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Three: Connections

The same kind of thing went on for the few days to follow. The afternoons were straight-forward for Rogelio as he served beverages, meals and desserts to people of the middle class or the high class. He couldn’t help but feel disturbed each time he noticed a woman go to the rooms, holding a man’s hand. Sipho tried assuring him that is was normal and they didn’t mind as long as those men respected them. Trying to regard what he had been told, Rogelio made sure that he would see the women going to their rooms come back content.
That did come to him on the third day to follow Rogelio’s short outburst: the young man saw the last women that he saw departing with a man. The woman was fit and had long blonde hair meeting her shoulder blades. Rogelio went up to her, letting his concern be obvious, but when right in front of her, he hesitated out of shyness. The blonde woman, who was adjusting her disheveled scarlet dress, looked at him confused.
Rogelio asked, “Wh-what’s your name again?”
“…Mirella”, she replied.
“Mirella… what a nice name”, he muttered. He spoke up, “Are… are you okay?”
She looked at him, feeling very awkward and hesitated for a beat before answering, “Fine… just fine…”
“Sorry. I just think… courtesans aren’t treated well.”
“Oh, worry not about me. If this is about the man who did me, he treated me nicely. He is a regular of mine and is highly respectful.”
“Where is your client now?” the young man asked curiously.
“In my bed right now. Men get tired when finishing with me. Furthermore, if anyone steals from me, I will notice. Last man to steal from me”—she leaned in to whisper—“Word is that he got ill and lost his job from spreading the flu to a few people.” Rogelio didn’t understand that last part until he remembered the point about revenge.
The young man couldn’t help but wonder if the tan man was like these women, and tried listening carefully to the interaction that Sipho had with a woman that was at the diner by herself for lunch. This woman at a small table that was for one or two people only: she was likely around the tan man’s age, her bright-brown hair looked as if it had recently been trimmed, she wore a silver-grey dress that looked multi-layered with a square opening for the neckline, and she looked pale compared to the tan man.
Sipho asked, “And what sandwich do you prefer with your tea?”
“Prosciutto cotto”, she replied. “And I would like another item that I want to know if you offer.”
“You may ask.” Sipho had a good guess on this.
The woman stated, sitting up straight, “I want to know if I can have some of your time—the two of us… on a bed…”
He instantly put his foot down. Sipho spoke, “I apologise, but you ask that of the wrong man. However, I may have alternative offer.” He waited a beat—
And she said, “Go on.”
“How much do you appreciate art?” He waited for an answer, but didn’t get one. So, he continued, “I am quite artistic… simple as that… What if you had a portrait by a creatore anonimo? Just like with your food, I will take pay if you want it.”
“After I eat. Then, you can take me.”
“Molto bene, Signora. Non ve ne pentirete.” He couldn’t help but smile. Sipho took pride in impressing the women, but not for how he himself looked. He waited on other tables, mainly groups and pairs, as Rogelio had begun to notice. Very rarely, Sipho would wait on people dining in the diner alone, the young man had seen, which he believed was odd. He paused with his duty of cleaning a table that was occupied by a group having left, to watch Sipho with the woman again.
The tan man asked, “How did you like your sandwich?”
“Much so”, she answered as Sipho picked up the plate occupied then only by crumbs and the saucer with an empty cup. She then asked, “How shall we begin our… sistemazione?”
“My room. Upper floor, round the corner, second on left side. Wait for me there, and then I will prepare.”

The woman was content with what to expect. She followed the directions to the door to Sipho’s apartment, and was surprised by the interior of the place. The rays of natural light of the day through the glass roof, illuminating the bedroom that was the first to be seen. Sipho didn’t make the bed the first thing to see because it was the custom of all other live-in employees. The woman passed the bed covered by the lilac sheets and took the door on the right, curious about what this man did in his free time.
This room with the walls covered by the same coloured wooden boards was occupied by two cabinets at the opposite wall, a desk in the corner adjacent to the doorway. There were also two bar stools, a plain black chair like a skeleton, and an easel. Even the Madonna saw so point in installing a door for that kind of room.
The woman had already done her business, seeing that the man would be a while, and expecting what the women would offer the men, she chose to start undoing the laces on her back. Just when she slipped out of her dress and hung it on the desk in the corner, the door opened and closed. The tan man strode in and paused in surprise to see the woman exposing her flesh. He asked, “Were you considering to pose naked?”
“Pose?”
“I am an artist, Signora. I am listed as one making portraits by hand. You can pose fully-clothed if you like, but I charge more for that.”
“Really?” She paused, staring at the tan man. “I know this is a brothel, but I would never have guessed that a real artist works here.”
“No one does what they are good at for free”, Sipho shrugged.
The woman stated, “Well, then, I would like to see what you do.” She hesitated before she removed her shoes and then the garment covering her lower region, which was anything but delicate, and hung it over the corner of the desk. She chose the wooden stool, seeing that she would need stay still for some time.
From below the desk, Sipho picked up a large book of fine paper and a set of pencils from the shelf above the desk. He then sat in his stool. He looked intently at the woman and said, “Give me a pose.” She crossed her legs and placed her hands over her knee. Sipho added, “Stay still as long as you can.” As the woman maintained her pose, she wondered how someone like the tan man could stay single and look at a naked lady without getting aroused. She noticed him maintain a neutral expression as his pencils scratched on the paper. However, it was not neutral. He looked at her naked body and drew based on what he was examining, and thought that she had a nice body. She was fit and the daylight getting in the room made her look vibrant. It seemed difficult, knowing the highlights outweighed the shadows. However, that something that Sipho had learned to endure. He paid attention to the angle of the light, so he could be accurate with the shading. The only sound was the scratching and rubbing against the fine paper. When getting the basic frame and the lining, he compared it to the poser very closely, before saying, “Let us take a break for a few minutes.” His client gladly obliged to that, for she quickly stood up, to stretch out her limbs and her back. He smiled watching her, admiring the fit body with smooth flesh. Seeing as it would be only a few minutes, Sipho’s client saw no point in getting dressed, which made him wonder if she was as open as she seemed to suggest.
After that break, Sipho went on, making sure that the pose the woman made was exactly was as it was before. He looked very carefully before he got to stroking his pencils on the paper to make the shading on the woman in the picture. He made sure that his strokes for the hair were a challenge, seeing that the hair was a little bright.
He compared the drawing and the person very closely before he spoke, “Would you like to see?” She hesitated before going up to him, and looked at the result.
She smiled and said, “It is wonderful.”
“Shall I leave it as it is?”
“Can you ink it?” She asked quickly.
“Of course. You can get dressed while I do so. I will put it in a plastic sleeve as well.”
“Molto bene”, she responded. Among the pencils was already a fine-point pen, which Sipho started stroking. The woman waited patiently as Sipho filled in with ink. It was much longer, and Sipho meticulously made sure that there was not even a white dot as a gap. After that, he went up to one cabinet, where a case hard to see was. He pulled out something from behind wooden bar by his fingernails on the edge.
The second the plastic-covered page was handed over, Sipho stated, “Based on time taken and what was used, your fee comes to two hundred and fifty. You can have it as a decoration. If you think a collector would like it, go ahead and sell it.”
The woman dug into the pouch that she took with her. So rarely Sipho would make money off of doing this kind of thing. He believed in his skills and charged a lot. He counted the numbers on the bills that were handed to him, and he smiled. The woman then said, “I will recommend you to my friends.” Sipho doubted that, of course. Who carried that much money when going out in public?
------

As the tan man escorted his content client to the door of the diner, his pride had already dissipated and made sure that the woman that he led didn’t see his cold expression. He said no word when seeing her out. He checked his wristwatch, which was on his right arm, and saw that the afternoon had almost past. He sighed as he lowered his arm. His sadness overcame him as if he was inside a large sack, cutting him off from all light and leaving his world shrouded in darkness. He headed toward the kitchen, but let the bartender know that he could be working only that position. He had long since learned to not have his anger or depression affect how he served the patrons.
What was left of the afternoon went past with Sipho in deep thought. He had to be tapped, to be informed of what vegetable dishes or salads were ordered. He was still out of it, forgetting a few steps, which, much to his frustration, left him looking up whatever he forgot. He would always mutter swears in his native language when doing something that he called foolish, as he was doing. As much as he would have hated it, Sipho started waiting tables again as well, seeing as the evening had already started the next time he looked at his watch, and the days were very short at that time.
He had already brought a bottle of white wine to a table occupied by two married couples who looked like good friends. One couple was not from the country, but were thankfully as fluent in English as Sipho was. It was odd that each husband and wife ordered the same things. The Italian husband and wife, dressed so formally, ordered lobster meat out of the shell over fettucine. The other husband and wife, who spoke with a heavy accent and the husband without a tie but a scarf around the neck and under the collar of his shirt and the wife a one-shouldered and sleeveless dress with one opening on the side of the skirt. They ordered a traditional Goulash soup. Unfortunately, only the wives were social with one another and the same was with the husbands. So, Sipho couldn’t help but wonder if there was some kind of tension. The tan man got to the few vegetables that would be added to the heavy meat. He wondered if those people actually ate heavy. To probably let assumed tension build, the Goulash was somewhat complex and took long to prepare. When going back with half of a baguette, Sipho saw that they were gulping their wine, to give him concern. He stated, “I would go slow on that wine.” They seemed to ignore that, of course. They clamoured on who would get the first slice of that bread.
Before heading back to the kitchen, he approached the barwoman and warned her about the foursome that he was to serve. Rogelio looked at her from the table that he had just cleaned and got lost in his stare toward the one called Esperanza. He believed that many Italian names were beautiful and he had seen quite a few beautiful ladies. That was when he finally understood what drew him to her. He felt like crying when the thought came to him.
Sipho happened to notice, and took a detour. He asked, “Are you okay?”
Rogelio, caught off-guard, said, “Oh… I’m fine…” He sniffed and wiped his tears. “Sorry. Emotional lately.” The young man tried to get off the subject on his mind, asking, “Any tables I should wait on?”
Sipho advised, “Steer toward tables on this side”—he gestured with his hand—“It stopped being a surprise to me long ago, someone making at a scene in the evening.”
Rogelio responded awkwardly, “Grazie… Suppongo…” He focused on the side of the diner floor that he was on and, unlike his guide, waited on people dining alone on that night.
By the time Sipho had served the matching dishes to the two couples, they were already at least halfway through the bottle of wine that he had brought to them, and most of the bread was finished up. He remembered easily which dishes to give to whom. The wives were feeling awkward and the husbands were easily tipsy. When turning away, the tan man sighed, thinking, “Some people just can’t handle their alcohol.” And the wine wasn’t as strong as the liquors.
The tan man made sure to watch that table. So, he rushed with each order at tables on the side where the stage with piano was. After each note that he made and after each time bringing beverages and meals, he took a glance at the table with the two couples, who suddenly gestured him over.
He asked, “Is everything okay here?”
The foreign husband spoke, “We would like another bottle.”
“To be clear, the same wine?”
“Are you stupid?”
“No need to be rude”, Sipho responded, trying to stay calm. When passing them, the man reached out, but Sipho stepped aside before he could be grabbed. He talked with the barwoman Esperanza, informing her of the request, and pointed to the table. She then gave him a message that he was to give them. How furious they sounded when Sipho informed them, “The barwoman says that this will be your last bottle.”
The local husband protested, “You have no right! You are only here to look good and give us items!”
Sipho objected in his calm tone, “You ignore that employees can cut you off from something. We do this because we care about the well-being of others. Surely you understand. I have no time to argue either. We follow orders to make and serve dishes to everyone here.” He then walked off, but this time, he had to push away the arm that reached for him. True to his word, he had salads to make for many others, and he spent a while in the kitchen doing so. The dishes that he gave were to a group of friends, and then a family before he reproached the two couples, who had finished their dinners.
When collecting the near-empty dishes, he asked, “Would you like something for dessert?”
“I would like to see the menu”, the local husband was the one to speak. Sipho nodded, and noticed how much of the wine that he gave was spent. It was more than half-empty then.
What Sipho gave them was two cups of espresso, apricot tarts and two small bowls of blackberry-topped crème brûlée. Sipho was content that they were at least for a moment not touching the wine bottle.

Much to Sipho’s concern, and that of others, the foreign husband started slurring, and his wife was embarrassed by his behaviour, especially that the change came pretty quickly. There was more tension than there was before, as he talked about how she looked and how she dressed. To make matters worse, Sipho couldn’t understand the man’s language, but knew acting, and could tell that the then-drunk man was flirting—very poorly—with the other woman. She protested, and they were suddenly arguing. Sipho approached them quickly, signalling over the server named Mirella. The intoxicated man was just taking off his jacket and unbuttoning his shirt when the servers worked to separate the one most intoxicated from the others. It was wrong. Unfortunately, Sipho was slapped with the backhand across his face, but he still stood. Sipho stated, “They said ‘no’. Come on.” He tried to take hold, but he was then shoved away. Against Mirella’s insistence, the other man wanted to help and approached, trying to tell his friend to ease up, but he failed. Sipho grabbed the drunk man’s wrist, saying, “You need to leave now.” Just when pulling him, Sipho was punched in the abdomen. He bent over when losing his grip, but didn’t want to give in. He grabbed the man’s fist before he could be hit again, and then grabbed his face, to throw him to the side, making the drinks at the table the drunk man landed on spill. He got up quickly and Sipho ducked to avoid a punch, to punch back, but then he was kicked in the leg. He was grabbed by throat, and did everything that he could to save himself from suffocating. He was ready for this when seeing no other option. However, before Sipho could do it, the man tumbled forward at the sound of wood breaking apart. Much to his surprise, it was the young man that slammed and broke a chair on the intoxicated man’s back, and was now stomping on his head repeatedly. Mirella quickly approached and pushed him away, repeating, “Stop” and “He’s down”. Sipho panted, taking in what he had just realised.
-----

At the end of the evening shift, when everything was calm and Sipho was at the bar with a cup of chamomile tea in front of him, Rogelio sat down next to him. Sipho said bitterly, “That was stupid of you.”
“I just wanted to help”, Rogelio objected defensively.
Sipho said, “Drunk people can feel nothing. Sei stato fortunato sanguinante you hit his head. And I could have taken care of it, myself; I was in worse fights here before.”
Rogelio spat, “I just saved your life! Are you too stupid to see that, or just plain stubborn?! If I didn’t intervene, that man could’ve broken your neck! You should thank me for that!”
“Someone had to get him out of here. Someone always needs to get the intoxicated people out before they make things worse.”
“At least tell me you’re okay.”
“I have been worse, Kid. The two punches and the choking are nothing.”
Hoping to change the subject, Rogelio then asked, “So, will I need to pay for that chair?”
“Since you were the one to break it, you will need to pay for a replacement.”
The barwoman asked, “Would you like any tea?” Esperanza liked serving tea as much as she liked serving any beverage.
“Whatever he’s having”, Rogelio answered blankly. He then looked at her. The thought of her came back to him, and that was still with him as he drank the soothing tea. He felt like he could cry again, but he didn’t want to, not after Sipho dragged him out of it.
When the young man and the barwoman were alone on the diner floor, almost all lights were off and the front door was locked, the windows blocked. He wanted to say it, but not that night.
-----

The young man was the only one surprised by the message left for all employees. She explained that she was headed to the port, to travel east. Sipho explained to his friend the newcomer, “Madonna regularly travels over the continent. What she seeks always varies. Her travels are actually how she got quite a few of her past employees. I was social with two Swedish girls that worked here. We seen Nordics as well as French, Spanish, and Greek girls. Madonna has gone east before, but it still saddens me that she takes no one from… my country…”
“Why?” Rogelio asked plainly.
“Civilisation is not enough there. We still have so many conflicts, and too many people are left homeless. Madonna is willing to take in young people living on the streets. She is… una vigilante che salpa. She intervenes in conflicts overseas, her crew being mercenaries and uses contacts to inform her of other case di tolleranza where the cortigiane are treated with physical abuse, so she can destroy those places. We know nothing that she does over each trip until she returns.”
A woman’s voice interrupted, “And you should talk less for as long as I am here.” The woman was about as old as the real boss of the establishment, except her hair was short and not as grey. She wore a black-violet one-piece button-down dress with a long and wide skirt, frilly cuffs and the collar closed. Her eyes were of a dark-brown and her face looked like it was tightened, all wrinkles seeming non-existent.
Sipho replied bitterly, “Surely, Madonna told you of the new hire and tenant. Someone has to offer him guidance.”
“I heard it all before, statua di cioccolato. Angela’s sense of kindness is why she is so naïve. Hopefully, she will think next time before she hires a man… or some failed and rookie artist.” It was that kind of thing that made Sipho want to punch this woman in the face. To not do it now took a lot of restraint. “As you were”, she finished, striding off.
When the woman was out of sight and hopefully out of earshot, Sipho stated, “That is the co-owner of Catenzi di Giardini, Tamara di Kyvel. And she insults anyone working here, not just me. Maybe she just hates that she only comes in here to fill in for Madonna.”
“Does Madonna know that Tamara insults the others?”
“I would not be surprised if everyone informed Madonna of what Tamara has called them. She may even be willing to provoke us to strike her, to make us look bad. Madonna and Tamara have been partners since the launch of Catenza di Giardini. Regardless of what happens between Tamara and us, it will be a matter of our words against hers.”
“What does Tamara do, other than fill in?”
“She is big on the gardening. Oddly, she always eagerly approaches the glass house.”
There was another thing that Rogelio wanted to ask, but that he had to get to work wasn’t the reason he held back. So, he let Sipho head for the kitchen to prepare his station. Rogelio sighed sadly. He could only hope to stay silent to not let that woman get to her, and hope to not be forced to act like a kid.

(Of all the criticism that de Kyvel would deal, Sipho took the most destructive. First time they met, he was dressed just like anyone, and he failed to see formality, which was the real reason he didn’t get a blazer or tie to add to his daily uniform. Upon being introduced to Sipho, the woman spoke, “Never would have guessed that my friend would literally go low, bringing someone like you here.” Sipho was aghast at this. Of course, she had never asked whether the Madonna actually brought the newest applicants from wherever they lived. She added, “Be thankful that we had glass ceilings, so you can see the sun just like everyone else does on that god-awful land from which you came.” It was obvious that Sipho was the first known man among this part of the city to work at a brothel, but remain a server.
(Sipho countered, “You need to think before being rude.”
(de Kyvel spat, “I need no advice from a contadino cioccolato. You will never belong in such a settlement, even when you wear good clothes. The same goes to all the rest of these puttani.” She actually spat with that last word for emphasis. Then, she strode off. Sipho had only been working at Catenza di Giardini for two days and this woman made him lose all his self-esteem within a minute. Even worse, she was like someone who owned a slave.
(Being as he was in the streets before coming here, he was about to catch up to de Kyvel, only for the barwoman to intercept—this was a different one—and speak quickly, “Non ne vale la pena.” She had to repeat in English when he stared at her curiously. That was when she told him how she always got the others down when she saw the chance. It quickly made him wish the Madonna that he knew was present, so she could teach him more Italian.)

Out of all people that Tamara de Kyvel would see, there but one other person than the Madonna that she would not put down to feel superior, and that was her friend’s daughter, who had just entered. She strode toward the girl, giving her a big hug as they greeted each other. Much to her disappointment made obvious on her face, de Kyvel was told that Sogna was not there today to see her. She tried not to show her disapproval, knowing that she had arrived for one of her free lessons. She strode across the diner floor, sporting a scarlet long-sleeve, long-skirt dress with a large bow for the skirt’s belt and the collar open, underneath a thick black jacket, really bringing out her blonde hair and blue eyes. She would wait for her dear friend, knowing that he had a shift.
She headed down the hall with the first few rooms that were soon to be occupied, and turned a key, so she could enter the Madonna’s office. Her mother gave a copy of the key so she would have a quiet place to go over notes and prepare for the tests prepared by her tutors. She did bring a set of notes with her, but also a chapter book that she liked, so she could pass the time. She much preferred reading over whatever was seen on a television. However, the first thing that Sipho admired about her—the child that she was when they first met—she saw no reason to avoid him. In fact, she was curious about him.

While Sipho was already treating the first few people with their breakfast, he noticed Rogelio talking to Esperanza. He wondered what there was to bring those two together. He hadn’t forgotten that speech about the relationship between courtesan and client, which he doubted would happen. However, he suddenly wondered what the Madonna would say about the relationship between two courtesans—pretending for the sake of argument that Rogelio was willing to sell his body.
Like always, it would seem like a slow day, seeing that a few clients from the night before who stayed to rest after their time of pleasure and pain were the only ones there for breakfast. It was apparent that the few men worked up an appetite. The regulars only there to eat, always recommend pancakes, waffles, or French Toast. Even the condiments were made with high quality, being made from scratch.
Sipho was rather eager to have his attention on something else at the time the diner’s kitchen opened, as he preferred avoiding watching anyone having entered hungry indulge on what would be offered. Furthermore, he had already grown bored, and reminded himself of what he had done that grew to bore him. Even as a child, he yearned for a challenge, and he had been coming across less and less challenges as these days progressed.
Some more character development. Expect Sipho to be an asshole when he's angry.
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