August 3rd, 2002 § 0

The hot afternoon leaves me dry.  The streets are empty, quiet.  Through a shadowless maze, we follow a dark burqua.  I glimpse shiny golden slingbacks as she steps into a small doorway.  Inside a high cool space where loungers laze and chat, a faint light from above spills on hair being combed.

Now naked, we move into the washing room.  There are no lights, no mirrors, only faucets.  From the corner of my eye I watch how the other women wash. They watch us too.  Steam catches light and teases it into silky strands.  The room reverberates with voices, the laughter and chatter of women.  It rushes into my heart: I had been living in a country of men’s sounds, from the morning muezzin’s call, to the café gossip and the evening market calls.  Women’s voices in the city come only from crackling taxi radios.  Their tones climb and descend spiral staircases, lilting sweetness edged in hard gutterals.  In the baths, they spill like free-flowing fountains.

I enter a smaller room which is quiet.  A large woman in a slip motions to lie on the bench.  She pours buckets of hot water over me, then starts the massage.  Her movements are slow and low to the ground.  Back and forth along limbs, measuring accurately.  The pressure from her muscle and weight imprints a grid of grout on my chest and belly as she removes the old me.  Rinse.  And back again. Under the rhythm of her hands, my skins slip off.  I hover somewhere between scratchy woolen mitt and bench.  She peels and flips me, my new tattoo exposed.  I struggle to keep my eyes open and see her face, too keep my remaining form intact, but give up.  Rinse and rinse until I, too, slip down the drain.  She pulls me out gently.

Outside, the sun is starting to set.  The air feels cool as we slowly walk home.

Where am I?

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