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Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Out of the Blue

"B, after knowing each other for so long now you want to play ten questions?"

"Didn't you just say no one really knows anyone mister?" B hands me a glass of wine.

I take it and place it on the floor next to me. "Yes I did. And what you don't know you aren't going to get in ten questions. The fun is finding out gradually."

"Oh, well I want a quickie. Humour me," she says with a grin, getting comfortable beside me.

"I always do Missy."

"There's no backing out now. Question one-" B is cut off mid-sentence by a tapping sound. "Did you hear that?"

I look at the shuttered window directly opposite us. "Someone's tapping on the window." I stand up quickly, fix the towel wrapped around my waist and walk over to peer through the slats. I look out at Kyrenia's main street, and see the darkening silhouettes of the court buildings opposite, but nothing else.

Tap. Tap.

The sound is more distant this time. "Whoever it is, they've gone round to the front door," I say, making my way out of the office to the building's main entrance.

B reluctantly gets up after me. "Hang on, I'll have a look."

"No stay there. I'll go."

"What in a towel? Where's that famous Ali etiquette?"

"One takes precedence over another."

"Oh my darling, you mean just in case it's a big bad wolf at the door you mean? What will you do in your towel, flash it to death? The building is secure my knight in a shining white towel, I shall be safe to go and see who it is."

Tap. Tap. The sound is more urgent now.

"Well whoever it is," I say making way for B to pass, "they're not giving up."

She calls back to me after a moment, with a huge groan. "Wouldn't you know it? I should've put a bloody sign up on the door!"

"Like what? 'Gestapo interrogating Ali, do not disturb'? Who is it?"

"How did she get wind of you being here?"

"I ask again. Who?"

"It's Mr X's daughter."

As much as a visitor is unexpected at this time of the evening, the visitor itself is more so. I hadn't seen Mr X's daughter in nearly two years, and hearing her name now comes as a surprise.

"What makes you so sure she came for me?"

B reappears at the office doorway with a hand on one hip and a spectacularly caustic look lined along her face. Even the corresponding dimples in her cheeks dip ominously. "Ali, went it comes to certain issues you can be so dumb it just isn't funny."

"Don't you think you should let her in?"

"I have to, she's seen me. Damn and bloody hell." She walks back in and grabs her security keys from off her desk. "I'll only be a minute, but I can't promise that's how long she'll stay!"

I take a large sip from my glass of wine and grab my bag to make my way into the shower room to change into my briefs and shorts. I take another large sip of wine, place the glass on the table, and make a run for it.

Scrummaging for my underwear, I remove the towel quickly, and get them on. I go for my shorts, but am accosted from behind with a scream.

"Ali! Hello! It's been so long! Hello! Hello!"

I turn around, smiling, and stretch out my arms to put some space between us. "Well, the shy girl I remember has gone I see. How are you?"

"Oh, I'm doing okay. You haven't changed a bit!"

I tap her lightly on the nose. "Oh, I have you know."

"Well then, probably for the better knowing you!"

I hear a familiar noise from behind us. It is B's cough.

"And how is your fiancé?" she asks, giving Mr X's daughter a pointed look.

Mr X's daughter answers without wavering, but as though it's some inconvenience. "Oh, oh him - oh fine. Thank you."

"You're engaged? Cool! Congratulations."

"I'm not sure about it, yet."

B scoffs lightly. "Not sure? Last time I spoke to him, he seemed sure enough about it."

"Oh don't tease her, B," I say, wanting to get some breathing space and put on my shorts. I give her a look that says as much. Thankfully, she understands and steers the girl out of the shower room.

"Let's leave Ali to hide his modesty. Do you want a glass of wine? What did you want to see me about?"

"Oh, I just heard Ali was here and wanted to say hi."

B casts me a triumphant Ha! See I told you so! look. I give a slight bow to concede defeat, and pull my shorts up. "Hmmph."

Mr X's daughter looks around. "What's up?"

I put a hand around the back of my neck and try to hide a smile. "Oh, I've just got this kink in my neck from sitting down all day. I've been devilling for B." I rub it, and try to change the smile into a rueful grin.

"Come over here," the young girl cries, "I know a way to fix that!"

I walk into the office, wishing I had thought of a better excuse, but then if there is one thing I am absolutely terrible at, it is playing with the truth.

"Where do you want me?"

"Come lie down here. I'm going to give you a massage."

"You had better be good," B says as she takes another wine glass out of the cabinet for the young girl, "because Ali's an expert."

"You are?"

I raise an eyebrow at B. "B exaggerates, but yes, I know a few techniques."

Mr X's daughter pats the plush carpet, indicating where I should lie down. "Isn't it just some rubbing?"

"Oh shit!" B cries, her voice cloaked in an exaggerated moan, "Now you've done it!"

"What-? What did I say?"

"Never mind B's dramatics. She loves to tease. But no, massage isn't just rubbing. It's the art of rubbing. And as with any art, there are ways and hows. And every man and woman should learn how, because every partner deserves the treatment."

Mr X's daughter whips off her top before I can say another word and lies down. She undoes her bra strap, to leave her back unhindered. B laughs, looking at me. "And now it looks as though you've done it! Put your hands where your mouth is mister!"

"And I thought my work was over for the evening. Do you have any oil, B?"

"Damn, and here I was thinking I had stocked up my office with every convenience. That's one thing I don't have!"

I ignore the sarcasm in my friend's voice and think for a moment about a substitution. As most Turkish Cypriots do, I remember B has some jasmine, a creeper with white, sweet-smelling flowers, that decorates the building's entrance. "Okay, get me a bowl of warm water."

Both girls ask simultaneously. "What for?"

I point to the framed saying hanging on the wall above B's desk.

The mind is like a parachute. It works best when open.

"Keep an open mind ladies like Einstein says. Wait and see," I say. "It's a fix for when there's no oil at hand. This can be my wedding gift to you. Or practice this on your husband-to-be on any night of the week and you can't go wrong. Is the front door open B?"

"Yeah. Should I ask why? ... I know, I know! Open mind!"

"Just get me the bowl of warm water please, honey B. You'll see in a moment."

"Is oil really necessary mister?"

"Hand friction done without oil should only be used to loosen up deep muscles. Oil makes the massage tender, especially for a beginner."

"Hand friction? Now why do I like the sound of that? Are you sure oil is going to be more fun mister?"

"Fun?" I try to look indignant but it makes way for a grin, as I exit the office. "I take teaching the arts very seriously honey B."

Stepping outside from the main entrance, the customary welcome and farewell of a traditional Cypriot building greets me. The heated air emanates with the aroma of jasmine. This is the real first call of summer, I think. I pick a small handful of its flowers.

"What's that?" Mrs X's daughter looks up questioningly from where she lies, as I walk back into the office.

"Jasmine," I say. "The flowers contain essential oils, and the Cyprus variety also has medicinal value. I'm going to crush these in my hands and mix with the warm water to make some oil for your massage."

"Wow," Mr X's daughter says.

"Wow indeed," calls out B as she appears with a bowl of water. "You should be damned honoured. Ali hates picking flowers usually or taking any growing thing from its place."

Taking the bowl, I give B a quick glance, wondering why she felt the need to explain that, and wondering if I would now have to explain my eccentricities to the young girl.

"Live and let live. Even the plants. That's cool," Mr X's daughter says and lies back down again.

"Not so for a girl expecting a large bunch of roses," I laugh, as I start to crush the petals in the palm of my hand, and place them in the water. "B, you're making a big deal over nothing, honey. It's not as if I ripped the plant out of the ground."

She sticks out a tongue. "Oh buddy, I'm just kidding. Go on, I'm all ears, you be all hands."

I stir the water with a finger, and watch the jasmine's oil make patterns on the membrane of the water's skin. "Did you know the jasmine is a Middle-Eastern symbol of love, used throughout time by lovers to express passion?" I dip both my hands into the scented water, to warm them. I continue to speak as I wait. "You know in Cyprus we have the tradition of weaving flower buds onto cotton threads as bracelets or necklaces. Young girls hung them on their wrists or necks to bloom as a sign of fertility. My mum still makes them every summer."

"I didn't know that! The fertility bit I mean. My mum makes them, too, and hangs them around the house," Mr X's daughter says, giving a smile. She looks at B, "Did you know that?" Then she looks at me, "How do you know that?"

"I read it somewhere. And if you are going to use this jasmine trick, make sure you pick the flower at night. The jasmine's aroma is most intense at night - as a flower of passion should be I guess."

B clears her throat suddenly. I look up. "Are you okay, B?"

"Of course! The jasmine scent just hit the back of my throat, is all."

"Jasmine scent is light, not cloying," I say, trying to read the look on her face.

The young girl squirms on the floor. "Are you nearly ready?"

B laughs again, but it's a short, sharp sound. "You're more than ready my girl!"

I give my friend a look. "Yes. Okay. I'm going to give you the basics to practice on your fiancé. Step one, use oil - but not too much - and warm your hands. Cold hands are a no-no. Okay?"

She nods her head. "Come on. I can't wait. That smells really good!"

I bring the bowl over and place it on the floor. "Okay second, make some proper space. No place were you can bounce a lot. Don't say a word B. Floor is good or blanket." I take some pillows from B's leather settee and place them under the girl's neck, knees, and ankles. Then kneeling beside her, I place my hands on her back gently. "How's the temperature?"

"Just fine!"

"Right step three is ambience, but nothing that distracts from the massage. Low candlelight, slow, soft music. Which we have already compliments of B."

B stands up from where she positioned herself behind her desk, and makes a small curtsey.

"Thank you B. Okay four is the massage. You can do this two main ways. Focus on a spot, like my neck for example, or do a whole body massage. There are three main movements, compression, stroking and kneading. I'm just going to show you the basics with a back massage, okay?" I talk her through my movements, slowly. "Place your hands side by side on the back, palms flat, and slide upwards, leading with your fingers. When you reach the shoulder blades, fan your hands away from each other and gently down the sides of the body. Repeat and-"

"And graciously accept declarations of undying love," B laughs.

"-and then gently knead upwards," I finish.

"Oooh, has he ever done this to you, B? It's amazing."

"His touch is amazing isn't it?"

"B, you're doing it again-"

"No, she isn't. It really is, I can't describe it. You have a gift for this."

"I wasn't kidding that time mister," B grins. "You do. Your touch feels very confident. Now I'm sure that's something David Beckham can't do!"

"David Beckham?"

"I'll explain later, let's not break Ali's flow."

Talking of touch reminds me of something and it imposes on my mind too quickly for me not to react with a pause in what I'm doing. B notices immediately.

"What is it?"

Answering with nothing when there is something, is a remedy for another day and not for today. My brain has the looseness of intoxication, though I'm not easily intoxicated. Whether it's the effect of the spirit of the wine, jasmine or the release of a hot day, or a mix of all three, I am not sure, but I answer B even though we have company, "You just reminded me of something someone else once said to me."

B, as perceptive as ever, asks, "And what did she say?"

"That my touch was confident, too. Reminded her of her grandfather."

Mr X's daughter looked up. "Yuck, was that meant to be a compliment?"

I look down, and smile at her innocence. "I guess. Apart from me, she said he was the only man she ever loved."

The room falls to silence, but B quickly picks up the thread of speech and thankfully starts to wrap things up. "Show her the trick with a bottle."

The young girl is instantly curious, and gives a dirty smile. "Trick with a bottle?"

"Calm down girl and get your mind out of the gutter. I mean he can massage you with the bottle."

"I showed B once to prove that anyone can massage once you have the knack down. I don't believe my touch is anything special. Look, you can even do it with this wine bottle." I take the corked bottle, which is already down to room temperature, and wiping my hands down on my shorts, rub it quickly between my palms. "It can also be a self-massage tool, to roll under your bare feet. Or put in the crook of your back or between your shoulder blades and lean back against a wall, and roll it around. The pressure loosens up muscle tissue and encourages blood flow to the area." I place the bottle on her back and begin to demonstrate.

"Oh wow," the young girl looks up. "I still prefer your hands though." She takes my hand and places it on her back. "Where did you learn all this?"

"It's every person's duty to know it," I smile, taking my hand off her back. "A requirement for men and women to know."

"Ali's speciality subject," B says. "More wine anyone?"

I shake my head. "A glass is enough for me. I want to drive home. I need the car early in the morning. You two can drink though, I'll take you home."

B gives an exasperated look, indicating for me to pass the wine bottle. "No drinking and driving, of course! Don't you do anything dangerous any more Ali?"

"Being irresponsible when it cost the lives of others? No. And I'm in a fiery woman's office, massaging a crazy girl with a Turkish fiancé. If that isn't living dangerously, then what is?"

"Oh the night's still young," B teases, "I'm sure our girl here can think of something."

Mr X's daughter is not fazed by B's slight barbs. "How about my front now?"

"No. The lesson is over. You have enough to show your boyfriend." I stand up in a sweat, and wonder whether I can risk another shower.

After all, even with the need to conserve water, it has been one hot day.

Main Index | Part one | Part two | Part three | End of part four

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