Chapter 9

Slaves of the Sunrise Tea Parlour

It was obvious to Bernard that while Madam Chao might have to wait until the end of the week for the participants in Florence Daniels’ programme to appear, she didn’t intend to let the occupants of the wire cages sit around contemplating their misfortunes.

“Slave work hard, earn meals. No work, no meals. No work, bamboo beating. Understand?” she had snapped when the men had been taken out of their cages the next morning. English might not be her first language but she managed to make herself understood perfectly well. The men were assigned to a variety of task under the direction of the Sunrise girls in the yellow and blue uniforms.

Bernard and one of the others were taken down to the basement and told to unload vans bringing in wooden chests of tea to be used for the Tea Parlour on the ground floor. It was hard work but no harder than the work he had to do at the station. It had, however, none of the elegance that might have been promised by the appearance of the exotic Mary Tang. It was just hard work overseen by an unsympathetic, sarcastically chiding, supervisor.

Two other men were made to sit at a bench pouring the dusty loose tea into small paper packets ready for sale. For them, the least indication that they were working less hard than they should earned the attentions of Liu Wei’s cane. For encouragement, every so often the cane would crack down on the bench, sending clouds of tea dust rising into the air. By the end of the day all four were sweat streaked and tea stained as a result of their efforts.

Liu Wei took them to another room, tiled in white, to clean up. There was a shower cubicle big enough to take half a dozen. The four were herded inside. Liu Wei stood outside with a hose. A jet of cold water splashed over each of them in turn, the dust of the tea staining it red brown as it ran off their bodies. No soap, just cold water but they rubbed themselves as clean as they could until Liu Wei turned off the hose and handed each of them small scraps of towelling to dry themselves with.

“Slaves use toilet, now!” Liu Wei ordered gesturing to door-less cubicles at the other end of the room. Having sent the men off there, she patrolled up and down outside while they did as they had been bid. All four could guess what would happen if they were suddenly to decide that they needed a toilet later on. It was embarrassing to sit there with the Chinese girl walking up and down in front of the cubicles. What was worse, Bernard felt his cock stiffen at the thought of this imperious woman supervising his squatting. By the time they were told to finish and get moving, Bernard’s cock was sticking out in front of him like a flagpole. Liu Wei simply gave a laugh at the sight of it.

“Time for tea,” Liu Wei announced and took them, still naked from the shower room down stairs and into the Tea Parlour’s staff rest room. Other Sunrise girls looked up at the new arrivals with distaste. Liu Wei sent them to sit in a corner of the room while she went to speak to one of her colleagues. The four men sat silent, not ready to run the risk of speaking when any of the girls around them might choose to pick up a bamboo and lay about them with it. They were just happy to have some rest after the morning’s efforts.

“Fat Boy!” Liu Wei called across. “You!” She pointed at Bernard. “Come fetch tea.”

Bernard got to his feet and went across to where she was standing. Four bowls of luke-warm liquid sat on the counter beside her. He put them on to a tray and took them back to the others. The tea didn’t look much. It was a scummy, brown, stewed, foul-smelling liquid without milk or sugar but at least it was warm. He took a sip. It tasted as foul as it looked and smelled. He became aware of something in his mouth, put his hand up and spat out a dark curly hair. It was then that realization set in.

He looked across to where the tea had been prepared. A tap on the wall provided the water that had gone into the pot for boiling. The pipe from the tap ran straight up the wall into the ceiling. Bernard knew where they were. The pipe was directly beneath the shower. They were drinking their own shower water, stewed up with the tea dust washed from their own bodies. No wonder it tasted awful. He was relieved to see there was no pipe down at the other end of the room.