‘Muah!’ she gasped puckering her lips and bringing it very close to the rouged cheek of the lady in the burnished gold dress. The dress left very little to imagination. Muah-moment over, gold lady turned around and paused for barely a nanosecond before drifting off to another corner of the party where gregarious conversations were being made by sharks in gunmetal grey suits. Lila saw gold lady’s back swaying sensuously as she made her way towards the grey suits, cutting diagonally across the dance floor. The soft, smooth skin of her bare back glimmered under the flashbulbs. Powdered with generous amounts of body shimmer, the creamy skin undulated rhythmically, almost in sync with the chill-out lounge music played by the resident DJ. Lila’s gaze wandered down to gold lady’s footwear. A barely-there ankle-strap fastened those vertiginous heels to her delicate feet. Lila looked down at hers. She squirmed inside, wriggling her stubby toes inside her black pumps. The four inches were killing her. She didn’t even know gold lady’s name. The music was pounding inside her overworked brain. A throbbing headache was radiating outwards – from the forehead, washing over her temples and tricking down to her earlobes. She tottered towards the bar and ordered for a large whiskey.
It was one of those dos for which Lila had to spend sleepless nights and frenzied days. She knew by the time the day of the event arrived, she would have very little left in her to make an effort to dress up and be all smiles. She was left soul-sapped. She came in her work clothes and blended in one corner. She tried hard to camouflage herself. But when gold lady stepped in with a swish of her gown that had a slit up to her bum, Lila knew she had to put on her best smile and not look tired.
Lila made herself comfortable on one of the bar stools. Running her index finger over the rim of the glass, she studied the grey-suited sharks. Plastic smiles plastered to their smooth, shaven faces, their hungry eyes with dilated pupils drank in gold lady’s charm and effervescence. Obscured by a cloud of flavoured tobacco smoke, Lila could hardly see her face. She didn’t exactly know how gold lady looked. She had never met her before. Worse still, when she had leaned across to air-kiss her cheek, she could barely make out the outlines of her face. Lila let out a quiet laugh. Places like these are purposely dimly lit. You are not supposed to see their faces. You are not even supposed to remember them. If you happen to spot someone like them on the streets, you are not supposed to recognize them. Or walk up to them and discuss how ravishing they looked last night at the party.
Gold lady’s throaty laughter floated across the lounge. She didn’t turn towards Lila but having spotted more known faces simply glided over to them. It seemed as though she walked on water. The gleaming back, subject to endless flashbulbs’ glares.
Close to midnight, the DJ switched to high-energy tunes. Skinny models kicked off their skyscraper heels, jumped on the couches and recliners and did their bit of pop-n-lock. A version of dubstep infused with trap and psy – not really the kind of music Lila was comfortable with. She exited the lounge and made her way to the washroom.
As the pounding music ebbed away, Lila felt a sense of inner calm. She yanked open the door and stepped in. The washroom was quiet except for intermittent bursts of bass that came from the lounge below. Lila looked at herself in the mirror. Her kohl was smudged. Her eyes were red. Her hair was tied in a knot on top of her head. She hadn’t eaten anything since evening. Her stomach was growling. She could do with a morsel or two. Quickly, she took out the tucked-in shirt and let out a long breath. She closed her eyes and splashed cold tap water all over her face and groped for tissues with her eyes closed. Suddenly, a familiar perfume wafted in. The washroom door opened and closed. L’eau d’Issey. Fresh, floral, aqua. Lila’s eyes were shut tight. She didn’t want kohl-mixed water to damage her contact lenses. She grabbed a handful of tissues from an outstretched arm and mouthed a string of gratitude. As she became aware of a presence beside her, she opened her eyes a crack. Lila thought she spotted a glimmer of gold. Burnished gold. She wiped her face and turned to face gold lady. Only, she stared at herself.
The cheeks were white and the heavy mascara now sat clotted around her eyes. Lila did a double take. How…?
She touched her right temple which throbbed with pain and confusion. She clutched her vertiginous heels in her left hand. Her back no longer looked sensuous but spiny, bearing the brunt of walking on stilt-like shoes. The perfectly-coiffed bouffant now hung low, stray wisps of hair stuck to her grimy face. L’eau d’Issey gave off a motley mix of scent – of vomit and sweat. Lila laughed, seeing herself in the mirror. But the reflection was that of a girl with red-rimmed eyes and a knot on the top of her head. And she didn’t laugh back.