Noon’s Entry by Tanuj Solanki

Excerpted and adapted, with permission, from Neon Noon, HarperCollins India, 2016.


When I entered the Marie Bar Beer there were three women there: a fair old lady with unkempt hair who seemed to be minding the cash counter; a fat girl who was too bulky to be in the business; and a broad broad who, although dressed skimpily, wasn’t someone I could ever fancy. Clearly, with my notions of beauty accompanying me, I found myself in a place where the probability of immediately finding a delectable whore seemed the lowest in Pattaya.


I mounted a high stool, oriented such that it let me have a view of the street, and I ordered a Singha. Within a couple of minutes the broad broad approached me from behind the bar and gave me one of the strongest-toothed, broadest grins I’ve ever seen in my life. Everything about her was broad! She wanted me to buy her a drink. She told me her name out loud. I was a bit distracted, because I was recalling what my twice-been-to-Pattaya friend – a colleague from Mumbai – had told me about the workings in evening-time Pattaya. Going by what he had told me, things could be expected to proceed like this: the spectacularly-jawed woman would ask me to buy her drinks, for each drink she would receive a commission, and then when I was adequately tipsy she would offer to be my whore for the night, for which ‘rights’ I would have to pay the bar a ‘fine’ of a few hundred bahts, after which I would have to negotiate the fuck-rates with the woman, in private. The whole thing was kept decent all along the way. But precisely because of this inherent contradiction, where it gave the illusion of decency to something venal, these all-night picks, which were the only picks my Mumbai friend had experienced, seemed to me trickier than the simple afternoon quickie I’d had in Soi6.


Presently, I wanted to duck for cover, for the broad broad’s wheedling for a drink was unnerving me and I feared that I would end up spending precious bahts on an entirely non-erotic rendezvous. I half-suspected her to be a ladyboy, which is to say a transsexual (I guess). A bone structure like hers was unusual in petite Thai girls. I ignored her exhortations, unable to say no flatly. I acted as if I could not understand what she said and took tentative sips of the Singha, avoiding eye contact by looking at the street while she whined. Night was approaching. I looked at the dumbbell-shaped cutout of the sky between the upper peripheries of Marie Bar Beer and the buildings opposite the road, one of which was the famous transvestite go-go theatre called Alcazar or something. The city was slowly acquiring a grainy glow that obfuscated the darkness in the sky. Below, maniacal music sounded all around, with some decipherable strains of Bollywood music that my mind placed in the late nineties. I noticed that Marie Bar Beer was playing Enrique’s Love to See You Cry, something that I found both ridiculous and melancholic. I could sense the broad broad relenting, perchance because of the new opportunity provided by a middle-aged white customer who had come to the bar. Across the road, on either side of the Alcazar go-go theatre were open bars with diffused red lights, and as I looked closely at these bars and the activity inside them – activity that consisted of bar girls shifting the stools or the chairs or the bottles, or bar girls playing snooker, or bar girls standing akimbo who seemed to be guessing which one of the nearby hotels they would end up sleeping in – I felt a poetic urge within me. I mused that the insides of the open bars were bloody aneurysms surrounded by dark little ruptured nervelets that were these bar girls. Anyhow. Soft red light had become prominent inside Marie Bar Beer as well. It was clear that even the second customer was not interested in the broad broad. This lack of interest had produced a rictus on her face that only I noticed and only I felt uncomfortable for noticing. So much red, I thought. So many hungry souls.


After some time, two young ladies with extremely comely bodies entered Marie Bar Beer, both of them dressed in short black skirts and revealing black tops, both speaking in loud Thai to the three ladies behind the bar, both smelling electric and flowery. These were professionals who had daily fare, no fucking doubt, and the white customer at the bar had even started to show very visible interest in the younger of the two, who proceeded to touch him on his left cheek and asked him to buy her a drink, a request that he gladly accepted. As the other lady came close to me, I instinctively turned my head and relegated her to the periphery of my vision. But then I slowly turned toward her, because some inner voice told me that it was plain stupid to avoid a whore in Pattaya. The lady started talking to the broad broad. I said ‘Hi,’ almost interrupting them. She looked at me and sat on the stool next to mine, and said something that sounded like Nohap. I was confused if she had ended her syllables with a question mark or not. Nohap seemed eerily close to being a contraction of Not Happening, which made it important that I know whether she had meant to ask me a question or was just clarifying that there were no erotic possibilities between the two of us.


The song playing now at Marie Bar Beer was a song I did not know, and mixed as it was with the music from all around, it was difficult to follow. I was confused if I should again start a conversation with the whore sitting next to me (she was now looking into her handbag), but then I realised that what I suffered from was not confusion but something far more complicated than confusion, something that didn’t even have much to do with the whore next to me. I wanted to enter and exit at the same time. But what? Was I not already inside it? Was I not already outside it?


On the other side of the bar table there was a new girl now. I had completely missed her arrival, and she seemed to have emerged from nowhere. She was preparing drinks for the younger whore and her white middle-aged customer. She stood at an angle from me, and I could not really see her face and had to strain to ascertain her prettiness and her exact role at Marie Bar Beer. The broad broad caught my gaze and promptly nudged the new girl, who then turned to face me. I found her pretty in a homely way, which was strange to me then, so strange that in that otherwise bizarre setting it registered like a kind of familiarity. I took long seconds to notice everything in her appearance. She was not made-up, had tired eyes, had short hair, two thick locks of which fell on either side of her face, did not look like she had really taken a shower that day, was in a pink sleeveless top that wasn’t really attractive, had a faded black jeans beneath the top, was thin, had thin arms and legs, had Eastern eyes, had a short nose, had a thin beauty spot on the left cheek…


‘I want to buy her a drink,’ I said to the broad broad, pointing to the new girl.



Tanuj Solanki’s first novel, Neon Noon, HarperCollins India, 2016 is now available in bookstores and e-marts. His second book, a collection of short stories, is due in 2017. His work has appeared previously in Out of Print.