Despite Aussie Cyril’s enormous enthusiasm for doing more shoots, weeks pass with no further contact.
It is the fourth Sunday in Advent, and we are hanging out in the flat, not doing much.
Bel is definitely depressed. I don’t know why. I realise she’s been like this since I got here. Or perhaps, since I’ve known her.
It’s hard not to get depressed when you’re living with a depressed person. Should I stay here, in Shanghai? I wish she could bat it away, like we all have to. She scares me. Look, you have to just battle on.
We have free time, the opportunity to do some photography… Should I suggest it? Will I only make her feel worse?
Bel looks up from an email. ‘Your Cyril friend. Apparently he went to Australia.’
‘Darn. No more lucrative shoots with him, then. Never mind! Guess what – I’ve just been booked via Wechat by a school-girl for her project!’
Loiza, half-Spanish, a pupil at one of Shanghai’s elite European high schools, turns out to be the niece of my ex-flingette. She has been given Christmas money by scheming Aunt Tamara with instructions to book a session with me immediately (it’s school hols)…
…to do Schiele-esque photos 4 my A-level project.
Btw Tamara sent me ur novel & poetry bks – love ur writing – reviewd Melanie Alone 4 my Eng lit homewk SO ENGLISH – god, UK gay culture total throw-back –
A new fan! Thanks, Tamara.
Hi Loiza, u r right re throw-back. Novel is set in north, v diff fr London. Ta 4 praise, if u intrestd, 2 more of my bks free online see www.sukithelifemodel.co.uk Lookin frwrd our shoot! c u tomoz 3pm Suki x
And so, the next afternoon…
‘I’m interested in sado-masochism.’ Loiza snaps, crouches lower, re-focuses, snaps.
‘Ah. Runs in the family, then.’ I hitch the black lace she has provided further up above my bony red-stockinged knees. The airy studio that Tamara has financed is, like everywhere in Pudong, brand new, still smelling of fresh paint, minimally furnished other than scattered spotlights, equipment, light-deflecting white umbrellas. Thankfully, white blinds block the views of the financial district’s space-age towers that would otherwise give me vertigo.
‘Groovy, that’s groovy – ‘ snap snap snap. ‘Yeah… When I told Tamara we were doing Schiele at school she posted me the Angela Carter book The Sadeian Woman and the Ideology of Pornography and that book Venus in Furs by Masoch – have you read them?’
‘Can’t say I’ve…’
‘She’s always encouraging me to be an artist; an experimental, subversive one, though.’
Gurgle, hiss – the electric percolator completes its cycle.
‘Espresso break!’ Loiza springs over to the kitchen area. ‘Here’ – she is turning through her school-issue folder of the print-outs of Schiele’s sketched figures; the poses I’ve been carrying out for her. ‘Let me read you something… Charged and explicit eroticism… Near-pornographic intensity… A subversive and challenging vision’ – she looks up. ‘That’s William Boyd the art critic. Coz like, Schiele did like loads of drawings of himself masturbating? So cool.’
‘Um. Yes. Very before his time.’
‘Maybe we can get to some of those poses next’ – sips espresso – ‘You’re Tamara’s girlfriend, right?’
‘Everyone at my school is, like, bisexual, even my Chinese friends. Especially my Chinese friends. Straight is just so last century. Do you know the photographer Ren Hang? He’s so cool, you’ve got to check him out. Hey, you sprawled right there holding your cup’s great! Wait – [snap] yeah! [snap] Awesome. Can you like, hitch the skirt up further, just like in this picture? So I get more cunt?’
It is suppertime when I walk into the flat. ‘Baozi!’ I hold up the bag of still-warm dumplings. ‘God, precocious as hell! That scheming Tamara. Got a thousand yuan for it though!’
Bel is in the bedroom doorway on her mobile. She quickly finishes, flips closed her phone. ‘My brother. Did you say a thousand yuan? So this Tamara… She obviously likes you…’
The comment hangs uncomfortably in the air. Is this some kind of jealousy again? Like her thing against Aussie Cyril?
A flurry: Lily Hong rushing through from the bedroom, a fairy in pink mini-dress, pretty as candy, clutching Bel’s iPad.
‘Miss Suki’ – Lily Hong is actually weeping! – ‘I reading your stories on internet…’ She strokes my upper arm – ‘Your baby die. Sorry for you’ – squeezes it. ‘Too much sad, very sorry’ – then turns, hands the iPad to Bel. For some reason, the back of her dress is fully unzipped. ‘Sorry I still here too much long time.’ She hurries out.
I am left with Bel, who is looking at me blankly.
So I have to explain.
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