Mana Ray, whose work at Erotic Mind-Control Archive I've mentioned earlier, sent me a long excerpt from her ongoing story she's publishing on her Patreon page. It's inspired by the (yet) unfinished story on this blog, Maid in China. The chapter dwells on Alice's new life, her social drop and degradation, in particular on how she's forced to serve her former friends. There are several chapters before this one and several are to follow.
It wasn't until 4AM that Farrah and Alice left Jocelyn's room, and the girls were so bone-tired that they didn't even play with each other's feet after they got into their shared bed.
As Alice peeled off her stockings, she contrasted her own situation with Jocelyn's. Her employer was asleep in bed, having showered and received a lengthy massage while Alice was covered in foot creme and debris that women had rubbed into her uniform. Bits of dust fell from her maid's tunic as she undid all the buttons – the same dust she had painstakingly swept from the Zuang's floor on her hands and knees. With profound relief Alice removed the painful new heels she once coveted, knowing that she would probably have to put on yet another stiff leather pair tomorrow.
Even standing on a carpet felt like a luxury to the girl now, a small taste of something she used to take for granted. For a moment she rested and thought of her old life. It seemed like an incredibly long time ago that she sat at the same table with all her friends. How could it feel like she had been working for Jocelyn for so long? Hadn't it only been like three days?
As soon as Alice's first dream approached, she heard the klaxon buzz of an alarm clock and hopped out of bed with haste. Alice was bleary-eyed and out of sorts – not so much from the lack of sleep but from a terrible thirst for another protein drink. It gave her something to look forward to, at least, and her mouth watered at the thought of drinking another.
Alice walked down the driveway and fetched Miss Zuang's morning paper, which was printed in either Cantonese or Mandarin so she couldn't understand a word of it. As the woman read, Farrah cooked her breakast and Alice prepared a cup of fresh ground coffee for her.
"Alegra will be very upset if you are late," Miss Zuang said to Alice after she had finished eating. "Farrah, give Alice a nutrition shake to bring with her for her day at work."
The girls curtseyed as Miss Zuang left the kitchen, but Alice found it painful to throw out the woman's leftovers.
Her mouth watered as she scraped the spinach and mushroom omelette into the trash – she wanted nothing more than to eat it but knew that she couldn't do so without Miss Zuang's permission. It didn't escape Alice's notice that she was so needy that she was prepared to beg woman to eat her leftovers. She thought back to all the times she had been eating at a restaurant with her friends and declined to take her own leftovers home so as to avoid seeming needy. How many dishwashers and busboys had thoughts similar to her own as they trashed the remainders of her expensive meals?
Farrah handed her a nutritional shake, though, and Alice practically snatched it out of the girl's hands, greedily gulping down every last drop.
"Whoa, Alice, take it easy!" Farrah cautioned, drinking hers more slowly. Farrah tried to think back if she was as hooked on the stuff when she started drinking it, but it was so long ago that she couldn't quite remember.
"Sorry," Alice said. Instantly, she felt satiated and content as a warmth spread across her body. How did they make the drink taste so good?
"I will give you one more to take to work, but do not drink it until at least five hours have passed, or you will get very sick. I speak from experience," Farrah added humorously, getting another one of the drinks from the fridge.
Alice took this one more graciously, free from the compulsion to drink it. Looking down, the cartoon was a little demeaning: why was the blonde girl wearing a negligee and why did she seem so happy to be painting another girl's toes? Subconsciously, Alice was paying a lot more attention to the blonde girl than the rich woman, but remained unaware of this subtle change in her thinking.
Nor did she have much time to ponder this subject, since she had to leave for Miss Paz's nail salon. She didn't have her car at the Zuang's, so she had to use a rideshare app, using her phone for what felt like the first time in days. She had no new messages from her friends on it, although quite a lot of tags on her Eyestegran page of people commenting on photos of her.
On the ride over, she browsed her social media profiles. She felt a pit in her stomach as she saw all the photos and videos that people had uploaded of her: massaging Miss Reyes's feet, picking up Jocelyn's laundry, holding a straw for Delfina to drink out of. To her relief, people didn't post mean comments but it was vaguely alarming how quickly they started thinking of her more as a servant instead of a friend.
Through the rush hour traffic, she barely made it to the salon on time. It was located inside one of those new buildings that had become more popular in LA lately – large complexes that had retail stores on the ground floor and apartments built above them. This was definitely an upscale part of town, and Alice saw some preppy rich girls chatting away as they sipped artisanal coffees outside a yoga studio.
Alice's lips formed a crooked smile when she saw the place's name: "Delfina's." The sign, which seemed like it was done in Delfina's own handwriting, didn't even indicate the place was a nail salon. The front of the studio had floor-to-ceiling grey frosted glass windows that she couldn't see through. It was surrounded by the sorts of businesses that cater to upscale women: in addition to the yoga studio ther was a poke bar, a clothing boutique and an interior design firm.
Alice opened the door, which was quite heavy, and went into the salon. Immediately she was greeted with the delightful smell of witch hazel and sage and the antiseptic aroma put her at ease. When she looked through the windows from the inside, though, she could see outside with perfect clarity! She didn't know what kind of technology allowed for such a thing, but she was very impressed by its smart look.
"Welcome to Delfina's!" a voice chirped, and Alice looked over to see a brunette girl behind a minimalistic standing desk. The girl was dressed in business formal style a white blouse, a form-fitting black blazer, and a black skirt along with black silk stockings. She had on four inch heels that Alice winced to see. Did this poor girl have to stand at the desk for the whole day on those heels?
"You must be Alice," the girl said, walking around her desk to shake hands. She had a firm grip, and it seemed like she could just as easily be working at a corporate office if not for the many embellishments that hamstrung any attempt at professionalism.
Her long brunette hair was pulled into a tight ponytail that tempered her young beauty with a more stern appearance. She was a striking girl, with green eyes and bold makeup that was significantly more flirty than would be appropriate in a formal work setting. It consisted of faint pink blush and playful pink lip gloss, so she was more like the office tart than a classy businesswoman.
Alice looked down to the girl's badge as they shook hands – there was a photo of the girl, her name Robin Potovsky, and RECEPTIONIST printed along with more personal information such as her age, height, weight(!) and a large sum Alice couldn't quite read.
"Here's the spot!" she said, inviting Alice to look over the salon.
It really did have an amazing interior. A far cry from the nail "chop shops" Alice had frequented, this place had the look of an upscale day spa. The floors were made of bamboo, and the pedicure chairs were airy and minimalistic while still seeming very comfortable. The chairs were set on small platforms designed to raise the client's body and make the technician's job easier, while also making it seem like the client was on a pedestal.
"I can give you an introduction while we watch Jayne and Katrina work on our guest," the girl explained, pointing to a client seated in a nearby pedicure chair.
The client was a white woman in her 30s, of average build, wearing a black and white polka-dotted summer dress. She was leaning back in her chair, eyes closed, as one girl worked on her feet and another on her hands. But Alice was shocked when she saw the technician's outfits!
Jayne, the blonde girl doing the pedicure, was wearing a pink satin overbust vest that cinched in her waist, dramatically reducing it. She had on black leather micro shorts that hugged her hips, with an overstated leather belt. The shorts were so tight they seemed to cause an indentation into the girl's full thighs, which flared out slightly from beneath the constricting leather. She looked like some cross between an emo girl and a steampunk enthusiast, and had a look of utmost concentration on her face as she worked on her client's toes. The black trim on her pink vest echoed the the pink and black ribbons that were woven into her luscious hair, styled into a dutch fish tail side braid that went down her bare shoulders.
Katrina, the black-haired girl doing the manicure, looked like a Eastern European woman doing a sexy parody of an American country girl. She had on a brilliant white halter top and frayed jean short shorts, so abbreviated that her pockets went well past the bottom of the shorts. She was wearing strappy platform sandals, with white soles and rosegold bands that crossed the tops of her feet before venturing up her slender ankles.
"You'll notice that each girl is wearing a different uniform, which is decided by Miss Paz according to the client's preferences," Robin explained as they watched the two girls at work. She kept her voice down, so as not to disturb the wealthy woman.
"Part of the uniform are the girls' chokers: Jayne is a footmaiden, so she wears the ballet slipper pink choker. And Katrina is a handmaiden so she wears the chiffon white one. Footmaidens do mostly pedicures and handmaidens do mostly manicures."
Alice felt that "collar" was a better term for the chokers, but didn't raise this objection. Upon closer look, the chokers had the term "handmaiden" or "footmaiden" emblazoned onto silver engraving plates on the front and each girl's full name similarly etched into plates on the back. Both were done in stylized cursive writing.
"At Delfina's, we aim for the ultimate customer experience. Each girl has a specific ID tag so that a client can give detailed feedback on her services," Robin said, pointing out the plastic card each girl had pinned to her outfit.
"We cater to very picky clientele, and our goal is to provide them with a level of service they can't find anywhere else. A client can decide what amount of conversation is acceptable, how long their massage should be, even what level of eye contact a girl should give to her!"
Apparently this woman wanted complete silence, because Katrina and Jayne both had guarded smiles and didn't venture a single word.
Alice heard the click-clack of high heels, and turned to see who had entered. The next technician she saw took her breath away.
"She must be a fetish model!" was the only thing Alice could think, and judging by the technician's deep blush, she wasn't exactly comfortable garnering such attention.
She was a Nordic beauty, perhaps six feet tall in bare feet, but she had on severe ballet boots that added another six inches to her height. The boots, like the rest of her outfit, were made of skintight black latex polished to a nearly reflective shine. Almost her entire body was covered – her suit ran from the lateral cervical region of her neck down to her wrists, and to her ankles. The willowly blonde woman took mincing steps towards her client, carrying a tray full of manicure equipment at about waist level. There was the slightest noise of latex rubbing against itself, which only drew more attention to the mortified woman.
Judging by the choker, she was a footmaiden. Her white blonde hair was pulled into a tight bun, giving her no way of hiding her flushed cheeks. Her peaches and cream complexion was all the more attractive for its strawberry glow, and the woman had her eyes downcast either out of shame or maybe for fear of tripping on her towering heels. Alice could read her first name "Dania" and couldn't possibly pronounce the last name, although she guessed it to be Scandinavian. Like herself, Dania wasn't very well endowed, which created an even bigger contrast with the girl she was about to service.
"Hello, Dania," the Indian or Pakistani girl said, her voice dripping with condescension.
"Hello, Madam Abha," was Dania's subdued reply. The dark-haired girl smiled wide as Dania pulled up a pedicurist's stool.
"I have another date with Hiran tonight," Abha bragged, and the way Dania winced made Alice guess that she had a history with the man.
"So I figured I could stop by and have you make me pretty for him! You know, scrub my feet, polish my toes... Give me the royal pedicure."
Abha was really rubbing it in, and Dania looked like she was about to cry. Nonetheless, she leaned down to remove Abha's pearlescent heels, and the girl raised one tanned foot until it was scant inches away from the blonde girl's face.
"Kisses first, remember?" Abha exhorted, sounding every bit like a petulant brat. She stretched and flexed her foot to punctuate the request.
Alice noticed a subtle glint of perspiration on Dania's forehead – the lily-skinned girl was absolutely beside herself with indignation. Noting the hesitation, Abha raised her smartphone as though to threaten she'd press a button on it, and Dania responded by leaning in to kiss both of the Indian girl's bare feet. Alice found the look of defeat on Dania's face disheartening, but apparently Abha savored every bit of it because she was filming the scene on her phone.
"Keep going, I will let you know when to stop. Make sure to get beneath my toes, also. It feels lovely," Abha commanded in her accented tongue. It was necessary for Dania to hold up one of Abha's feet with both hands as she showered it with kisses.
Dania looked up to see Abha filming. For an instant, she gave her apparent enemy a look of fury, but it quickly gave way to one of resignation. Her blush deepened as she planted her lips all along Abha's soles, the pads of her toes, and down to her heels. Nor were they little pecks – each of the kisses lasted nearly two seconds and made an audible smacking sound. Abha let the girl continue for quite some time, even encouraging Dania to kiss upwards to her meaty ankles.
Meaty, that was the word Alice thought of when she looked at Abha's physique.
She had thick thighs, without any gap between them, that seemed to strain against the grey cotton material of her yoga pants. The muscles on her arms seemed soft and decadent, and Abha probably spent more hours on a massage table than at a gym. She had a light honey complexion, somewhat pale for an Indian girl, and probably avoided the sun for fear of UV damage. Her face was gorgeous: full lips and big eyes, with a nice jawline that added to her regal appearance. But the thing Alice's eyes were most drawn to was, of course, Abha's awesome breasts.
Pert and supple, they strained against the fabric of Abha's bra while simultaneously defying gravity. The girl certainly knew how blessed she was, and probably picked her athletic top to specifically flatter her womanly figure. Her slight tummy hinted at her decadent lifestyle. In short, her body couldn't have been more different from Dania's – Alice would be surprised if Abha was more than five foot three tall.
"Use your tongue, footmaiden," Abha hissed, emphasizing the word 'footmaiden.'
Alice saw the strain in Dania's temples but the blonde obeyed, parting her thin lips so she could lick Abha's soles. Judging by Dania's rote motions, Alice assumed that she had done this before – but she had the dreadful suspicion that Miss Paz would expect her to do the same thing on guests!
Alice watched with dark fascination as Dania licked every centimeter of Abha's soles, as though to clean them, and imagined herself in the blonde girl's position. It came with a sensation of vertigo: like it would be so humiliating to lick another girl's feet but she wanted to try it to see what it would be like. The tug-of-war between degradation and arousal continued in her mind as she watched Dania repeatedly swallow the little bits of residue she licked off of Abha's meaty soles.
"That's enough. You may begin my pedicure now," Abha said, sounding bored with Dania's efforts.
The Nordic beauty, thankful for this break, reached for the cotton balls and began working on Abha's toes.
"You are new here?" Abha said, turning to Alice.
"They have handmaids and footmaids, and now just regular maids?" the girl joked.
Robin laughed, and even Alice found herself smiling.
"Perhaps you can clean my BMW while I am receiving service here," Abha suggested, not even making eye contact with Alice as she spoke.
"Your pardon, madam," Robin jumped in, "Alice has a pending appointment with Miss Nazanine. Another day, certainly."
"Well, let me at least explain to you about Dania here, so you don't think I'm a total bitch," Abha replied. Without waiting for a response, she went into her story.
"I moved to America in order to be with my childhood love, Hiran, who was attending university here. Only, when I arrived, I found out that Dania was trying to steal him away from me!"
Dania seemed like she wanted to interject, but held her tongue.
"She tried using her sex to manipulate him into turning his back on his culture and running off with her! Part of her plan was also to marry him and get her citizenship, to avoid returning to her home country of Romania. But Hiran became worried when he learned about her sexual deviancy. The girl is obsessed with latex."
Dania furrowed her brow – Abha was clearly exposing one of her most intimate secrets.
"After a short while," Abha continued, "Hiran realized the error of his ways and came back to me. But I didn't want Dania to be forced to return to Romania, which as you know is in terrible shape right now. So I passed her information along to Miss Paz to see if we could get her a working visa."
Dania blinked, and it looked like she was biting the inside of her mouth. It was bad enough to have to wait on this spoiled bitch, but to have her insult her home country as well?!
"It was difficult, since Dania had already overstayed her previous visa," Abha continued as Dania filed the girl's nails in careful motions.
"But, with Miss Paz's connections, we were able to work something out. Dania will stay in the US on a H1B Visa with myself and Miss Paz as co-sponsors. We have to provide her housing, and she doesn't have certain rights," Abha goaded, "but as long as she keeps us happy, she can stay in the US! Of course, going to the University is out of the question, but she can happily contribute to this great society now."
Alice felt a pang of dismay that Dania's 'contributions' would be limited to rubbing the feet of the bitch who probably stole her entire life from her.
"I even arranged for her to assist the University in a fascinating study into the subject of exhibitionism and human sexuality," Abha said, looking for yet another way to humiliate her erstwhile romantic rival.
At that moment, though, a Persian woman came into the salon, and Robin ushered Alice over to meet her.
"Welcome, Miss Nazanine!" Robin said, before leaning in to kiss the woman on both of her plump cheeks.
"This is Alice, she will be doing your pedicure."
The full-figured Persian woman looked Alice up and down, inspecting her as though she were a piece of fruit at the market. Without betraying any satisfaction, the woman shrugged and went to sit in a nearby chair. Robin helped Alice get all the pedicure implements, and then Alice took a seat on a stool at the woman's feet, removing her designer black flats. Her was mind racing with the degrading things this woman might expect from her.
The pedicure was, it turned out, pretty normal. It was the conversation that Alice found difficult.
"You are American?" Miss Nazanine asked as Alice was filing the woman's soles with a pumice paddle. Her feet didn't have a single callus, but it still helped to file off the dead skin to give them a soft, fresh appearance.
"Yes," Alice responded.
To this, Miss Nazanine raised an eyebrow.
"Then why are you working here?" she asked. She might not have meant to be patronizing, but Alice took it that way.
"I work for the Zuang family," Alice explained, not breaking from her energetic back-and-forth scrubbing of the woman's soles. The repetitive motion had a pleasant effect on her, and Alice's eyes relaxed.
"They want me to learn how to do nails better, so Miss Paz is letting me learn here."
After some more questioning, the woman learned where Alice went to high school.
"That's where my daughter goes! Maybe you know her – Miranda Shah."
Although Miranda was one year younger than Alice, she would sometimes be in the same advanced placement classes, getting straight A's in subjects like Physics and Calculus. In their limited conversations, Alice had gleamed that the girl was brilliant, confident, and that her family had their own private jet.
"Yeah, we took some classes together. She's really smart," Alice said politely. She of course didn't mention that she viewed Miranda as standoffish and somewhat elitist.
"She is brilliant!" Miss Nazanine objected, "She has been offered full academic scholarships to Harvard and Stanford already, and we are waiting to hear back from Oxford. Of course, she still needs to get her acceptance letters from those colleges, but we really don't have any doubts."
Alice kept a professional smile through the woman's boasting, concealing her own dismay. She herself had been accepted to UCLA – a fine school, no doubt, but she still remembered crying as she read the rejection letters from Harvard and Stanford. Nor had she won any financial aid in spite of her own extra curriculars and stellar academic performance. Part of the reason she had accepted the position as Jocelyn's maid was that she would help with Alice's tuition.
"We want her to be a doctor, but she is planning to study finance. Can you imagine? What a mundane profession!"
Alice thought: if she views a financier as a mundane profession, she must have the lowest opinion of a manicurist. And it must be even worse to be a maid! Is this how all her friends' families felt?
The blonde girl dared a glance at her own pristine maid's uniform. It bespoke a life of mundane duties in the service of people who did more interesting things and enjoyed much greater freedom. Taking a deep breath, Alice warmed up some expensive collagen lotion between her hands and got ready to massage Miss Nazanine's size 5 feet. Each stroke she made on the woman's soft soles seemed to pull her more into the moment, and deepen her ignominious devotion to her social betters. She would remain at wealthy womens' beck and call, with a constant drugged-out sensation to encourage obedience.
"Well, you are very good at handling my feet," Miss Nazanine said during the massage. Alice smiled, but found it to be a rather backhanded compliment.
"I will recommend your services to Miranda – it helps with her stress to have someone massage her feet. Especially as she studies."
Alice nodded, picturing herself at the feet of a spoiled Persian girl as she studied to advance her place in life while Alice became increasingly trapped in her own diminished position. Miranda, busy with flash cards, textbooks and the world of ideas while Alice's hands were covered in lotion and her world revolved around the most personal and quotidian whims of her employer. Why did she find the thought so comforting?
Alice showed considerable improvement in polishing Miss Nazanine's nails – some of the nail techs stopped by and gave useful tips on how to steady her hands and get a more even coat of paint. Truthfully, Alice swelled with pride as she admired the finished pedicure – the white sheer nail polish looked spectacular and Miss Nazanine's feet were perfectly soft now.
"Great work! But you have to help them dry," Miss Nazanine suggested. Alice looked around for a fan, or any kind of implement to help.
"No, you blow them dry!" the Persian woman said, in a way that brooked no argument.
Alice lowered her head to the woman's toes and puckered her lips, blowing steady streams of cool air onto her toes to help the polish dry. She inhaled the sharp aroma of nail polish that made her feel lightheaded, especially when she had to keep taking deep breaths. In a few minutes, the polish had dried and Alice helped Miss Nazanine put her flats back on
The woman gave her a $5 tip and announced that she would book her daughter an appointment with Alice as soon as possible – Miranda was increasingly stressed out over her summer internship with Guldman and Sacchs. Maybe they could arrange Alice to visit Miranda in her office downtown? High heels were part of her business formal look, and she would probably love someone to sit beneath her desk and massage her feet as she worked. Alice remained cordial, but was quite dizzy at the idea of doing such a thing.
When Miss Nazanine had left, Alice had a chance to look around the salon. It was booming with business – women occupied almost all of the 10 pedicure chairs, and several more were seated at the long manicure desk that took up the center of the room. Each of the girls was dressed in an eye-cathing way, but Alice's attention was most drawn to Yessenia, who was the nail tech assistant.
She wore a black kenzie bodysuit made of sheer silk material, which barely went past her breasts and was styled as a unitard. Around her waist was a garter belt, with as many straps as Alice's own, that attached to thigh-high black stockings that covered her supple legs. Finishing the outfit was a pair of red-bottomed 4 inch high heels. She looked like she was dressed for a boudoir photoshoot!
Yessenia was seated at the side of a woman receiving services, with a large tray of grapes in her lap. She was busy peeling each of the round little fruits, then putting the peeled grape into the woman's mouth since her nails were still wet. Alice figured that Yessenia was Latina, and she had large boobs and a soft, tanned body. When the woman had enough grapes, she waved Yessenia away, but another woman immediately got her attention to put coins in her parking meter. As she walked away, Alice noticed that the girl's bubble butt – her outfit seemed to draw attention to it which Yessenia didn't seem thrilled about.
Before Alice started the next pedicure, for a bratty blonde girl, Robin approached her with one of the chokers.
"Miss Paz said for you to put this on, I just now remembered," Robin explained, handing the thing over to Alice.
It had some kind of satin outside, but the inside was made of full grain leather. Alice wanted to resist putting this mark of ownership around her neck: it was yet another visual marker of her status compared to the guests. Who could take her seriously when she was wearing a collar with the word "footmaiden" printed for everyone to see? Her fear of displeasing Miss Paz eclipsed her determination, though, and she placed the collar around her neck, fumbling to get it to clasp.
"Here, I can help with that," Robin said, producing a little tool that looked like a miniaturized RF gun with two metal prongs sticking out of the front. She hit some buttons on it, and Alice felt a tingling sensation running down her spine, and noticed the collar snap just a little too snugly around her long neck.
"There's a computerized lock inside that only responds to a certain voltage pattern," Robin said, sounding just a little didactic.
She didn't mention the collar's titanium alloyed interior that would make it extremely difficult to cut through, or that an incorrect voltage pattern would result in a painful zap to the wearer.
Alice reached one hand to feel the smooth texture of the collar aganist her neck, and the cool silver tags slowly warming from her body heat. Robin left, then, taking the device with her and Alice went to begin the young woman's pedicure. The girl chatted away on her phone the entire time, to some close friend.
"My daddy got me a Land Rover, but I wanted the Jeep," she said at one point, and Alice stifled a laugh. Happily, the girl didn't notice.
She was drinking a large iced coffee and was dressed like a girl who went to some preppy boarding school in Ojai, her canary yellow Keds lying discarded nearby with her ankle socks tucked away inside. One was pink and the other was orange, which gave a somewhat juvenile look to her outfit.
"I mean, Paris is nice but Dubai is like a theme park," she said as Alice was rubbing a sugar scrub into the girl's delicate feet. None of the technicians wore gloves and Alice felt the rough granules exfoliate the skin on her hands just as it did the skin on the girl's feet.
Later: "Yeah, I'm at Delfina's, they have a girl dressed up like a maid here," the blonde girl said, as though sharing a bit of gossip.
Alice was a little annoyed to have someone talk about her like that, but the girl didn't care or even notice. Soon, she had finished polishing the girl's nails, leaning in to blow them dry, and the girl left Alice a $5 cash tip after all was done. It was only then that Alice noticed the exorbinant prices: a basic manicure at Delfina's was $40 and a pedicure was $55! No wonder these women had such high expectations of service – there were even more expensive options named after decadent women such as the Cleopatra or the Marie Antoinette. Still Alice wondered: why did these women leave such small tips?
Alice did several more pedicures for similarly privileged girls. Throughout the day, it became apparent why Miss Nazanine was surprised to hear Alice was a U.S. citizen: nearly all of the other girls who worked at Delfina were immigrants from other countries. She didn't have a chance to speak with any of them – talk between technicians was discouraged – but she gathered it through their accents and the details they would occasionally share with clients. Usually, the narrative was the client asking to hear about how awful their home countries were, and how thankful the girls were to be in the US.
Soon it was lunchtime, and Robin said that she could eat in the girls' living quarters upstairs.
Dania and Yessenia led the way out the back door, sliding one of their ID badges to unlock it. It opened into an enclosed hallway with an elevator at one end and a glass door exiting to the street on the other. The girls went to the elevator, again swiping an ID card to get it to work. When they walked inside, the button for the second floor was already highlighted. Alice suspected that they couldn't go to any other floors.
"So where are you from?" Yessenia asked as a way of breaking the ice. Dania was as quiet as a statue.
"I'm from the U.S., Los Angeles," was Alice's reply.
"Then why are you working here??" Yessenia exclaimed, arching an eyebrow in genuine surprise. Even Dania was listening to hear Alice's answer.
Alice explained her story in the short time it took for them to get up the elevator and to the girls' shared apartment.
"I don't know, it still doesn't make sense why you work for her. We're all here on visas, but it sounds like you chose this job willingly," Yessenia said, inviting Alice into the one bedroom apartment.
Alice was amazed at how the place looked: it seemed like something that would be more appropriate in a third-world country.
There were three sets of bunk beds that took up much of the floor space in the living room, and freestanding clothing racks occupied much of the other space. On the racks were the various costumes with tags that indicated who owned each one. There were many stereotypical costumes Alice saw in her brief examination of one rack: cheerleaders of different school colors, a balerina's tutu, silk kimonos. More clothing was strewn on the floor, along with countless makeup supplies, shoes, and pillows of all different types.
"Forgive the mess, there's a lot of us in here," Yessenia offered, somewhat abashed.
"It's fine," Alice answered, stepping over a pile of stilettoes to enter the apartment.
"Fine? That's what you think?" Dania said, breaking her silence as she looked around the cramped room contemptuously
Alice shrugged her shoulders, unsure of how to handle this.
"Don't mind her, Dania is upset because she hasn't gotten her bathroom break yet," Yessenia said, coming back with three takout containers of food.
She motioned for the girls to pull up some pillows to sit and eat together. Alice sighed involuntarily as she sat down – it felt so good to give her pained feet a rest.
"Yeah, I can't go to the bathroom on my own," Dania muttered, angrily stabbing the Thai food with a fork, "I need to have Miss Paz come and unlock this stupid suit."
"We all have it hard," Yessenia countered, "but complaining doesn't help. Look at me, you think I want to be the salon slave? I have a Master's in childhood education. Last week, I had to babysit for a spoiled little snot who threw her soda at me because I got the wrong flavor. All I could do was smile and apologize."
"If it's so bad, why don't you leave?" Alice asked.
"What, and go back to Venezuela? I don't know if you follow recent events, but it's pretty much a hellhole right now. Our push for renewable energy failed, and now it's basically a Chinese puppet state ruled by foreign lords. If I return, my option are to be a prostitute or in some guy's harem. At least here I can send some money back to my family and give them some kind of opportunity."
Alice gave her a sympathetic look.
"I mean, really, I don't think it's so bad," Yessenia continued, "so we have to deal with demanding rich women who have weird requests? Historically, there have been a lot of people who had worse lives than this."
Yessenia had removed her own high heels, and gave Alice a curious look. As though to confirm a suspicion she had, Yessenia addressed Alice.
"Alice, would you mind giving me a foot massage during lunch?" she said sweetly.
Alice nodded, taking the girl's stockinged foot into her lap and beginning yet another massage. Alice didn't object when Yessenia took the food container that was supposed to belong to her, and Dania and Yessenia exchanged a meaningful look before Yessenia laid down and they continued the conversation.
"You don't know what it's like having an evil bitch putting you more and more under her thumb every day," Dania complained.
"Look at this outfit!" she cried, "I used to like latex in private, in the bedroom with someone I trust. Now, thanks to Abha, I have to wear it publicly for everyone to see. And the worst part is, it still makes me horny! You know she actually has me attend my old literature classes dressed like this, sitting in the front row for all my classmates to see? It's part of her "study." And there's usually some perverted assistant with me who encourages me to talk openly about sex with the other students! And all the while I have to follow their guidelines for exercise, which entails clenching and unclenching my thighs to stimulate my clit."
Yessenia allowed her to continue, and Alice listened with rapt attention. Yessenia reclined against some pillows, quite pleased with Alice's efforts.
"And I am positive that Abha gets off on treating me like this. Part of the study is enforced celibacy – like I could even date in the first place. We're not allowed outside this complex because of how much this country distrusts immigrants right now. But Abha stops by every few days to dish with me like I'm her girlfriend about how how much sex she and Hiran are having, and how serious the relationship is getting. It's almost too much to bear."
Alice was speechless.
"I know, you want to know why I haven't left. Well, Romania isn't in good shape either. I think they specifically target beautiful young women from war-torn or impoverished countries to work here."
Dania continued venting.
She explained that this was actually a one bedroom apartment, but that the bedroom was reserved for Miss Paz since her name was the one on the lease. The rest of the girls rented beds from her on a nightly basis, at $40 a night, and had to pay ridiculous prices for things like utilities and food. The apartment didn't have a kitchen, and Dania suspected that Miss Paz was getting a cut from the only restaurants near enough for the girls to order takeout from.
At every step they were exploited. Miss Paz had devised a plan where the girls simultaneously had to pay to rent a chair in the salon, while also giving the majority of their earnings to the establishment. Beauty supplies, costumes, even the salon's utility bill came out of the employees' earnings. By Dania's calculations, Miss Paz was probably earning in excess of $20,000 a month between the salon and her various upcharges.
The nail technicians had a union which was supposed to represent them, but in actuality it was just another way for Miss Paz to collect union dues and appoint one unlucky girl as the union head. Miss Paz would steadily browbeat that girl into accepting worse and worse deals, thereby creating a division amongst the rest of the employees as they resented the union head for selling them out. Even as they rationally knew the union head couldn't do any better, they resented her for her failures while dreading the day they would be appointed to the position.
"Listen, Dania can tell you all day about how it sucks here," Yessenia said towards the end of lunch, "But I try to focus on the good things."
Dania rolled her eyes, but Yessenia pressed on with her reasoned persuasion. Alice wondered if the foot massage she was giving the girl counted as one of the good things – Dania's envious look made Alice suspect that the statuesque woman wanted one as well.
"Miss Paz makes a fortune off of us, true, but she always makes sure that the money we send reaches our families. That's no small achievement in Venezuela, and I think Romania is probably the same way. And, for me at least, she has provided my family with business connections they otherwise would never have had. Not slave work like we do, either: actual opportunities at business ownership."
"So she says," Dania warned.
"No, I've talked to my sister and she says it's happening."
Yessenia wanted to press this advantage so she reached for a discarded skirt, fishing around for the clothing tag to illustrate her next point.
She began: "Look at this tag, 'Made in Pakistan." You ever wonder who made this skirt? How much her life must suck? What, she makes fifty cents an hour, her hands all arthritic, with nothing to show for it at the end of her life?! Amal, who works with us, she's from Paksitan. She chose to come here and work for Miss Paz. I think pretty much any garment worker would do the same thing. They'd consider us lucky."
Dania's response was measured. Alice got the sense that they had debated this a lot before.
"Yes, things are bad out there," she began. " But Miss Paz could still create a better, more equitable system for us here."
Alice didn't know who was in the right in this debate. She had briefly learned about globalization in school, but nobody in her class had as personal a glimpse into its reality as she did right now. It seemed like there was a lot left unsaid, but lunch was over and the girls had to return to work downstairs. She ruminated on the different arguments that her co-workers had put forth, but didn't reach any firm conclusion.
"Thanks for the massage," Yessenia said, putting her high heels back on.
"Maybe next time you can do Dania – it might put her in a better mood."
This suggestion distracted Alice from her musings about capitalism. She had the mental image of being the footmaiden to all these girls – and found the idea tantalizing. Was she developing some kind of inferority complex?? This was her line of thinking as she re-entered the salon, brought to an abrupt halt as she saw her next clients.
Although she was mentally preparing all day for them, Alice was still caught by surprise.
Delfina and her mother stood at the entrance, wearing matching A-line tennis dresses. Their youthful faces were flushed and their bodies shimmering with sweat. Both women had self-assured smiles on their faces as they surveyed their empire. Alice approached, instinctively curtseying to both of them.
"Let's see how much you've learned. I got kind of tired of the color on my toes," Delfina started, walking towards a pedicure chair.
"I think I'll have the royal pedicure."
A scream died in Alice's throat. Her hands were trembling, and her face blanched. A royal pedicure was what Dania did for Abha, complete with kisses and generous use of her tongue. Delfina collapsed into the chair, elegantly stretching her long legs out their entire length to relieve the tired muscles in her calves. Her feet were encased in hip white athletic shoes, brand new.
"But you can wait a little bit to begin – we're meeting Ciara and Anna here in a little while."
Delfina savored the look of panic on Alice's pretty face. She wished this moment could last forever – she suspected it would be better than even the pedicure, than all her future pedicures at Alice's hands. That collar was such a good idea.
"In the mean time, let's discuss your demerits from the party. I've thought a lot about it, and I think we need to address the root problem beneath all your... inadequate performance."
Stunned, Alice took a seat in her stool and began unlacing Delfina's shoes, ignoring the fact she was being filmed. When they were off, the girl's feet practically radiated moisture and warmth. Delfina rested her feet on the bamboo platform. When she raised one for Alice to take off her sock, there was the slightest evidence of sweat formed into a perfect outline of her sole left on the wooden surface.
"Show some enthusiasm, Alice!"
Alice realized she was staring at Delfina's feet, and also the precipice that would determine how the next few months of her life would unfold. But the girl had overplayed her hand: Alice knew that Delfina was fishing for a specific response, and was determined not to play into the girl's hands. Alice gave a dubious smile that could have meant a million things, and Delfina narrowed her eyes.
"Yes, Miss Delfina," Alice responded, looking boldly up at the brunette goddess. Nor did she look over to see who just came into the salon, but silently steeled herself for what came next. She was beginning to learn the rules of this little game, but still sorely misunderstood the stakes.