Saturday, July 14, 2007


by Ari Methi

Damn! My boobs are still uneven! Ann swears at the mirror.

Again, she adjusts her bra padding. Several more tugs and pulls, they are almost right. A few strategic squeezes and touches later, they are perfect. Her pride, she smirks as the brassiere tops frilled edges are raised to peeks over her tank top. Putting on her peek-a-boo jacket completes her sales uniform and she steps out of the changing room to start work.

Wan, her colleague is hard at work, adjusting lingerie displays. All in stylish black, Wan had given up regaining her figure after the baby. Months of diet and gym had only buffed her up in all the wrong places. Nobody dared tell her she didn't look that good in the first place. The only reason she got the job was to make the fuller clientele feel better.

They needed it, "Etiquette" paid unabashed homage to higher specimens of the female race. Seductively posed nubile women dressed in the stores wares graced the walls as stained glass windows adorned cathedrals. Ann thought back to the small church in her fishing village in Borneo often when the posters raised this image in her head. Ann longed for home.

Wan motions Ann to check the appointment register on the cashier station. Opening to today's date she notes Michael has made another appointment. He has asked for Natasha again. Natasha is animated when Ann calls to remind her. Natasha talks excitedly about the big tip she is bound to get. Ann filters everything out except Natasha's confirmation. Inside she steadies herself for the day, as she feels it darkening in the sterile glow of the shop.

Wan attends to a pair of ladies. Giving the standard spiel as if it was new to her, she directs them to the imported section.

"These are from France here, Sicily and Spain to the left ... feel the fabric! There are no wires or frames. The stitches are artistically on the outside so you feel only gentleness.", Wan coos.
Ann watch the play unfold in the stage that is the shop. The usual men gawk at the window mannequin on their way to work as flitting interventions in the storefront forming the backdrop. Some have grown from curious to lust in their stares; some obviously covet the lingerie for themselves.

Wan continues her practice run. They won't be buying anything. They talk and touch the material as if they would. But Ann can tell. Their clothes may be the latest fashion, but it is without the fashion sense of the truly rich and sophisticated. They are also wearing their bra wrong.

The ladies continue talking to each other as if Wan isn't there. Tales of hang nails and gorging at boutique restaurants are told as life changing tragedies. A far cry from needing to eating grasshoppers (there were no fish after the trawlers came) and bathing with laundry detergent, Ann reminisces on her childhood. The ladies leave with faux farewells, utterly unawares of their good fortune, blasé about their blessings. Ann would feel anger if she did not envy them so.

The rest of the morning passes slowly as Ann sets herself the entrance.

"Can I show you something?" she repeats to prospective customers. She squeezes her shoulders together and bows slightly, exposing more of her cleavage than her five foot two frame already does. She scores some sales by selling herself this way.

None take up her offer to of showing them how the lingerie should be worn.

In between sales, Ann gossips with Wan about the latest happenings in the neighbouring shops. Changing room shenanigans and unexpected pregnancies tops the list again (what do you expect to happen when you put a group of twenty year olds who are surrounded by images of sexuality together for twelve hours every day, especially when they are busy only for six?). The more sobering subject of sales figures and management politics spices the gossip, but not too much.

Ann knows Wan is counting down to the appointment also.

And it arrives.

Natasha is early, her body is lithe, her movements graceful, her skin taunt and smooth, her face angelic. She wears her youth for all to see. Nineteen and beautiful, she is in a hurry for the world to know who she is. She squirrels herself in the back room, waiting to be called.

Michael arrives casually; the girl with him is no older than seventeen. Her name is Esi, she giggles coquettishly at the introduction. The sight of her next to the middle aged man makes Ann nauseas but ...
"What can I show you?" Ann starts, presenting herself again.

"Do you have anything new? Ranges that you haven't unpacked yet?" Michael oiled smooth voice answers. Esi grips his arm harder, pulling herself closer to him.

"This way please, Mr. Michael." Ann leads them to the "Galleria". Explaining how valued customers are allowed pre-launch views of new products.

Michael absorbs Ann's attention smugly. It has the desired effect on Esi, she is awed by the attention Michael receives and how such service is natural to him.

They arrive at the padded room. The lush padding exudes luxury and sophistication that barely suppresses its decadent origins; its true purpose is hidden thoroughly.

Michael inspects the new products displayed on the leather covered table. Ann drones the sales pitch of each product. He encourages Esi to touch them, to hold them against her. She does as she is told. They make the selection together, and Michael calls for Natasha to come in.

Esi gasps at Natasha entry, Michael explains salaciously that Natasha is a lingerie model and she shall model the selected wares for them. Michael request that Natasha changes in the room, halting Ann's move to hands over the selection to Natasha. So that Esi can see how each garment should be worn.

This is going badly, Ann thinks. Natasha nods approvingly and whispers "big tip" as she moves deeper into the room past Ann.

Ann stands in the room for the first change. There is nothing to add to what had been said earlier. The undressing and redressing brings back uncomfortable memories, memories of why she had to leave her fishing village, of why she had to leave her family and her church. Ann leaves as Natasha undresses for the second selection. Michael's hands had begun wandering five minutes ago. Esi short skirt rises up her hip slowly.

Ann keeps herself busy in the shop, peak period is about to start.

Natasha walks briskly out of the shop without a word. Her neck is bruised, her lipstick smeared and she is wearing sunglasses and her hat. Wan is besides herself with restrained panic as she attends to a customer. Ann understands and makes way to the "Galleria".

The table is cleared, the lingerie are strewn on the floor. She can see clumps of Natasha's hair on it. Esi cowers in the corner, she is wearing whats left of selection four. He must have pounced when Natasha was distracted putting it on Esi. Esi is bleeding on the floor. Michael is wiping himself with lingerie.

Michael reaches for his pants, withdraws a platinum card from the wallet he retrieves.

"Charge everything to my card." He says with an air of invincibility.

He only feels the cold spreading out from between his legs, not the kick. Ann's knee meets his nose in mid air as he bowls over. It crunched flat. Michael loses consciousness as Ann finishes by slamming his temple against the table corner. The leather saves his life.

Ann covers a shivering Esi with her jacket and leaves the room, Good, Wan isn't with a client. They agree to close the shop for the moment.

Michael is bound. A fisherman's daughter knows her knots. Wan sees to cleaning up Esi and sending her on her way. Ann reassures Esi that justice will be done, and reporting to the police will only get Wan and herself into trouble.

They reopen the store after putting newly bought hardware equipment.

Michael tried to scream when he came to in the evening, but his mouth tasted of seared flesh and had no tongue. Ann held it in her hand over him.

"We didn't survive on grasshoppers alone." Ann said as she placed the tongue on a slice of bread already thinking of the salty warmth on her lips tonight, after work, after she find a way take him back to her place.