“No Play, No Pay” – by Erik Swill


(c) 2015


I kick the sheets off my sticky body, perspiring from the late afternoon sun that glares into my bedroom window. I need to get up and shower before heading off to work.

Mother calls from the kitchen. It’s dinnertime. Rice with a little bit of salted, dried fish and sour tomyam soup. This has been our lunch and dinner for two days; I don’t need to see it to know what it will be again tonight. Mother sends my little brother to make sure I am out of bed. We don’t actually talk much anymore since I started working.

Dinner is quick and quiet, unlike the rest of the day, filled as it is with motorcycles buzzing by outside and the raucous from vigorous cleaning inside. Sleeping during the day is a pipe dream. But I must if I am to have enough energy to make it through the night.

I slip into my clothes and out the door without saying goodbye. I will get home shortly before everyone else wakes up. That suits them just fine, so long as I continue to contribute significantly to the family finances. I am the eldest son after all.

If I zigzag through the cars, trucks and rickshaws, I can reach the city center within an hour. This gives me time to calm my nerves after dealing with the thick traffic. It is also better to risk injury from an accident on the way to work than from my boss if I am late.

I arrive fifteen minutes early but am not spared the wrath of my boss. I am told that one of my coworkers has been hospitalized and another has been acquired for the remainder of the week. I must start work immediately.

Ventilation is poor, and cigarette smoke fills the air. I wear it like a mask. It is nearly the only thing I wear as I strip out of my pants and step up onto the runway-like stage in the center of the bar.

The bright lights blind me for a few minutes. I force a smile at where I imagine someone is sitting until I can start to make out figures in the crowd. Slowly, I move my body, dancelike but more pronounced. I have been taught to accentuate my slender frame by curving my torso as I gyrate.

I spin and wiggle my backside. I turn back around to a greeting of hoots and hollers, egging me on. I comply.

My eyes have adjusted to the lighting, and I look out into the crowd as I swivel on point. My coworkers, lined up further along the stage, do their best to interact with the crowd. We are in competition. No play, no pay.

The show is over when the music stops, and we hurry off stage. The boss instructs us to mingle with the customers. I must get them to buy more beer, and then convince them to buy me for a few hours.

A man who looks to be three times my age flags me over. I join him for some small talk and persuade him to order us both a drink. I am a twenty-one-year-old man, but he insists on calling me his little boy. He likes his men young. My desires are irrelevant but would not include him if I had a say.

He wants a private performance. My boss negotiates payments and lays down the rules. Once we go to his hotel room, though, it is up to him if he wishes to follow them. I only hope that he isn’t violent or have a scat fetish. But it is only my preference.

No play, no pay.


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Erik Swill is a gay fiction author.
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