There I was.
Nineteen, tanned, clean-shaven; business casual.
Standing in the hallway of the top floor of a strange hotel, just after midnight in Dubai; pushing the elevator button relentlessly in an effort to speed up my not-so-swift retreat.
Flight to Kandahar in seven and a half short hours. There wouldn’t be another flight for a few days; I can’t miss it.
There she was. All 80 enraged pounds of her.
The geriatric mama-san that was screaming at me, almost inaudibly, in angry Mandarin.
How the hell did I end up here?
ABOUT AN HOUR EARLIER
Just finished my shower and gotten cleaned after the 30 or so hours of flights and layovers I’d just put behind me.
I was hungry. Looking off of the balcony of my 6th floor suite; that familiar vision of a Burger King sign peeked between the buildings and across the parking lot. Only eight hours or so until my flight; plenty of time to fill my belly. Not like I was going to get much sleep anyway.
Jet-lagged but up for some exploration.
I finish my chicken sandwiches on the second floor of the nicest Burger King I’d ever seen. Head downstairs and outside to the patio for a smoke.
There she was.
Crossing the six lane road, roaring with midnight traffic; two beautiful, petite, and well dressed Asian ladies walking with two imposing looking Caucasian fellows.
Puff… Puff… pretty girls I thought; lucky fellows.
They get to the corner I’m standing on; the two fellows and one of the girls cross the road.
The other girl walks up to me.
“Hey there,” she says as she touches my back, “you want massage?“
This should have been clue number one.
“Of course I ‘want massage’! My hotel is just over there...” I point.
“No, no. You come to my hotel.“
So I put my arm around this strange petite woman and follow her across a parking lot, between some buildings, down an alley, and into a parking garage.
It’s probably also relevant to mention that when you fly across the ocean on most major airlines – the beer is free. So I had that going for me.
Along the way we talked. She told me she was from China. I told her I was here for the night on business, catching a plane in the morning.
She says, “What country you go to?”
To which I replied, “Afghanistan” matter of factly.
“Oh yes, Afghanistan very nice.“
In hindsight, this should have been clue number two.
She also said a number of other things while we walked and talked, things like:
- “Two hundred US, two hundred US.”
- “You work you work, you come you come.”
- “Come for massage, my hotel.”
This should have been clue number three.
She pushes the button for the elevator. Hits the button for the top floor.
Elevator goes up; door opens. I see three doors in a tiny, dimly lit hallway; two clotheslines strung across it.
She approaches the door on the right.
HER: Knock, knock, knock
NOT HER: Knock, knock
In hindsight, the secret knock should have been clue number four.
I’m led in to a room with five sliding doors; all of them open except one.
From behind the closed door:
- Bed squeaking rhythmically
Oh. Fuck. Now I get it.
I did what any 19 year old man would do in the same situation. I let the geriatric mama-san lead me into one of the open doors. Inside, there’s a single bed, clean sheets, a night stand, tissues and a garbage can.
Fuck. Now I really get it.
So the “masseuse” comes in and I take out my wallet, I’ve got 20 US and a bit of local currency – nowhere close to the 200 in US green-backs that she’s expecting.
What followed was lots of screaming, hand waving, finger waving, finger pointing, more yelling and what I’m sure was a less-than-positive glare – all this from the senior citizen.
There had to be muscle there. Had to be. I was expecting to get throat-punched by someone who was trained in the ancient art of the throat-punch.
I ran out while buttoning my shirt screaming, “ohfuckohfucksorryimsorryfuckimsorryohfuckohfuck,” over and over again. I barrelled past the mama-san, ran under the clotheslines and poked that elevator call button over and over and over again.
That’s where it all started.