resentful that I had to go out to
work while John mostly stayed at home. Even our first anniversary
was marked by a massive row. I was beginning to realise that my
determination to stand on my own two feet and to see the world
hadn't solved the frustration I'd felt in England. My new marriage, my
new start, was falling apart already, and I knew it was more my fault
than John's. What had started as a teenage love-affair fed on dreams
of travel wasn't strong enough to survive our growing up. There didn't
seem much I could do to alter matters, and to be honest, I didn't try
very hard.
Perhaps a change of surroundings would help. We moved to Adelaide,
and from there we decided to go north, hitch-hiking to Darwin
through the outback. It was the sort of adventure we'd talked of back
in England, when we'd planned and dreamed of the things we were
going to do. The reality wasn't glamorous. We fought and hurt each
other all the way north. When we finally arrived in Darwin and settled
in a caravan park, I knew that it was the end. One day I wrote a note
for John when I left for work. I said I didn't want him any more. He
was still asleep. I left the note on the table and walked out of our flat
and out of our marriage. It had lasted six months after our
John went back to England, and I was alone in Australia. My family
urged me to come home too. I almost did, but in the end decided to
stay on. Travelling had left me restless and unsatisfied. I wanted to
settle down, get my life together, and have somebody care for me. I
wanted love and affection.
I hadn't much time to feel lonely, however. I moved to the Darwin
YWCA, got a job as a barmaid, and made scores of friends, throwing
myself into a hectic social whirl. I told myself I was having a great
time. Before long I was going out with Bernie, a curly-headed bronzed
Lancashire man I'd met in the bar where I worked. He was attractive,
kind, and had a wonderful sense of humour. We grew very close; soon
we were lovers. One day we were laughing at something when he
suddenly fell silent.
'What's up?' I demanded.
He looked at me speculatively. `Ever thought of getting married
I shrugged. `Once bitten ...!' I countered flippantly, and changed the
He didn't raise the matter again, and I certainly didn't Want to
remind him.
Alter a few months I left the YWCA and moved in with him. I was able
to convince myself I was happy, at least for most of the time. I began
to feel things for him I'd never felt for John. Sometimes it seemed that
I was happier then than I'd ever been before. But I had come to
Australia with the idea that after two years I would go back home to
visit my family, and even when I was living with Bernie this idea
persisted. Bernie, who'd made the trip himself several years before,
understood how I felt. In 1974, after being in Australia for just under
two years, I left. Bernie was going to follow in a few months. By then,
we'd begun to talk of marriage.
I planned to be in England for my twenty-first birthday. Shirley, an
English friend in the lawyer's office where I was working, wanted to
go home too. We decided we would travel to England overland. We
flew from Darwin up to Bali, then travelled through Java and Sumatra
and over to Penang in Malaysia. From Penang we went to Singapore
and up the east coast to Thailand and Bangkok. There we seized the
opportunity to take a cheap flight to Hong Kong, where we stayed six
weeks intending to return to Bangkok and go on to Nepal.
One morning I was sitting at breakfast in our Hong Kong bedsit,
opening some mail that had been waiting for me. I finished reading,
groaned, and sat back in my chair. Shirley looked up.
I indicated the letters. `From my sisters. Trouble at home. Mum's
been having some problems with the pub.'
Chinese music floated up through the open window from a transistor
radio below, mingling with the traffic noises and the perpetual babble
of conversation in the streets. Another hot Hong Kong day.
Sightseeing, shopping, perhaps a trip out to the countryside. It was
`What do you want to do today?' asked Shirley. A wave of
homesickness swept over me. I made up my mind.
`I'm going home, Shirley. By plane. Tonight.'
I arrived in England the next day. At first I worked with my mother
but I found it very difficult to settle down in the job. A pub is almost a
twenty-four hour commitment, and after my travels I couldn't cope
with the lunchtime, supper time and evening work, day after day. I
daydreamed a lot about Australia and South-East Asia, comparing the
glamour of those places with the routine of the pub. In any case, it
takes a lot of grace to live and work with somebody, and soon I was
falling out with Mum. To add to my confusion, Bernie arrived in
England and proposed. But he had been delayed by the cyclone which
devastated Darwin that year, and it was twelve months since I'd seen
him. In the interim I had become confused again. I couldn't work out
what I wanted from life, and his visit wasn't a happy time for either of
us. In the end he went back to Australia without me, and things got so
tense between me and my mother that I decided I would have to stop
working at home. I writ back to Blackburn Hospital where I enrolled
as an auxiliary nurse.
I stayed there for several months, working nights. But once again I
found it impossible to submit to discipline and a regular and wellordered
life. The hospital seemed to be closing round me like a prison,
trapping me. Gradually, I began to make plans to leave home again.
My family would have liked me to stay. Mum needed me, but more
than that she had the fears and worries of any mother seeing her
daughter going abroad. Years later she told a reporter: `It would have
been easy to say, "Don't travel it will worry me to death." But you just
can't do that to your kids, can you?' So she wished me well and even
lent me money to supplement the few hundred pounds I'd saved.
I travelled back with Bernie's sister, Pauline. We spent a few weeks in
Singapore and then arrived in Darwin. Pauline and I stayed at
Bernie's place, but I found it impossible to pick up the threads again. I
needed time to sort out my feelings. I slept on my own. It wasn't sex I
needed. I wanted to sort out my head about whether I loved this man
enough to settle down for life.
Our relationship deteriorated. Once again, I found myself unable to
change things; I saw the danger signs and was powerless to do
anything about them. Twenty miles out of town, with no car, I was
living in the house of a man I couldn't decide to marry and I didn't
know what I wanted any more.
I moved to a government hostel, bought myself a motorbike, and
made a number of friends. But I was oh, so unsettled. For me, Darwin
was Bernie; and things were bad between us, and it was my fault, and
everywhere I went in Darwin reminded me of him. I stuck it out for
nearly a year, until finally I said to myself,
`What you need, Rita Nightingale, is a little break.'
I made my plans. I would take a few months off, and travel again. I
would clear my head, think things through, and hopefully come to
some decisions. And I would take the same route that I had travelled
with Shirley, but this time I would go alone.
In Bali I met Carl, a funny, outrageous guy who was good to be with.
We travelled together for a while, sharing my motorbike and his
sleeping bag. At Bangkok, he left for England. He wanted me to go
with him. He was a great companion, I'd had a wonderful time with
him, but he was a distraction. I was travelling in order to sort myself
out, to find out what I wanted from life, to think about Bernie, about
home, about the future. I was unhappy and I knew that there was
something missing and I didn't know what it was. Certainly the last
thing I was looking for was yet another heavy relationship to get
involved in.
And so late in 1976 Carl and I said goodbye at Bangkok Airport. He
went back to London, and I flew to Hong Kong.

3 Hong Kong

It's girls that one goes to a place like the Kokusai for, and the
Kokusai has plenty of them, all very attractive and all very
accommodating ... A hostess can set you back HK$15 for every 15
minutes you're trying to make conversation with her. No problem
buying a hostess out, but that'll set you back a lot more dollars.
Tobin's guide to Hong Kong night-life, by

Anthony L. Tobin

I arrived in Hong Kong a few days before Christmas with Sue, a girl
I'd met in Java. She'd been on the same plane. I caught my breath as
we walked to Nathan Road from Kai Tak Airport. The excitement I'd
felt when I had last been to the Colony was back. High above us,
hanging from the buildings and festooned across the street, were
thousands of garishly coloured signs and advertisements in bold
Chinese calligraphy, festooning the towering buildings in blue, scarlet
and white. At street level, the shops open to the pavement were
packed with tourists, deliberating over displays of everything in the
world that one might want to buy. Impatient crowds pushed past as I
drank in the spectacle; the roar of traffic forcing its way down the
street, people of all nationalities thronging the pavements, Chinese
music blared from loudspeakers in shop doorways; and a magical,
shimmering view of the harbour was just visible beyond it all at the
end of the thoroughfare. A mixture of traffic fumes, cooking smells
and the occasional whiff of fish from the harbour pervaded the air,
and over everything a mist blurred the tops of buildings and the view
of the harbour.
`This way!' I said to Sue, my voice raised against the noise. I'd met up
with her on the plane from Bangkok. I already knew her - we'd met in
Bali - and we'd decided to team up in Hong Kong for a while.
We made our way down Nathan Road, stopping to gaze at shop
windows piled with jewellery, calculators, cameras and other luxuries,
and even the voices of passers-by grumbling at us were an exotic
mixture of languages. I loved it. It was what travel was all about, as far
as I was concerned; and my own delight was doubled by witnessing
that of Sue, who hadn't been to Hong Kong before.
At its harbour end, Nathan Road becomes the `Golden Mile', where
night-clubs, bars and hotels jostle the large shops. I indicated a side
road, and we turned down a Crowded alley. 'Chungking,' I announced,
as we stopped in front of a shabby sprawling tenement block of
enormous size. Sue looked up at it doubtfully. `This is it?' she said. I
laughed. `This is Chungking Mansions.'
I'd stayed at Chungking when I was last in Hong Kong. It's a
conglomeration of lodging houses, shops and cheap eating houses; the
whole thing forms one of larger blocks in Nathan Road. We wanted
cheap accommodation, and Chungking was certainly cheap; you got
what you paid for. I'd told Sue about it and she had been enthusiastic.
Now we were there, she hovered uncertainly.
'The Hilton's quite near, if you'd prefer.' I teased, pointing hack
towards Nathan Road. Sue grinned.
'In for a penny . . .’
We entered the block. Around the courtyard we entered were different
shops, and here and there elevators. A notice-board was placed at
each elevator entrance.
We scanned the scraps of paper and picked an apartment which
looked reasonable. A middle-aged Chinese in singlet and shorts,
sitting on a balcony, announced himself as the landlord of the
apartment. He seemed supremely uninterested in doing business, but
eventually we managed to persuade him to rent it to us. `You pay rent
in advance,' he emphasised.
`That's fine,' we said. He extended a hand for the money.
I kept my hands in my pockets. `We'd like to see the room first.'
He scowled. `Why you want to see room? It's a room, that's what you
want, isn't it? Maybe you don't want room.'
He turned his back and studied the courtyard below. It took us several
minutes of further bargaining before he reluctantly took us to the
It was small and uncarpeted. Two single beds, a chest of drawers and
a dilapidated wardrobe took up most of the available space. By
Chungking standards, it was quite pleasant, and - a real luxury in
Chungking - it possessed a window, from which there was an
impressive view of the back of another wing of the Mansions. We
looked at each other, smiled happily, and paid the attendant.
Thrusting the cash into his pocket, he shuffled away down the
corridor complaining bitterly under his breath.
We dumped our rucksacks, put away our belongings, and went out to
`What first?' I said.
`Food!' cried Sue. `I'm starving!'
We found a small Chinese restaurant, where we sampled the exotic
delights of the menu; we were both hungry, and we ate until we could
eat no more, and then sat and watched Hong Kong go by until we felt
ready to move again.
It was mid-evening. The neon signs were lit in Nathan Road,
thousands of them; a slight evening chill offset the sultry heat as the
sky darkened into night. Sue wanted to explore on her own, and I had
a number of things I wanted to do, so we agreed to split up. I stood in
the street and planned my evening. Should I go down to the harbour,
or wander round the shops in Nathan Road, which was becoming
even brighter and more exciting as the neon signs illuminated and
colourful Chinese lanterns appeared in the restaurant windows? It
was all so exciting; the familiar thrill was very strong. It was good to
be back. I decided first of all to see whether any of the people I'd
known last time were still around. I'd been quite friendly with a girl
called Robin, who worked at the Kokusai night club in Nathan Road
near Chungking. I wanted to see her again. I set off for the Kokusai.
The entrance, like those of most of the better-class clubs, was a
discreet doorway. I peered in. The reception lounge was deserted.
Nobody was around; it was nine O'clock - still early for the club to be
open. The turbanned door-keeper I remembered was nowhere to be
seen. I went to the back entrance and pushed the door open. Framed
colour photographs of the dance floor, the hostesses and the band
lined an expensively-carpeted staircase leading down to the Kokusai.
Downstairs, the empty club looked drab and unused. The lighting was
harsh and revealing, and the mirrors which lined the walls reflected
empty seats and tables. The bandstand was deserted. A barman was
polishing glasses, slowly and with an air of boredom, behind a tiny
bar. A smell of stale tobacco smoke hung in the air. A Eurasian girl
was sitting at a table reading a magazine. She looked up.
`Want something?'
`Is Robin here?' I asked.
She shook her head and turned a page. `No – she doesn't work here
any more. You know her?'
`Not really,' I said. `I just got to know her a bit when I was last here.'
She closed her magazine. She seemed glad of a chat. `Cathy took
Robin's job. She's here. Do you know Cathy?'
`Cathy? I don't think . . .'
`Oh, she's great!' said the other girl. `You'll like her. Come and say
hello to Cathy.'
She seized my arm and took me through to the hostesses' dressing
room, where I had sometimes called to meet Robin. It was as I
remembered it. Two or three girls were sitting at the long row of
mirrors, putting on make-up and doing their hair. Lipsticks and pots
of face cream were strewn along the bench and expensive dresses
were tossed casually over the backs of chairs.
A pretty dark-haired girl in a kimono was delving into a pile of
clothes. 'Mary-Rose!' she shouted sulkily as we entered. `Where's my
slip? You've dumped all your things on top of mine ...'She stopped
short as she saw us.
`Hi! Who are you?'
`She's looking for Robin, Cathy.'
Cathy inspected me. `Robin's left here. Move some things and grab a
seat while I get myself sorted out. Just flown in?'
I liked Cathy immediately. We got into conversation and I told her
about my travels and my previous visit to Hong Kong. She introduced
me to the other girls. One of them reached out a hand and touched my
face. `You look so fresh!' she said. It was true. I was wearing no makeup,
and I'd been travelling in the sunshine for several weeks. These
girls worked for months on end without seeing much daylight.
After a while Cathy asked, `How long are you going to be in Hong
Kong? Do you want a job?'
It wasn't something I'd given much thought to. `What sort of job?'

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