The first thing for Rogelio to hate about the other boss was how she treated the barwoman, barking, “You are not paid to sit around! Make yourself more useful!” What else could Esperanza do when already the shelves at the bar area were filled? Against her insistence to do it herself, Rogelio insisted harder that he fill the bottles, which he had done. She was already feeling weary whilst it was still only morning. The odd thing was that Esperanza kept her back turned when Rogelio was behind the counter.
As for Sipho, he had served a few dishes to those preferring a late breakfast or a brunch, which was later a select few. That was until he saw man accompanied by a woman signal him over. He approached, asking, “Are you Sipho?”
There was nothing for him to feel awkward about. So, he replied bluntly, “Yes.” He was used to people pronouncing his named “C-fo”. He spared everyone pronouncing it that way possible offense by not correcting them. He asked back the man who sported a brown business suit over a faded-orange vest with silver buttons over a white shirt with a matching orange tie, “What would you like?”
The man said, “You were recommended by a friend of my wife here. I want to know how well you paint.”
“My skills are fair”, Sipho shrugged. He added, “Depends on the subject, as well. What would you like a picture of?”
The woman, who wore a maroon business suit over a dark-purple shirt, curled a finger, and Sipho instinctively leaned forward, and the woman whispered in Sipho’s ear. What he listened to did more than stun him. He had never done that before, and he would have felt as guilty as he felt dirty, which was just what it was to be. So, Sipho pulled away to look at them as he stated, “I will charge a high price regardless.”
The man was the one to responded, “We carry much money.”
Sipho, scowling, hesitated before saying, “Follow me.”
Now the married couple were the ones feeling awkward as if was with reluctance that they followed the tan man. He guided them to his apartment and directed them to the room that was his art office. Sipho spoke when he entered the office after they did, “You can get prepared while I set up.” The married couple didn’t need acting experience to see how Sipho felt doing this, and yet he was doing it. He made sure that his gaze was away from his clients of the day as he gathered his brushes and paints and the married couple took off and hung up their clothes.
The husband asked when he was completely naked, “Would you feel more comfortable if you were naked?”
Sipho sighed, “No, I think it’s better that I’m not.” He cleared his throat as he sat down in front of his easel, now holding his brushes, paints, a cup of soot, a marker, and a blank canvas. He then said, “Give me a pose that you think you can hold.”
The couple slowly went down on the floor: the wife on her back and her legs spread and one forearm raised; the husband on his knees and leaning down, one arm holding the raised arm. They managed to look at each other lovingly, their faces close. Sipho thought, “Now here is a challenge.” He made a rearrangement, switching the position of the canvas and board and moving the easel to the side, to look at his clients better, which was more to his advantage as the easel was further to his dominant side.
The tan man looked carefully before drawing with a pencil and then deciding that he could ink the sketch upon the rough surface. He could see the affection between the two as he got a look as close as he could at their eyes so he would know their colours perfectly well. It was with the faces he started painting, and then worked his way across, as if writing or reading in the opposite direction. Getting their skin tones was the first difficulty as Sipho hadn’t practiced with that as much. He still was careful not to get the tone wrong. He was as meticulous with filling in the canvas as he was with the highlights and shadows. As he filled a short area with the faces and tried his best to capture their expressions, the disturbance of making a picture of the husband and wife in their eroticisation dissipated and he thought only making the picture. He made sure that he was accurate with the eye colours as well. After that, he proceeded with the necks and shoulders. He would wait for that part to dry so he could shade there. Then, he worked on the hair and eyebrows. That would be as much of a challenge. The husband had light-brown hair—it looked light in the look of the room—and the wife was a blonde. He didn’t like painting with only light tints. If he used all the natural lighting in the room, he would’ve made the viewer blind to the image.
By the time Sipho completed the upper half of the body, taking up nearly half the length, that unease returned to him. It wasn’t just that the legs were entangled. He felt distaste in actually drawing the man thrusting into the woman. Though Sipho couldn’t see the man’s nether component, the mere thought disturbed him. He couldn’t believe that he hadn’t laid further ground rules. The nails were coloured in before he started working the detail of the legs. It was with the soot Sipho made the shadows where visible and where he believed there needed be if the natural light wasn’t coming from above. After the shadows on the bodies were done, he got to the background, the texture being of dark wooden floor boards and a purple wallpaper with yellow flower petals. Sipho made sure that the background and foreground had not even a dot of white.
After the finishing touches with the shading, he thought, “Finally”, and put down his brushes. He closed his eyes, trying his best to suppress any anger or self-loathing, and spoke, “You need not hold your position anymore.” The clients did so and stood up, stretching. Without looking at them, Sipho added, “You will need wait for the paint to dry, but you can look at the result now if you like.”
He stood up and headed quickly for the doorway. Based on the breathing moans, the couple liked it. He couldn’t hold back his scoff, but that didn't discourage the husband from asking, “How much will you charge?”
Sipho took advantage of their liking and the subject that they wanted, answering bluntly, “Seven hundred.”
“By an amateur artist?” the husband spat. “You must be pazzo o disperato.” He then chuckled. “We’ll take it.”
The wife took his hand and asked, “In the meantime, can we use your bed?”
“That will cost you extra”, Sipho answered. “Non è una domanda. You must pay to have intercourse in a room with or without a courtesan. You may use the bathhouse as well, after.” He changed his tone, adding, “Oh, and do you want the painting in a frame?”
“No grazie”, the wife responded.
The husband then went to the table where the clothes were neatly folded and stacked. He picked up the large wallet that he was keeping in his jacket’s inner pocket and approached Sipho, counting up a wad of bills, to hand to him. Sipho then packed up with tools before locking up where he stored them, and then strode out to leave his clients to their escapade.
The tan man was pleased to get back to his menial job as a server, anything to get his mind off of what he had just done. He thought, “I can sit in a searing bath for hours if I want; it will not make me feel any less dirty.” Thankfully for him, it was lunch time, and Rogelio was glad that Sipho took to the diner floor again as all tables had been occupied when he got to the orders that he got to. The way Sipho buried himself in that work, Rogelio couldn’t help but feel concern for the tan man. That would have to come later, simply because they had grown very busy.
Both the young man and the tan man were able to take their problems off of their minds, for around an hour, but of course, that wasn’t to go without any kind of criticism. Tamara watched the young man occasionally, possibly waiting for him to make some kind of mistake, so she could hold it over his head. That was unknown. She was taking a break from what she liked doing while at the inn, which was why she was at the diner at the moment. After seeing him serve a few tables, she strode across the diner, to get back to her personal work. She didn’t care about the condition of the inn or the diner. She was just there to fill in, but she always wanted to do more.
When the evening was soon to arrive, the people that Sipho let use his bed had cleaned themselves up and taken the painting. Sipho wrote on the board on the wall, next to the bar, an additional rule of what he could do: “You may request a portrait in pencil or paint, clothed portraits at a higher price, any pose, and you may request a sexual picture, but only once.” That was on a chalkboard, so each courtesan could change, modify, or take out their conditions on a session with them. The name Rogelio had been added, and next to his name was a wide “X”, meaning that he was only a server, a thought that returned to Sipho. He lowered his head with his eyes closed, sighing as he thought of him. Rogelio was just a boy compared to Sipho.
Despair filled the tan man’s mind. He would be twenty-nine years old for but a few more weeks. He had goals and dreams. He thought of the young man, and was afraid for him—afraid that the young man would be left with too many unfulfilled dreams. Even someone long since grown can dream.
The tan man was staring at the name when his shoulder was touched. He turned, surprised, seeing the handsome young man. Rogelio asked, “Are you okay?” Sipho hesitated as he could think of nothing to say. So, the young man added, “I saw you looking… troubled when you last came down.”
Sipho sighed. “You may find this hard to believe, Kid, but while I try making money doing what I love, I also do something that I hate.”
(Sipho was moderate in skills with painting when he was first asked of it. In the summer of his fourth year of working at the Catenza di Giardini, a woman looking at the board was curious on who was willing to do what, and she could confirm the rumour of an artist working there.
(This woman, around Sipho’s age at the time, was married, and was very much in love with her husband. With a request and an offer, their afternoon lunch was followed by two-and-a-half hours of holding a pose for a painting. Sipho was anything but aroused by what he was doing. He charged a high price for it, painting a picture of a front view of a man getting inside his wife, and they were excited after. So, they stayed for longer. Sipho hoped that he wouldn’t have to do that kind of thing again sometime before long.)
The tan man looked down sadly. Any day when he would make this was to be a bad day. It meant a non-existent grime clinging to him and his bedsheets stained with fluids that were from other people. That seemed to elate the ladies, seeing as Sipho’s room came off as favoured by the most patrons.
“I… I’m sorry…” That was all that Rogelio could think of. He had no advice to offer. He wasn’t trained in advice. The young man already hated that he was working at a brothel, but it was the only place to which he thought that he was welcome.
Sipho said bitterly, “You have no idea… yet… You’re still young.”
“We all have to start somewhere, no?”
Sipho stood straight, scowling at the young man. “Ma come si può sapere, non sarà vivere la tua vita come uno shiavo?” Fear filled the young man’s blue eyes. The deep voice added to something to become a concern for him.
So, Rogelio wondered about this. He had no previous job experience. He didn’t need a job for a while, but he himself had seen such change. He asked, feeling like he could cry before long, “È così che ci si sente?”
Sipho swiftly turned away, responding lowly, “I hoped to make a living doing something more meaningful than handing food to people, by now.” He strode in the kitchen, Rogelio considering to follow, but didn’t, seeing as how quick Sipho wanted to just move on. Instead, he got back to what he was being paid to do.
With the sky gone black for the night, and only a few people remained, having a hot beverage, Rogelio sat at the bar, and he requested a cup of chamomile tea, which the barwoman was slow to give him, but he didn’t mind. Instead, he just stared at her, not even steeping the tea bag in the porcelain mug in front of him. The brunette looked so wonderful to him. In fact, the woman brought back a piece of his past. He felt as if he was to look for some kind of sign. Noting the expression, Esperanza asked, “Cosa c’è nella tua mente?”
Only then, Rogelio saw how she breathed a groan and try to adjust herself, not wanting to look weary or sloppy. That was the biggest hint, nowhere near subtle. The young man sighed, answering, “I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but…” He sighed again after his pause. “You remind me of my mother…”
“How so?” Esperanza pressed, curious.
“She always tried to be strong, just for me. She had… vigour… and determination…” He finally looked at her, finishing, “She was so beautiful, too…” Again, he felt like he could cry.
Not needing to ask, Esperanza touched the young man’s hand, saying, “I know how to feel to miss one’s parents…”
“I didn’t just leave her she’s dead!” Then, he started to cry. “She passed… two weeks ago… She never told me what she had until she got ill…”
“What killed her?” Esperanza inquired.
“Me dispiace”, Esperanza said, stroking his shoulder. “Capisco. Fresh wound.”
Through his sobs, he said, “I miss her so much…”
“It will be okay. And when something bothers you, I am here. I am always here to listen to anyone.” The young man looked up at her, seeing a crack of a smile on her, showing assurance. He stayed seated on the barstool until he saw how late the time was, and chose to go turn in. Esperanza watched the young man walk out of the diner, to the hall and up the stairs. She then sighed, looking down. If Rogelio was to see, he would have known how she failed to even convince herself what she told him. She placed a hand over her mid-section, looking down sadly.
The day for lovers arrived very quickly, the diner bustling with married couples, from the young to the elders. It was like that in the late morning, when the sales on orange juice and champagne spiked and the dishes were big breakfasts. This was something to sadden Sipho even though he was one of the servers to these people. He had barely been working for an hour when he thought, “Just a matter of time before people ask me why I’m here…”
However, he saw nothing to complain about shortly after. The second he brought two omelets to a small table occupied by a married couple, he was told, “Are you… Sipho?” The man asking that mispronounced the name, but there was no sign to betray the tan man’s aggravation.
The tan man said plainly, “Yes…” He paused a beat before asking back. “I assume you read that board?”
The woman, wearing a long-skirt, long-sleeve, pinstripe dress, answered, “I did. And I am interested in seeing if you can make a portrait of me and my husband.”
“Better give time to prepare, then. Shall I escort you to my room after you had your breakfast?” He paused a beat. “Or lunch?” Sipho was still very awkward, for not understanding the meaning of another word for the meal eaten a few minutes before the start of midday.
The two looked at each other before looking at Sipho again, the woman being the one to answer, “Sounds good.” She changed her tone, asking, “In the meantime, can I have a cup of Chai tea?”
“Sì, Signora.” Sipho went to take another couple’s orders before fetching that cup of tea.
With his serving shift cut short, Sipho prepared his tools, before finding his clients having finished their meal, so he could bring them up to his office. The choice was obvious: a painting. Being fully dressed made things difficult. However, the pose would make the portrait straight-forward. Sipho’s only complaint, which he kept to himself, was that making the whole thing was a bore. Eager as he was to get it done, Sipho remembered that he didn’t want to be sloppy in even what he would hate. He managed to complete it after just over two hours.
That wasn’t the only pair of clients requesting a picture that day. In mere minutes of looking around the diner, Sipho noticed someone waving him over and approached, asking, “How can I help you?” It was another married couple; he could tell. They were dressed formally, as well. Taking turns, the husband and wife explained that they would like for Sipho to sketch a detailed portrait of them, and he couldn’t deny that request. That, he appreciated doing. He used a few different pencils to capture the husband and wife from a side view, them staring into each other’s eyes. It was not as boring to make, knowing that he had detail to capture in the folds and creases, and he did his same routine of making figures from right to left on the fine paper that he used.
After seeing that the couple was pleased, there was yet another pair to request a picture, and this one was more sensual. The pose for him to capture on a sketch that he would ink was the man wearing no more than his dress shirt and dress pants hugging his wife from behind, the woman wearing a skirt and no top.
Between the processes of each picture, Sipho was as sad as he had ever been on any day when lovers never loved each other more. He made sure that no one saw that somber expression of his. Over his years of employment and residence, that day was the day that he would hate the second-most. The tan man throve on that themed day in the past, making pictures of couples. The downside was that unlike all those people and unlike each and every courtesan who he had seen had someone to look forward to seeing. Even though those courtesans had each fallen for a client, the ones that Sipho had seen go let him and the others know that they were happily married.
It was near the end of the day by the time he was finished his third picture, and he was paid a good amount. He thought, “de Vitis will be glad when I give her cut to her… The only good things I will get out of this are fresh clothes and a day off… How much worse could my life get…?” As compelled as he felt to intoxicate himself with wine or any alcohol, Sipho wasn’t willing to go heavy, let alone drink anything strong when he chose to have an early dinner.
Before he was to call it a day, the tan man was met by his best friend. She called to him the second he was out of the barstool where he quietly ate like he would almost every night. The girl wore a top coat over a business suit, probably having gone out immediately after the conclusion of her private lessons for that day. She strode across the hardwood floor to approach the tan man and hug him. He couldn’t help but return the hug. Based on how long the girl kept her arms around him, the tan man assumed that Sogna missed her mother. When pulling away, she reached into her leather bag slung over her shoulder, to pull something out. She stated, “Questo è per te.”
He removed the wrapping from the long but narrow box, to see that he was given a fresh set of pencils, and fine pens. He also spotted a small box of assorted chocolate pieces. Sogna was always stumped on what Sipho generally liked, but always wanted to give him presents. Knowing of his love for art, she had regularly given him supplies for drawing.
He said softly, “Grazie.”
Not needing to ask what was bothering him, she whined, “Please don’t be sad.”
Sipho sighed, “How can I not be sad when I have no one?” All the fellow courtesans, his boss, and her daughter, he had made aware of his life choice years earlier. Angela was the first to be told, and then Sipho had let the other employees, one by one, know. It was just a few years earlier when he had told it to the girl. As his best friend, he was afraid that she would never want to speak to him again, but here Sogna still would arrive, learning how to dance like the people of Sipho’s country would.
“I apologise, but I know no advice. You cannot be the only one having made the irregular choice.”
“It is more than that, Sogna”, Sipho retorted. “There is almost no day when I think not about my mother or sister. You told me about your parents and siblings. I have seen how your mother loves you and I have seen how you love your brother.”
Sogna scoffed, “Everyone here thinks that my mother loves me too much.” In a calm tone, she continued, “I appreciate that you show no jealousy.”
Sipho corrected, “I feel not as jealous as nostalgic.” That was true. The previous time he had seen her younger brother, Sipho was reminded of the friendly bickering between himself and his sister. Since arriving to this area, he had learnt to cherish the memories.
Trying to steer off the subject of family, Sogna asked, “Did you have clients today?”
“Sì”, Sipho answered. “Tre coppie che desiderare immagini, one of them erotic.” He sounded disgusted. It was simply because he found it waste of time and meaningless. He was one to look for meanings in pictures, even portraits. He knew of one famous painting that he couldn’t decipher.
Sogna responded, “You are not the only one to do something you hate, either. I hope you find someone and something that you love, though. When you do get bored with a subject for your art, you should alternate between them. That is what I do, when I have to write papers for my tutors.”
Sipho looked at her quietly before pointing briefly and saying, “That is a great idea; I cannot believe I never considered that.” Now looking content, he continued, “For someone to still be called a kid, you always lift me up, Sogna. Grazie.” They hugged once more.
When looking at Sipho again, Sogna stated, “I will see you on Monday for your lesson.” She strode toward the hall, to see the other ladies. Sipho went down the hall, but going up the stairs, to his apartment.
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