DESPERATELY SEEKING ANGIE
IT WAS a strange intimacy that I enjoyed with Angie, my mysterious escort girl.
There was something captivating about her voice. Tending towards the higher pitches, it was infused with a curious husky rasp that I fondly imagined had been fine-tuned by late nights and filterless tobacco negro cigarettes.
English was not her mother tongue; perhaps that explained why she spoke with a deliberately measured delivery, as if every word had to be closely inspected and approved before its eventual enunciation. Maddeningly, I could never place Angie's accent and myguesses about its origin, which ranged from eastern European, Spanish to South American, were always met by her asthmatic chuckle.
I thought a lot about Angie's voice during our relationship. That is because while we spoke a great deal to each other, we never met.
We first spoke last September after her call made its way to my extension. Angie and other 'working girls' wanted to complain about a feature in this magazine profiling a high-class American prostitute working Hong Kong's five-star hotels. The article was nonsense, she said.
Sniffing the chance of a story I suggested she write to me and follow it up with another call. She wouldn't give me her name. How would I know who she was? Give me a name, she suggested. I said I would call her Angie, although I've never known any woman bythat name. Her rambling two-page letter was written in faulty English but her anger at the myriad ways escorts were being 'ripped off' by the agencies over fees was clear. When she rang again I told her the letter was too long to print. But why not meet for an interview so she could describe at length the difficulties she and other girls faced? After 15 minutes of coaxing and cajoling, Angie agreed to a meeting but only in principle; she would call back when she was convinced she wanted to talk in person. Three weeks elapsed and she seemed to have backed out. Finally she rang, apologising for thedelay because she had been on a 'business trip' in China. What followed was an extraordinarily convoluted conversation to decide the ground rules for our encounter.
She would not be identified by name, photograph, voice or even nationality; I could not even say she was European, if indeed she was. I could not record her voice nor would she assent to having her picture taken in shadow. Angie believed she would be punished by the men who ran the escort agencies if she spoke out.
It was my first taste of Angie's near-obsession with discretion, reflected in her cautious speaking manner. Stupidly, I tried to argue with her; her conditions were too stringent and would leave me short of material. Both of us started to get fractious. Angie said a lawyer friend had advised her on how I should write the piece. I snapped back that I would never presume to offer advice on contract law and in return I did not take kindly to being told by solicitors how to compose feature articles.
To cool down, we agreed to speak the following day. I told her then what I should have said at the outset - that we would talk and then we would work out what would or would not hurt her reputation, or identify her.
Our first scheduled meeting was a disaster. Angie refused to meet in Central because she was well-known in the hotel lobbies there and she was worried about bumping into clients. We meandered through Admiralty, Wan Chai and reached Causeway Bay before agreeing on The Excelsior lobby. So it was settled. Only it wasn't. At the last minute Angie changed her mind and asked that we go to the Park Lane. Like an idiot I went to The Excelsior, carrying a copy of the latest Sunday Morning Post Magazine under my arm for an hour around the lobby to identify myself; Angie waited at the Park Lane.
She had left a message at the office by the time I returned. And she rang to find out what had happened to me. Apologising profusely I asked if we might try to meet again. Not in a hurry, Angie said; she was flying to Japan on another working visit but shepromised to call when she returned.
The question of her identity was still troubling her. If only to get her story I suggested we might fudge her origins; perhaps she might be a South American. 'Oh no! You can't say that!' she exclaimed, her voice arcing upwards in alarm. 'That would get theSouth American girls in trouble!' she added in a show of sisterly concern for her fellow prostitutes.
Two weeks later she called and we agreed to try to meet again at the Park Lane. I arrived early and avidly watched for what I thought would be Angie: a slim thirty-something woman with long dark hair, elegantly turned out, her striking features slightly dulled with world-weariness. I waited and waited that afternoon, still with the magazine under my arm. She never turned up, instead leaving a message on my pager claiming she had urgent business to attend to.
Over the next few weeks she left other messages, annoyingly always when I was away from the telephone. Apparently she was in Japan again; finally she called me from Tokyo and rather endearingly insisted she was still interested in meeting me. Once back in Hong Kong she paged me and left a telephone number. This seemed a good sign, since this was the first time she had offered any potential clues that might identify her.
Still calling me Mr Hughes with unnecessary formality, Angie said she was heading to Europe for the winter and would not be coming back to Hong Kong until April this year. I likened her to a tennis professional, jetting from event to event as the season progressed. Angie was silent for a few seconds while she considered the comparison and then laughed, presumably because she found it an apposite one.
Yet, ever cautious, she swiftly added, 'Oh, but you must not mention that!' before saying I was not to write a single word about her until she contacted me again. I did not answer, instead wishing her a Merry Christmas.
Our tea date remains open but if the secretive Angie ever reads this account of our relationship I doubt whether she will still be anxious to join me for a cup of Earl Grey.