Not necessarily young, falling short of pretty, she was still the photographer’s choice. What beauty she had was of the pragmatic type: nothing more than a product of sensibility and symmetry. A vague intellect is evident in her level brows, unexciting thoughts ruminate and press against the lines of her temples, like sheep.
Even though they had hopefully dressed her as an odalisque, her body could not oblige. She possessed no animal seduction, no curves suffused with incense, none of the golden mystery of the voluptuous harem. The tapestries in the studio did not hide a flock of jealous concubines, nor a battalion of incorruptible eunuchs. All that kept her company was a blue parrot, balanced on its perch and staring down at its mistress, a graceless combination of experienced housewife and wishful concubine.
They chose her because she was willing to pose for an hour or two, for the payment of a meal, or a handful of coins. She was their clumsy Scheherazade, willing to wear the cheap trappings born from the fancies of a western world mesmerized by dreams of the Far East. A bolero embroidered with pearls of yellowing luster, dull jewelry that stained her skin, scarves hemmed with false bullion. One arm awkwardly balances a tambourine waggishly trimmed with scarlet tassels. The other is bent so that the hand, clenched in a nervous fist, is pressed against her head. The dark smudge showing in the exposed armpit is evidence that this was a century when a lady was not supposed to manicure herself too assiduously.
The nudity of her torso is implied, rather than advertised: a startled exposure half expected and only half welcome. Her femininity is stolid and respectable – she does not belong in this dusty seraglio.
But she tried. She really did. Her assumed posture was foolish yet gallant. Her knees – daringly yet shyly – are apart. But her ankles are crossed. And she has refused to remove her sensible shoes.