I treated myself to a foot massage while in Thailand over the past few days. I chose a foot massage as it didn’t involve a locked back room, stripping all my clothes off and lying face down with my eyes, nose, mouth and cheeks squished into an oval while mainlining patchouli oil.
Not that there’s anything wrong with all that – I just didn’t feel like getting naked.
I’d hurried out of the glorious monsoon rain and was standing in the porch area reading the menu of treatments as a small group of sweet Thai ladies giggled and beckoned for me to come in, out of the wet. I could see the comfy lounge chairs on which the foot massages were carried out. The huge, cushioned foot rests seemed to stretch across at least an acre of floor, and – the deciding factor – all the other clients were fully dressed. They were blindfolded (this, I realised later, was the clue), but seemed happy enough.
I was also confident that my feet weren’t in an embarrassing state anymore. I’d visited the evening before for a foot scrub, during which one of the sweet, smiley Thai ladies had attacked the soles of my feet with a scalpel and hacked away all traces of hard skin to within an inch of my life (actually the glint of the sharp knife in the soft lighting was, in hindsight, perhaps clue one).
I sit down and am greeted by the same lady from the previous night. She’s still smiling. Heartened that my dreadful feet hadn’t scared her off (I tipped her well), I smile and relax as she removes my flip flops, washes my feet, and passes me a small rectangular towel to place over my eyes.
“Lie back,” she instructs, and I recline into a chair that could well have been made from the downy feathers of baby birds.
There’s a short wait, and I close my eyes behind the blindfold, anticipating the foot massage to follow. How blissful is this? All I can see is the dark orangey/red of my eyelids.
Well, let’s just say, I got far more than I bargained for.
A pair of firm hands grab a shin and yank my leg upwards, almost ninety degrees. It’s somewhat surprising, but I realise she needs to rub oil in. Those hands, which I still think somehow belong to the sweet, smiley lady, then begin to iron my shinbone. They press and clutch and prod my leg, and I consider how incredibly strong she is. She was a tiny, waif-like thing –who knew those dainty hands could be so powerful? She’ll surely start on my feet soon so the pain will be shortlived. Right?
“You okay?” I hear. But I’m confused. Her voice is much deeper, gruffer, than I remembered. While processing the thought that she sounds more like a man, I reply, “Yes, thanks. That’s lovely …” S/he is at that moment crushing my feet, grinding the life out of them. I feel my breath leaving me.
Inside my head, I hear another voice, “You idiot – that was your chance to tell him/her to please be gentle. WHY DIDN’T YOU SAY SOMETHING! THERE’S AN HOUR OF THIS TO GO!!”
I inhale deeply. I’m not a wimp (well, actually I am). I can take 60 minutes of this. The sound of rain and music – ambient, chime-like – fills my ears and I concentrate on trying to enjoy the bits where she/he isn’t pummelling me too much.
A minute later, I take a peek. A quick wiggle of my eyebrows causes a small gap to open at the bottom of the face towel and I can just see out. Through the narrow slit, I see that she isn’t a he, but as I suspected it’s not the smiley lady. She’s been swapped for an equally tiny, silver-haired grannie. Let’s call her Nana Masseuse. Her slick, grey hair is swept back into a bun and perched on her nose are round spectacles.
I watch in horror as Nana Masseuse’s beady eyes survey my toes with laser focus. Her mouth twists into a tight, red knot and she pulls my toes one by one out of their sockets with a clicking noise. Then she flicks each toe with her fingers. At least they’re still attached.
From here on, it gets a lot better, or maybe I actually relax and stop resisting her moves, even the ones I don’t expect. I start to sort of enjoy it in a sadistic pleasure-mixed-with-pain way.
But I don’t really get why it’s called a foot massage. Nana Masseuse ‘massages’ nearly every part of my body – my upper legs, my arms. She almost sits on my hips. Then she clambers onto the chair with me, clasps my legs with a vice-like grip and presses down with her whole weight while practically doing a handstand. I imagine the whites of her knuckles showing.
At one point, Nana Masseuse’s fingers dig into a space between the small bones of my feet and rummage around – but it feels okay. Actually it feels really good. She rams my ankles into submission and goes clap-clap-clap up and down my legbone with her hands pressed together as though in prayer (I’m still peeping – well, wouldn’t you?).
After what must surely be an hour, I hear her say over the tinkly music, “Sit” and I comply at once, thinking she’s finished. I stand too fast and dizzily thank her.
“No, NO,” says Nana Masseuse, her face stricken. She pats the footrest hard. “Sit.”
We’re not done. I sit down and she starts pounding my shoulders, finding all the accumulated crevices of tension and popping them like bubbles. There’s another round of artillery fire as her hands smack-smack-smack my neck and shoulders. Then she lifts my arm, twisting it behind my back in a move I thought was impossible without breaking something. With my elbow pointing outwards behind me, Nana Masseuse applies pressure and does something amazing to my shoulder blade. Ahh, who knew that could feel so good? I actually look forward to the same contortion on the other side.
Finally, it really is over and while relieved to be done – to have survived intact – I feel like a million bucks. If ever you find yourself in Karon Beach, Phuket Island, I do recommend going to see Nana Masseuse for a ‘foot’ massage.