Finding solace in a safe womb-like space


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Category: Women Date: 19 May 02

There I was, being lulled into a stupor, my book lying unread on my lap, one foot in a whirl of warm, soapy water, another being gently massaged. Did I want my nails painted in deep wine or dusty pink, inquired the pretty, young pedicurist.


An hour at a beauty salon is more of a retreat into a woman’s space, to make ready for battle with the outside world, rather than a date with vanity.


The walls are unashamedly peach, the music easy, endless cups of coffee and tea gracefully proffered and consumed, the air is fruity with creams, lotions, sprays and polish. 


Spontaneous soirees spring up in the shared intimacy of the sauna, under the hair dryers, during a massage. I’ve often wondered why women talk so much in these salons. It’s a safe womb-like space. You are expected to be yourself.


The laughter of women rings out, scandalously, all trace of demure control vanquished because it is free, temporarily unarmed. It’s okay to enter this feminine space with chipped nail polish, uneven hair colour, sore muscles, tired eyes. In fact, we are expected to look like hell, which is why we are there in the first place.


Ironically, in a place associated with artifice, there is only honesty. And if you walk along a corridor moving from the masseuse, to the manicurist, you will hear behind closed doors, murmuring of women sharing secrets and advice, but mostly, cheering one another on, building up one another’s confidence in a world which we intuitively acknowledge can be hostile to us.


Above all, it’s a reprieve from fear which is so much part of our daily lives that we absorb and factor it into our world as a fact of life. The polish, the cut, the massage are simply a conduit to a ritual of survival.


I chose the deep wine.

As she painted, my pedicurist’s animated words ran rapidly into one another, girlish, as if she had not long left her mother’s womb and there wasn’t enough time in the day to observe everything.


As she spoke I observed how lovely she was, with her quintessentially Trinidadian face, the kind that has given us our reputation for beautiful women, and can be found at every taxi stand, marketplace, office, mall or street.

This face with its perfect oval shape, slanting eyes, glowing skin, could probably launch a thousand ships, reflecting as it did, the features of three, four continents.


I slid even further into my chair, enjoying her chat about drag-racing, the pleasure of watching a car speed with an aeroplane’s engine, thinking languidly how pleasant it must be to be so young that your biggest gripe is ‘Trinidadians’ who won’t stay off the track.


But I should have known better. She was much bigger than my version of her giddy, careless youth. The opposite is true.


She has been robbed of that lovely sense of wonder, that careless freedom. And women are almost always smarter than they look. (That’s also survival because insecure men who tend to be violent don’t like that).


Her conversation rose with the skill of a crafted novel to a crescendo, a pitch so compelling that she became the mouthpiece of every ordinary young girl in this country, carrying me from the comfort zone to a point that made me feel as if knives were being turned in my stomach.


I asked how she was, expecting something platitudinous.

I got a monologue.

I sat up. She told me instead of how a short ‘lime’ in a sports bar in town with her boyfriend turned into a nightmare.


How the window of their car was smashed open on that busy street, early evening, their valuables stolen. Now she perpetually looks over her shoulder, night and broad daylight.


She told me of her policeman friend who recounted to her in detail, the story of the young woman who was picked up by armed bandits who went on an all-night robbery rampage, how they raped her two at a time, after each robbery and eventually left her battered body on the highway saying: “We won’t bother to kill you. You are dead, anyway. We’ve given you AIDS.”


She was sure those men had mothers, sisters, girlfriends, even children, but no heart. She was sure they are beasts, paper humans without souls, and not human men lurking in dark corners in streets, or disguised as an uncle, even father, raping, hurting babies, women, grandmothers.


I understand the proceeds from the Vagina Monologues, a play that our puritan society will no doubt baulk against preferring as we do, the bawdy, the slapstick, (and whatever makes us reflect the least) will go towards, as Diana Mahabir-Wyatt put it “finding out why men hate women and children so much”.


The men can have their “men only” cricket and rotary clubs, their lodges. But next time you hear a woman is at a beauty salon, remember, she’s not wasting money, she’s seeking refuge from the dark around her for a while.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur