So looking down at my toenails the other day, I decided that it was definitely high time to jet off to The Mothership. The Spa. A pedicure was definitely in order. I decided to start out by ringing the exclusive spa in the luxury office compound next door.
“Hi, I’d like to make an appointment for a pedicure, please.”
“We cannot make one, because the man who does them called in sick today.”
“There’s only one person who does it?”
“Yes. He called in sick two days ago and now he’s been admitted to the hospital!!”
OK, so I had to let that one go – no way are my toes that important nor I am that cold-hearted. I waited a few more days, and then noticed that a well-advertised chain was in the area of Pali Market where I needed to go to pick up a few things. Score! Perfect. I headed over, finished up my shopping and then stood in the middle of the road with rickshaws honking all around me, trying to find the shop.
Shops are often referred to by shop number or plot, and sometimes things are difficult to find for a just-arrived foreigner. Especially in traffic at a busy intersection. Especially if most everything is only written in Hindi. Undeterred, I begin wandering up the lane until I saw a cute little shop with a name kind of like the place I am looking for. Eh, close enough is good enough, right?
Undaunted, I push inside. Seems clean. Nicely groomed receptionist. I can see through the sheers to the back and things are organized nicely. This will work, I think, and ask for a pedicure.
I walk in and sit down in a worn but clean leather rolling chair and the pedicurist smiles up and me and hands me a book of colors to choose from for my nail polish. I choose, hand the book back to him . . . and he throws a used-to-be-white-but-is-now-ick-colored towel over my legs. OMG, OMG. I breathe in and smell detergent. OK, safe, safe. He brings over a steaming hot basin of water, dumps some detergent in it, swishes it around and I think, “fine, hot, kills germs”. After a few minutes soak, he comes over, and after taking my nail polish off, reaches behind him to the tray of his nail implements. HOLY HANGNAIL, BATMAN. Before I can even process the wear and tear on the metal and plastic in front of me, my foot is in his hands getting a severe scrubbing and exfoliation. I realize that there isn’t a sterilizer in sight. I berate myself for not having brought my own implements – I HAVE them, after all, I just got lazy. Ugh. I grit my teeth and remind myself that I walked around barefoot in Africa for 4 years to no poor end. But there is no way I am watching this. I concentrate on reading the latest issue of “FilmFan” and learn all about Alia, the latest starlet, who is apparently India’s answer to Gwyneth Paltrow if we are rating people on the annoyance scale. Ten minutes later, when he asks if I want the razor blade, I decline. (No WAY, dude.)
I try to keep my eyes on the magazine and shut out the dinginess in the corners, but I can’t. My eyes graze over the award rating of 4/5 stars from a popular Internet referral system, so maybe I’m OK after all. But it’s beyond just wear and tear here – it’s a different way of clean. Or not clean, I determine to myself as my eyes wander from place to place, noticing the hygienic deficiencies. When the pedicurist stands up and just shakes the towel onto the floor, my stomach rolls when I realize he’s going to leave my nail clippings all there.
I’m about ready to just get the Hell out of there. Inside, I’m saying “gross!” at the same time I am rationalizing things.
“Think of how good this is for your immune system!”
“Seriously, what are the chances?”
“A guy with a nice gold Rolex just walked in, so it should be OK.”
“Yes, they threw stuff on the floor, but the cleaning guy walked in and he’s taking care of it, so I that’s just the cultural norm – don’t be a snob.”
Over the other shoulder the voices shout at me that my mother would DIE in a place like this and my sister-in-law would probably pass out, or dissolve herself with hand sanitizer. My sister would just take off her glasses and bitch me out later if she needed Tinactin.
Finished, I smile at the pedicure guy, pay and tip him, vowing to never, ever return. As I rise, I look outside and notice that the monsoon is in full force, the rain coming down in sheets. I have no umbrella.
“I think I’d like a manicure too.”