Mai stared at herself in the mirror. Everything there would appeal to the American GIs. Her slim body was accented, mainly because of her lack of clothing. Mai wouldn't tell the other bargirls, but she was ashamed. She was ashamed that she was parading on tables and dancing for money. She hated the Americans when they would catcall and smack her in private areas. Most of all, she despised herself for all that she was doing.
Mai kept telling herself that her only way out of the war torn Vietnam was through the men she had come to hate. She'd have to work at the night club and search for an American to give her a visa. She reached for a white flower and put it inside of her bun. Unlike the other girls, Mai would never let her hair flow freely. Mai felt that she should at least have her hair done properly while losing her dignity. She stared at her disregarded traditional Vietnamese long dress. She longed to put that on and feel the silk.
The dress was all she had left from the happier days. Mai remembered the day her father brought it for her. Her father rarely spoiled her in such a manner. He smiled so deeply when he saw how beautiful his daughter looked in the outfit. Mai's mother remarked that there would be many disappointed men. She told Mai that she looked stunning and would leave men heartbroken. Mai was shocked. Her mother was never one to give such deep praise. Mai also remembered what happened moments after she first put on the dress.
There was an explosion. Mai's mother screamed and told Mai to run as fast as she could. The two women ran out of their home and through the rice fields. The old woman believed her husband was running behind her. At first, they believed the old man must have been killed while trying to escape. What truly happened was he had been captured by an American officer. Mai's heart hardened when she learned this and swore she would hate the Americans for this action.
Mai forced the painful memory to the back of her mind. She knew her story was not a unique one. Many of her friends had experienced such an event. Mai snapped back into reality. She took on last look in the mirror. She knew what she saw. She saw a whore. Not just a whore, but an American's whore. The hatred she had for herself grew even deeper.
"There you are Mai. Are you ready for a night of drinking Saigon tea?" The young Tuyen joked. Tuyen had yet to turn sixteen. In those sixteen years she had experienced more strife than one would find in a long lifetime. Tuyen would try to put on a smile and entertain those around her. After all, a bit of humor would always bring some light into the darkness.
"If it was up to me, I would pour the tea down the GI's throat!" Mai remarked while scrunching her nose. The GIs would buy the Saigon tea, believing it was alcohol. They thought they were getting the bargirls drunk. All they were really doing was forcing the girls to drink water with a bit of coloring. Most girls enjoyed the attention that came with the purchase of Saigon tea. That meant the GI was interested in you. Mai was disgusted by the whole concept.
Mai was pushed out of the dressing room by the Chinh. He said he wasn't going to let the girls waste time. They had to be in the tiny club, dancing on the tabletops. Mai snorted whenever she heard the club owner's name. To think, that this man's name meant correctness. Was exploiting girls truly correct? Mai certainly did not think so. She would always ask herself why she kept returning to Chinh and his club. She concluded it was because it was the only way she could nurse her mother through her sickness. Money was hard to come by.
The Vietnamese girl did not feel like joining in with the girls while they shimmied on tables and chairs. Mai wanted to find a nice Vietnamese boy to go with her to the rice field and tell her that she was beautiful. That would now never happen, and not only because all the fields have been burned by bombs. No Vietnamese boy would ever want an American's whore. Mai let out a sigh and held back tears. She wondered how her life had become such a nightmare. She silently prayed to the Gods, asking why she had come to this.
"You look so sad. Hey, can I talk to you for awhile? I think I can help. I was a psyche major back home! " A young GI sat beside Mai. Mai made no response and made no attempt to appear as if she was listening. She had no idea what psyche major meant! "At least look at me! That's better now. Why don't I buy you a drink?"
Mai looked up in wonder. Since when did an American want to talk to her? Every one that she had met had his brain in his crotch. Mai suddenly felt differently towards the GI.
"No. I am not thirsty. We should go to room. We can talk there better," Mai suggested, stumbling over each word. She had a minimal grasp of the English language.
The GI seemed to understand Mai's broken English. He left the bar and went to converse with the Chinh. He came back with a room key and a twinkle in his eye. The back of the club had rooms for the girls to do there work in. It was pointless to nicely furnish these rooms, since the only thing needed was a bed for work.
"I am Mai. What are you called?"
"My friends all call me Mark."