When I was a very little girl I was taken to see The Jungle Book at an old art deco cinema in Devon. Afterwards I dreamt of being Mowgli, climbing trees, swimming, running wild through a jungle. Mowgli had a round face, and bobbed hair. The first movie character I could see myself in.
And the name, deliciously ambiguous. Mowgli. Little Frog. A young lithe creature, set loose in the forest.
I saw Mowgli as genderless. An archetypal child. A creature unlike any other. Yet a model for all. The noble savage. The forbidden experiment.
I was dressing for my night out with Katy. Standing before a mirror, trying on outfits and contemplating how I ought to look. I thought about cutting my hair short. If I cut my hair short and lost a bit of weight, I could pass for a boy, and that would make my life a lot easier.
My skin was improving, I had been using a serum given to me by the legendary Ling, and I could feel the city dirt starting to flush from my pores. A few pimples on my jawline were all that remained of the outbreak.
I decided on a loose silk dress in an ikat fabric, jagged stripes of colour blended across my body, and minimal make up. I find it strange that women are expected to alter their faces in order to please.
I met Katy on a the corner of Bilge Street, “I hope you like Nyotaimori,” she said, “Adrian is hosting an event in The Basement, it’s a great place to meet people.”
I looked at her, not understanding what she meant. “God Cara, you’re so square,” she said. “It’s an art event, they serve a sushi buffet on live models,” she explained. She led me down a small side passage and through an unmarked door painted black. A butch-looking woman with a mouthpiece nodded at Katy as we entered, dressed in a dark suit, her hair scraped back in a severe ponytail, she said nothing to Katy but indicated the unlocked door leading into a lavishly decorated room. Lacquered furniture and dark damask drapes. Square low Japanese style tables. On each table, lying perfectly still, a beautiful naked female model, sushi rolls, sashimi and strips of ginger placed across her body. This is normal, I said to myself, in Katy’s world this is normal. The room was lit by iron lanterns hanging from the low ceiling. A retro soundtrack played, a woman’s voice, singing in a language I did not recognise, mixed against a backing track of Tibetan bowls and a stringed instrument. I looked across to the DJ booth in the far corner, and recognised the man with steel-ball ear piercings. Something about this unnerved me. It’s odd to see the same stranger twice in the city.
We slid into a table. I remember that Annalika was there, which did not surprise me because I knew that her and Katy moved in the same circles.
Somehow we go onto the subject of Kathleen dating Byron Qwike.
“He’s a monster,” said Annalika, pulling a face. “He did this to me with a candle,” she said, pulling up her top to reveal a huge scar. “I’m lucky it’s not on my face. But that wouldn’t be his way. He never marks his girls on their faces, or anywhere that might be seen.”
Adrian Roth appeared at the doorway and smiled at me, he glided over to our table, like a spectre. He kissed Katy on the cheek, and sat down next to Annalika touching her collarbone with his fingertips before kissing her lightly on the mouth. “Cara,” he said, “I’m so glad you decided to join us.” He delicately lifted a piece of sushi from just above the model’s navel, and placed it on my plate, “try this, it’s delicious,” he said.
I wasn’t feeling the sushi.
I like sushi and I’m ok with nudity, but the combination of the two made me want to gag. I kept wanting to talk to the model, laid across our table. A pretty-ish Eastern European girl, what was her story. How does one end up as a living sushi platter?
Later, we moved to the dance-floor. I found myself dancing close to Adrian, he smelt like moss, which I thought must be some expensive cologne or soap he used. It was pleasant and I found myself drifting closer. “Will Annalika mind?” I asked him, remembering their kiss. “No,” he said, “she’s anybody’s. But you’re not, I can tell,” he said to me.
We danced for a bit, but I didn’t let him kiss me. Katy had disappeared into a side room with Annalika and a man I did not recognise. I drank champagne with Adrian and we chatted about Europe. He quizzed me about my family in England, the girls’ school I went to, and our holiday home in Liguria. “Come with me,” he said, “next time I go to Europe,”
“Maybe,” I said, politely sipping my drink.
At two am he called me a cab, “you wouldn’t want to stay any later,” he said, “I’ll make sure Katy gets home safely.” I still couldn’t see her, “tell her I said goodbye,” I said, half wanting to go to her, but thinking it best that I didn’t enter that side room.
He paid for the cab as I got in, giving the driver a generous tip. I felt woozy from the champagne, and I’d not eaten all evening. “You don’t look like one of Adrian’s girls,” the driver commented as we drove off. “I’m not,” I said, “I’m just a friend.” We called by an Indonesian buffet and I picked up some supper while he waited outside. I wondered how many calories were contained in the small takeout box I clutched, and why I couldn’t stop thinking about my weight, even though I wasn’t fat, or even close.
It’s hard for girls, I thought, you never really know if you are an object or a person.