Sandra Manther: Selfies

“Wallflowers don’t fit in with our image here on campus. That’s why you’re going to take a walk around the Outer Alster today. That’s almost eight kilometers, so you’ll be on the road for a while. Your task is to approach three young men and ask them to take a selfie with you. You’ll be laughing in the three photos, as if you’re having a lot of fun being photographed with these guys. Photos where I can’t see your teeth don’t count.”
You’ll be wearing our signature look: jeans and bodysuit. And you’ll be barefoot.
We’ve been thinking about how we can overcome your shyness. That’s why we decided that you will ask the three men to put their arm around you and stroke your chest during the photo shoot.”

After a long break, the new volume of our Sorority series about the Hamburg sorority Gamma Xi Delta is now available. At 77 standard pages, the length is somewhere between a short story and a short novel. Once again, the story works as a standalone, so it’s a good read even if you don’t know the series’ first three volumes.

This is what it’s about:
Selma is new to the Hamburg sorority Gamma Xi Delta and hopes to finally make friends and shed her shy ways. But her sisters have a special challenge for her: to overcome her fear of strangers (and of sexuality), she has to walk barefoot and scantily clad around the Outer Alster Lake and ask three young men to take a selfie with her. She is also told to let them hug her and ask them to stroke her breasts. Selma is horrified and unsure whether she dares to accept the task. But if she refuses, she will lose her place in the sorority and have to give up all her hopes. Will Selma find the courage to face her fear and push her boundaries?

I wouldn’t have written this story if it didn’t also deal with topics such as empowerment, body conscience, self-acceptance and overcoming shyness. And the fact that Selma grew up in a small evangelical free church plays no small role in this story either.

Here is a little sample:

I jerk up from my sleep, my heart racing without me knowing why. The room is dark, with only the faint light of the streetlamp filtering through the curtains. Jasmine and Vanessa are fast asleep in their beds, their breathing even. Then I see them: Alina, our sorority president’s right-hand woman, standing in the doorway, staring at me. A cold shiver runs down my spine. I don’t suspect anything good.

My roommates and I are potential new members of Gamma Xi Delta, and we still have to prove ourselves to become part of the sorority. So when Alina turns up in our room in the middle of the night, it’s certainly not a good sign. I wipe the sleep from my eyes and sit up.

“Selma,” Alina whispers in a low, urgent voice. “Danny wants to talk to you. She’s waiting in her room.”

I frown at her. Alina’s expression is serious and that makes me nervous. I nod slowly and try to sort out my thoughts before I answer.

“I’ll be right there,” I say in a hesitant voice. And add, to buy myself a little time: “Just let me have a quick shower and get dressed.”

Alina shakes her head impatiently. “No, Selma. Danny wants to see you now,” she insists, and it’s clear that there’s no negotiating.

I can feel the tension growing inside me and I sigh. Then I pull myself together and throw back the comforter. The cold of the room creeps up my bare legs. I would have loved to pull the covers over my head and curl up. But when Danny calls, there’s no escape.

I’m only wearing a simple nightgown, far too see-through to walk around the house like this. It’s one of those annoying dress codes we Pledges are bullied with. But I don’t have time to get dressed. Alina has made it clear that delays are not an option. So I follow her out of the room in just my nightgown. My bare feet splash quietly on the floor.

As we walk down the corridor, my perception sharpens. The smell of freshly brewed coffee hits my nose. It must be later than I thought if our matron is already preparing coffee for breakfast in the kitchen. The soft creaking of the floorboards under our feet reminds me of the feeling this fraternity house gave me on my first visit. I felt at home in these old walls from the very first moment. That is certainly one of the reasons why I wanted to become a member of Gamma Xi Delta. But I’m afraid of what lies ahead of me now. I encourage myself: “God is with you when you feel as if you have no more ground under your feet and waves, wind, water and uncertainty are raging around you,” says the prophet Isaiah.

When we stop in front of Danielle’s door, Alina turns to me and looks at me with an expression I can’t interpret. I sense that she wants to tell me something, but for some reason she doesn’t. My heart is pounding in my chest and I am curious, but at the same time unsure. Alina’s gaze is gentle and understanding, and she nods once before saying goodbye to me without a word. I stand alone in front of Danielle’s door and take a deep breath.

The moment of truth has arrived. I take a deep breath, raise my hand and knock softly on Danielle’s door. She opens and stands in front of me. She exudes a calm confidence that intimidates and attracts me at the same time. Her eyes are dark and deep, and when they look at me, I feel as if she can read my innermost thoughts. Her smile is subtle, but it changes her entire face and makes her appear even more beautiful. She’s wearing a papaya-colored bodysuit and a shell-colored jacket over it. Her hair falls in loose waves over her shoulders and she wears minimal make-up. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, she radiates a natural beauty and elegance that fascinates me. I can’t take my eyes off her and I can feel my heart beating faster.

“Selma,” Danny greets me. Her voice has an almost soldierly mix of confidence and authority. “There you are at last. It’ll have to be quicker next time.”

She takes a step to the side so that I can come in. I enter the room, flooded with soft morning light, and I take a quick glance at the elegant furnishings and subtle hints of Danny’s personality scattered throughout. I immediately notice the large poster of Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” that adorns the wall behind her bed. On her bedside table is a photo of her and a young man of the same age smiling lovingly at her. And a riding crop hangs on the wall next to her desk. I didn’t know she rode a horse. I turn my attention back to her, the woman who can influence my time within the sisterhood like no other.

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