I was in Singapore when I met Laetitia Casta. After months on the USS Dubuc, Singapore came like refreshing rain. It was the only stop that I didn’t have anything to do except enjoy myself and I aimed to do just that.

It was hot like it always is in the Summer when you’re in Southeast Asia. We stood, sweating on deck for briefing about the rules and customs of Singapore. That’s where I found out about how strict it is. As a citystate surrounded by Malaysia, it governs its population with rules that would make a Straight Edge squirm.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time.

After a surprisingly delicious meal of duck feet and sea cucumber soup, washed down with warm, flat Tiger beer, I decided to explore. Accompanied by a few friends, I left the outdoor tabled area, glowing under a thousand hanging lanterns, for a walk down the famed Orchard Road. It looked like 5th Avenue, New York with the line of shops, all boasting brand names like the Hugo Boss store or the Chanel store. Too rich for my blood but impressive nonetheless.

We were careful not to jaywalk or flick a cigarette butt into the street but started getting distracted by the startling lack of average-looking people out. Everyone I passed was model-beautiful and with the walk and clothes to match. I’d been on ship for so long, surrounded by jarheads and the ocean that this change of scenery was like a welcomed whiplash of opposite. I’m sure my mouth hung agape as my cigarette burned into my distracted knuckles, while I watched angels pass in front of me, close enough to smell their overpriced perfume.

I decided that, as some kind of offering or token of appreciation, I would buy some flowers and give them to one of the beauties. After floating for several months without anything to spend money on, my bank account swelled more than it ever had. I had that feeling of urgency to do something with it that I couldn’t do under normal circumstances and this was something of an indulgence. I had no idea what I would accomplish with my gift but the surrealism of the city made me want to give it something.

I walked around for hours with a bouquet in one hand, looking for a girl to give them to. I don’t know if it was nerve or if I was waiting for someone special but the hour grew later, the streets thinned out and the flowers browned on the edges from lack of water.

Whether I was giving up or taking a break was uncertain but I ended up in a weird mall well after hours. The mall had no discernable entrance and the levels spiraled to meet each other the way I imagined the Tower of Babel. Most of the stores were nothing but small shops with only a counter, like a pharmacy because the lots obviously didn’t allow much room for anything else. It didn’t matter though because they were all closed. I walked up the dimly lit, tiled ramp until I was a few levels up and notice a light coming from one of the shops ahead.

Somehow, a bar had wedged itself between a camera shop and a magazine rack. The glass door slid open and cigarette smoke mixed with the smell of bodies and beer washed over us. The owner, a haggard but pleasant looking Chinese man waved us over and poured beers from the tap for each of us. He never asked what we wanted or even told us a price but we accepted our alarmingly cold beers. We sat and drank for a while, talking about the absurdity of the flowers and how beautiful all the women were.

And that’s when she asked for a cigarette.

I turned around at the sound of her voice. The bar was so crowded, tables touching every other table, that I didn’t really take stock of who we were drinking with. She had asked if I was smoking Kamel Reds.

Let me back up for a second. This was a few years ago, before she had really been plastered on the cover of so many glam magazines. I don’t even know if America had really heard the name of Laetitia Casta. The only reason I knew who she was is because of Bohbot’s wife Crissy. Crissy and Bohbot were both Marines but they were never stationed together even though they were married. Bohbot was my room mate so every weekend that Crissy came down I had to find another place to sleep. I got to know them both better than anyone before or since. Crissy used to read girl magazines like Cosmopolitan or Glamour or Jane and she’d leave them lying all over our barracks room. After exhausting my own small library, I took to flipping through those. I didn’t really think I was enjoying them until I got on ship and suddenly realized that I had to know what the new Louis Vuitton bag looked like. So, in Hong Kong, at an HMV, I’d bought a grip of those kinds of magazines, taking advantage of the international flavor. Australian Cosmo, English Jane, Irish Seventeen, I grabbed about a dozen of those and flipped through them on ship. After a few of the other Marines saw me with them, they got hooked too and soon my entire berthing area smelled like lady’s perfume from all the samples and every guy there had taken the tests and read the horror stories of dating from a woman’s point of view. I came to know of several models who hadn’t really made it mainstream yet and Laetitia Casta was one of them.

I nodded that, yes they were Kamel Reds. After searching all over Thailand for them and coming up short, I’d bought a few cartons in Hong Kong and hadn’t seen them yet in Singapore.

“Can I have one?” She asked but I was already handing one to her. I recognized her almost immediately as the model that graced the pages of several magazines on ship, probably being read, as we speak, by Cpl. Kriel in the Armory. After lighting it for her, I grabbed the flowers.

“These are for you,” I said and handed them to her. She accepted them with a polite bow and I noticed the browning edges, the flaccid petals and sagging leaves. They had spent half the night on the table of a dive bar in a shallow puddle of beer, marinating in cigarette smoke. I was suddenly embarrassed by them.

“They’re beautiful,” she said, “thank you very much.” I smiled and she smiled back. She set them on her table and kicked her legs out from under her own table so that they faced me and I did the same. We sat that way for hours and talked while the Chinese man brought us more Tiger beer.

And you know what, I never asked her name.

But she never asked for mine either.

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