He waits until I have run up three flights of stairs. I wave before I enter my home and close the door. Everybody is asleep. I go into the kitchen and fill a glass with water. I salt the water. I drink three glasses. Then I run up to the bathroom and make myself sick. There, all that horrible fatty meat is gone from my body. Tears are streaming down my cheeks, but I feel light and good again.
I flush the toilet, clean my teeth, spray some air freshener and go to bed.
It is 9.10 when I leave home for work. On the way I see two men putting up a billboard poster with a pair of eyes looking out of punched out gray wallpaper and the caption, ‘We’re closing in on undeclared income’. The poster is from Her Majesty’s Revenue Collection Department. It is designed to put the fear of God into people who are evading or planning to evade tax.
People like me. Who pretend to work sixteen hours a week, but in actuality work many more. Fuck them, I think. They honestly make me so mad. It’s bullshit that taxes are used to raise revenue. Imagine putting up a poster like that in such a poor and depressed area, and there are all these giant multinational corporations getting away scot-free with not paying billions in taxes.
As far as I am concerned they are just bullies to come after little people like me. It is not the likes of me that are killing the economy, but them. Think about it. If I revealed the exact number of hours I work, they would tax not only me, but also the small business I work for. My employer would then no longer be able to afford my services and run aground. Besides, they don’t need my little contribution at all. They proved that when they suddenly and magically found billions to bail out the big banks with. Income tax is a tax to work. And I’m not fool enough to pay tax to work.
I unlock the door of Sasha’s Flowers and disarm the alarm. I switch on the lights and the computer and check if any orders have come in during the night. There are none. I put on my apron, sweep and mop the place. As I am changing the water in the pails of flowers Zipporah comes in.
She stops in the doorway, narrows her eyes. ‘What have you done to yourself?’ she demands.
I flush hard.
‘You had sex last night, didn’t you?’
‘No, I didn’t.’
‘Yes, you surely did. Look at you, you’re as red as a Walker’s crisp packet.’
‘All right, I did. But I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘So it’s not the boy, then?’
Ziporrah is the only one who kind of knows about the crush I have on Jack.
‘No,’ I mutter.
‘Hon, if a man can make you look this good, you should kick that boy to the curb, and get with the man.’
Let me tell you about Ziporrah. She has all her hair in tiny cornrow braids and the type of hourglass figure you would see in a rap music video, the butt so high and rounded you could eat dinner on top of it. Her mother named her after the wife of Moses. Yeah, I didn’t know either, but apparently she was black! On a plaque hanging on the wall in the shop Ziporrah has part of a verse from the Song of Solomon 1:5: “I am black and beautiful.”
The thing about Ziporrah is that she is unashamedly black. She doesn’t try to straighten her hair, color it, or do anything to ‘whiten herself’. She always tells it like it is. In fact, nothing infuriates her more than white people who think they are doing her a favor by using ‘the n word’ instead of nigger in her presence.
‘Cause that just means you have to say the word in your head for them. Black people have a chip the size of Africa on their shoulder because their blood remembers the time they were sold like oxen. But underneath their skin, they’re just like you, girl. Only less f**ked up.’
I choose the flowers I want to use in my flower arrangement and lay them down on the wooden table in the back room of the shop. I start my arrangement with a pink rose stalk (desire) and follow that with an oleander (caution).
In my head, Vann says, ‘Let’s not wake the neighbors.’
It feels strange to be taking an overnight bag to a man’s home. When I think about it¸ he has practically invited me to move in. When I arrive at Vann’s he is already out of his work clothes. I have made a point of not using any perfume.
‘It has turned out to be a glorious spring evening, too beautiful to be staying indoors. I thought we could go out to eat.’
‘I know a fantastic Indian restaurant.’
Indian food. No way. Not only is it extremely fattening, but it burns all the way up and out. ‘Poo on a plate? No thanks,’ I say very firmly.
‘That’s what Indian food looks like to me. Diarrhea on rice.’
He looks incredulous. ‘You lump all Indian food as poo on a plate?’
He shakes his head. ‘You need re-education badly, Sugar.’
Nothing I say moves him. He takes me to his friend’s restaurant on a side street off Piccadilly Circus and orders half a portion of what seems to me to be almost everything on the menu. And I am told I have to taste at least one bite of everything. He does not order any alcohol.
‘It dulls the senses,’ he says. ‘And tonight you are going to have a sensory overload.’
I take a sip of still mineral water. ‘So where did you learn all the stuff you did to me the other day?’
‘Conversation is not allowed either.’
I smile. I’m game if it ends up the way of the other night.
A beautiful waitress passes by and he doesn’t even glance.
I raise my eyebrows. He raises his back. I smile. His smile is polite but mocking.
All kinds of dishes are placed in front of us—chicken marinated in tamarind, fiery pork with kachampuli, succulent lamb in a full-bodied black sesame seed curry, tandoori prawns laden with clarified butter and lime. Silently, I take a bite of the cubes of fried bones in an orangey-red Amritsari sauce. I follow that with fish marinated in yogurt and pungent potatoes in an old ancient Kashmiri recipe.
Sometimes I close my eyes to fully appreciate the foreign flavors. When the tiger prawns marinated in green chilies and mustard paste and cooked inside a green coconut until tender and bursting with flavors causes my eyes to water a glass of hot water is given to me. An old Indian trick. Only hot water will stop the burning. It works. What’s left on my tongue is ginger, garlic, lime, red chilies, ajwain, Indian sorrel and a silence pregnant with erotic intent.