Sexy Mrs Claus
There is a red velvet puddle on the floor of my dad’s shop. A lady’s arm lay next to it. She is compliant while he fits her back together. Graceful, she doesn’t make a face.
Narrow aisles rise behind him presenting a carnival of bras. The material hangs above us in assorted shades and textures, a portrait of every kind of mood. Stately satin navy blue, hot pink chiffon dances the flamenco in the path of the aircon, red with a diamante heart tattooed on the left cup says ‘you’re not my first, but let’s pretend’.
The last aisle is all bottoms. Complex networks of trellised black lace that leads up the stomach, creating diamonds of peeping skin and adorned with a dangling diamante centrepiece trailing downwards from the belly button. My dad’s wife embellishes these by hand. These special knickers offer more of a show than a thong. In fact, I can’t see any thongs. There’s boring stuff too, like plain cotton nighties and big pants. But the glaring overhead lights in this small space do best to focus on the brighter colours, tending to overlook the baggy neutrals with a macho kind of blatancy.
The white lights also highlight how clean the shop is, the only mess being the red velvet puddle on the floor. Now that the fallen lady in red velvet is standing proud in the shop window I can appreciate the outfit she’s wearing. A negligee trimmed with white fur, or fluff: too wispy to be fur but too dense to be fluff. Then I see the hat hanging forgotten from her pale slender hand and realise it’s supposed to evoke snow. She’s Mrs Claus.
I find this weird. It’s July. No one is thinking of Christmas at this time let alone dressing up to seduce their partner as Mrs Claus, unless it is to satisfy a personal fetish that transcends the seasons. Right? Then again it doesn’t matter if the costume is out of season since it is never in season here. There is no Christmas in Algeria.
The girls in matching red tabards greet me with the same lovely enthusiasm every year, a fluttering of bisous bisous envelops us. As always, one of them runs out to buy coffee and pastries for the group, and like a repeated episode of Friends I wait for them to refuse to eat anything until one of us has first. When my brothers have said hello (salaam alaikum!) my dad hustles them outside into the shopping centre, where they chat with the shop owner from the next plot. A young man called Karim and an older guy who is smoking and tapping ash on to the marble tiled floor.
Just the girls now. We huddle in the corner of the room and the confident Aisha speaks to me in English. The tallest, who feels like a friend and gets called Banana, throws herself into theatrical storytelling which I guess is the only option when we can’t use words to say what we mean. When we aren’t giggling, if they have to serve a customer perhaps, I occupy myself by looking at the models on the premium boxes of underwear sets. Wedding sets. The models are all beautifully curved with even skin tones and flat stomachs. It’s their hair and make-up that give them away: striped highlights spell out Noughties Stock. Although their picture on the box is not faded, the packaging is dated. The effect is the same as when menus abroad have a picture of the dish next to them.
Though I am aware that everything here, through my eyes, feels behind.
Still, these boxes that line the back of the shop are the most interesting thing in it. It’s the desire to open the box, to open it like a gift to yourself. Putting on whatever kind of wife you’ll be. Filling the white cups and setting the white lace atop the slope of your hips. A lot of people are really surprised when I say my dad owns a women’s underwear shop in Algeria. To me, it would sound ridiculous even if he ran a women’s underwear shop in Soho — my dad sells sexy underwear — but what registers in the eyes of others is that Muslim women actually go out and buy underwear. It’s true, they do, and I suspect they might have sex in it. And that’s before I’ve mentioned the all-in-one fishnets, fake leather catsuits, and now to add; the sexy Mrs Claus costume.
If you were wondering, like we all do, what she did for the rest of the year, now you know.
It occurs to me months later, only after we’ve left my dad’s women’s underwear shop in Algeria and the air in England is beginning to feel crisp, that Mrs Claus was there accidentally. The Mrs Claus sexy nighty display that brought the North Pole, elves, bells and penguins all the way from Christmas in my grandma’s living room to North African summertime. Her uncanny presence another question to pack in my suitcase, was just my dad flinging the nearest dress on a mannequin. And not thinking twice about it.
Work to be included in the first VD anthology