The Japanese quartet arrives midway through our anniversary dinner at a sushi bar in Orchard Road. Three middle-aged men, muscled, trailing behind them a young woman half their age. They sit to my left at the counter, the young woman directly next to me. When she leans forward to eat, her breasts hang like the cannonball fruit from the botanical book I’m reading with my daughter. Perfectly permed curls bounce down her narrow back, her denim shorts rising so high up her thighs they seem more like a bikini bottom. Extending the phone in her hand, she leans in towards her date and smiles. Under the sleeve of his white shirt, a dragon tattoo rears its red and green head.
“Chee-zu,” she says, the Instagram filter instantly making their faces rosy white and narrow.
“Yakuza,” I whisper to my husband.
As we start on dessert the young woman turns her face, the angle obvious enough that I can see her sizing me up. Our eyes meet: she’s wearing grey contacts, above the right corner of her lips a mole dusted with powder peeks out. I think of Momo, a girl I once knew at university in Osaka.
The money’s good, Momo used to say, telling us about her arubaito at a hostess bar in Kitashinchi. I pour sake, play cards, the men let off steam.
I adjust my ring and swirl the sake in my cup, something strange and inexplicable growing between me and the young woman on my left the whole time.
“I really feel for her,” I tell my husband as we leave the sushi bar. We take a stroll down Orchard Road, still full from the anniversary dinner. “I used to know girls like that in Japan. It’s not like they have a choice.”
“They have a choice.”
“What choice do they have?” I argue, the heat and September haze in the tropical night getting to me. “Remain in the countryside and wait for someone to marry them?”
“They have a choice,” he says, his voice growing firm. “Remember what I told you about the halfway house for abused domestic workers? One of the maids they took in recently lost her fingers. All four fingers. Her employer made her work illegally at a hawker stall, and she didn’t know how to operate the machine.”
As we take the underpass that cuts across Orchard Road my fingers turn cold. The expensive sushi squeaks up my throat, its taste no longer rich, only acidic.
Wei Ting is a Singaporean writer, scriptwriter, and literary translator who speaks six languages including Chinese, Japanese and Korean. Her writing has been published in Time Magazine, The Economist, Electric Literature, Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, among others. She is currently editing her first novel, set in 1980s Seoul, and translating the work of Japanese author Shimamoto Rio. Follow her on Twitter / Instagram @intewig and https://jenweiting.com.
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