Guest Relation Officer
“GRO. Tell me again what it is,” Theresa begged. It was late and she had been lying awake impatiently waiting for Maria to come home from the bar. Maria was exhausted and just laid down next to her on the thin mattress they shared.
“Come on, Thessie. I am so tired and I have told you like a thousand times.”
“Please, tell me again.”
Maria sighed. “I am a Guest Relation Officer. It is like a hostess, you know. I make sure the guests enjoy themselves.”
“What do you do?” Theresa asked, unable to hide her excitement, though she already knew the answer.
“I talk to the customers,” Maria said with a little smile. “They are mostly foreigners. We get a lot of businessmen. I make sure they drink, and I dance with them if they feel like it. Sometimes I sing karaoke. We have a stage in the club. The men really like that, and they clap and cheer. Some evenings I have to sing the whole time.”
Theresa could no longer contain herself. “Let me come with you one night, just to watch. Please, please, please!”
“No!” Maria said and turned on her side to sleep.
It was not often they managed to talk alone. Most nights Maria would not come home until dawn, and during the day there would always be people around in their small room. But the nights when they did talk, it would keep Theresa dreaming for days on end.
“You look like a model,” Theresa said, feeling the soft fabric of the dress between her fingers; trying in vain to hide her jealousy as Maria was getting dressed for work.
“No, you can’t wear it so stop staring at it,” Maria hissed.
Theresa dreamt about wearing dresses like that; especially the long red one. She imagined herself in it, in a grand bar, talking to foreign men, making them laugh and dance with her.
The magic of Maria’s work only grew when one morning Theresa saw a small bottle of perfume standing next to their mattress. She noticed it as soon as she got up. Having to wait for hours for Maria to wake up was killing her. Impatient to quiz her about it, the waiting eventually got too much for her and she gently woke her up.
“What is that?” Theresa asked, with the bottle in her hand.
“It’s a present from this guy, a foreigner,” Maria said sleepily. “He often comes to the club and always asks for me. Sometimes he brings me a gift or something. Last night he brought me this.”
“Can I try it?” Maria nodded as she turned over on the mattress. “Smells nice.”
“Yes, it’s an expensive brand. He said you can’t buy it in Manila. He got it in the duty free. He travels a lot with work. Now, will you please let me sleep?”
The perfume bottle was the main topic for dinner conversation that evening. Theresa had already told everything to Mama, but still there was much to discuss as they all sat on the floor around the pot of steaming rice and fish.
“You are doing so well,” Mama said to Maria as she served the food. “I am so proud of you, child.” Maria had always been Mama’s favourite and with the job in the club, she was even more so. Mama never missed a chance to brag about her daughter who had such a good job and brought home a good salary. “And it is such a nice gift you got,” Mama continued.
“Yes, he really likes me.” Maria stretched her legs out. “One day, I will marry a foreigner. Maybe not him, but someone.” She smiled. “Then I will move to Europe or the US, and I will send home money every week.”
Mama smiled. “I always knew you would do well, child. I always knew.”
“Tell me more,” Theresa begged when they had a moment alone. “Tell me about the guy who gave you that expensive perfume.”
“He is one of the nice ones. Some of them treat me really well. They take me back to these big hotels. Some of these hotels they are like palaces. Marble and glass all over and really large rooms. Some of them have bathrooms bigger than our place! Sometimes they will order food for me if I want. I normally don’t because then they tend to tip less, but if they order for themselves I will have some also. I prefer room service. I don’t really like going to the restaurants. Most of the time it is too late anyway, but sometimes they insist and then I will go with them.”
“What’s wrong with the restaurants?” Theresa wanted to know.
“The people working there always make remarks that are not nice, but they make them in Tagalog so the guy will never understand. Sometimes the people in the hotel will even try to get money off me when I leave. They think they are something special just because they are wearing uniforms and working in an expensive place.”
Theresa sat and listed to Maria talking and once again she felt the envy swell up inside her. She could not help it. She also wanted to try to stay in these palaces, and to have waiters bring her whatever she wanted. The jealousy was eating away at her. Every night when Maria put on her dress it was there, gnawing away deep inside her. It took a long time before she finally managed to build up the courage to tell Maria how she felt.
“You always get to wear such beautiful clothes,” she said as she watched Maria getting dressed. Maria did not respond but just looked in the mirror to see if dress was tight enough on her. “It not just the dresses,” Theresa blurted out. “You are meeting all these interesting foreign men, from all over the world.”
“Don’t worry,” Maria said in a quiet voice. “You are not missing much; their beer breath in your face and the smell of cigarettes while their hands are all over you.”
She did not say more, but it did little to calm the envy. Theresa was blinded by all the glamour. Even the nights when she could feel Maria’s whole body shaking as she lay next to her crying silently, even then, she could only think of the dresses and the foreign men showering her with gifts and attention.
Theresa couldn’t let it go. It became an obsession. She wanted to see and experience it for herself. Whenever they were alone she begged and pestered Maria.
“All I want to is to see what you do. I will be really quiet, I promise, please, please, please.”
Theresa pestered her for weeks, never letting it go. Eventually, Maria gave in.
“Alright! Fine! I will ask the manager,” she sighed. “Mr. Santos can be a bit difficult sometimes.”
Maria took her along on a Monday when the bar would not be too busy. Theresa was so excited all day and the hours just dragged along unbearable slowly until it finally was evening. Maria reluctantly lent her the red dress for the occasion.
They arrived at the bar and Theresa was beside herself with excitement. The light inside was dim but one could still see the stains on the red coloured carpet and the smudges on the walls. Pop music blared out from the loud speakers. At first a sour smell of beer filled her nostrils but it gradually faded as she got used it. On one side a bar ran along the wall with tall chairs in front of it, and red velvet couches around low tables filled up the rest of the room. At the far end there was a small stage. A few women already sat at the bar but otherwise the place was empty. A short man with a moustache and in a bright yellow suit came over.
“Maria, so this is your sister?” the man asked as he quickly looked up and down Theresa and smiled. “You are a bit younger than the girls we have here, but if you are interested I might know some people who would like to meet you.”
Theresa just smiled a little and said, “Thank you, sir.”
“As you are not working you have to sit in the back so the men don’t notice you.”
Maria nodded. “Yes, of course Mr. Santos. I will look after her.”
She led Theresa down to the end of the bar and introduced her to the other girls. Theresa looked at them. They were all so pretty, some even prettier than Maria. Theresa knew she would never be able to get a job in a place such as this. It was very clear, even from Mr Santos’ look when he first saw her. Maria had already told her that he offered all young girls to introduce them to his friends, but it did not mean that you could get a job as a hostess.
“Maria, so this is your baby sister we hear so much about?” one of the girls asked.
Maria nodded. “Yes, that’s Thessie! Where is Annaliza? I thought she was working tonight.”
“She was sent home by Mr. Santos,” the girl said. “That guy she went with yesterday roughed her up!” The girl pointed to her right eye. “Big black one! Mr Santos told her not to come back until it was gone! He was very upset that she showed up at all!”
It was a quiet evening and they sat in silence. Theresa was dying to ask questions but had promised Maria not to. A couple of Korean businessmen came in. Maria knew them.
“They are regulars,” she said. “They have their favourites.”
A couple of the girls got up and went over and joined the businessmen, greeting them like old friends. Mr. Santos watched closely from the bar, smiling every time the waitress brought more drinks over to the table. The girls started taking turns to sing karaoke and dance, while the Koreans smiled and drank. The other girls sat quietly at the bar and smiled whenever a customer looked at them.
Another group came in and sat down, and Mr Santos signalled to some of the girls to join them at their table. The place was gradually filling up and Mr. Santos was busy trying to keep an eye on everything and everyone. Two white men came in and sat down at a table. One was heavily overweight and sweating profusely, complaining bitterly about the heat outside.
“Can we have some beer?” the fat one shouted. They gave the waitress’s breasts a long stare as she served the drinks. Mr Santos made a sign and Maria and another girl went over and sat down next to them, smiling and giving them a kiss on the cheek. The waitress brought over two glasses of red wine.
“Wait,” the fat man yelled at the waitress. “Who is paying for this?”
“Aren’t you going to buy me a drink?” Maria asked as she smiled sweetly and put her hand on his knee.
“How much is it?” he asked.
“60 pesos,” replied the waitress.
“That is too expensive,” he complained.
“It is not that much. A drink would cost you a lot more at LA Café down the street,” Maria said, still smiling.
“Well, you better deduct that from whatever you charge,” he said and knocked back half of his beer in one go. He and his friend started talking about some sports game. After having ignored her for a little while he turned to her and asked, “So what is your name?”
“Maria,” she answered with a little smile and gently caressed his thigh.
He grinned to his friend, “That’ll be flat Maria. Get it? Flat; no tits.” His friend came with a drunken grunt. Maria smiled politely. “You are not that pretty so you should give me a discount,” the fat man continued without looking at her. “And can we have some more beer over here?”
The Koreans got up to leave with their girls. Mr. Santos went over to them with a big smile and bowed slightly.
“You had a nice time?” he asked.
They nodded. “Yes, very nice, thank you.”
“You’ll take the girls with you?” Mr. Santos asked. “There is a small fee, not expensive; 3,000 pesos per girl.”
“We only paid 2,000 last time.”
“No, no, always 3,000 pesos,” Mr. Santos smiled. “Very cheap.”
The Koreans paid and Mr. Santos carefully counted the money as they left.
Maria sat with a small smile while resting her hand on the fat man’s knee. The men were still talking about sports and Maria and the other girl sat quietly. Whenever the fat man looked at her she smiled and gently caressed his leg. He ignored her for a while, then grinned to his friend and turned to her.
“Show me!” he said. “If you want me to pay for you, show me what you have.”
He looked at his friend and they both laughed.
“No,” Maria said shyly and accidently caught Theresa’s eye before she continued in a low voice. “Not here, let’s go to your hotel.”
The man looked at her again and then shook his head. “No, I am not interested. I will head back to the hotel. Do you want either of them?” he asked his friend.
“No, not really. Let’s go.”
They got the bill but refused to pay for the wine, and it was only after Mr. Santos had intervened that they finally paid while complaining bitterly and abusing the waitress.
The bar was empty now and only the girls were left. Mr. Santos came up to Maria, his whole body radiating with anger.
“What did you do? You don’t try hard enough. You better shape up and be nicer to the customers,” he shouted while he waved his fist in front of her face. “You sat with them for two hours and only two drinks – TWO DRINKS!” he screamed into her face. “And they leave without taking you with them.” He turned around, his face red with fury, and stared down the other girls who sheepishly looked away. “You better improve, all of you; you hear?” he yelled as he walked off to his office. “There are plenty of girls in Manila who know how to treat a man right.”
Maria did not make any money that evening. She quietly packed her things and they left the bar.
“It is not always like this, Thessie,” Maria said as they came out on the street. She tried to smile. “Sometimes the customers are really nice and treat me almost like a girlfriend.”
They made their way home in silence. It was late and the streets were deserted; even the drug dealers had gone home. As they arrived outside their place, Maria stopped and grabbed Theresa’s arm.
“Please, never tell Mama. Promise me!” Without waiting for a response she disappeared inside.
Thomas Kring July 2020