Today my newest pal Mimi, a local lady of leisure, invited me to come to the salon with her for a head massage. Somehow forgetting that I dislike being touched by people I don’t know – and tend to feel embarrassed when I pay people to pamper me – I accepted her invitation because she is lovely and fun, and when in Mumbai.
We arrived and walked into a brightly lit space, which in all honestly looked like a hairdressers more than any sort of spa or massage parlour. And I guess that’s because it was a hairdressers. Mimi told them I wanted a head massage and I was escorted over to a chair in front of a mirror so I could watch myself receive the service the way you do when you get your hair cut.
After covering the important things like coconut or lavender oil, at a hot or normal temperature, my love/hate relationship with the head massage commenced.
I didn’t want to keep my eyes open and watch because I worried the poor guy might feel under pressure, but I also didn’t want to sit there in a busy salon with shut eyes and pleasure face.
He spent about five minutes rubbing the oil into my cranium with a nail-less scratching motion. By the end of that my hair looked ridiculous and my reflection looked back at me with a questioning face asking what the hell I was doing.
Then came the actual massage with slower, more thoughtful strokes, pressure on my temples and the fingering of my eye sockets. I thought the skin on my forehead was going to get stretch marks.
As all this was going on I realised just how intimate receiving a head massage is. (Sure you already knew, I’d never thought about it.) A total stranger’s hands just intimately explore the area where the windows to your soul are located. With your eyes and brain on your head, you’re really present during a head massage. You know, as a opposed to a foot massage or maybe something with a happier ending.
Once he’d completed all the bareback squeezing, poking and rubbing I guess he thought he’d spice things up a bit and strapped one hand into this bizarre vibrating device. This thing not only drew everyone’s attention to me with its sound, but it made my body shake so much that my bag fell onto the floor, scattering its contents. I don’t know what people thought of all the lollypops I carry around to give to street kids.
I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the head massage. In the moments where I would close my eyes and temporarily forget I was sitting in a fluorescently lit hair salon with a stranger all around my head, it felt nice and tickled. But the entire time I was wondering how I was going to look him in the eyes and thank him for it; like some sort of awkward one-night stand where the person leaves in the morning and you shake hands and don’t exchange numbers.
He ended up washing the oil out of my hair and blow-drying it, which was good because it ended feeling like more of a hairdresser-client relationship. But I still walked out feeling a bit like I’d just paid for a sensual service in a brothel.