It was 2:30 in the afternoon and most of the customers had left. The bus boys started clearing the tables. Ernesto, a tall gawking teen-ager, glanced at Lily. She watched his reflection in one of the many mirrors that lined the Manila Han Palace. She brought her eyes back to herself. She loved her uniform, a long gold cheong-sam trimmed in black, with a high Mandarin collar, the frogs drawing a loving line from long neck to round breast to slim waist. It fell in a sheath of gold, the slit in the skirt revealing a glimpse of pearly thigh. She tossed her head back and her shoulder-length hair swished back in place, framing big brown eyes, high cheekbones, full lips.
She leaned nonchalantly against the counter, her small breasts outlined in gold, the slit parting to show more skin.
Ernesto was furiously rubbing the table with a cloth, his hair falling over his eyes, just a few feet from shimmering skin. He tried not to look at her but she could see his cheeks growing warm, hear his breath coming short. He gave a last swipe and hurriedly picked up his basin of water and his cloth. She moved forward just as he turned. Her shoulder brushed against his arm and the basin slipped from his fingers, the water spilling down the front of his pants. Everyone laughed.
"Hoy, ano ba? Watch out!" she said, backing away, checking her cheong-sam immediately for stains.
"Sorry, ho. Pasensiya na kayo," he stuttered.
The bus boys did not miss their cue.
"Hey, Ernesto, nice move!"
"Yeah, way to get your pants wet!"
Hoots of laughter. Ernesto flushed red.
Lily sashayed to the girls’ back room. Laughing and pushing, the other waitresses followed Lily. It was a small airless room, no windows, the thin plywood walls covered with pictures of movie stars, their smiles half-torn or pasted over with pictures of other up-and-coming starlets. Fourteen girls laid down side by side on seven bunk beds pushed together. They were in different stages of undress; fanning themselves with cardboard, newspaper, worn-out fans. They put their feet up; chatted, and rested until the restaurant would fill up again at 4:00.
"Hey, Lily, poor Ernesto," commented Baby, one of the waitresses.
"He was asking for it. Can’t keep his eyes to himself."
"Probinsiyano kasi. He’s from the sticks. He doesn’t know a thing. But that’s the way you like them, right, Lily?"
"Who, me? I like them rich. Ernesto’s just for practice."
A knock on the door. Time to get back to work.
Lily saw him immediately, a young man, gold flashing on his wrist, designer clothes, spit-shined shoes, not his spit, of course. He picked up the menu and Lily studied his hands, soft, white, smooth, no calluses.
She straightened up, took a quick, approving glance at herself in one of the mirrors and waited until she saw him looking around, then she glided towards him. She paused in front of him. He looked up; a slow smile spread.
"What will it be today, sir?"
He glanced at the menu and said, "I’ll have a Coke and," a mischievous smile, "how’s the pork siopao? Is the bun soft …smooth …tender?"
"It always is around here, sir," she replied, glancing out of the corner of her eyes.
He straightened up, gave her a long, calculating look and nodded.
She smiled, turned around, black hair swinging, gold hips swaying. His eyes were glued to her like sap on the stem of a freshly picked mango.
He came everyday for two weeks; always the same table, the same coke and siopao, and always Lily waiting on him.
In the backroom, the girls crowded around Lily.
"Well, come on. Tell!" Baby said, grabbing Lily’s arm.
"His name is Manolo. He runs his father’s construction business. You know that building that’s going up about two blocks from here? Well, that’s theirs."
"Wow! Di mayaman nga, So he is loaded!"
Lily nodded and took a crisp 500-peso bill from the tiny slit pocket of her cheong-sam.
"Wow, that was your tip?" Baby’s eyes popped.
"Every time?" another waitress asked.
Lily smiled and slipped the bill back into the slit.
It was Friday.
Manolo was wiping his mouth, the last of the siopao thoroughly relished.
Lily sauntered over. "Everything to your liking?"
He looked up at her, then down, then up again. "Yes, very much so," he smiled, "but I’m going to miss my siopao over the week-end. Any chance of taking it home?"
"Sure, how many?"
"Just one," his eyes on her lips, "the most succulent one."
"Coming right up." She turned, thigh flashing through the slit in the cheong-sam.
She brought the bill with a brown bag. "Your siopao," softly.
Getting his wallet out, he asked casually, "What time do you get off work?"
"Like to dance?"
Her eyes lit up.
"Ok, be ready." He winked and stood up.
Lily kept watching the clock that night. As soon as the restaurant emptied, she rushed into the girls’ back room, quickly stripped, wet a face towel and washed her face, neck and underarms. A swipe of deodorant before putting on a white shirt and jeans. She left the first two buttons of her shirt undone, checked the way the jeans hugged her, put on her black pumps. She gave her hair a quick brush, traced half a crescent of “Dark Blue Night” on her eyelids, pushed the mascara wand in and out of the tube and carefully applied it, not missing a single eyelash. She looked at her face in the mirror, smiled and applied light pink blush on each cheek. Now for the final touch. She traced the curve of her lips with "Hot Pink," filling in the outline with "Luscious Pink." One last look at the mirror. Yes, perfect. She ran to the deserted parking lot and slowed to her trademark walk as a black car with dark-tinted windows slowed to a stop. The passenger door was pushed open from the inside. Manolo was at the wheel, smiling. She slid in the car. He roared out of the parking lot.
The disco was packed. The music was deafening. Manolo got a table with the flash of a 500-peso bill and he ordered a beer for himself and a rum coke for Lily. She was watching the DJ shouting into the microphone, at the waiters weaving in and out of the tables with their trays, at the couples gyrating, flashing red, green, and yellow as the overhead lights hit them.
Lily tapped her foot, her head nodding to the beat of the music. While Manolo paid, she took a sip.
“How do you like it?” He whispered in her ear.
“It’s good. I’ve never had it before.”
“I know.” A soft kiss on her cheek as he leaned back, taking a long drink, his eyes never leaving her.
He smiled, took her hand and cocked his head towards the dance floor.
Manolo watched her every move. She tossed her head back, eyes closed, hands moving above her head, hips swaying, legs moving in, out to the rhythm of the beat. She was music in motion.
The music went on and on and he could see the third button on her shirt straining to let go, tiny beads of sweat just above it. He narrowed his eyes and smiled. The music changed to a soft, slow beat. Lily moved towards Manolo, eyes still closed, arms raised. His were ready. He folded her to him, feeling her breasts against his chest, rubbing his cheek against her hair. She breathed him in, leaning against him. They hardly moved. Then she felt him stir and she looked up. He looked straight into her eyes, took her hand and led her out into the parking lot. He opened the car door for her and she got in. He drove very fast. Their breathing was loud in the silent car. The sleepy security guard waved them through the gates of the exclusive residential village. Manolo parked in front of a dark bungalow. He turned the key in the lock and let them in. The street lamp shone through the screen windows, Lily’s body silhouetted in its light. He hooked a finger in her shirt; the third button popped.
Months passed. Manolo no longer came for siopao but the black car kept coming every night. Lily was blooming.
Then one night, the car did not come. And another. And another.
The next day, a few minutes before the break, Lily rushed to the girl’s room and took off her cheong-sam. She was alone. She looked at her body in the mirror, turned right to see her silhouette and slowly caressed her abdomen. She hummed a tune and chose a short blue summer dress, the thin spaghetti straps showing off smooth silky skin. She brushed her hair, checked her make-up, turned around and saw the swirl of blue just above long slim legs. She smiled and gave a mock salute to the mirror.
Baby was the first to enter, followed by all the others. "Uy, saan ka pupunta, ha?".
"Uh uh. Not telling," and Lily was out the door.
She walked quickly to the construction site a block away. The wolf whistles made her slow down. A man in a hard hat came and opened the gate. He looked her up and down and smiled.
"What can I do for you?"
"Si Manolo, nandito?"
"No, umuwi na siya."
"He went home? At 3:00 in the afternoon?"
"No, I mean he went back to Cebu. Nanganak iyong asawa niya kahapon."
"His wife gave birth yesterday? But… but…"
"Yes, a boy, Junior daw."
Lily stood rigid, fingernails digging deep into her palms. Then she laughed and laughed and laughed, holding her own abdomen.
The man shook her shoulders, "Hoy, Ale, tama na. Hey stop it, lady!"
He took her by the elbow, still laughing, tears streaming down her face, and led her out into the street. The gate banged shut.