Selected Excerpts: A Jaded Lily

She had at first been unaware of the people around her before, but as she inhaled deeply in an attempt to re-center her thoughts on the tasks ahead, the noise in her head began to recede and the sounds of those around her took form. A loud — at least in these surroundings — colorful and outrageously dressed table of five at the booth against the wall to her left were the only other group at this end of the room and were clearly celebrating some shared coup. In front of them were two bottles of champagne and on one of the unoccupied chairs a massive bouquet of expensive-looking flowers. Toasting one another and speaking in English, but in varied accents of it, Lily thought she recognized one of the women as a well-known, eccentric older designer, but she could neither remember her name or be sure it was she. Lily thought it started with a Z – Zara or Zelda or some such — but the name itself was of no consequence when compared to the greater impression the group as a whole was making on her. They seemed unencumbered by pretense, uninterested in their surroundings and unfettered by any notions of proper public behavior. They were entirely at ease with one another and themselves and knew or cared not that others in their midst may have looked on with any mixture of judgment or delight.  As she watched this table of what would’ve been misfits in any high school anywhere in the world, she noted that here they appeared as unique characters who had found one another and in doing so derived a singular, perceptible strength;  different or even odd — but also above caring — and in a world entirely their own.

Lily took no comfort in this, which made no sense given that she had always been an outcast herself. In them, she should have seen a kindred-ness, a likeness which gave her hope, but instead, she found herself envying them, their spirit, their bond, just as she had the popular cliques in school as a child. Never wanting to be a spectacle, Lily had always done everything in her power to conceal her true self, wearing nondescript clothes, not fussing with her hair or skin and doing generally whatever she could to fit in. Even now as she sat in her Louboutin heels, Vince cashmere sweater, and fake Rolex watch, she was realized she was wearing the unintentional regalia of conformity.

Had the rigidity bred into her both by her family and by not wanting to be seen as different as a child robbed her of the ability to be carelessly unique, to pursue her goals with almost insane abandon, without any fear of consequence or judgment? Was that their superpower — what set them apart — the mediocre designers who made it while wildly talented ones failed; singers who could not hold a note without technological support who sold millions while gifted session singers starved for their art? Not only did they not give a damn what she or anyone else thought, but they were not even aware than any strictures or social norms existed, and would certainly have never let such things apply to them. Ignorance is bliss, she thought. She had heard the phrase many times, but until now never really understood what it meant. Ignorance of consequences is bliss. Too dumb to fear failure or ridicule and so sure of their skills they could sell it to others who would, in turn, fear missing out on something good. She had been a self-contained fool. Boundaries and norms were for losers, for those who needed to be kept in their box. For everything she had been taught by her parents and grandfather — and the often dichotomous gulf between what they prioritized — none of them had ever once told Lily to – above all – be herself.

Lily soon realized she had been staring at the group and that her emotions were vacillating between envy, epiphany, and anger. She snapped herself out of the lingering gaze as her drink was delivered. She enjoyed it slowly and intentionally, turning her attention again to the images on her phone from the day’s expedition, while also furiously making notes on the list she had by now retrieved from her bag. This was not their preserve. She deserved to be here as much as they and she would do whatever she had to in order to ensure this temporary retreat became her natural habitat.

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Selected Excerpts: A Jaded Lily

When the bill came, Lily had to check herself to ensure that what she was thinking was not similarly showing on her face. The bill was $465 HKD – almost $60 US – and on further inspection seemed to have been substantially driven higher by the fact that she had left the selection of her single glass of white wine to the waiter. But now in no position to argue, and not wanting to seem in any way displeased, she had no choice by to add gratuity, leave the cash and commence towards the door. As she stood she once again felt the pain from her shoes and feet shoot upwards towards her knees. She had, a few minutes before, briefly entertained the notion of allowing herself the luxury of a taxi from the queue she had spotted on Pedder Street on the way in rather than walking back to the MTR, waiting on the platform, and undoubtedly being forced to stand for the duration of the journey given the time of day, and then walking back to the hotel. But now, with the amount of money she had already spent, she knew that she no longer had any choice.

On the way out the door of the restaurant, she noticed the ladies’ lounge and quickly thought that she may yet have a solution. As she entered she found a brightly lit space with yet another large, cushioned sofa in the center, on which she quickly took a seat. She reached down and removed her factory reject shoes from her swollen, aching feet and then reached into her shopping bag and removed the Louboutins from their bag. But as she went to place them onto her feet, first the left and then the right, she found that they were now far tighter than they had been just two hours ago and whether as a result of the walking, the humidity, the wine or a conspiracy of all three, it was clear that these were also not an option. As she began removing the shoes she became more conscious of a presence in the room which she had only marginally noted on the way in and looked up to see standing over her an older woman who appeared to be the bathroom attendant. Lily knew that she could, at times, be paranoid and she again reminded herself of the near gaffe at the hotel the night before. But in this case, she knew that her instincts were not merely being oversensitive and that this woman was indeed staring at her, and in a manner of disapproval. Under the scrutiny, Lily’s actions, which she had meant to speed up, seemed to slow into a warm syrupy animation. She took off the Louboutins, placed them in their drawstring bag, and then back into the shopping bag, then slowly and deliberately placed her by now screaming feet back into her Guangzhou special manufacturing district wannabes.

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Selected Excerpts: A Jaded Lily

Standing inside the front doors, at the bottom of the steps leading up to the foyer, Lily was overwhelmed. Her hotel was nice, sure. Nothing wrong with it. But this — this was something altogether different. This was grandeur on a scale she could have never imagined. Plucked from a different era, it seemed to dwell in rarefied space and to quietly command respect, as though the door through which she had just come was the gateway to a parallel world. Now realizing how awkward and touristy she must seem, standing there halfway inside the hotel, she began to walk towards the steps while removing her scarf, though she did not know why as she had told herself that this would only be a walk-thru and that she had no intention of staying. But she was not thinking. She was taking it all in, one tiny detail at a time, and in doing so had lost focus of her own actions. She had never seen in person such a large, checkerboard floor, and could not get past the dramatic effect of it when placed against what would have otherwise been, she felt, an unwelcoming shade of yellow. But together, it worked, as did so many of the art deco details like the metal crafted door frames and the large, bevel cut mirrors. Looking to her left, she saw two chairs in front of a fireplace just outside the entrance of the dining room. In one of them was an older lady apparently well past eighty judging by the presence of the nurse standing alongside, and the walking frame against the wall, whose eyes and face still seemed young and alert, as though her body had perhaps given in much to the dismay of her still determined mind. Not wanting to impose on her space, but wanting to sit and enjoy the aura and splendor of this place if only for a few moments, Lily looked over to the right and saw a sofa along with two other chairs, none of which were taken. Choosing to sit in the dead center of the sofa so as to be able to watch the front entrance, the hotel’s main lift, and the dining room all at once, Lily felt like a spectator on the movie set of a classic film. The women and men who glided effortlessly across the floor — on which Lily had felt certain that she had clomped like an untrained mule — were born to this world. It came too naturally to them to have been otherwise, she thought. Their clothes were none that she had ever seen in a magazine or even in a window in one of the many shops in Hong Kong or this morning here in London. Whereas people like her wore the clothes to make the person, these people seemed to choose their clothes as a background of neutral onto which they could project their polished presence, which to Lily was most formidable.

Though there was the occasional entrance from the front door of someone there to meet a resident for breakfast, almost everyone Lily saw had come down either from the main lift — an old, original model still operated manually by a leprechaun of a man in a suit not dissimilar to the doormen’s — or from the large, sweeping staircase just above where she sat. Yet she had, as of yet, seen no one leave as they all seemed to be converging on the dining room, each greeting the hostess and then being led off to a table in one direction or another. She had however noticed that the most pristine of those destined to take their breakfast here this morning did not have need to give their names to the hostess, and nor did they appear to communicate their preference in table location, as each of them seemed to have been taken immediately and without instruction across the main, center room and into a room adjacent, just off to the left. No longer satisfied with sitting on the outside, Lily now wanted more than anything to be in that room. To be amongst those people and to know what the secret was for gaining entrée to their world. Looking at her watch she estimated she had at least another hour before Jakob’s call, and still at least three hours before she was allowed to check into what she now felt certain would be a mediocre hotel room. Not thinking twice before making her decision, Lily stood and straightened her skirt and then re-buttoned her fitted coat, well aware of the silhouette she created in doing so, and not content to wait any longer for that world to come to her.

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