The perpetual sense of angst and worry that usually makes itself at home in the pit of my stomach, has upped camp and moved to my back. After a lifetime of heaving heavy bags filled with cosmetics, scrunchies, books I never seem to have time to read and inexplicable amounts of cotton wool, my back has had enough. I’m tense. I need a massage.
I scour the internet for nigh on three weeks only to come the conclusion that it is impossible to get an hour long full body massage for under 60 pounds. (Unless I’m willing to buy a voucher from Groupon, but really, the bother involved in printing off a voucher then trawling the streets of London trying to locate some obscure salon doesn’t bear thinking about, after all I’m trying to de-stress remember?)
I become resigned to the constant dull ache in my back and strange “criccck” noise my neck makes whenever I should happen to tilt my head in pretty much any direction, when I notice a salon – not a minutes walk from my flat – advertising 60 minute full body massages for £45. I walk inside. A fresh faced Asian lady greets me with a wan smile. Her disposition screams boredom but her voice is comforting.
“I’d like to book a full body massage please.”
“Yes and for how long?”
“That’s fine. £15 deposit please”
“I’d like to book it for today, if that’s not too late notice?”
That this exchange does not set off any alarm bells is my first mistake. Accommodating such a request from a customer isn’t so much a sign of gracious malleability as it is a sign that business isn’t exactly booming. I assume that my masseuse will be female. I envisage a lovely lithe Asian lady padding out in a white trouser suit and calmly beckoning me to a well-lit and clean side room. I imagine soft but deft fingers smoothly working out the kinks and tensions in my back whilst ethereal elevator music plays. I do not imagine an overweight and surly middle aged man wearing a t-shirt several sizes too small to thud out into the reception area and order me to follow him “downstairs” in a gruff Eastern European accent. However, this is what greets me. I take a moment to absorb what I see before me. I note that the several inches of the man’s significant stomach that are not covered by his too small t – shirt are drowning in thick dark hair. The word “massage” which is printed on his t -shirt in bold red lettering, almost seems to be a threat, and I can’t help but notice he has made little to no eye contact with me.
I go into autopilot, following the man down several flights of stairs, despite the internal panic I am experiencing. I walk into a small room with a pair of dirty trainers flung into the far corner, a massage table, and an ipad playing soft music. The man instructs me to remove my clothes and lie underneath the towel with my head facing the wall. Eternally English and therefore afraid to say anything that may cause offence, I comply. What follows is probably one of the most confusing and uncomfortable single hours of my short life. I experience several conflicting emotions. Vulnerability: my naked body is completely on show. Surprise: I can engage in an argument for several hours debating the merits of James Cameron’s “Avatar,”as a viable cultural phenomenon, but lack the wherewithal to reject a situation that makes me feel so uncomfortable. Genuine terror: I suddenly realize that I am effectively trapped in a basement with a foreign man and there is no one who knows of my whereabouts. My muscles freeze up and my body remains rigid throughout the entire process. As the man firmly kneads my legs, back and shoulders, I become numb. My heart pounds inside my chest, so loud I am sure he can hear it. My concept of time becomes non existent, my discomfort remains constant. I become convinced that the man is enjoying being able to touch me in such an intimate manner. I cattily wonder if I ought to charge him. I begin to hate him for engendering such feelings of fear and worry in me. I think of myself as a strong woman. This experience is showing me that I am anything but.
“That’s one hour. You may get dressed.”
I get dressed quickly, avoiding looking at myself in the mirror and bound upstairs, hoping to forget this whole business. I’m about to walk out of the door when the man stops me. I turn around.
“Are you ok? I hope the massage didn’t hurt?”
The man favors me with a warm and gentle smile, and I take a moment to truly look at him. Yes, he is of a size and my physical superior, but he is not threatening. If anything, the careful way he clasps his hands together and shifts from foot to foot seems to indicate that he is shy. His smile is hesitant and unsure but genuine. In this instant I add another emotion to the roster. Shame. I was unable to separate my hasty appraisal of the man’s appearance from his ability to perform his job well. He didn’t smell. He wasn’t rude. He gave me the service I requested and because it wasn’t packaged in the form I had imagined, I allowed it to taint what should have been a pleasant experience. I try to return the smile with the same warmth, assure him that I enjoyed the massage and quickly leave. For the rest of the day I am uneasy. This experience has revealed an aspect of my character I was not aware of. A kind of vain snobbery that would seem more at home on an entitled Paris Hilton type character. I feel I have let myself down and when I go to bed later that night, it is with a troubled spirit. The day’s events tumble through my thoughts. At the root of my worries, the same question repeatedly poses itself in my mind : “Does this make me a bad person?” I eventually drift off with the question unanswered.
Two Weeks Later
The stress caused through continuously self- assessing my character appears to have merged with the aforementioned angst, and has lodged itself in my back. I feel tense. I need a massage…..