Everyone was very official and efficient looking in their white uniforms and matching smiles. People were blissed out at the reflexology chairs, offering a fabulous advertisement for the services rendered. I figured I could get a half-decent massage for a reasonable price. I said, "I'd like an hour massage on my back, neck and shoulders please."
An ancient lady dressed entirely in black stepped up to the counter beside me. She came up to my waist. I could have rested my drink on her toothless head. She stared up at me with the sort of contempt usually reserved for murderers.
"I do her," she said.
"Oh... really?" Ignoring the old witch and talking directly to the official and efficient looking woman behind the counter. "I really need someone, you know, strong. And tall. I'm tall... I..."
"She'll do you," came the firm reply.
I followed as the old lady shuffled out the through the main room, past the staff kitchen and through a door at the very back of the shop. The room was dim and crammed full of paperwork and potions and fungi. An entire cabinet was devoted to acupuncture needles. The shopping centre seemed very, very far away.
"On table," the ancient lady barked, pointing a gnarled finger at the sturdy massage table. "I come back, you have no bra on, you got it? Lie face down."
"Oh, okay, yes!" I yelped.
Climbing up onto the huge table I wondered how that tiny old thing was even going to reach my back let alone give me a satisfactory pummeling. "Fifty bucks," I groaned.
She shuffled back in and barked, "You want melt stuff? I got melt stuff."
"Yeah, okay, whatever," I sighed, willing the whole thing to be over.
She poured something onto my back that felt hot and cold at the same time. Fumes of menthol and wintergreen and something pungent but unidentifiable (probably eye of newt) made my eyes water. The smell went straight to my brain and made my ears rush and my head spin. Disorientated, I barely noticed that she had climbed onto the massage table with me until suddenly I was aware that a toe was holding my neck flat to the table. Dear god, what is she doing? She held onto ropes suspended from the ceiling and she just ground her feet and toes into my back like she was putting out hot coals. She elbowed me, she kneed me, she punched me, she slapped me.
"For the love of god," I squealed.
"You, quiet!" She ordered. "You too impatient. And you got big bottom."
She slipped and slid through all the melt stuff and insulted me left, right and centre. "You too fat." Elbow, elbow. "You don't relax enough." Hit, shove. "You carry child on both hip, not one, you got it?" Punch, punch. "Stand on both feet, not one, you got it?" Shove, knee, push.
Oh my god, I thought, she's a maniac! It felt like she had put me in the washing machine and pressed 'Heavy Duty'.
"You drink that diet coke stuff. No good, you got it? You stop!" Slap, slap, punch.
"Yes, yes I'll stop, I'll stop!" Thinking, oh my god, how does she know that? She's a psychic freak* who's been sent to kill me.
"How long you book for?" she shouted.
"An hour," I heaved. "One hour!"
"I do 45 minute. You can't handle whole hour."
"I. think. you're. right." I gasped.
Next thing you know she's whisper-soft, delicately massaging the knots in my neck. "Ah, see," she crooned. "You like that, lady? Nice, eh?"
I melted along with the melt stuff, mewing like a tiny kitten. "Ah, that's lovely," I purred.
But POW the witch was not dead. She smacked me a mighty blow to the left shoulder. "This better," she barked.
Forty-five minutes later it was over. I rolled off the bench and hunched into my clothes, whimpering softly. I stood up to walk out and every single bone in my back cracked and popped like a percussion set. My foot felt weak on the floor. God, what if she's paralysed me?
But miraculously my legs moved and walking to the front counter, I found myself unfolding like an accordian. I realised that I hadn't felt this good in... years. I felt... straight. I felt... vital. I beamed from ear to ear. The old lady stood humped beside the counter, barely visible over the rim.
"You come back," the old lady said, a statement, not a question.
"Yes," I said. "I come back."
"I do needles next time."
Do you 'treat' yourself to a massage or other therapy from time to time?
What's your indulgence of choice?
* Only later did I realise that I'd left a bottle of diet coke in the tray under the massage table.
[Image from the movie Marie Antoinette (Sony Pictures)]