TRAVELS WITH NINA

is the online portfolio and journal of Australian travel writer Nina Karnikowski.

Chapter Twenty Three

As soon as I wake up the next morning, I know exactly what I have to do. I get down on my hands and knees to fish my laptop out from under the bed, grabbing handfuls of cobwebs, dust and other girl’s hair elastics along the way. It’s time. Time for me to just swallow my pride and my shame and all the dirty, scary emotions I’ve been piling my anger on top of, and be the one to hoist the peace flag once and for all.

I crawl under the covers and start to type.

Ryan,

Delete.

Dear Ryan,

Delete.

Hey babe,

Delete.

I’m sorry.

That’s more like it.

From there, the words just start tumbling off my fingertips.

I’m so incredibly sorry Rye. I’m sorry for running out on you. I’m sorry for not communicating properly with you. I’m sorry for not getting in touch sooner. I’m sorry for being a crappy wife. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

It might be too late for all of this; you probably hate my guts by now. But I need to at least try to make this up to you before we go and make the biggest mistake of our lives.

I’m not even going to begin to try and explain what’s gone on since I arrived in India – hopefully we can talk about that in person when I’m back. But I can try to explain what’s been going on in my head for the past couple of months.

I’ve been scared, Rye. Scared shitless, actually, and at first I didn’t even know what I was scared of. I just felt this impending… thing, weighing down on me. Like I was meant to be doing something or achieving something that I hadn’t yet. I felt as though you wanted something that was going to pull me away from all of that, and so I lied. I lied about so many things, just so I didn’t have to face up to the reality of what I was feeling, and I treated myself and you like shit along the way. But now, when I think back on all that’s happened over the past month, I realize that the only thing I really have to be scared of is losing you.

You’re the best thing in my life Rye, the one who supports me, who puts up with all my crazy antics, who understands me, and who laughs with me along the way. You’re the one who loves me.

I want to be with you, until we’re old and grey and dribbling in our soup. And I promise that if you give me a second chance, I’ll love you the way you deserve to be loved. I think I can do that now.

It’s completely schmaltzy, I know. But once I see it all written down I realize it’s the truth. I kiss the screen and press send. And as soon as I’ve done it, it’s like a huge concrete block has been lifted off my chest and I can breathe properly again. I think I may have just, for the first time in a really, really long time, done the right thing.

Deciding that I probably deserve a reward for my good deed, I head to reception to book myself a massage. I tell Vivek it’s urgent, rubbing my tummy for illusory effect. It works, and he books me in immediately at the little Ayurvedic joint next door.

It’s been raining heavily and constantly for the last couple of days, but I brave the rain to head around the corner and ring the masseuse’s doorbell. A few seconds later an Indian man in his mid-40s with a tragic comb-over appears clad in dark grey trousers and an oversized grey shirt covered by a thick woollen vest in yep, you guessed it, grey.

“Hello my dear,” he says, offering me a limp hand.

Oh God. I try not to shudder at the feeling of his wet fish hand, which within minutes will be rubbing all over my naked body. How the hell do I get out of this?

“Hello. Umm, I’m here for the massage, but I actually just realized…”

“Ahh yes. Shristy!” he shrieks down the corridor.

Thank God, no wet fish hands after all.

A few seconds later a very solid, very cross-looking Indian woman with a big black mole on her chin appears in the doorway.

“Shristy, please take this lady into the treatment room for an Ayurvedic massage.” He ushers me up out of my seat and into the little attached treatment room before I can utter another word.

It’s not until I’m lying on the highly uncomfortable wooden massage table and the surly Indian woman is asking me to take my pants off, undies and all, that I finally manage to ask exactly what I’m in for.

“Here, we start massage with Basti. Basti is medicated enema therapy. It is good for you.”

“Err, it’s a what??” I cry, a barely disguised note of panic rising in my voice. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for alternative therapies but sticking things up your rear end is really just taking it a little too far. I swing my legs off the table in preparation for a hasty exit.

“No no, lie down,” she says. “By introducing certain herbal preparations into the rectum we can very effectively cure everything from constipation to backache and headache. So you must have this.” She pushes me back down on the table.

I’m about to try for another great escape, but looking at Shristy’s muscly arms I don’t think I’d have much of a chance. Instead I lie back down and hare om out the sounds of her mixing up the herbal concoction.

“On side,” she barks a moment later. And then, “take down pants now.”

I take a deep breath and whip my harem pants and knickers off at lightening speed, chucking them on to the ground beside me.

“Now, deep breath,” comes Shristy’s gruff voice, and I feel her calloused hands part my butt cheeks.

Sweet baby Jesus.

A cold tube slithers inside me. I squeeze my eyes tight and try not to scream as I feel a warm liquid start to trickle into my innards.

I almost cry with relief when, after just a few minutes, the tube gets pulled out. I go to grab my knickers to avoid any possible leakage, but Shristy barks at me to “keep pants off and take off rest of clothes.”

“Umm, like, all the rest?” I ask, hoping to God that I’ve misunderstood.

“Yes. All. Naked.” No misunderstanding that.

Great. So I’m about to have a supposedly relaxing massage, in the nuddy, while smelly oil oozes out of my butt. Fantastic.

I have no choice but to do as she says though, so I lay back down on the firm table while trying to keep my sphincter muscles clenched as tightly as humanly possible. Shristy comes over with a little jug and proceeds to pour the entire contents of more smelly oil over my entire body. I feel like I’m being basted for roasting and am unimaginably uncomfortable.

That is, until Shristy lays her hands on me and starts rubbing.

It’s pure magic, and unlike any massage I’ve ever had.

She works her hands up and down my body in long, sweeping motions, vigorously but firmly, making the blood rush all around. I’m slipping and sliding about the table, but somehow Shristy’s magic sweeping hands are creating the simultaneous effect of deep relaxation, and ultimate invigoration. I’m in heaven, and I start to move onto another plane entirely. In fact, I relax so much that I totally forget about clenching, and start to feel oil oozing out of my butt, but by this point I’m far too relaxed to care. How would you even notice it with all this other oil swimming around on the table anyway?

Eventually, however, the magic has to come to an end.

“That was incredible, I feel fantastic!” I gush as I pull my clothes back on. “You have seriously magic hands, you know that right?”

Immediately, Shristy’s face lights up and she’s all friendly chatter. Compliments, it seems, make people sublimely happy no matter where you are in the world.

She tells me, in garbled Hinglish, that she has four kids under the age of seven, that she lives by the river, that she has three sisters and one brother who all live in other states, as does her husband, who she only sees once a month but is “too fat, he eat too many rice!” She puffs out her cheeks as she says this, and leans back to make her belly look bigger. We both have a good giggle.

“You have husband?” she asks, pointing to the rings on my left hand.

“Yes, I do,” I say, pasting a smile on to my face.

“You have baby?”

“No, not yet. You see my husband and I, we…” Before I can finish my sentence, I burst into a flood of tears. Of course there’s no way of explaining my situation to Shristy, what with the language barrier, so I’m pretty sure she assumes I’ve had problems trying to conceive or something. Then again, maybe she gets it. Either way, she wraps her strong arms around me and cuddles me tightly, whispering to me in Hindi and rocking me from side to side. I sob onto her shoulder, letting it all out and thinking how good it feels to be held.

A good five minutes later, my eyes finally dry up and I extricate myself from Shristy’s arms. I take her hands in mine, clasping them tightly, and look her in the eyes.

“Thank you, Shristy, I needed that. You’re a good woman.” I let out a shaky sigh and she cups my face in her hands.

“Everything be ok,” she says with a warm smile and a wobble of the head, then kisses me on the forehead.

As I walk out the door, I let myself believe that maybe, just maybe, she’s right.