Reading progress update: I've read 113 out of 252 pages.

The Emperor's Babe: A Novel - Bernardine Evaristo

The point where the Emperor Septimius Severus, on a visit to "Londinium", first spots our heroine, Zuleika, among the crowd at the theatre.

 

The emperor was in town
and some politicos were staging a show

 

to suck up to him. Valeria and Aemilia

adorned me beautifully and I wore

 

my favourite wig, which I'd bought

off an Arabian girl who was waiting tables

 

at a take-away caff in Bond Court.

It ran black and thick to her buttocks.

 

Aemilia cut it off there and then

and took it straight to my wig-maker

 

in Threadneedle Street. Now it's piled up

in intricate plaits and twists

 

with ivory combs and jangling hairpins

guaranteed to make ears prick up

 

upon my arrival anywhere. Felix left

three weeks ago. Dad sent me a theatre ticket -

 

[...]

 

I wasn't in the mood, my mind wandered

inside itself where it was happiest.

 

Was this the highlight of my day?

My week? My month? Was this my life?

 

Then strangely I felt heat on my right cheek,

as if a flaming torch were being held too close.

 

The emperor was seated on a throne

some distance to my right, surrounded

 

by the excited hullaballoo of the male hoi poloi,

and I knew without looking

 

that his desert eyes were roaming over

my voluptuous corpus, my breasts

 

had become a sensitive second pair of eyes.

I glanced slyly over. I was right.