Paolo popped the cork from the Moet bottle. “Open the other one,” he said.
She looked at the little box and was suddenly terrified. It was too small to be anything but jewelry. He never got her gifts. He had just given them a trip to St Kitts. He was serving champagne. She felt dizzy, like she was hovering over the scene and watching herself.
He nudged her. “Open it,” he repeated.
She tore through the paper and lifted the lid on the box to reveal another, smaller box inside. Red leather with a little gold edging, it looked like a Cartier box. It was a Cartier box. She felt certain that she was hyperventilating. This type of thing was not supposed to happen, not after barely three months, not after a night of fierce sex during which she told him if he gave her head like that he’d never have to give her another gift again. She’d just introduced him to her family. She had promised to go to Napoli and meet his for New Year’s. He was a football player; she didn’t even know if he had a secondary school diploma. There was obviously some impediment limiting the oxygen traveling to her brain.
He looked at her expectantly.
Her fingers felt numb as they opened the red leather box, and even once she had opened it she blinked several times before she could register a reaction.
She would have preferred to drive the two hours to Milan alone with her thoughts, but she owed a call to Timo and the work day had begun.
“You sound funny, Francie,” Timo told her, and his words echoed through the car’s bluetooth.
“I’m tired, Timo. Yesterday was a long day.”
“Ugh, that’s Torino for you. Industrial wasteland. Square-headed people. Except for those soccer players.” She could practically hear him smirking over the phone.
“So the Turks,” Francesca resumed.
“The Turks,” Timo said, “It’s one of those nouveau riche fashion magazines, all Tiffany this and Cartier that, entirely branded and western.”
“Okay…and it’s called?”
“New Direction or BeautyVision or something ridiculous like that. All the chic names must have been used up already. Anyway, so they want to fly you out to Istanbul–”
“And me, of course, because I’ve already explained to them that it’s a package deal, I have to travel with you, but that wasn’t an issue for them. It’s a shoot on a boat, or a yacht, rather, one of those mega-catamarans or something on the Bosporus, you know, the kind that all these new oligarchs have, and it’s primarily shoes and accessories, so easy, and they’ve already secured some mid-range models, I think we’ve worked with about three of them already–”
“And they’re offering to pay a ridiculous sum of money and comp the hotels and all that, so it’s basically the easiest trip ever, two days, three nights, in and out, they’ll book us on a direct flight out of MXP.”
“But it sounds like there’s something you’re not telling me. It sounds like you’re trying to sell this one too hard.”
“It’s a good opportunity, Francie. It’s an easy shoot for a lot of money and they’ll work around your schedule.”
“But it’s one of those conservative magazines. With an Islamic bent, you know, they make their models wear headscarves and be fully clothed. No swimsuits. No hint of leg. No cleavage.”
“I thought Turkey was secular.”
“Do you think we should do it?”
“It’s a challenge. If you can pull this one off and make it look amazing even with headscarves, you’ll be more than just a fashion photographer. You’ll be an auteur.”
“Shut up, Timo. If I don’t pull it off, I’ll be shooting grocery circulars until I’m 65.”
“And if you do pull it off, just think of all the doors it will open! Riyadh! Dubai! Half the world wears headscarves now. And they all buy luxury goods. We’ll be in a tree hut resort in Bali for Christmas!”
Francesca had to laugh. Timo was right, she conceded, it was a good opportunity. But she had traveled in Islamic countries before–Lebanon, Egypt, Morocco–and had always felt a deep discomfort seeing the men running around, smoking in cafes and ogling foreign women and whistling at anyone who passed, while the women bustled around working or buying groceries or tending children, covered from head to toe in the hijab or burka. These girls, you could see them on their way to class at universities, you could see their bright eyes and imagine them studying medicine or law or, less probably, photography, only to be able to practice if they kept their heads covered. Without the scarves, they were as good as common prostitutes, these girls who studied so hard and dreamed of the west, who read fashion magazines without ever being able to wear the clothes, who know Chloe and Celine and Yves Saint Laurent but could never wear them outside of the house. She didn’t believe it was freedom. And she felt a deep-seated ambivalence about doing anything to encourage it, however benign it may seem.
“Timo, I forgot something at home. I have to stop back there, and I’ll be in by noon.”
“Can I order you lunch?”
“God, yes. The biggest panino you can find. With prosciutto.”
“You got it, boss. See you soon.”