Snacks in the Fashion Pages

Right up till Friday afternoon the casting location was still not settled. The several small  meeting rooms in the Kuningan area were still too expensive for a small-scale casting that only involved twenty models, five to eight bookers and the assistants from the various agencies. Plus me, as the “big boss” of the operation, the one who would decide who could go onto the next stage of modeling for the Glora pearls advertisements.

So roughly there were almost thirty people. I had to find a cheaper place, free if possible, so as not to eat up the job fees entirely There was still an open space on the second floor of the Kafe Cup@Lunch in Central Setiabudi that could be had for cheap as long as we ordered food there. If we ended up getting somewhere free, the “open air” location could always be canceled, just a cancellation fee to pay.

Each of the bookers reacted enthusiastically when contacted, some standard reactions, some extravagant. But they all tried hard to show off their professionalism, asking detailed questions, like did the models need to bring a portfolio; what sorts of shoes did they have to bring; did they need to bring their makeup cases in case there was a photo test—corset?; pasties?; and finally “and what should we bring for you, Mas Alif?”

Bobby from Brava couldn’t hide his delight when we first contacted him. He was so thankful; this was the first time Brava had been given a chance at casting for a nationwide ad campaign. There were four models from Brava involved—including Ajus of course. Bobby was worried when I still wanted to include Ajus; he was afraid that Ajus would run off again, or suddenly freeze, or even faint. I stressed that I was only taking digital photos and recording with a video camera, no acting, no posing, no mincing around. The models could come just as they were, no need to be polished up, no dressing up, everyone must be natural—just be themselves. I convinced Bobby to bring Ajus, but I certainly didn’t say that he was our top candidate, so as not to arouse hopes, or at least so as to disappoint as little as possible from the get-go.

“Why do you think he ran off trembling like a ghost was after him the last time, Bob?” I asked.

“He said he was just feeling groggy, I was shocked too, funny business.”

“Have you been putting pressure on him about becoming a model?”

“No way. It’s true I told him to try the world of modeling, but I didn’t put any pressure on him. In fact he was the enthusiastic one, said it could change his life.”

“Oh, OK then. Could you build up his confidence please, and don’t worry, there won’t be all sorts of funny tests.” I worked on convincing Bobby, hoping the casting day would run smoothly.

Every time we held a casting, my heart always beat faster than usual. At a casting there was excitement, apprehension, happiness, impatience, ambition, a feeling of adventure, a feeling that I might fail and at the same time wanting to prove a sort of premonition that someone would become somebody. To some extent it was connected to fate. I felt like I was visible and influential in the working-out of other people’s lives, or at least helping to open the way for someone to prove that they could push ahead. Someone who perhaps wanted to find some certainty in life. Someone like Ajus for example.

But to dangle the certainty that an Ajus would indeed become a somebody, well I couldn’t go that far. I know that nothing is certain in life. I had to keep other possibilities in reserve. I was preparing nineteen other “Ajusses” as a safeguard in case the first “Ajus” crashed like a ship on a reef. Why did it have to be nineteen reserves? Did such a number prove how afraid I was that my premonitions were way off the mark? Hmmm, well you could say that.

Andi, the rep from Outside Influence Talent Management, said it wasn’t a problem if the casting location was changed at the last minute. He said that before they came on location his four models would meet at the OITM office for a briefing, so if there was a change they could all head off together for the new spot.

“What would you like me to bring for you, Mas Alif?” Andi offered. “Corica pie, coffee-bean cheesecake, Kelapa Gading moci sweet cake, or Grand Mahakam black forest, or fruit?”

“Oh thanks, Ndi. Look, the casting won’t take long, so you don’t need to bring food and stuff.”

“Well, true, but it’s not just for while we’re casting, you’d like some wouldn’t you?”

“It’s up to you Andi, as long as it’s no trouble.”

“No trouble, it’s already a tradition.” Yes indeed, that was always Andi’s way for each casting, bringing along really mumsy gifts: food.

One of the OITM models said, that it was absolutely characteristic of Andi to bring along little food gifts, apparently his mother’s influence. Wherever he went, he always made time to slip into a cake shop or hotel pastry bar to buy little gifts before heading off. Andi was never put out if the person he was meeting canceled and he had to take the food back with him. The OITM people generally celebrated if Andi’s meetings were canceled, since the cakes he carried ended up as a food-fest for the OITM office staff, who were always “starving” for snacks.

The model also said that Andi sometimes pushed it too far. “I mean really, if there’s a meeting in a resto or a café, he still takes food! So he often gets remarks from the manager on duty, but Andi wouldn’t be Andi if he didn’t have some clever little scheme. Andi always says the cakes are a gift, and the manager says but the rules are “no food from outside,” then Andi says that he’ll still order food from the café, and the manager says but it’s the rule. But in the end, that old manager suddenly ends up tasting Andi’s cakes, because Andi says that he’s made the cakes with his very own hands specially for his friends who coincidentally love having meetings in this café. Well eventually the manager actually says how about if he puts in an order for lots of Andi’s cakes for the cake bar in his café, and then the atmosphere becomes as nice as Andi wanted. And in fact he bought those cakes down the road on Sabang Street.” The model kept on going, laughing  away like a drain.

Vera from Hary & Hary Models wouldn’t stop trying to win me round; I’d only taken one model from her agency for this casting. Vera was trying to suggest other names that might fit my criteria.

“How is it that out of all my models you’ve only chosen Asni, Mas? Now take Disty, just have a look at her, a real Indonesian face. You’ve still got her portfolio haven’t you? Look, deep black eyes, great nose, authentic tan skin. Disty’s mixed-race too, mother from Pekalongan and her dad’s a Maori from Wellington. Don’t you want to check her out?”

“Sorry, Vera, Asni’s better for this project, and I don’t want to waste Disty’s time, OK?”

Vera’s spoiled, soft voice sometimes needed to be met with straight talking so she’d quit her wheedling. If you were just a little inattentive, you could accidentally agree to whatever came out of her mouth. That’s a woman’s skill, slowly, gently, then wham, goal! But Vera wasn’t the type who was easily offended, she knew what she was doing, she knew she was only trying to score for more of her models, so if it didn’t work out, she didn’t make fuss. This wasn’t the first time I’d worked with Vera. Several models from the Hary & Hary Model Agency had made it through castings with me. They’d been life insurance ads for a big bank, for telephone card ads, and a small ad for marketing products from a multilevel marketing company.

A new rep, Bari, called me from the Future Shock Models agency. He called early one morning to tell me that he’d be standing in for Raymond to bring over one of their models who I’d selected. Bari said that Raymond was on his way to New York, escorting an FSM model who was shooting a jeans ad over there. I thanked heaven as soon as I heard Raymond wasn’t coming, the reason being that every time there was a casting, Raymond always escorted his models.

To me, Raymond had a stiff and rather enigmatic aura; his body language was always stiff, as if about to spring into martial arts. He created an uncomfortable atmosphere, especially if there were photo shoots or dress fittings that took time. It felt like we were being hustled along because of someone uptight in the room.

Raymond was built big and tough, he liked to wear black. His T-shirts always displayed the names of old rock groups like Guns N’Roses, Skid Row, Poison, Gorky Park, Mötley Crüe, or Def Leppard. I think he must have some old T-shirt collection, because in these times of groups like Linkin’ Park, Creed, and Matchbox Twenty, it must be hard enough to find Pearl Jam shirts let alone Def Leppard. Woweee!

At first I was stressed working with Raymond’s agency, but bit by bit I found I could manage it, especially after I realized that Future Shock Models had a notorious reputation. Several photographers I knew told me that some of Raymond’s models had a special hidden agenda. High-class girls who would take money for just about anything. Raymond only looked for photo jobs for “clean” publicity and to hike his models’ selling price; Raymond always went with his models to the various model contest arenas. Photographer friends of mine mentioned the names of models who had gone in for contests, come out as winners, and then disappeared from the scene, swallowed up by playboys and rich businessmen.

None of Raymond’s models were famous or became celebrities. They rarely walked the catwalks or turned up at designers’ parties. But they always wore brand-name items that pointed to high incomes. They had the latest Prada, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Fendi, Dior, Luella Bartley, Hermès, and even bags not yet in circulation in Jakarta. Their feet were wrapped in Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, Christian Louboutin, and even YSL. When they were asked where they had been—no one ever saw them—they’d often answer with:

“Just back from a holiday in the States, but I popped in to Amsterdam first, just too tiring if I flew direct to Jakarta.” Wowee, whenever did they manage to do their modeling? The typical Raymond model had white skin, Oriental-looking, thick hair, and big breasts. Nothing thin and angular like Stella Tennant or Amy Wesson. One of Raymond’s models once got through my casting, and she was chosen as the model for some electronic household appliance company from Korea. In the photo for that ad, Little Miss Model wore a tight red tank top with a very low neckline and tight jeans. The result was a genuinely contrasting—but also complementary—pair. The cold refrigerator and the hot lady. If a woman wanted to cool down her passions she could get into the fridge. If the Korean refrigerator wanted to warm itself up, then well, it would do the reverse, wouldn’t it?

For this Glora pearls project, there were two Raymond models that I “fancied.” Their faces and look were close to what Maria wanted. From Karena Karina Inc. there were three models, and six from IMWHATIM. Edwin from Karena Karina Inc. had the most “outrageous” personality, everything was grist to Edwin’s gossip mill. When you phoned him, he gave a rather aloof, indifferent greeting. Well, that was Edwin’s way, he gave the impression that his life was given over entirely to fashion matters. His face seemed to always be wondering how it was that all his time was consumed by fashion, mornings he had to escort models to casting, noon he had to have meetings with designers. Nights were for watching lingerie fashion shows, then on to after parties with the models. But several of my friends who also knew Edwin, said that Edwin was a stress freak, he always gave the impression that he hadn’t a moment to spare, but in fact he enjoyed that fake busyness, and what’s more he was hardly ever invited to events. At those few events that Edwin did attend, he hung around like a ghost because in fact he was still very nobody in Jakarta fashion-society circles. One assistant designer, who had a mouth like prussic acid, said Edwin was a social climber, operating on rather limited capital. “I mean just look at it wearing a Prada backpackthat is so last century!” That’s what he said.

“Mas Alif, how long will the casting go, do you think? You see, a couple of the kids have to go to the nail house and fix their nails, then off to Metro TV for a rehearsal with Panca Makmun. I can’t stay long myself as I’ve got a meetingwith Luca Luca PR.” Edwin was just flaunting a planner crammed with fashion activity; this wasn’t the first time he’d done it; lots of times when we’d worked together in the past, Edwin often read out from his diary to show how very busy he was, but for the most part he was actually at the casting all day and didn’t go anywhere. If asked why he hadn’t gone, he had all kinds of excuses. The rehearsal was postponed, the designer had suddenly left for Singapore, there was a sudden dress-code change, or even worse Edwin would say:

“Look if I think about it, I’m just sooo reluctant to meet that designer, even his designs are Ungaro rip-offs, oooh well I’m sorry but meeting a type like that, I’d better just cancel. And this is for you too, Mas Alif.” Oh yes indeed.

To cope with someone like this Edwin you have to not take offense—actually it’s very easy. Just ask what his agenda is today and let him start composing his fictions, fantasizing and puffing up his nonsense as high as the National Monument.

“Wow, you’re fantastic Win, that’s a really full program. Specially that Metro TV one, isn’t it murder getting an in over there?” I asked.

“Oh that again! Well, it wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t know the executive producer, even though I just got to know him in the cafés, a designer introduced us, well it was he who begged me to put my models into his program. Before that I wasn’t interested at all, I mean can you imagine my models wanting to be put on a non-stop news channel, I mean are my models up for election or what? But because he wouldn’t let me say no, and.....well, he’s handsome too, so I helped him out!”

“So your models are up for election?”

“Don’t be silly!”

“And your models are so very famous for their beautifully manicured nails.”

“Yes, that’s a must. That’s why every weekend I have to take them to the nail house, so that they’re sparkling, you see, and anyway the AC in the nail house is nice and cold, nice for a good read.”

“Gee, do you have your nails done too?”

“Yes I do, I’d be ashamed in front of the designers if I had ragged nails, wouldn’t I?”

“Gee if you were reading in the nail house, how could the manicurist work on your nails?”

“I was reading while she worked on my toes! Hmmmm, are you trying to catch me out? You wicked thing! Hey, are any models coming from Hary & Hary?” Edwin’s friendly manner was starting to seem strained.

“Yes, why?”

“Well, the booker’s that Vera, right? I mean, what can their models really do? OK, they’re tall, but they act like they’re straight out of the village. The other magazines say, you know, that every time there’s a shoot and they’re told to bring shoes, the shoes are so out of date, the heels like a chili grinder. And that’s just the shoes, not the rest. And then . . . one hears . . . they accept money.”

“Well sure, there aren’t any free models. What would be the point of working?”

“Yes, yes, don’t distract me. But people also say that there’s a huge cut taken out of what they’re paid, by the management. Just look at those agency owners, that homo pair, Hary & Hary; their house is huge, I feel sorry for those poor models. I know it from Yansen, that cutter from the Jujur Salon.”

“But that Hary is from old money, his father was a general during Suharto. So if he has a big house, he’s had it for a long time, not just since he’s had the agency. And then Hary number 2 owns a big advertising firm in Singapore. Look, I know them, the Singapore Hary was once one of my File profiles.” I tried to set the record straight on the little I knew.

“Oh, so you know them, Alif? Give them my regards.”

Talking with Edwin could go on forever. Just about everything he said came from prejudice or gossip. If things were set straight, the issue switched to new ground and another angle. But to set straight gossip like that, that could go on forever too; it came from wounded feelings, and the feelings had to be cured first. And from another angle, I had to be cautious with a typical fashion type like this Edwin. Generally he’d take my statements to another gossip forum and expand them. Just as bees spread pollen without being aware of it, statements could spread out and blossom as endlessly new gossip.

Karena Karina Inc, where Edwin worked, had a number of excellent models for clothes shows. They were already recognized by many Jakarta designers, they had great legs and walks. Just imagine how difficult it is to find models like this in Indonesia, a country where most people are under 170cm and most of them with stocky legs. They had proved very helpful to the fashion industry in filling the need for ideal models. So there was no profit in avoiding someone like Edwin as manager of Karena Karina Inc. If you did that, you’d lose a network.

What was important was to be cautious, because there were lots of people like Edwin swimming around in the fashion business. In every fashion meeting they would appear extremely friendly and likeable, and they’d give 100% support. When they met they’d kiss: left cheek, right cheek, crying, “Well how ARE you?” and “You’re thinner/fatter, aren’t you? Getting on/not getting on?” then “What ARE you up to?” then “Heavens, our last project was a dream, come on let’s do another, keep up the good work you know.” Very supportive indeed, don’t you think? But wait just four seconds later, they’ll have turned away and be conspiring with their gang, saying:

“Oh my dear, he loves a bit of praise doesn’t he? But I was laying it on because his boss is my client. Ohmigod, his work for that File was really shallow, such a rip-off.” Then the next one will top that, “Oh yes, did you all get a whiff of his perfume? Can you believe it, STILL wearing Dior Fahrenheit today! Well I use Fahrenheit on my CAR, and look I don’t claim to be anybody special.” Then it heats up with, “But he does have a sexy neck, he really shouldn’t wear a collared shirt like that, am I right? And a tie on top of that! Look if he wore a V-neck sweater, he’d be a lot sexier.” Then, “Well, if you told him to wear a sweater, I’m sure he’d be right into it, I mean he doesn’t seem to be able to make up his own mind, but anyway today the dress code is black tie formal, he should wear a tie, but look at him prancing around. But, by the way, your shirts are stunners, in satin are we? Oh yes, a shirt is much more fitting in satin, am I right? All those colors and much more glittering, I think, and just have a look at our corsages, not too big, just right, lovely aren’t they? And who says it’s only women that can wear corsages . . . as if.” Then the very last one will add, “yes you’re right, we’ve got the edge on the others, I mean can you imagine wearing formal black tie on a day like this, wouldn’t it be just tooo serious!?” And this is the group that in fact seems most wrongly dressed of all the invitees.

But the stories still aren’t as juicy as those about one agency, IMWHATIM. This agency has been around in Jakarta for five years, managed by a pair of young kids whose performance has been really prima. They’re a popular duo in Jakarta fashion-society circles, they’re beautiful and handsome, perfect bodies, presentation always trendy, good at socializing, and almost all the famous designers know both of them well. The pretty one is called Angelria, a good body for a model, about 170 cm or so, on the darker side. Ria never wants to be photographed, she’s turned down lots of offers from magazines and advertising agencies. But Ria knows how to turn down an offer in a very sweet way and without causing offense. Her answer is always the same. She wants to concentrate more on handling the models in her agency.

I myself have never made offers to Ria for my projects or with File. There’s a reason why, Ria’s eyes radiate a darkness, sad, melancholy. Eyes like that will never make a fashion photo live. Not many people know that, most fashion circles are struck by the way she presents herself. Her hair is always in line with the trend, the makeup always has that nuance of Icy, clothes always sexy in-brands like Roberto Cavalli, Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, H Hilfiger, and Levi’s, high heel shoes on every occasion—at home she probably doesn’t wear shoes, to give her soles a rest.

Ria only bestows her smiles and greetings on certain people, like the kids of major businessmen, boutique owners, generals’ kids, ministers’ kids, celebrities, famous models, kids of owners of publishing houses, and others at that level. Her smiles and greetings for people at this level are most fitting and in no way exaggerated, the impression is crisp and not fawning, elegant and classy. But for people that Ria considers not to exist, useless imaginary people, she offers a cold expression, an expression that seals off the possibility of interaction. Her face doesn’t show hostility, or displeasure or offense, but it’s clear from her face that Ria considers those useless people to be like the morning wind, a nothing wind. Some people say Ria is conceited and a “fashiondevil,” but others approve of her attitude and say that Ria is a real Jakarta fashion figure, self-confident, classy, and in-the-know about what counts.

Angelria’s partner Jauhari, called Jojo, is just as interesting as Ria. Athletic body, clear skin, shaved head like an NBA athlete, body language minimalist and assured. He comes across as virile and no-nonsense, he’s always seen in a plain shirt and tailored trousers. He gives the impression of being a yuppie, but in fact he is more than that, he’s still young but building up a business empire. Jojo owns an event organizerbusiness that works with the cigarette industry, a radio station, and several other small businesses. To the Jakarta public, Jojo’s best known firm is the IMWHATIM agency that he’s developed with Ria.

Jojo and Ria’s business is not their primary source of money, one could say it’s just their way of getting known. The Jakarta fashion circles already know that Ria is the daughter of a major timber business operator from Kalimantan, and Jojo is the son of a Southeast Sulawesi aristocrat. A few months ago Ria became a hot topic when the details of her dad’s operations were exposed, he’d embezzled trillions of rupiah of state money. At that time Ria was unconcerned, her expression was just the same, cool and elegant, wrapped in Lanvin, and sporting an Hermès.

I got to know them a year ago when File worked with Mercedes-Benz to stage Fashion for Our Future. We planned the fashion show and luxury car exhibition to be classy and exclusive. When it was still only a proposal the event garnered a rave response from Jakarta’s crème de la crème. This event needed ten female and ten male models all of whom had to match the File and Mercedes-Benz vision. File appointed me as head of the organizing committee for the, an important position with full responsibility for all sorts of things, including selecting the models who’d be involved.

The committee held an open casting so as to get the most suitable models for the event. A number of large Jakarta agencies were contacted to make their models available for selection. It was at that moment that Ria introduced herself, in a friendly way. But in fact I’d often been at the same events as her, and had even been introduced as many as three times, but each time we met it was as just if we’d never seen each other before and we’d have to be introduced again.

Once the casting day had passed Ria introduced herself and her agency again via telephone. After a bit of polite chitchat, she observed that her agency really needed to lift its image, and she needed my help so that, if possible, more of the chosen models should be from her agency. I said that I didn’t have the full authority to go against the committee, and that it would be better just to wait for the casting results. Just before that Ria’s voice had been a little pressing, but after my firm response, she began to soften. Ria didn’t concede, she tried with the classic method of the “biological tribute.”

“Alif, how were my models at that casting?” she asked. She’d put in twenty models from her agency for the casting.

“Gee, they were great . . . they’re very good, and full of potential.”

“Come on, take most from mine.”

“Well, it’s possible, why not? But it’s the committee that will decide, I can’t say anything right now.”

“But your voice sounded quite optimistic just now, Alif. Wouldn’t it be better if we worked together? Look, if all the models for Fashion for Our Future came from my agency, then in return, Alif . . . well, perhaps we could fulfill something that you really wanted . . . well, what more could we do?”

“In accordance with the committee’s decisions, we wish to offer broader opportunities so that model recruitment can be as satisfactory as possible.”

“Alif, which female model did you like?”

“I think . . .  hmmm, Denisa was OK.”

“And the male?”

“The male . . . let me see . . . mmm, Kamarul was OK.”

“Well, that’s great. Your taste is the same as mine, those are my top picks too.”

Me oh my, was this empty talk or what?

“Oh yes?” Ria certainly knew what lip service meant.“Ria, it means that you really are a true seeker-out of talent,” I proffered the compliment.

“Lif, Denisa is a really nice person. You can take her anywhere you like, Alif, that’s how she is. She’s sort of an easy-going person, you’ll really enjoy her.”

“???”

“How about I give you her cell phone number?”

“Errr, that’s not necessary just yet, Ria, I’ll contact the IMWHATIM models via the management or through you personally.”

“Or perhaps you’re leaning more toward Kamarul, Alif? He’s got a lot of spunk. Alif, he loves doing all kinds of photos in the name of art, who knows, maybe you might want to try some personal experimental shots? Kamarul is a real professional. For private activities, there’s no need to go through management. How about I text you his cell phone number?”

“???”

“Lif?”

“Yes, yes, excuse me, I’m sorry I have to cut this conversation short. Just wait for the casting results from the committee, OK? I’ll let you know, Ria.” Click.

It was very clear where Ria’s talk was heading. She was opening up the chance of bartering lust for a taste of her models’ bodies. For me that seemed like an approach that invited danger, a magnet that drew me down a dark path. If I accepted, I’d mentally be in Ria’s clutches, I’d be easily managed and, worse, blackmailed. The more so if I couldn’t deliver on her plans—my career would be finished.

Personally I still hold to the lifestyle of the Jakarta community that doesn’t at all extol free sex adventures. It’s not like in America where sexual activities are as natural as a left-right kiss on the cheek: no social effect. But in Jakarta, to fall or be dragged into unofficial sexual activities is to yield oneself up as a target for blackmail from certain quarters, or become an object of public ridicule. That doesn’t mean that if American ways were implemented here I would accept Ria’s offer, in fact I prefer the Jakarta lifestyle that still holds to its norms.

Actually Ria should have just been confident, sure that her models were real quality. There was no need to use these roundabout methods. The proof came after the Fashion for Our Future committee finally decided on twenty models, eleven from Ria’s agency. I’d made no moves to favor the IMWHATIM agency, they were all chosen in a fair and objective way. But problems continued to arise. Ria thought I’d managed it after our telephone conversation. So she wanted to express her thanks in that classic manner of hers. Since seven of those eleven models were male, Ria assumed that I preferred the likes of Kamarul and his friends. And indeed when I gave her the names of the models who had passed the casting, Ria didn’t make any implications that I liked the same sex, but professionally expressed it in very neat terms.

“That’s great, Alif, classy and strong selections!”

“Oh really? But it was purely a decision of the committee.”

“Well yes, but it wouldn’t have been possible without your agreement, would it Alif?”

“That’s true, but it went though a fair selection process. And what’s more it’s true that your models have what it takes, Ria.”

“How can I thank you?”

“Nothing special Ria, I was just doing my job.”

“Alif, you really are a good person. Alif, if you need Kamarul, Aji, Don, Ferry, or any of the others, just let me know. Well, for photos or anything at all really. Thank you once again, let’s hope our cooperation will go from strength to strength.”

“Ohhh, you mean . . . MMMM . . . well okay then.” Click. I cut off the conversation rather than string it out. In my mind I cursed as she’d proffered her male models for “anything at all.”

When I shared my story about this sexual tribute with Raisa, Didi, and Nisa, they weren’t particularly surprised.

“Come on, you shouldn’t be surprised at that sort of strategy; isn’t it the oldest business technique in the world? Just what’s your objection, Alif? The gay issue?” asked Nisa.

“Hmm, well that’s all still disguised,”

“So you shouldn’t worry about things in disguise,” Raisa threw in.

“Maybe, but things that are disguised can develop in the wrong direction if they’re not checked.” Me.

“Well, if later they go wrong, then you can fix them, am I right? And anyway who cares whether you are gay or not? You’re handsome enough to be enjoyed by every sexual type.” Didi contributed his bit. “But I personally feel uncomfortable with her methods. She once made me an offer like that, and it’s not that I was offended because I’m so moral, but it gave the impression that I’m incapable of finding my own snacks.” Didi emphasized the word “snacks” by rolling his eyes.

“If we’re broadminded, it could be that Ria’s offer is not a trap, it’s possible it’s a genuine thank-you gesture.” Nisa.

“A poisoned chalice, more like it.” Raisa.

“Well, yes, that could be it. Perhaps we’re the sort of people who can’t accept such thank-you gestures.” Me.

“OK, that’s it, no need to go on thinking about it. What’s important is to know how people like that play the game, not to burst out emotionally at them, because emotion will help them read what is getting at us, and they’ll trap us with it. And what can you, Alif, do about it? You’re already trapped in your own profession. Listen, if these days the men who work in entertainment, lifestyle media, fashion, and professions like yours are said to all be gay, then what can you do? Can you eradicate public opinion? Impossible! That would take a great deal of money and energy. Best to let it go, let the masses live with their assumptions. Alif, you must live as you want; you can make money in the ways you like. The risk of being considered this or considered that, well it’s always there, but it’s part of the package you’ve chosen for your life, so you’ve got to take the whole package, not just the bits you like.” Nisa.

“Good heavens, I’ve had a lecture from Madame feature writer!”

“Nisaaaa, sweetheart, darling, thank you, we’re very lucky to have a friend like you. Thanks to your liberal attitudes, I’m not afraid to let on to you, Alif and Raisa, that I’m gay, but I still wouldn’t dare with the others.” Didi.

“Well, Didi, you don’t need to tell others your private business, do you? Who do you think you are? Let people judge who you really are, no need to react, deny, or agree. And anyway, you don’t need to say a word, if people see you sitting curled up like that, they’ll know straight away.”

“Know what?” Didi.

“What else? That you’re not a real man!” Nisa pointed to the way Didi was sitting, his left knee crossed over the right, his body weight balanced on the outer edge of his right buttock, the fingers of both hands meeting under his chin.

“Oh you bitch, should I sit like this?” Didi switched round so he was sitting like Al Pacino in The Godfather. “Hmmph, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?” Didi crossed his left knee back like before.

The experience with Ria made me wary about dealing with IMWHATIM again. I was more focused and firm toward every sentence that came from her mouth. But what I initially suspected about Ria’s techniques didn’t actually come to be. When I gave her the news that I would select six of her models for the Glora pearl ads, she sounded matter-of-fact and straightforward. And what was more surprising was that Ria already knew about the plans for the pearl ads. She said she was already well acquainted with Mrs. Ginting, the rich lady who owns the Glora project.