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Sunday, Apr. 26, 2009 - 1:20 a.m.

In the confines of the lift, he was trying not to look at her, but her cheap perfume was overwhelming. She was in a sleeveless top and shorts. The lift stopped, the doors grumbled open, and a couple - a middle-aged Chinese man and his mistress entered, their arms interlocked at the elbows. The lift was half the size of a regular one, and the prostitute and him had to shift to accomodate the two new bodies. The doors closed and the lift trundled on downwards, animated by gravity towards the ground floor.

He stood between the mistress (from Hainan) and the prostitute (she is Thai). It was late afternoon, and he was going jogging. The prostitute was going to get some food at the kopitiam nearby before starting work at a Duxton Rd pub. The mistress asked the man where they should go to eat. He spoke to her with post-coital tenderness, Tiong Bahru chicken rice, Chinatown duck porridge, anywhere you want to go.

The lift has been in use for the past thirty years, ever since Dragon Mansions was built, and it breaks down once every sixteen days. There is an old lady who lives on the eighth floor who makes the sign of the cross and then mutters amituofo everytime she crosses the threshold into the lift. As the lift jolts its way down, his bare left deltoid brushes against the prostitute's arm. Only the first time was it accidental.

An old secondary school memory. His physics teacher talking about how each different material has a unique Young's modulus. This described the material's mechanical characteristics, or as he understood it then, how squishy something was. Rubber was 0.1, and aluminium was 62. He wondered how the Young's modulus of a prostitute and that of a mistress differed. How would these two objects (two kinds of women, both subject to the compressive embrace of men), feel different to the touch?

So he brushes his right deltoid against the mistress's arm for comparison.

The mistress's arm has a different quality. He mulls over the appropriate word. It is not softer, - but more tender. The mistress looks at him. He notices but does not look back, because that would be an admission of guilt.

Did she catch his eye singing at the nearby Jinriksha station in Tanjong pagar? he thinks. It used to be the largest rickshaw depot in Singapore. 9000 rickshaws in one place. Perhaps her ancestors were amongst them, perhaps one of them invented the Hainan chicken rice that is so unfamiliar to her tongue. So many paths of history flow through her, like the tracks of 9000 rickshaws.

Wangbadan, she thinks.

The lift reaches the ground floor and its doors open. The four bodies stagger out into the afternoon sun.

How hard is the body of a prostitute? How tender is that of a mistress? The difference arises in how tightly or softly their bodies are held. This in turn, is an extension of the intent of the man performing the embrace - whether the circle of arms is an attempt to grasp onto sex, or to eliminate the space (and loneliness) delineated by them.

But this is surely an overgeneralization, because of the great overlap between a prostitute and a mistress. Either can be used for love, for quelling loneliness or spousal dissatisfaction, or as a container to ejaculate in. Perhaps the only thing that can be concluded is that men leave part of themselves on women, their thoughts imprinted on their supple, fleshy bodies, thus changing the Young's Modulus of these bodies.

The man and his mistress walk toward the tree covered carpark, with his arm around her waist.

1. amituofo - the Chinese name of Amitabha Buddha, often chanted or invoked as verbal rosay.

2. wangbadan - an evocative Chinese phrase that closely means 'bastard'


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