My new masseuse is a Muslim woman named Basil from Kerala, India. If she were wearing a colorful turban instead of a hijab; and if she traded in her Abaya for a colorful gown, I would be convinced she was a gypsy fortune teller. Her voice is deep and her words roll out into the space like a slow, hot orgasm.
She had explained to me on the phone that she was located in “a new building” just off the round-about from the Beach Hotel. “My darling, I’m above a pharmacy,” she said, as if to clarify. Somehow my driver understood and took me there directly.
The pharmacist told me to go around to the entrance at the back of the building. The gatekeeper at the back told me there was a massage place, but “only for men,” he said, eyeing me suspiciously. I insisted it wasn’t only for men, and so he finally shrugged his shoulders and told me to go up two floors, muttering something under his breath.
Upstairs was a narrow hallway with 4 closed doors. Nothing looked like a business. But one of the doors had a paper taped to the outside that stated “HOURS OF BUSINESS”, so I knocked.
“Yes, come in, darling.” I recognized the woman’s voice, so I pushed open the door.
Basil sat at a large executive’s desk in a small, dark reception area. The desk consumed the space, leaving only a few feet between it and the low love seat that sat like a punished child, back against the wall. Two tall Indian men wearing kakis and matching Wedgewood blue shirts stood in the doorway of a room off to the side, hands clasped behind their backs. They kind of greeted me, at least, I think they did. I think they nodded a welcome, but they didn’t speak, and I didn’t look directly at them. Basil gestured for me to sit on the midget seat in front of her.
I sat. I smiled nervously.
The dark-eyed woman folded her arms over the desk and leaned in toward me. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked.
“Uh, well. Uh, nothing really. No, that’s not right. I have pain. I’m here because I have body pain and I know I need a massage to loosen some muscles.”
“What’s your problem?”
“Right. My problem. Uh, well, it’s my sciatica. Yes, I’ve had problems…
“Dr. Joseph sent you here? Yes? Good man.”
I didn’t know who the hell Dr. Joseph was, but assuming he was the doctor I’d seen earlier and who recommended her to me, I agreed.
“And digestive problems. I’ve got digestive problems,” I continued.
She nodded, took some notes, and told me to come back at 4:30 because she had to “prepare the medicines.” Somehow I agreed to an 11 session package with the promise that I would feel good and she could “fix everything.” She’d said “I fix your body. All. Whole body. You become happy body.” That was an attractive promise, so I agreed.
When I went back at 4:30, the two Indian men greeted me. The room was still dark, but Basil’s absence was clear. The men gestured for me to go down the hall and stepped back so I could walk between them. I led the way as they followed, though I had no idea where I was going. The hallway was darker even than the reception area. There were 2 doors at the end of the hall; one was plain, the other had a bouquet of flowers taped to it.
“Yes, that one,” one of the men said from behind me when I looked at the dried flowers.
I pushed open the door and entered a plain, sterile space with a massage table in the center, a small working table in the corner with a hotplate on top, and 3 shelves with towels along the wall. I noticed the woman’s Abaya and hijab hanging on a hook behind the now closed door. This room was also dark.
“Take it off,” she said, stepping into view. “All of it. But not the panties.” She gestured across her own crotch to show me what to keep covered.
“Um, OK.” I hesitated because I expected her to leave. Not because I’m shy, but because I thought that was protocol for massage therapists. I expected that to be like an international code. No, she stood there and looked at me. Waiting for me to undress. I followed her instructions, but avoided eye contact.
“Get on the table,” she said when I was naked.
The hard, wooden table was covered only with a thin plastic sheet. Thin. plastic. Like a Walmart shopping bag. And the face hole at the far end made it look like an extra long cornhole game board.
Once on my stomach, nose and mouth all that could fit into the face hole, Basil began her work. First the oils. Then the hands. Basil dumped an entire bottle of warm ooze onto the back of my neck. All over the back of my head. Over my shoulders. Then I felt her hands. Swift kneading, rhythmic pulsations. She stroked the oils through my hair. Then pulled at large handfuls of my locks. She pounded at my scalp with powerful fingers. Another bottle of oil on my back. Then my arms. Then my legs. Blood pulsated through my veins. My muscles accepted her manipulations. My skin tingled from the heat generated by friction and blood moving rapidly under her pressure.
First there was interesting comfort. Curiosity. What’s she doing now? What is she using? What’s that smell? Oregano? Thyme? Mint? What’s coming next? Then there was some pain. Too fast. Too hard. Deep breath. Muscular release. Acceptance. Acquiescence. I felt heat rise through my pores, catching the oil as if to quench a desperate thirst.
Suddenly there was hard slapping. Herb-filled cloth packets dipped in oil so hot that I suspected it was from a potato fryer pounded me like an onslaught of fire coals. Slap, pack! Slap, pack! Slap, slap, slap, bang! When my arm fell off the table, she squealed. I explained to her that I’m a very trusting client. That for the hour and a half that she had me, my body was hers to punch and pull and push and manipulate any way she saw fit according to her training. She slapped harder. Faster. I became a drum; she, a frenzied performer in competition. Too fast. Too hard. Deep breath. Muscular release. Acceptance. Acquiescence.
There was no gentle music to lure and tease my mind. There was no chatting between client and masseuse. There was just the sound of trucks roaring past on the highway below and the crinkle, crackle, crumble and crunch of my body being rocked over the plastic sheet. When she worked more vigorously the plastic rattling was irritatingly loud. It sounded like someone fervently searching through their Walmart bag for their car keys or maybe a chocolate bar. Periodically I heard the squeaking of a door being opened or closed somewhere out in the dark hallway. Slap, pack! Slap, pack! Slap, slap, slap, bang!
Heat rose. Could I sweat through the oils?
Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!Ashhadu an la ilaha illallah!
Salat al maghrib (sunset prayers) rose from the bellies of Imams, falling out of minarets both humble and grand, and spilled over the neighborhood. I felt the layering calls to prayer from nearby mosques waft into the room and hoover, casting shadows over all other sounds, soothing me in a harmonic parallel to the strokes of Basil’s fingers concluding her work on the back of my body.
Basil turned on the air conditioner and told me to turn over. The cool air hit me like ice prickles on my scorched skin. I arched my back in a yoga cobra.
“Oh, the cloth is coming with you,” she reprimanded. As if it had never happened before. I’m sure I’m not the first to stick to her plastic cloth, I thought in defense.
Flat on my back, my middle-aged boobs slid into my armpits, but my nipples were hard as a horny virgin’s with the cold air now penetrating every cell in my body. The whole procedure was repeated. First my head, face, upper torso, arms, legs, and feet. From hot oil to burning herb packs, Basil danced and pounded and stroked me into deeper and deeper submission.
Then suddenly it was over. Bright lights came on and she dabbed at the oil puddles on my skin with a towel.
“Your clothes are old, right? They will get oily now. Keep the medicines on your skin for at least an hour. Then you can shower.”
Basil stood and waited as I pushed my legs into jeggings, pulled my t-shirt over my head and tugged it into position it over my sticky self. “You come back tomorrow,” she said in her bass jazz voice.
The Indian men smiled as I floated past them in the dark space and stumbled for the door.