London, England. Present days.
The shop floor was crowded. People from all over the world had travelled to London for the famous Harrod’s Christmas Sale. The staff was manically running around, trying to keep up with the insanely huge demand.
We all had to wear black and look presentable. Girls were hired for their multilingual skills and their appearance. Most of us had come to London in search for a better life. Some were escaping a traumatic childhood, others were simply looking for a way out of poverty. Regardless, our stories were similar. Pain and suffering tends to somehow unite human beings.
It was already late and my feet were in a terrible state. Just a few more minutes and I could go to the staff lockers downstairs and take those uncomfortable shoes off. We were all obliged to look a certain way. Young, pretty girls, who were mostly foreign. I blended in well. My hair was long and silky, my make-up, above reproach. My body slim and slender, my clothing-discretely elegant. It was fascinating how we managed to blend in and at the same time stand out. The men who were shopping here never allowed us to completely disappear.
I was used to the sexual harassment and derogative comments, although more often than not we simply were on the receiving end of longing stares and brazen compliments. Of course all those men were used to getting the best of the best, or at least they desperately wanted to believe they were entitled to it. Most of them had many girlfriends on the side or a wife, whose muted agreement, in exchange of a better life, essentially made her an accomplice, enabling her husband's bad behavior.
So many stories intertwined on this shop floor. Like a tapestry made up of the lives of humans. I had become immune to the glam and glitter. My only concern at the moment were the uncomfortable shoes I was forced to wear for the last 7 hours. I could barely feel the soles of my feet, dulled down by the pain in my calves. I needed to take them off and soon!
Just as I was preparing to make a quick dive into the crowd and attempt an early leave, I spotted the manager approaching. Alas, my plan of escape was not going to happen. He wanted to talk to me, so I smiled and listened, only half-heartedly. I was way more interested in getting away from the dreaded hustle and bustle- I had been here since early this morning.
“Mia, your presence is requested in the VIP lounge. They are waiting for you, so please be quick!’’, and just like this, before I even managed to voice out my protest, he was gone. I. Hated. My. Life.
Unfortunately, the lounge was on the second floor, which was a significant distance away from where I was currently stationed. With a sigh, I resigned myself to staying behind for a third evening in a row, and headed upstairs. The exact location of the room I was supposed to enter was only made known to members of the staff. What it basically meant was that we had someone who was a member of the elite visiting the shop. People like this generally avoided shopping on the main floor, same as all other mortals. Privacy was valued above all else, and they paid well to ensure they got it.
Vaguely, I pondered the identity of the mysterious customer. I had some prior experience serving the mega rich and famous, so I felt calm and in control of myself. I was trained for such occasions. The key was to never express any surprise or God forbid- indecent curiosity. Staying professional at all times was what the staff working at Harrods was best known for. That, as well as our grooming and elegance. But most of all- our ability to be discreet.
I gave myself a quick check in the expensive mirror, hung on the wall I was going past, hastily fixing a stray hair that somehow got teased out of my neatly styled ponytail. I preferred to have my long dark hair away from my face during working hours- it helped with being efficient and kept me looking tidy for the entire duration of my shift.
I entered the room after announcing my arrival and dipped my head down slightly, not wanting to trespass on the privacy of the individual inside. A tall and well-dressed man was standing in the middle of the room, so I just presumed that was the customer I was called to attend to. I stepped towards him, my heeled shoes making no noise as I moved my body gracefully across the carpeted floor. The room was darkened, the lights dimmed. I could barely make out his expression as I approached him, ready to make my introduction and enquire how I could be of help. Before I even got to ask my question, however, a deep voice coming from somewhere to my right, broke the silence.
“ John , you may leave us. I will let you know when your assistance is required again.”
I struggled to contain my amazement and surprise. If that wasn’t the person I was supposed to attend to, then why was he standing in the middle of the changing room and who was the owner of the voice, that left me paralyzed with …. Fear? The tone was authoritative. His, had been an order rather than a gentle request. Something told me the man who spoke was not a guy used to hearing ‘No’ for an answer. Ever.
I awaited obediently for “John’’ to exit the room and carefully turned my body and attention towards what I hoped was the general direction from which the deep voice was coming. I couldn’t understand why the lights were dimmed so much, but remained professional enough to know not to ask questions or blink an eyelid at some of the outrageous request we were used to receiving. This was just one of those occasions, it seemed, when reality appeared to be stranger than fiction. The ultra rich were used to living in a parallel universe, where their every whim was satisfied at a clicking of a finger. Some even expected to be waited upon similarly to royalty and would become irate if the person serving them would fail to guess their unspoken desires.
This was going to be a long night, I thought to myself with desperation as I shifted slightly towards the dark figure who was occupying one of the opulent armchairs that lined the walls. My eyes had started to adjust to the lighting already, but I still couldn’t distinguish the man from the shape of the furniture. I also didn’t want to appear like I was gawking or staring indiscreetly, so I kept my head slightly bent and attempted another introduction.
Before I even got a chance to utter a sound, he interrupted impatiently. “ I know who you are, I need a matching tie, to go with the suit.’’ I followed his gesture – he simply lifted his fingers slightly in the direction of the item of clothing he wanted me to see, then rested his hand back onto the arm of the soft furniture he was occupying. I chanced a quick glance at him, trying to guess his preferences and style. The suit he was wearing was of the highest quality. Undoubtedly the best of the best. The cut was immaculate, at least from what I managed to see with the corner of my eye, as I was already turning around to examine the one he wanted me to find a matching tie for. I caught a glimpse of a signet ring on his left little finger as he got himself a cigar from the small table next to him. He had one leg crossed over the other at the area of the knee, making his presence even more domineering. As though claiming as much space as he possibly could, without lifting so much as a finger.
The guy was larger than life, I could already tell. I felt sorry for the wife or girlfriend who had to endure this pompous prick! I could hardly wait to escape the room and it hadn’t even been 5 minutes since my arrival here. And I was paid to do it. I wasn’t so sure about the other women…
The man was tall. From what I managed to see of the suit he had ordered, he was at least 1.85cm. I needed a dark grey tie, something discreet but also something which would stand out- very much like his future owner. As I was going through the stock we had, I was mentally recovering the image of him in front of my inner vision. No matter how hard I tried, however, I could not flesh out the memory of a real person. Only sensations. The uncomfortable feeling of being watched when I wasn’t aware of it gave me chills. There was something about this man, something about his presence and the way he overpowered all else in the room, dominating the space as if it was his natural habitat.
I didn’t like it. Hopefully the ties I picked would please him and he could leave quickly. I wasn’t sure what this John guy was there for, and I didn’t want to know. I just wanted them out of the shop so I could finally finish my shift and head home. The walk would be unpleasant as the weather was already reminding us how close we were to the Christmas festivities. I was going to celebrate alone, most likely. Which was fine by me. The other option would have been to go back home, but that was equally unappealing. At least I could enjoy having the entire space all to myself. The way I was feeling currently, I could stay in for a week and not feel the desire to go out or do anything. Being around so many people so much of the time had left me craving the sanctuary of my one bedroom flat more than ever before.
Satisfied with my choice, I headed back to the VIP lounge. With some luck the mysterious guy could be already gone, leaving the tedious job of arranging the details for the purchase to his right hand man. Perhaps he was a security guard, he seemed big enough to match the job description. And so hopefully I wouldn’t have to endure the presence of his boss. I would have rather dealt with his staff than having to talk to him or help him choose which tie went with which suit the most. Maybe he wasn’t interested in wasting any more of his precious time either and we would never have to see each other ever again. I mean, the chances of me casually bumping into him on the street were close to non-existent. So I just needed to keep it together for a few more minutes, and then I could finally go home.
The thought gave me the boost I needed. The surge of energy I felt however quickly died down with the sight of the security guard standing in front of the lounge’s closed doors. I guess his boss must be still inside…
I pushed down my irritation and moved past the burly figure. He gave me a quick nod and opened the door for me. The lightning was still the same so I automatically squeezed my eyes, trying to adjust my vision to the significantly reduced amount of clarity I had. The air was filled with the smoke from his cigar, but he hadn’t shifted from where I left him before I went onto my search for his desired clothing items. I wasn’t sure if he recognized me or if he even cared to acknowledge my presence, and I guess it didn’t even matter, as I wouldn’t have been able to see his facial expressions in the darkness anyway.
I busied myself with arranging the ties I had picked around the suit that was laid on the settee opposite to where he was sitting. I guess I was rather hasty as I fumbled with the arrangement of my display, which was a far cry from my usual professionalism. The thought of remaining in this enclosed space with this man for longer than the bare necessary minimum required for him to make his decision and leave, was disturbing me in ways I refused to dwell upon. Through my career in sales I had gotten used to attending to a variety of customers, who had some of the most extravagant and downright ridiculous requests. Never before, however, did I feel such dread or repulsion. I could not place the exact sensation that gripped me, but it was suspiciously close to FEAR.
As I finished arranging my display, I stepped back in order to give it one final inspection before I summoned my customer. I was really hoping he would be able to choose quickly so that we could all be on our merry way. And I would never have to serve him or even meet him again.
With this thought in mind, I walked backward distractedly, trying to decide on the arrangement, until my body was pressed against something warm and hard. Something that definitely wasn’t there when I first entered the room. It couldn’t have been the security detail as I clearly remembered leaving him outside before coming into the lounge. So whose body was it that I was pressing myself against?!
I hadn’t had the chance to recover from my shock when I felt him bend over my shoulder. His warm breath tickled the back of my neck, where a few baby hairs had teased their way out of the tight ponytail. My chest heaved as I tried to regulate my own air intake, when I heard him whisper in my ear, “You took too long.’’
As I wasn’t even sure what to say or if he even expected me to answer him, I preferred to remain silent and buy my time. There was no sign of irritation in his tone. But there was something which bothered me immensely. I fumbled with my head, trying to desperately pinpoint the source of the intense discomfort and when I did, the blood circulation almost seized in my veins. I now knew what had been the reason for the FEAR- there was NO tone in his voice that could be discerned. It was almost as though a dead man had risen from the grave and had spoken to me….
The sensations coursing through my body were impossible to explain. The close proximity of his flesh felt intoxicating. I had to fight back the sudden urge to press myself against him. Was I becoming delusional? The effect his presence had on me was like the most potent drug, injected straight into my veins. I felt alive. More alive than I had ever felt in my life for as long as I could remember. I didn’t want this to stop. I wanted more. To feel more. To see more. To experience more. I wanted depth. Pleasure. Pain. Sorrow. I wanted to love. To breathe. But most of all I wanted RELEASE. I wanted for my torture to end. I couldn’t bear any longer the deep longing that I was aware of, existing inside me. Like a bottomless pit which never got sated. Not during my childhood, nor in my adult life. In this moment I saw with undeniable clarity- despite the darkness of my surroundings and my eyelids being almost shut- the hollow emptiness my entire existence had been, up to this point. Until this man came around. It was as though my heart had seized beating for a split second and restarted suddenly, bringing a fresh flow of blood through my arteries, quickening my pulse, which I could hear the beat of inside my drumming ears. I think he could feel it too, as he bent his head and I felt his lips caress the soft flesh of my extended neck, tracing the pale skin until he reached my ear.
“What do you want?’’, his voice was deep but completely void of emotion. I stilled myself, my entire body tensing with the sound of his words penetrating me. I didn’t want to think, to rationalize- it made my head ache. I just wanted this horrible torturous sensation of emptiness to stop. I needed fulfilment. The sort of fulfilment I instinctively knew only this man was capable of giving me. Without thinking I pressed back against him. He shifted his body slightly, welcoming my unconscious movements. He felt so reassuring, and yet so dangerously menacing. It was hard to reconcile the two seemingly completely opposite realities. How could he be so cold and yet enflame me to the core? Why was it that I felt so alive when I was with him? And yet it was as if I were the only present warm blooded human in this room. And he needed me in order to sustain himself, in order to feel alive.
I wanted desperately to turn around and see his face, but I was afraid to disrupt this fragile connection we had established. The warmth I realized I felt previously was coming from my own body and not from his flesh. A shiver ran across my spine as the thought crossed my mind. As though coming out of a trance suddenly, I pushed against him, this time not driven by uncontrollable lust, but by sheer panic. Terror gripped my throat and a stifled cry escaped my lips. I knew I had to move away from this thing- whatever it was that was happening between us- and leave the room as soon as possible. Before I even managed to move my feet however, his arm snaked around my waste and pinned me back to him. “No!”, his voice was no longer expressionless. It was more of a snarl than actual speech, which sent alarm bells ringing in my head. And I knew exactly why- the voice didn’t have any human quality to it. It sounded beastly….