By Carol Park
Kim gazed out the huge windows of Sea View Dining. Outside the cruise ship was blue without borders. No end to its sapphires. The window rose from floor to ceiling and on either side a line of huge, spotless rectangles of glass continued, rimming the expanse of the hall. Behind her on the various food lines was a profusion of cuisines and food displayed. Though she and Jawayne usually ate downstairs with other staff, today they enjoyed privilege—a dining hall meant for guests.
Jawayne joined Kim at table. “I took twice the usual.” Her plate of salty mackerel, rice porridge, cantaloupe, and tri-colored peppers formed a palette of colors. But Kim had taken little. Nerves made it hard to eat—despite this marvelous reward from the upper management at Amber Spa, acknowledging their overtime work doing massage, waxing and facials. Since their co-worker Lin had to leave her job on-board, their hours had increased dramatically.
“What’s your schedule like today?”Jawayne asked.
“Six massages—a lot! My arms are already sore. I didn’t want to get out of bed—so tired.” Kim heaved a sigh. “I only had time to reach Vasha’s email—no time to reply.” Kim missed terribly her husband as well as her toddler left in the care of her mother-in-law. They’d all decided it best that she find work outside their home in the Mekong. It was love that propelled her far from them to earn money that would fund her son’s future schooling.
Jawayne inspected the space behind her where a sign read, “Ice Cream.” It was empty of people—offering a rare chance to speak freely. “Manuel is punishing you with a terrible schedule since you refused drinks with him.”
“Time to go,” said Jawayne.
Jawayne and Kim walked side by side to the elevator, their shoulders grazing as they summoned strength from each other. With one being from Vietnam, the other from Malaysia, they’d never have become friends but for work. When Kim took a position in a Dubai spa, she met Jawayne who worked in the luxurious spa. Its interiors were bedecked with jewels and brilliant mosaic tiles, but their duties included removal of thick, curly chest hairs on men’s chests as well as removing unwanted hair from women. Jawayne warned Kim to always wear her sunglasses when with a male client and avoid looking in his eyes. Still the sexual tension was palpable. Though the salary was less, they’d left Dubai for this cruise ship.
They stepped into an empty elevator. In a world where you slept, ate and worked with the same people, an opportunity to talk frankly like this came rarely.
“I can’t let it happen to me as with Lin.” Kim twisted a strand of hair around her finger.
They’d both heard the story. How Lin had awakened on the floor of Manuel’s room, after sipping bar drinks with him. Her period didn’t come, but nausea did.
“Too bad Lin couldn’t join the #MeToo movement,” said Jawayne.
“I don’t think I could tell such a thing,” said Kim.
“I know—the shame. But for your future? For your child’s education?”
The elevator opened. After a long hallway, a turn and more walking, they came to the shining arches of the spa’s faux-marble entrance. Manuel stood behind the counter, his midnight hair slicked back with paste.
“Kim, I scheduled you another massage. It starts in thirty.”
Kim looked down. Anger rose from her weary feet, a fire in her belly. She said nothing.
“I’ll take it for her.” Jawayne spoke.
“The guest asked for Kim.” Manuel’s soft voice carried menace.
Kim felt a strange desire mounting—an urge to reach over the counter and yank Manuel’s long mustache. She stayed silent though.
“I have four massages scheduled. She has six.” Jawayne countered.
Kim gasped at her friend’s impertinence. She looked up. Her friend steadied herself on the arch of the entrance.
“I know.” Manuel balled his hand into a fist.
Kim elbowed Jawayne, but couldn’t keep her quiet. “It’s not fair. Kim is exhausted.”
Kim shuddered. Jawayne could lose her job for this volley. It struck at Manuel’s face. Her friend risked much, while she herself stayed safe and silent.
Manuel stepped out from behind the counter. “You’ve forgotten who gives the orders.” He swung his arm back and forth.
Kim elbowed Jawayne again. But then the curtains divide trembled. A shiny leather shoe thrust out, then the trousered leg of the man who was both their boss and Manuel’s.
“What’s this about?” demanded Ramah.
Manuel stuttered an explanation.
“Jawayne will do it,” Ramah tapped the keyboard.
Jawayne followed Kim toward the small rooms where they worked. Jawayne felt her stomach tighten, as if she’d swallowed a mango pit. Maybe she’d become a target now.
“Jawayne, you’re in Seashell Room.” Manuel bellowed. “Kim, furnish supplies.”
Kim stepped in. Jawayne followed and closed the door. Kim placed her hands on Jawayne’s shoulders. “I can’t believe what you said!”
“What’s going to happen to us?” Jawayne asked.
“I’m glad you stood up to him.” Kim put her lips near her friend’s ear. “Ramah will help if needed.”
The thud of Manuel’s steps sounded. “I hear you. Get about your work.”
Tears pooled in Kim’s eyes, but she ignored them. They had only minutes. “The oil and stones need to be warmed.” Kim stepped out and returned with three large, clean, stones and placed them in the heater. Later Jawayne’s fingers would place the smooth, warm stones on a client’s glistening bare back.
Jawayne moved close to Kim and stroked her arm lightly for a few seconds. “As you go for the linens, pause. Look outside.”
Down dim corridors Kim walked before reaching an enormous window. Outside ripples and light reflected jewels as of Dubai, but these sapphires were theirs—unlimited as their sisterhood.
Copyright Park 2019