Bruce is captivated by the sight of the tiny orchid floating in the bowl of water a few feet from his nose. He is also captivated by the distorted reflection of his face squeezed into the narrow, padded aperture of his massage bed. It’s not a good look, he decides, and he’s finding it a little hard to breathe.
Similarly prostrate on the next-door bed, no more than arm’s length away, is the beguiling Clarissa, his wife of exactly one year who has organised a week’s holiday at a spa resort in Thailand to celebrate the first milestone of married life.
If truth be told, spas and pampering aren’t really Bruce’s thing, though he is trying his best not to disappoint. He is more of a sporty, small-balls man – tennis and squash, the odd set of Eton Fives – an outdoorsy type, who’d rather be striking a pose on the slopes than a sunbed. Clarissa, however, had pleaded and pleaded that this was the perfect antidote to his busy City life and that all stresses and strains would be eased from his body beneath a pair of skilled Thai hands.
What Bruce has failed to tell his lovely wife is that he is a bit of a massage connoisseur, though perhaps not of quite the same sort as those on offer at a five-star retreat. Old habits die hard and his bachelor ways had proved tricky to shed, particularly his monthly night out with the boys. Life simply wouldn’t be the same without the odd knock around the court with Jack, Bill and Sandy, a quick pint at the Jolly Roger and an oily rub-down with Prija at the Shanghai Surprise.
So here he is face-down in the tropics at the mercy of a beautiful Thai girl called Piam. Clarissa has Prim and, though he can’t see his wife, Bruce can hear the occasional sigh of contentment emanating from the face‑hole of her massage bed. As long as he is on his stomach, Bruce knows all will be well. He surrenders himself to the sound of the warm breeze in the palm trees, the lap of the ocean sucking the shore and the caress of masterful fingers, which are dancing up and down his spine.
Within what seems like the blink of eye, he is coaxed from his easy reverie by a whisper in the ear: “Mr Bluce, will you now please turn over.”
It is the moment he has been dreading – not just for the awkwardness of the manoeuvre but for the fear of what might happen next. Flat on his back with an alarmingly small towel draped loosely across the family jewels, he wishes he could steal a comforting glance at Clarissa, but his eyes are wedged shut beneath a silken pouch of heavily scented lemongrass. Piam is working her magic. First his toes are tweaked and squeezed, then the soles of his feet are pushed and pummelled, then come the ankles and calves, next the knees and then, before he knows it, her soft, oily palms are kneading his inner thigh. Images of the Shanghai Surprise swirl before him.
An hour later Bruce is submerged in a warm, alfresco bathtub where petals drift on the water’s surface, candles flicker in the encroaching shadows of twilight and a bottle of chilled champagne beckons from the ice bucket. He is calm, carefree and relaxed, and he has survived his massage, dignity intact – even if his lower lip is a little swollen from the imprint of his two front teeth.
Clarissa, fresh from a reflexology add-on to her massage, joins him in the bath.
“Prim’s such a poppet,” she says, picking up a sea sponge and soaping Bruce’s back suggestively. “She’s coming to London next month so I’ve given her our phone number.”
“That’s nice,” replies Bruce, his mind starting to stray. “Perhaps she can give us a massage at home.”
“I’m one step ahead of you, darling,” says Clarissa. “She’s going to bring her twin sister Prija, who works at a spa in London.”
“Mmm… twin sisters,” muses Bruce… “even better.”
“Somewhere called the Shanghai Surprise.”