The Spa on the Costa Pacifica was called The Samsara Spa and their “hook” was that they specialized in eastern treatments. I had been curious about their Ayurvedic rituals. Not because I thought that the east, especially India had a unique take on spirituality, but I have found over time that opening myself up to new experiences allowed me to understand myself before. Besides, I love the word ritual. It makes me think that there is something deeper to the experience than just a massage or a facial. And besides, I thought to myself aren’t birthday’s all about rituals.
I had chosen a ritual called “Shirodara” The pamphlet they had handed me at the front stated:
“Shiro means “head” and dhara means “pouring of oil.” The result is a purely enchanting experience. This treatment is guaranteed to relieve the stresses of daily life and reenergize your vital energies. A flow of warm oil is directed onto the third eye, to induce the Alpha state of deep relaxation, integrate brain function, and create brain wave coherence. This is followed by luxurious eastern massage techniques on the scalp, which focuses on the meridian lines and the crown chakra, bringing harmony and well-being to the body.”
I did not know about third eyes, Chakra and the like but I did know that it was going to be a new experience and that, to me, is what birthdays are all about.
When I had arrived at the spa I was escorted to a small room by my “therapist.” She was petite, and Philippiana, and had her hair in a bun tied tightly to her head as if she were a school marm in the old west. The room was dimly lit and smelled faintly of aromatic spices and oil. In the middle of the room was a massage table covered in a crisp white sheet and behind it a tri-pod made of dark wood that supported a brass vase several feet above the table. Tina, my therapist, told me that I was to undress down to my underwear and lie face up on the table with the sheet covering the lower half of my body.
I did as instructed and after Tina made a few adjustments to the table including better support for my neck, she placed a warm wrap around my eyes. She explained that it would help me relax and release any “toxins” I should have in my sinuses. She told me that in a few minutes that she would begin to slowly drip oil onto my forehead right in front of my third eye and that would resonate with my “nervous system” aligning my chakras and produce a deep relaxation. And, that while the oil dripped, she would massage my body producing further relaxation and chakra alignment. I thought of all the B movies I had seen where the Chinese water torture drove men to insanity and hoped that was not going to happen now. Too late now to change treatments I relaxed into the new experience.
Massages almost always produce deep relaxation for me. As my muscles are kneaded, tensions slips away and I often find myself asleep or in that in that state between consciousness and sleep where you mind drifts from one thought to another like a river flowing. As the oil, which was warm, viscous, and fragrant dripped onto the middle of my forehead and my shoulders and neck rubbed with skilled strong fingers my mind wandered.
I thought of the day I had just had with Elaine. We had never stopped talking and she so kind. I wondered what it be like kissing her.
The oil dripped on slowly like a metronome against my forehead but softly as if I were being stroked.
My thoughts turned to my parents. I worried about how my mother was handling the stress of caring for Pops alone, but I let it go as there was nothing I could do. I felt concern for my father. He has been so sick and pondered how long he would allow the dialysis to go on and when he would let himself go but let that go because I could do nothing to help him now and I was living an adventure he would surely love me savoring for him.
My mind drifted back to Elaine. I hoped she was having some of the same feelings I was having. I have never been good at picking up on those signals. The first woman to whom I had made love had said said to me as I was taking her pants off “It is about fucking time.”
The oil dripped on but I was less conscious of it now and it had become like mantra, a whisper in the background of my awareness.
I thought about my birthday. No one knew it was my birthday on board. The captain had sent me a card but I think it was really a computer. Did I want to make a big deal of it? Did I want to mention it or make a big deal of it. The decision like all good decisions came to me easily. I would not make a big deal of it, but I would not ignore it either. I would order a bottle of champagne and ask them to toast to my birthday but make it like it was just an excuse to have a little more fun.
Images of my past birthdays came into my mind. Chocolate cakes with Vanilla icing. Mom always cooking my favorite meal. Left over birthday cake for breakfast. Celebrating the night before…the jewish tradition of the day beginning the night before…thinking it was great way to begin “your day.”
The oil was dripping more slowly now a signal that the session was coming to a close. I took a deep breath and exhaled as if a sigh.
I thought of the evening before. The night I met Elaine. If I had been at home, we would have been celebrating my birthday then. I would be opening whatever gifts I had…Was Elaine my gift this birthday…She appeared on my birthday a wish as certain as I had blown out the candles….But were the stirrings that I felt, felt by her as well or is this some fantasy a lonely man on a long cruise makes up for himself….
My therapist said “Mr. Paul, did you enjoy your session.”
“Yes, very much. It was….enlightening.”
I arrived at dinner as early as I had the night before. Sitting at the bar, waiting for the dining room to open, I watched the Germans smoke and get drunk. The wait and the crowd gave me the space to ponder the existential question of why people where socks with sandals.
My plan was to get to dinner so I could surreptitiously order a bottle of champagne before the Brazilian Princess’s arrived. Then, when we arrived, I would propose a toast to my birthday and their company. But as Robert Burns (or was it Kiss) observed “the best laid plans of mice and men often go asunder.” First, there was no wine list at my table and then there was no Marika or anyone else around to bring it to me. When Marika finally did arrive, along with the wine list, so did Elaine, Yara and Christina.
I do not know why I decided that completely formal rules of etiquette applied here but I did as I had the night before and stood as they approached the table. They were dressed as they had been the night before, formally in long dresses, with make-up precisely applied, and jewelry hung or draped over strategic body parts. Elaine, unsurprising look magnificent. She glowed and I yearned. I held the chair for her and as she sat down, I asked casually “Do you like Champagne?” She replied “Of course, but you don’t have to order wine for us.”
I said excuse me but if she could bear with me for a second I would explain. I asked the other two princesses whether they liked Champagne or not and while each said they did both also said that they didn’t drink very much. I called Marika over and asked her to bring us a bottle of Veuve Cliquot a bottle of wine I enjoyed as much for the color of its label as I did the taste of the wine.
When the champagne arrived and was poured, I held my glass and said “Today is my birthday and then looking at Elaine “and I can’t think of anyone else I would rather being spending it with than you.” And then clinked glasses with each of them.
Elaine said “But you didn’t tell me it was your birthday today. Why didn’t you tell me we could have made a bigger celebration?” I told her I loved my birthday but that I was a bit reticent to mention it as it seems a little unseemly for a person my age. It was a stupid thing to say and I knew the minute that it came out of my mouth. It begged the question how old are you and that is not a question that I really felt like answering, I didn’t want Elaine to think that I was too old for her. But it was out there and Yarra asked the inevitable “How old are you…” and I thought that I could see a bit of devilish grin on her face.
I thought about lying. I know that I look younger than my years. But I also hate to lie, and it is a lousy way to start a relationship with anyone. I told them “55.” Their silence was stunning, and I thought for a second I had made a horrible mistake being so honest with them. Elaine came to my rescue. She put her hand on my arm she said “Really, you don’t your age at all.”
“How old do I look.” I replied hoping for a mid-forties estimation. She replied “35….” Whether she was lying or not I do not know but it was certainly the right thing to say to me at that point as it made me comfortable with telling them the truth.
Dinner was wonderful as the champagne served as the social lubricant that I hoped that it would. We talked about families and trips that we had taken. We talked about Gabriel Garcia Marquez and of movies that we had seen and loved. They threatened to have the entire wait staff come and sing me happy birthday, but I flushed and begged them not to so in the end Marika just brought me two deserts and we clinked glasses and my princesses wished me a good year.
After dinner Yarra and Christina insisted that we go to the show but not before berating us over the behavior Elaine and I had exhibited the night before. They told us, in halting English and some Portuguese that I didn’t understand, that we needed to be quiet and respectful of the performers. At some during this dressing down Elaine and shared a glance and she flashed me a conspiratorial smile and had I known her even an hour longer I would have grabbed her hand.
Elaine, when we finally made to our seats in the theatre, said “Fuck them, we will do we want to do. If the performers stink, I do not mind telling them so. “ I was both surprised and delighted by her use of the invective. Surprised because Elaine appearance was that of a very proper lady and considering the language barrier you would not think that she have such a command of swearing; Delighted because I had grown up with a father who had his vocabulary considerably expanded by the his stint in the army and I had a tendency to use the same colorful language that he did. It made me realize that I could relax a little more around Elaine. It also made me know what I had just surmised about her….that she had depth and was complicated. I knew that I wanted to plumb her depths.
The show was much better than the night before. It featured a Brazilian duo. A tall, shapely woman with long dark hair and a lovely face as the vocalist and a short, round, bald man who accompanied her on the guitar. They played a series of Brazilian standards that Elaine seemed to know the words to as she often sang along with them and occasionally they played a song I knew such as “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Brazil.” And much to Elaine’s and my surprise they were good. Not only were they good musicians but good performers managing to capture the audience with their passion for the songs they were singing.
As the night before, Yarra and Christina decided that they wanted to go back to their cabin and upload the hundreds of pictures they had taken that day. So Elaine and I went back to Rock Around The Clock to have a nightcap. The club was only slightly more crowded than the night before and we found ourselves a seat, sitting side by side on a velveteen banquet in the back of the restaurant.
We listened to the band, contemporary Brazilian music primarily Axe, talked and drank Caiparhina’s. As the conversations progressed I found myself both listening to Elaine and paying attention to my own inner dialogue….wondering when the appropriate time and place to kiss her. She was captivating and funny and smart . There were many times where I wanted to grab her hand but didn’t bound by both shyness and confusion of what the right thing to do in her culture would be. The result was that I was far more formal than I would have been. My mother might have called it, to my great embarrassment, being a real gentleman. However there were times where I could not hold back and would touch her arm or knee to make a point.
Eventually, the band stopped playing and I could see the bartenders looking at us with hope that we would get the message that they wanted to go to bed. So, reluctantly, I walked her to the elevator. We pressed the call button and stood there awkwardly not knowing how close to stand to each nor quite what to say to each other to end the evening. The elevator came and we stepped into it pressing 7 for her and 8 for me. She stood close enough to me so that I could catch the subtle fragrance of her perfume.
The elevator chimed and the door opened to deck 7. I said “I had a wonderful time tonight.”
“So did I.”
I leaned forward to kiss to bid her goodnight kiss her goodnight and was greeted with soft lips pressing against mine. The kiss did not last long but lingered just long enough to know that that there was something more to it than politeness. She smiled, stepped off the elevator, gave a little wave and walked towards her room just as the elevator door closed.