I went to find the masseuse that Mee, my guesthouse manager, had recommended. “Her name is Da Da,” said Mee, writing it down like someone used to catering to tourist infants. Well, it was certainly the most surreal massage I’ve ever had in my life.
I ordered a Thai traditional massage and foot massage from the yummy massage menu. My mum had been a reflexologist and I used to love the way she would always ‘do’ my feet whenever I visited and we’d chat away about this and that; and I’d grown tired of Indian massages that are generally rather feeble, smother you in oil and leave you all slippery like a cod at a Saturday night fish fry.
Da Da was short and burly with a broad smile and formidable thumbs. This is more like it, I thought. The massage parlour was also her home. The place was decorated in what I was coming to understand is typical Thai female taste, in the style of a very tidy crèche. There were violet and pink sponge daisies stuck to the walls, a herd of glittery purple elephant stickers, and a Winnie the Pooh door hanging. The bathroom smelled like babies.
It started innocently enough with a firm rubbing of the soles of my feet followed by some gentle pummeling of my calves. But then it began to get a bit wild. Soon she was sitting on top of me pushing my legs back towards my ears then pulling them over her shoulder. When my leg refused to go any further, she gave it a firm tug. “No go,” I explained as politely as I could while trying to be clear that I did not have the hips of a Chinese gymnast. “No go?” she tugged it again. “No. No go,” I repeated, to which she laughed in such a impish way that I couldn’t stop myself from joining in.
At times the pain was excruciating. Just when I was about to insist that she stop, she would move on to some other unsuspecting body part. Then there might be 5 or 10 seconds of an almost pleasant sensation as she rubbed something or other, but she was only working her way up to one of her massage crescendos where she would use all her strength (and it was plentiful) to dig either her elbows or knees into various muscles of my body. If you’re the kind who thinks of a massage as something that makes you feel floaty and relaxed, Da Da isn’t for you. If you don’t actually want every bone in your body realigned, then Da Da isn’t for you either. There is nothing relaxing about Da Da’s massage. It’s like being grappled by an overly affectionate gorilla.
“You ok?” she said on hearing my subdued grunts. “Um. Bit painful.” More chuckles of delight. Pooh grinned at me from the doorway, a little sadistically. At one point, when she was actually kneeing me in the groin and I wasn’t in a Bradford pub fight, I tried to distract myself. I began thinking about what I was going to have for lunch back at Bailan Bay Resort. I visualized the menu. Red curry soup; green curry soup; orang soup. I’ve had the green curry, maybe I should try the Ouch! orang. Or perhaps the red curry. I wonder what the difference is between the Ow! red curry and the orang curry? I could just have the Jesus! spicy papaya salad again but this time with less chilli. Holy Moly! What is she doing?
I was in an actual Half Nelson. “If this massage thing doesn’t work out,” I managed to splutter through a half-crushed larynx, “you could have a great career in Pro Wrestling.” More squeals of laughter.
I tried to work out how much longer it was going to go on for, and figured I had to endure at least another forty minutes. It never crossed my mind to call things to a halt. I sort of imagined that if I tried she would just laugh again and carry on, regardless. “No stop. No stop,” she would chuckle. Things calmed down a bit when it came to my neck and shoulders, a particularly tight area that even she was hard-pressed to tenderize. And then she moved on to my face, gently rubbing either side of my nose. I tried to relax for like the forty-eighth time, and was just thinking this is actually nice when my cheeks were grabbed with the force of a visiting Italian aunt and twirled furiously like little pizza doughs.
She then told me to sit up and nestled in behind me, arms firmly around my waist, grinding her knees into every space between my vertebrae. This was way more painful than anything else so far, but somewhere between my coccyx and thoracic curve, I simply surrendered. The chuckling gorilla could have its way with me and take me for its bride. I will decorate our lair with glitter and sponge daisies. We would surprise the world with our happiness and the handsomeness of our children. My reverie was broken when, without any warning, she tossed me up in the air, rammed her knees into my middle back and stretched my arms up over my head. Unsure of exactly what had happened, I was more than a bit startled to feel her Adam’s Apple pulsating against the top of my forehead. As my spine arched triumphal, her knees bore into my sternum like a jackhammer. I let out a shriek of surprise mixed with mild panic. Her laughter rumbled through my spinal cord.
On a calm day, when the wind blows softly from the south, I think I can still hear it….