‘Ever had a full body wax before?’

‘No.’

‘No problem. We use three different waxes here. For the longer hair, the medium length, and for the pesky short ones.’

The waxes are heating in three pots. Each one is a different color.

‘Shall we do waist down first?’

‘Will this hurt a lot?’

‘Well, it depends on your pain threshold. Some people fall asleep while I am waxing them.’

‘Really?’

Her pearly whites flash. ‘Really. Pop on board. We will start with the legs.’

I reluctantly climb on the bed that has been lined with paper, and lie down.

Rosa paints a thin layer of warm wax on my calf and lays a strip of cloth on the wax. ‘Ready?’ she asks.

I nod and she rips.

‘Ow,’ I cry.

‘The first one always hurts. The next one will be better,’ she says.

She paints another layer of wax and, stretching my skin, rips it off.

‘Ow,’ I cry again.

‘It gets better after a while,’ she consoles unconvincingly, and launches into a monologue about how she and her husband have jam sandwiches every night while they are watching TV. ‘Sometimes, on weekends we will turn to each other and say, “Shall we have another?” and we do,’ she enlightens.

Despite a penchant for innocuous jam sandwiches, Rosa turns out to be a hair Nazi. She will not tolerate even the smallest hair anywhere. A painful hour later, I am red and hot and stinging all over. I have been asked to assume embarrassing positions so any stray hairs around what Rosa calls the bum hole can be ripped off.

‘Why would anyone want to do that?’ I ask.

‘It looks prettier this way,’ Rosa says, as she rips another offending hair out.

My reply is another cry of pain.

When it is all over Rosa squints at my face. ‘I can do your eyebrows for free,’ she offers. ‘Eyebrows don’t hurt at all.’

‘Yes, I know. Some of your customers fall asleep.’

Again a flash of strong teeth. ‘Well, shall I? I can make them look very beautiful.’

‘OK.’

The Rehons have a son in art school apparently, and Rosa fills me in about him while she works on my eyebrows. When she is finished she applies aloe vera gel before bringing a round mirror and giving it to me. The skin looks red and a little swollen but Rosa is right—my eyebrows actually arch and frame my eyes rather fetchingly.

After that torture the manicure and pedicure are a pleasure. I watch the orange nail varnish that Billie so painstakingly painted onto my fingers and toes yesterday get wiped away. On the drive to the apartment I examine my French manicure and have to admit it is very pretty.

The car comes to a stop at a tall white building with a glass-fronted entrance.

‘Here we are,’ says Tom, switching off the engine.

Ten

The reception is plush with deep, cream carpets and chandeliers in every hallway. There is an Indian guard slumped behind a desk reading a newspaper in a foreign language who immediately straightens and stands to attention. Tom introduces me.

‘Lana, this is Mr. Nair.’

Tom turns to Mr. Nair. ‘This is Miss Bloom. She will be living in the penthouse for the next three months. Please ensure that she will be well taken care of.’

Mr. Nair smiles broadly. ‘Certainly. That will be my number one priority,’ he says in a strong Indian accent while shaking his head like one of those nodding dogs in the backs of people’s cars. He turns to look at me. ‘I am very pleased to meet you, Miss Bloom. Anything at all that you need, please do not hesitate to ask.’

We shake hands, then Tom accompanies me into the lift. He inserts a card key into a slot and hits the top floor button. I lean against the shiny cold brass handrail while the lift silently races upwards. When the lift doors whoosh open, he allows me to exit first, and then precedes me into the corridor. The corridor is thickly carpeted and tastefully wallpapered in beige and silver.

‘There is only one other apartment on this floor,’ Tom explains and opens the door. He deposits the shopping bags on the floor by the doorway. ‘I will go and get the rest of your shopping and then I will show you how everything works.’

I close the door behind him and lean against it.

Wow! Just wow!

A long corridor with richly enameled walls seems to lead to a light-filled room. As if in slow motion I let my fingers trail on the cool, enameled surface as I walk down the deep white runner carpet towards the glorious light. With the evening sun pouring in, I stand at the doorway to what is the living room, and look at my surroundings in wonder. At the imposingly high ceilings, the amazing glass walls that lead to a wide balcony laid out with a table, chairs and potted topiary. At the mirrored wall that reflected the elegant silver patterned pale lilac wallpaper, the rich furnishings, and the deep-pile, white carpet.

It is so massive, so hugely extravagant and luxurious it is as if I have walked into a page of a glossy magazine. I turn when I hear the door opening.

Tom puts the rest of my shopping on the floor and walks towards me. ‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’

‘Yes, very.’

He takes me around the spacious four-bedroom apartment and shows me how everything works. Which buttons on the remote cause the curtains to open and close and which one makes a gorgeous painting rise onto the wall to expose a TV screen. There are buttons for the shutters, buttons for working the wine cooler, buttons for the lights, the media room, and for the coffee machine. I nod and make sounds to indicate I have understood, but it hardly registers. The opulence overkill has numbed me.

‘Any problems, just call the caretaker. The number is over there,’ he says finally, indicating a card that has been placed on a side table near the front door.

‘Thank you.’

‘Be back for you at eight thirty. Mr. Barrington hates people to be late.’

‘Don’t worry, Tom, you won’t have to hang around waiting for me. I’ll be ready.’

I close the door, find my mobile, hit home, and wait for my mother’s soft voice to answer.

‘Hi, Mum,’ I say brightly.

‘Where are you?’

‘I’m at Blake’s apartment.’

‘Oh! When are you coming home?’

I swallow. This will be the first time I will not return to my own bed. I know it will be difficult for my mother. ‘Not tonight, Mum. I won’t be home tonight, but I’ll be there first thing in the morning.’

First she goes silent. Then she expels a soft sigh. ‘All right, Lana. I will see you tomorrow. Be safe, daughter of mine.’

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