The agony could strike at any moment. Daggering pains in my lower back demanded correction. Not just painkillers, I needed a permanent cure. ‘Thai massage’ suggested the internet, so I hobbled across a tangle of east London streets and found a doorway beneath a pink neon sign. A receptionist of south Asian appearance, bundled in a white winter coat, nodded at me unsmilingly. ‘Massage?’ I asked. ‘Forty,’ she said tersely. I counted eight fivers out into her small pink hand. ‘A receipt?’ ‘No receipt,’ she said. ‘Room Two.’
She gestured behind her at a line of numbered doors. Room Two was a narrow, sweet-smelling nook with silvery wallpaper, piped Burmese music and a tiny shower cubicle. Centre-stage was a treatment couch spread with a roll of grey tissue about the length of an adult male corpse. The door swung open and there stood the receptionist, now dressed in a matronly black nurse’s outfit that clung to her petite buxom figure. She frowned. Something was wrong. I was wrong.
‘Clothes,’ she ordered, pointing at a stool. ‘Two minute!’ She closed the door and I hastened to meet her deadline, removing my entire costume except for my brand-new fake boxers by ‘Kalvin Klein’. When she returned, I lay on the couch and explained my spinal trouble in detail but she showed little interest. ‘You sigh,’ she said with a wonky smile. What did that mean? Perhaps she mistook me for another patient named Simon or Si. ‘I’m Lloyd,’ I said. She introduced herself as ‘Linda from Hong Kong’.
She set to work on me with her warm strong hands, kneading my bones and probing my squishy lumbar muscles with her questing fingers. The treatment hurt terribly but I didn’t cry out or gasp.