Spa sparkles

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 15, 2018 Published on March 17, 2017

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"Where are you going?" Bins wants to know. "That's my business," I say. "Of course, of course, but tell me anyway," he says. So I tell him: "Muriel's treating me to a nail-spa." Bins looks blank. "NAIL! SPA!" I say, using full caps to enhance comprehension and wave my hands in front of his face for added effect. In response, he backs away slowly, while tapping the side of his forehead. "Shall I call the asylum now," he asks, "or will you go later?"

To be fair, I sympathize with him. Even five years ago, if someone had said the words "Nail Spa" to me, I too would have wondered if they were talking gibberish. The words don't seem to go together. But enlightenment has dawned in the intervening years and so have the number of spas. There are at least three just in downtown Elsewhere. Conveniently enough, Muriel's gift coupon is for the establishment across the street from where I live.

We enter a clean, cheery space with a row of tall brown easy chairs along the left. Each has its own basin at the foot of it. "Must be the massage-chairs!" whispers Muriel in my ear. "But only for pedicure!" says the smiling, welcoming lady who greets us. She is Korean or Japanese, speaking with almost no accent. Muriel and I are the only clients present so we get her full attention alongside the two other women there. Both are also East Asian but younger. All three are wearing neat white-and-pink uniforms, managing to convey the squeaky-clean aura of nurses in an expensive private clinic.

"You are here for manicure only, yes?" asks the older woman. We nod, feeling like tourists in an unknown land. Muriel confesses, "We've never been to a nail spa before! We have no idea what to expect!" But the ladies dispel our uncertainties with easy confidence. We sit down side by side, each at our own small table, wrists supported on a soft pad. We make our choices: Muriel goes for a standard manicure with clear nail polish, I go for the same, but with gel. No idea what the difference is but I choose bright silver sparkles on a colourless base.

The girls giggle and blush: they're used to customers who know exactly what they want and how to ask for it. We, by contrast, behave like two matronly dinosaurs fearful of every unfamiliar modern term. "Paraffin treatment" for instance sounds like some unspeakable torture but is just a dipping of paws in a warm, waxy bath. Once my girl begins painting my nails, I am reminded of boarding school sessions, except that here I have a tiny drying oven in which to place my hands.

My girl's name is Anna. She's quiet but smiles faintly as she goes about her task: five coats of gel, followed by a light shoulder massage. At the end of the encounter, Muriel and I emerge feeling like queens, waving our hands about in the mild afternoon sunshine. "That was fun, huh!" exclaims Muriel. "Yup," I agree, "but surely we need some ice cream to recover from the stress?" I get home eventually, grinning from ear to ear. "How was the asylum?" Bins wants to know. "The best," I say, admiring my twinkling finger tips.

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on March 17, 2017
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