It was the cold snap that did it. The coldest winter Hong Kong had seen since 1944. Abby ate two packets of instant noodles with frozen peas instead of one. She drank hot chocolate to keep warm. Full cream milk. As she sat on the couch in their unheated flat, her breath emerged in wisps. Her frigid limbs ached and one afternoon, she gave up and climbed beneath the doona, hugging herself.
The next day, she caught the train to Tsim Sha Tsui for fittings at ‘Best Wish Fashions’. It was the easiest job she’d ever had. All she had to do was change into a few outfits and stand still whilst they measured her and pinned garments. Her vital statistics were perfect for the brand and she’d been offered the contract straight after casting.
She launched herself through the throngs on Nathan Road. They parted around her like a fetid sea. Someone groped her upper thigh and she turned and glared. It was useless. There were scores of impassive faces, the offender invisible.
As she reached her destination, charcoal storm clouds menaced the sky, billowing and heavy. Red cabs careened past, their exhaust fumes bitter as she inhaled.
Mrs Leung was cross. Her skin was stretched tight over her rouged cheeks and her painted eyebrows knotted. She tutted and sighed as she drew the tape around Abby’s hips.
‘Two inch more on the hips. One inch on the waist. Is no good. You go home.’
Abby blushed, drew the curtain of the change room and yanked on her clothes. On the MTR, she watched the train lights streak the tunnel as it hurtled along.
Her consolation prize—drinks with a friend in Lan Kwai Fong. At the station she crammed herself onto the escalator. Machine-gun chatter mingled with announcements as she rose, the illuminated ads flitted past.
Ilse’s lithe form and blond hair was a beacon. Her friend deflected advances from all sides and mouthed ‘Vodka?’ as Abby sidled up. The night had stilled after the rain. They sat outside and talked over each other. As Ilse looked away, Abby reached beneath her blouse and, with great shame, undid the top button of her jeans, straining against the extra inch.