[Editor’s Note : Every week we will be publishing one chapter from Ansh Das’s book, The Memory Of A Face. Needless to say, we are super excited! Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 14, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 17, Chapter 18, Chapter 19, Chapter 20, Chapter 21, Chapter 22, Chapter 23, Chapter 24 & Chapter 25]
Just before their turn at the counter, Cute overheard the cover charge amount. It was way over his budget. He wondered if he should tell Fred or wait and see. He didn’t want to form a bad impression and it was embarrassing to be short of cash on a date.
When they reached the counter, Fred took out his wallet and paid for both of them.
“Let me pay for myself.” Cute volunteered hoping he wouldn’t need to.
“That’s okay. You can buy me a drink,” Fred said to Cute’s relief.
Cute wondered if he’d be required to show his Hong Kong Identity card. Although he was nineteen, he looked fifteen or sixteen years old. Soon they were stamped on their wrists and allowed to pass through.
Cute had heard about the layout of the place from his friends. However, it was a different feeling to see it for real. Beyond the counter was a circular waiting space. A narrow corridor ran to the left into the dance floor. Up ahead he saw a sign for the washrooms. To the right was a bar.
Fred put his hand on Cute’s shoulder and guided him towards the bar. Cute noticed a lot of eyes turn towards them. He was being gaged. After all, he was fresh fish in the market.
The bar was long and needed around 5-6 bartenders to serve the people hurdled along it. Small groups of customers had taken up most of the barstools next to the bar. Tables for four, with high back sofa seats, lined up along the wall opposite to the bar. The barstools standing next to a railing, which ran through the middle of the room dividing it into two different sections, were taken up.
“What would you like to drink?” Fred asked Cute.
“Gin and Tonic, please.” Cute had read somewhere it was a safe drink to have.
Fred ordered a beer for himself and handed the free drink coupons to the bartender. He found a stool for Cute and stood right next to him. His stance appeared protective towards Cute. Fred had one hand on the counter and the other one on Cute’s shoulder. Cute wondered if Fred was doing that to create a romantic atmosphere. He may have been trying to send a signal to others. A signal that would suggest Cute belonged to him. Cute smiled. He liked that as long as it did not interfere with his plans.
Their drinks arrived. He said cheers and took a sip. He hadn’t tried Gin and Tonic before. It tasted weird. However, he was confident he could handle it better than beer, which smelled bad.
“How long have you been living in Hong Kong for?” Cute asked.
“Close to nine years now.”
“Can you speak any Cantonese?”
“I know enough to get by everyday. Pok Fu Lam, mgoi. Gei chin ar? Mgoi saai.” Fred laughed.
“Not bad.” Cute laughed. “What else can you say?”
“Ngo oi lei, leng jai.”
“Wow.” Cute tried to look surprised although he was pleased.
“Cheers.” Fred raised his bottle and drank from it. “Why does everybody ask the same question?”
“Whether I know Cantonese…”
“I don’t know about others. I felt it would be nice if you could speak or understand some Cantonese. I could share more with you in our conversations,” Cute said. “I didn’t mean to offend you. Sorry.”
“Ha! Don’t be so serious. I’m just bored of that question. I know I should put more effort into learning Cantonese. Maybe you can teach me?”
“Sure,” Cute said. “I can teach you.”
“That’s great. So tell me more about yourself. I know we have chatted before, but I prefer chatting face to face.”
“What do you want to know about me?”
“Anything you want to share lah.” Fred pulled up a barstool, which had just been vacated, and placed it right in front of Cute’s. He sat down facing Cute as if he were giving him undivided attention.
“Well. I’m a home boy. I don’t go out much. Just TV and some swimming.”
“What about shopping or movies?” Fred asked.
“I like shopping but I’m poor.” Cute laughed. “I like going to the cinema with my partner. But I have been single for so long; I watch movies on DVD instead.”
“Don’t worry. We can watch movies together. Do you do any other sports?”
“I like hiking and table tennis.” Cute answered.
“I love hiking but I’m bad at table tennis. The whole concept is so tiny. A small table, small ball and small bats. I’m good at outdoor ball games. I play golf. You should join me sometime.”
“You mean out in the sun?” Cute was worried he’d get a tan. That was a no-no for him.
“You could always use a sunblock.” Fred laughed.
There was a pause and Cute seized the opportunity to look around. He saw everybody looking happy. He saw Fred looking around too. He was probably checking out other people. A few of Fred’s friends came up and said hello to him. Most of them were gweilo. Fred’s Chinese friends were in their late twenties or mid-thirties. At least Fred didn’t have any young friends to grab Fred’s attention away from Cute.
“Shall we go over to the other side?” Fred asked him.
The other half of the club had the dance floor in the middle. Tables and barstools lined up on three sides of it. The fourth side had a sofa section that had been marked as reserved. A few people sat there. The far end had another bar, which wasn’t as long as the one on the other side. It had only three bartenders serving the guests.
“Do you want another drink?” asked Cute.
“Later. What about you?”
The DJ was playing trance. The smoke machine let out gusts of thick white smoke every few seconds. A few disco balls hung from the ceiling but the lighting was dim.
“Do you wanna dance?” asked Fred.
“I’m not good at it.”
“You can try. It’s fun. Come on.” Fred held out his hand.
Cute took it and followed Fred to the middle of the dance floor. He had no idea how to dance to this kind of music. He preferred hip-hop. The DJ had crossed the thin line that separated music from noise. This was noise. But people were dancing all around him. He tried to sway and hoped it would look as if he were dancing. It was tough, very tough. So he resorted to following Fred’s movements. Fred liked that and urged him on.
Suddenly a blast of white smoke hit his face making him choke.