‘You have to look stunning tonight,’ he repeated.
I stared at him with disbelief. I was shivering in bed with feverish flu and he wanted me to accompany him to his family dinner and look stunning.
‘You must be kidding, Mark. Can’t you see what state I’m in?’
‘Oh, come on, bloody pull yourself together. Don’t embarrass me before my whole family, especially my stupid brother and his perfect wife. I want them to be stunned, I want those envy looks from all of them. Wear the little Mango dress I bought you last week.’
The menacing tone of his voice unnerved me.
‘Look, Matt, what if I stayed at home tonight. You can introduce me when I get well.’
‘You’re perfectly fine. Be ready by six or find another boyfriend. I won’t let you ruin this.’
I couldn’t hold my tears back as he slammed the door behind him. I was a foreign student with little income and I had nowhere to go.
‘You have to look stunning.’ I kept replaying in my head.
So this was our relationship about. It’s all I’m worth, someone stunning in trendy clothes, someone he can parade around with like with a newly bought car.
By six, I was ready, thick layers of foundation covering my red nose.
‘That‘s what I’m talking about,’ he smiled with appreciation. ‘You see, baby, just had to make an effort.’
His family was lovely. After the meal his mum offered me a cup of coffee on the terrace. She looked at me sympathetically.
‘My dear, you’re ill. You should have stayed at home.’
A weary “sorry” was all I could say.
‘You are like a bunch of withered flowers, Clara. Once stunning, still wearing the signs of its formal beauty. Still wonderful from a distance. But for those who look closer, it’s dried out, lost its soul, dying. Leave him, dear. As soon as you can.’