Chapter 4 – The Empress
Leo turned the corner onto Leonard Street. He was texting Claudia to let her know that he was walking up to Estrellar’s pop-up store. She had been on his case since dinner at Marcelo’s the previous Thursday. It was Wednesday and he’d finished the early shift at 3pm and was on his way to the Brazilian Emporium.
Leo was nervous. He always got clammy hands when he was nervous. He was finding it awkward to use his iPhone. He kept having to wipe the moisture from his hands on to his jacket so he could use the touch screen properly in order to finish typing his text message and send to Claudia.
Why was he so nervous though? The visions were becoming annoying and he had requested help. But Claudia took it a step further. Who was the person she was referring to when she said to him ‘have you met her yet?’? Leo was wondering whether some old Italian mama from his family was watching over him, and Estrellar was going to tell him that he channels Nonna from Napoli, and she was the one with the visions. Or maybe he was doing a little too much math into it?
“Oh well, only one way to find out,” Leo said to himself. He had reached number 11 Leonard Street. His destination – Brazilian Emporium. The pop-up store had a simple sign designed using a cool stencil effect. Leo wondered if Estrellar had asked Marcelo to design it. It definitely had Marcelo’s imprint on it – simple yet innovative graphic design.
He walked into the store. It was decorated minimally – white walls, and simple wall mounted shelving too. Slightly clinical but most pop-up stores were plainly decorated. With pop-up stores being a temporary retail space, it was all about simple design with an emphasis on the products being sold instead. The wall-mounted shelves were decked out with CDs in one corner, and Maz Brasil shoes on a separate shelving unit. Maz Brasil shoes looked like Onitsuka Tiger’s classic Mexico 66 trainers. The lightweight trainers were made to be a beach alternative to Havaianas. Marcelo brought Leo a pair of Maz Brasil shoes back from Rio de Janeiro the last time he went over to visit family. Leo thought they looked good but the plastic sole was not the best to waltz around London in, and he mashed them up within a month of wear-and-tear on the city streets. The wall displayed with Maz Brasil shoes in various colours made Brazilian Emporium look like a cool, boutique store. Next to the shoes were these massive Amethyst geodes, resting on the floor. They looked like purple caves that Leo wanted to submerse himself in.
On the left of the entrance was a long trestle table with perspex box units containing tumbled gemstones. Above it on the shelves were Brazilian hair products for Afro hair, as well as weaves and hair extensions hanging from bulldog clips. Just passed the trestle table, before you reached the cashier, was a round metallic-effect table and two metal chairs. It looked like someone had done an Ikea-run pre-store opening.
Leo made his way for the counter, right to the back of the store. It was a small store and he only had to walk a few steps to reach the cashier desk. There were two women lined up in the queue. One African woman was holding a circular cardboard disc it looked like, but on closer inspection, Leo realised that a mound of jet black, synthetic hair was looped through a whole in the disc. “Hair extensions,” he muttered to himself. The girl in front was being served by the cashier, while a woman was bagging her goods. The cashier was a young lad – he was in his 20s and wore glasses similar to Marcelo’s nerd frames. Leo heard the cashier talk to his customer. The cashier had a very effeminate voice, and was a tad flamboyant in his mannerisms.
Leo soon etched his way to the front. The cashier took one look at Leo and said: “Hey handsome, how may I help you?” “Marcos,” the lady next to him tapped him on his bare arm. “You don’t want to frighten the customers.”
“What can I do for you?” the cashier said, and then he whispered “pretty boy”, emphasising the words with his mouth so Leo could see. “Marcos, I told you. Now stop that,” the lady warned.
“I’m looking for Estrellar,” Leo said. “Is she here?”
“Who’s asking?” said the cashier, a tad defensive at this point in his camp camaraderie. “That’s my mother you know.”
This wasn’t getting off to a good start, Leo felt. He didn’t mind a bit of harmless banter with the gay punters at Citizens of Coffee, but the cashier at Brazilian Emporium, who now turned out to be Estrellar’s son, was making Leo a tad uncomfortable with his flirtations.
The cashier turned his right hand outwards with a theatrical move that would have gone down a treat in a Bollywood movie. “Now once you’re done with my mum, come and see me later,” he said. Leo was feeling more anxious and wasn’t sure he could take being in the store much longer.
Now for the first time since his arrival, Leo took a look at the lady standing next to Estrellar’s son. “Wow,” he gawped to himself. How could he have missed her when he walked into the store? She was stunning – like a Brazilian goddess or sumtin, Leo thought. Estrellar was pushing 60. She was demure and alluring. Curvaceous, slightly heavier than she wanted to be perhaps, but she pulled it off by wearing short kaftan tops to conceal her belly. She never lost the belly weight after the birth of her youngest son, Marcos, now a 23-year-old “camp as Christmas” lad, especially since coming out to his father. His mum always sensed that her son was gay, as mums always know. But Marcos was not sure how his “machismo” father would take it, so he “hid it” until openly coming out to his father. His father bit his lip, which to Marcos was a good enough sign. Since then, his amateur dramatics had rocketed sky high, not to mention his libido.
Estrellar embraced her Latina curves and worked with her spread, finding clothes that flattered her shape. She always wore wedges to work, to add four inches to her 5’ 3” height. She was beautiful and very humble in her grace, but never vain. In fact the only thing she did for the “sake of vanity” perhaps was having her hair Keratin-treated. Her natural, light brown hair was curly and really unruly, to say the least. A hairdresser client of Estrellar’s offered her the Brazilian Keratin treatment in exchange for hair extensions that she imported. Then there was Estrellar’s natural pouty lips which was the subject of much attention not to mention debate. Being Brazilian and the fascination with plastic surgery in the continent, many people assumed that Estrellar had botox or lip fillers. People usually looked in disbelief when she told them her lips were “as natural as Mother Earth herself”.
“You must be Leo,” Estrellar said. “I’ve been waiting for you.” Leo blushed as Estrellar walked round the counter to greet him. She gently took his left arm and gestured at him to take a seat in the corner. Leo took a perch on one of the metallic chairs. There was a tarot deck placed on the table. He was hoping that if Estrellar were to give him a reading that “campos Marcos”, a nickname Leo had quickly thought of, would not be able to ear-wig. Even though it looked exposed, it was a strategic little corner as the music in the store was too loud around the cashier desk for anyone in that area to be able to hear a conversation taking place at the table. Estrellar had made sure of that.
Estrellar took her seat opposite Leo. She leant forward and said: “Claudia told me about you. I understand that you are having visions. You know you are psychic, right? And you know you need to protect yourself, right?”
“Eh no. I don’t know anything other than I keep getting visions and I don’t know how to control them,” he said. Interestingly Leo wasn’t picking up anything from Estrellar. She was a closed book, it appeared. “You can’t read me, can you Leo?”
Estrellar made Leo jump. She knew that he was trying to see if he had any visions coming from her. “Nobody can read me like that,” she said. “I do protection so that no harm can be done to me and so nobody can pry into my world, ok? First things first Leo – you must learn to protect yourself. There are a lot of psychic vampires in this world who will try to suck the life-force out of you.”
“Ok,” he said. He wasn’t sure if he should be taking notes or not. “Hang on a minute,” Estrellar said. She was already on the case. She went behind the cash desk and emerged with a pen and a piece of paper. “Now write what you learn,” she said. “But before we begin, can I get you a drink and a sandwich? I know you have been at work and must be feeling tired.”
“Sure,” he said, excited that Estrellar was being so attentive to his needs. She turned to him and said: “A cappuccino and a ham and cheese sandwich, right?”
“Er yeh,” Leo answered. “You read my mind.”
“Of course,” she said, brushing Leo’s arm. “Please take your jacket off and make yourself comfortable.” Leo took off his Carhartt modular jacket, Estrellar grabbing it and putting it in a tiny cupboard behind the cashier desk.
Estrellar returned with her mobile phone. She made a call to what must have been another shop assistant. “Hi Lima, it’s Estrellar,” she said. “I have a guest at the shop. Would you mind going into Pret on your way back and picking up a ham and cheese sandwich and a cappuccino?” Estrellar paused for a few moments. “Great,” Estrellar said. “Keep the receipt and I will give you the cash back later.”
As the call ended, Estrellar turned to Leo. “Ok Leo,” she said. “You said you can’t control these visions. Why do you want to control them? They don’t belong to you in the first place,” she said. “You can see these visions but who cares. You ignore that which does not belong to you. Simple as that,” she advised. “You are a psychic. Honey, you gonna see a lot of things and you will. You will also hear things, sense things, smell things even. But if it don’t belong to you, don’t pay it attention. Ignore it. If you are in a position like me, where you are giving psychic advice, then you seeing something isn’t an issue. But otherwise you tune out and ignore the visions. Ok Leo?”
She made it sound so simple. And Leo wondered why he had made it so complicated. Estrellar said: “It’s ok Leo. You are learning so no need to get your boxers in a twist, ok?”
Leo blushed again. He felt embarrassed that the Brazilian Goddess, old enough to be his nonna really, had made a reference to underpants.
“Come,” Estrellar said, getting up from her seat and taking Leo to the gemstones on display. The tumbled stones, arranged in alphabetical order, were displayed like pic’n’mix sweeties. “These are beautiful stones,” she said. Estrellar reached into the black tourmaline compartment and picked out a large, polished tumblestone. “Leo I want you to take this and keep it on you wherever you go,” she said. “Hold it in your power hand and charge it to protect you from all and any harm. You’re right handed, I noticed”
She grabbed his right hand and put the stone in his hand. “Put the stone in salt water when you get home and leave it for 24 hours,” she continued. “Then hold it tight in your right hand and charge it to protect you from all and any harm. When you charge it, visualise a protective light shielding your entire being. You ask your inner being to show you, ok?”
Leo started to feel really comfortable around Estrellar. Her energy was nurturing and protective. She was tactile and loving. Leo admired that in her infinite wisdom, she was no pushover and he couldn’t pull a fast one on her as she had clearly proven. She was straight-talking and honest, and Leo knew that he could trust her.
Estrellar patted Leo on the back as he put the stone in his jeans pocket. She said to him: “just be who you truly are, Leo.” Suddenly Leo felt this warm glow in his heart. What was this sensation? Was it coming from Estrellar? Or the stone even? She nodded at him and winked. The shop door had opened and a young girl walked in, carrying a paper bag from Pret a Manger and holding a coffee cup in her hand. The girl tapped Estrellar on the back and said: “Estrellar, here’s your coffee and sandwich.”
Estrellar turned round to reply. Leo intrigued by the voice also turned round. OMG, he thought. He must have been gawping for what felt like minutes because Estrellar had tenderly placed her hand under Leo’s jaw and lifted it up as to close it. “Leo,” Estrellar said. “I’d like you to meet Lima. She works for me.”
Lima must have been either gawping or in shock too, as Estrellar then lifted a hand towards Lima’s jaw to draw it up to close. Leo started to feel that warm glow in his heart again. Where was it coming from? Was it Estrellar? No, it wasn’t. Leo’s intuition was telling him loud and proud exactly where it was coming from.
It was Lima. Who is this heaven-sent Angel? Leo queried to himself. She was gorgeous. Chocolate brown-coloured, long wavy hair. Dark brown eyes – they were big, black almost. A black, rectangular-framed pair of Prada glasses sat on her petite nose. Leo could see right through her soft yet piercing eyes, as if he were looking into the window of her Soul. She was a little bit of a Tomboy, Leo thought, as he did a quick scan of Lima. She was around 5’ 6” and curvy. Lima was dressed in a hooded parka, kick-flare indigo jeans and a pair of Vans Waffle slip-ons in white perforated leather. She had that skater girl look going on. Sooo cool, thought Leo. He was so in awe right about now.
“Hi,” Lima nervously said. She looked a tad shell-shocked. “You, you, you….look familiar,” she blurted out. Lima was transfixed by Leo. She could feel her heart glowing. And then came an overwhelming desire to embrace Leo with a kiss. She became aware that her body was being drawn in the direction of Leo. A powerful surge of energy that Lima felt she had no control over. She glanced over to Estrellar to see if that would control the sensation, or change the flow of energy even. Lima always became fidgety when she was nervous. She started pulling on the drawstring cord of her hooded parka. Twisting and twirling it around her finger. It felt like time was on standstill and the only moving beings were Leo and Lima, or at least energetically, even if their bodies were attempting to resist or restrain.
Meanwhile, Leo felt he was leaning forward towards Lima in slow-mo. He had a desire to kiss her, right there, right then, on the shop floor. What was this energy stirring inside him? he wondered. He’d never experienced anything like it in his life. Did he really have the guts to kiss her on the shop floor like that?
Within moments, what actually felt like minutes, Estrellar took an arm to Leo and Lima simultaneously. “Leo,” Estrellar called out. “Come take a seat and eat.” Then turning to Lima, she asked: “The CDs have arrived, can you put them on the shelf please?”
Leo was pleased to be able to sit down again. To be honest, his legs now felt like jelly following that earlier energetic pull towards Lima. Lima had taken her jacket off and was now placing CDs up on the shelf. Leo changed his position. He turned round in the chair, so his back now faced the wall and the table to his side. He sat quietly eating his sandwich but kept close watch on Lima’s every move.
Lima had her back towards Leo. He scanned her from head to toe – her long hair sat hanging in a V-shape down her back. She was wearing a loose-fitting Breton top and her hot pink bra strap was showing through the boat neckline of her top. Leo clocked sight of her derriere next – pert, he thought. Suddenly the N.E.R.D. song ‘She Wants to Move’ came in to mind and he started to hum the most pertinent of the lyrics in his head: “Her ass is like a spaceship I want to ride. She’s sexy.” He took a bite into his sandwich to hide the huge smile on his face and the wild fantasies he was conjuring up. Lima instantly turned around as if someone had just groped her butt. “Shit,” mumbled Leo. Can Lima read his mind like Estrellar?
Lima felt comforted to see Leo tucking into his sandwich, rather than some “dirty perv”, she thought. She could have sworn she heard someone or something humming the lines: “Her ass is like a spaceship I want to ride. She’s sexy.” She could feel Leo’s warm presence really strong right now. It was loving but very protective. Lima couldn’t hide her pleasure, as she thought to herself: wow, he’s really something.
“Errr what was that?” Leo said to himself. He heard a thought: “Wow, he’s really something”. Leo hoped that that was Lima saying that and not Estrellar’s son, who was staring at Leo from the cashier desk and was now waving to get his attention. “Right,” Estrellar said, as she took her seat again at the table. “I would like to offer you a psychic reading, Leo.”
“Err sure,” said Leo. Claudia had read for many people including Marcelo. Leo never thought to ask Claudia for a reading. But Marcelo would always give Leo the warning signs when he needed to be alerted to something. Leo intuitively knew it was Marcelo’s mum giving him the heads up on something she had sensed.
Estrellar chose a three-card reading for Leo. The past was The fool. In the present position was the 2 of Cups, and in the future was The Tower. Estrellar gave a somewhat surprised look when she unveiled the three cards. Earlier that day, she had done a reading for Lima and the same cards in the exact same position had come up. To be honest, Leo wasn’t paying any attention to Estrellar’s reading. She knew that. But he had clearly forgotten how Estrellar knew everything. He was too mesmerized by Lima. He kept glancing over at her every chance he got. That warm glow was starting to return in his body, like something had just awakened inside him. OMG, he thought, was this the spiritual awakening that Claudia was banging on about?
Estrellar was more than aware that her time with Leo was done. She had worked her “fairy godmother” magic and the rest was up to them now, she said to herself. She grabbed Leo’s arm and said: “Leo, I believe we are finished”. Leo didn’t really want his time at Brazilian Emporium to come to an end. “Oh,” he said, sounding ever so slightly disappointed. “How much do I owe you for your services?” Estrellar laughed. “You don’t owe me anything,” she said. “Your Soul brought you to me for a reason and now you have experienced what your Soul wanted you to,” she said. “This is all part of my work here Leo, know what I mean?”
Whoaah, Leo thought, what’s with the cryptic messages? Estrellar sensed Leo’s confusion. “Look,” she said, reaching in the back pocket of her trousers. “Take my card and call me if you have anything else you need. And of course, you know where I am now so pop by again.”
“But before you go Leo,” Estrelar added. “I’ll get Lima to give you a tour of the shop.” Estrellar winked at Leo and then summoned Lima over. Marcos, who was leaning over the counter, looked miffed at his mum’s decision to get Lima to show Leo around. Leo was most pleased.
Lima walked over to Leo, nervously playing with her hair. “So you’ve seen the reading area and the gemstones,” she said. Then she pointed to the CDs, the Amethyst geodes and the Maz Brasil shoes. This time he stared pensively at Lima’s lips. The clear lip gloss she was wearing gave her lips a full appearance. Lip gloss was one of the few items of make-up Lima owned. Aside from being a bit of a Tomboy, she really didn’t like the feel of make-up on her baby soft skin. She had sensitive skin at the best of times and besides, she couldn’t be doing with waking up an extra 30-minutes earlier just to put some slap on. Her morning sleep was too precious to her. In fact a blow-out make-up night for Lima meant black mascara and liquid eye liner with cat flick, finished off with clear gloss on her lips. Sometimes, she’d even wear black kohl or midnight blue eyeliner. Lima loved the look of the Egyptian Goddesses. She was fascinated by the Eye of Horus, and found the make-up of that time futuristic and inspiring.
“Hey, can I take a look at the CDs,” Leo said. “Of course,” Lima said. Looking at the collection, Leo went through Azymuth, Gilles Peterson’s Sonzeira, Far Out Drum & Bass, Marcos Valle, Criolo, Seu Jorge, Marcelo D2, DJ Marky, A Filial, Drumagick, DJ Patife, Mitoka Samba, and even some Baile Funke compilations. “Ahhh, I love this stuff,” Leo said. He reached his hand to take out the Sambaloco Brazilian Drum’n’Bass Classics. “This compilation has one of my all-time favorite tunes on it,” Leo said. “Is it Drumagick’s ‘Easy Boom’ by any chance?” Lima said. “Hell yes,” Leo said. “It’s like someone broke into my bedroom and stole my record collection,” he laughed.
“Actually it was me,” Lima said. “What you mean you broke into my bedroom and robbed my music collection?,” he laughed again.
“Err no,” she said, staring at Leo’s Neymar style haircut. “These are all albums that I own too. I advised Estrellar on what to stock here. This is the kind of stuff I play out,” Lima added.
“You play out?” Leo asked. “Do you DJ?”
“Yes,” Lima said.
“Where do you play out?” Leo quizzed.
“Oslo in Hackney and Barrio North in Islington sometimes,” she said.
Leo thought it was really cool that Lima DJ’d and sensed that she was really creative. But he wasn’t sure how he felt about her playing out in bars and clubs. Not because he was a male chauvinist. Nothing of the sort. He just didn’t like the idea of men chatting her up while she was behind the decks and all that. Suddenly Leo felt inanely protective over Lima. The thought of her playing out to a crowd including drunk men in bars was starting to grate on him.
He decided to change the subject before his edginess started to show. He didn’t want Lima to sense his discomfort. “Are you Brazilian?” Leo asked.
Lima was starting to feel a sense of tetchiness come over her, for no particular reason. She tried to transform the feeling by focusing on Leo’s Mohican instead. She thought it made him look hot. “No,” Lima replied. “By the way, I like your Neymar haircut. It suits you.”
Leo’s mood changed instantly as he perked up on Lima’s compliment. “I just grew up with a lot of Brazilian influence in my family,” Lima continued. “Through music, football and family friends.”
“What about the fashion?” Leo cheekily added. He was starting to cultivate visions of Lima squeezing her assets into a string-like bikini adorned on the beaches in Brazil. “You not inspired by the itsy bitsy bikinis then?”
Leo was being bold now. The nerves were giving way to his normal Italian charm. He’s a cheeky chappy, thought Lima. Lima suddenly saw an image of her squeezed into some ill-fitting bikini. She may as well have been naked, she thought.
I’ll have me some of that, Leo thought. Leo was starting to enjoy “visions” now –
at least these were his own visions though. But were they? Was he really the only one party to his visions? In fact they were firmly planted in Lima’s head, just as all her visions were firmly planted in Leo’s head.
“Lima. Lima. We need a hand thanks,” Estrellar was calling out to Lima to come over to the cashier desk. Leo was gutted. He didn’t want to say bye to Lima – not now and not ever, he thought. Leo was left standing on his own by the CDs. The shop was filling up now. Maybe it was his cue to leave. He picked his bag up from under the table and went to fetch his jacket from Estrellar.
Estrellar brought Leo’s jacket over to him. “Keep in touch,” she said. “You know where I am.” She kissed him on both cheeks and went back to the counter.
Leo was hoping to speak with Lima before he left but she was too busy at the till. It looked like Marcos was on a break and now Estrellar and Lima were left to deal with the after-work crowds that had descended upon the shop. All Lima could manage was a quick wave at Leo. Leo didn’t want to leave. He wanted to offer to take Lima home. He wanted to take her for dinner. He wanted to take her to a gig. There were many things Leo wanted to do with Lima, censored and uncensored. Making love, making sweet, sweet music together, marriage, babies, saving the world…Leo wanted the full works with Lima. She was the real deal, the deal real for Leo, he believed.
He walked out of the store and headed for Old Street station. On the way, he kept hearing thoughts. “I didn’t get his number,” was one. “Will I see him again?” was another. “I love him. But hang on a minute I’ve only known him, what 40 minutes, or have I?” was one of the grand finale. “He seemed really familiar. Where do I know him from?” was the closing shot, for the time being at least.
“Frig,” Leo mumbled to himself. “Am I hearing Lima’s thoughts still? But I’m not even near her? So how can I still hear her thoughts?”
As Leo started to try to comprehend what was going on, an older man dressed in a khaki trench coat and black trousers walked right into Leo. “Sorry,” Leo and the man said at the same time. “I wasn’t looking where I was going,” Leo said. “It’s fine,” said the older man. “Actually do you happen to know where Leonard Street is?”
“Yep,” Leo said. “It’s the first on the left in the direction you are headed.”
“Thanks,” the older man replied. That’s interesting, Leo thought, that that man was headed in the direction Leo had just come from. Hang on a minute, thought Leo. “Did I hear earlier that Lima loves me? She was talking about me, right?”, Leo asked himself.
Something stirred in Leo’s gut. Like an inner knowing that signalled a “yes”. But suddenly he felt something at an even deeper level. An inner knowing that he too loved Lima and had loved her for years – many, many years in fact.
Twins At Work are a writing duo. ‘Tarot Tales: The Mirror’, their latest book, is inspired by the world around them, its inhabitants and life lessons. See how ‘Tarot Tales’ unfolds here at Ravenhawks Magazine.