I’m not sure I should tell you, but what happens next is close to the most humiliating thing I’ve ever had to withstand in my life. On the other hand, if this is as bad as it gets, well, then I am probably doing okay.
“What is a Lucky-Lucky Boy?” I ask.
Andrew surmises this person must be a third gender like in the South Pacific. A man who dresses as a woman, but who handles medical massage techniques. “It’s not a tourist massage,” Andrew explains. “It’s a medical massage. 100% Guaranteed, they said.” I have my doubts, but at this point, I’ll try anything. My sore throat is progressing nicely to a cough, and the only thing I imagine is worse than this back pain is back pain with a cough. We make an appointment for the very next morning. The “Lucky-Lucky Boy” will come to Sonrisa.
Now, I’m faced with a moral quandary. I haven’t been able to bend down so a bit of “fuzz” is starting to appear. Do I want to face a Lucky-Lucky Boy with hairy legs? I do not. Do I want to seek assistance because I physically cannot bend in that direction? I really, really do not. As I weigh this out, I realize that there cannot possibly be a more judgmental person about leg hair than a man who is dressing as a woman. I can’t face it. With resignation, I make my choice. “Andrew, you have to wax my legs.”
Lucky Andrew. Even Luckier Lucky-Lucky Boy.
The next morning, we await the arrival of the team. Imagine my regret when it is not a man dressed as a woman climbing over Sonrisa’s rail but a man in T-Shirt and a baseball cap. “Hello, My name is Mr. AO,” He says, “pronounced Uh-Oh.”
We proceed with niceties, then he instructs me to lay on Sonrisa’s salon bench and he pulls out all manner of lotion, Eucalyptus Oil, herbal oil and the like. I expect him to ask me what hurts, but he does not. Instead, he rubs his two hands together vigorously, creating friction between them. Then, he places his hands on my shoulders. “Hot or cold?” He asks.
“Hot?” I say, the heat from his hands melts into my skin.
He repeats the process and places his hands on the middle of my back. “Ooooh!” He says, acknowledging something is quite wrong here. “Hot or cold?”
“Very hot.” I say, and its true. For some reason this spot feels even more hot than the last.
We repeat this process on various areas of my body until he has a sense of what he thinks needs to be healed. Then, he presses his hands down on my back, shaking with intensity. He grabs one hand into a fist, as if he’s pulling something sticky from my back. I can’t see, but I feel the swoop of his arm away from the two of us, flicking something away. “Everyday is a new adventure,” I think, but I roll with it. There is a sharp clap above me, hands on my back, grasping, then tossing away. He rubs his hands together again “Okay, hot or warm?”
Nothing has changed. “Hot.” I say.
“Mmmhmmm,” he says, the sound of a doctor disappointed and concerned over symptoms listed. The process continues and repeats, his hands placed even more intensely, then claps sharp. I can hear him whispering an intense prayer-like phrase over me has he flattens his hands on my back. Under his breath: “Fire! Out! Terimah Kasieh!” Then, he rubs his hands together places them on my back and asks again “Hot or warm?”
“Warm!” I say, to my surprise and curiosity, his hands are noticeably cooler to my skin. He gives a little hoot of satisfaction, and we repeat this process on my lower back until his hands go from hot to warm. Finally satisfied with this fire removing process, he shakes oils and lotion on my back. The massage begins. This massage, my friends is no enjoyable relaxation pre-cocktail hour. He stands on Sonrisa’s salon bench, one foot on either side of me, he places his thumbs directly on the bridge of my spine. There is pushing and popping, snapping, rubbing. When he finds a muscle that is particular displeasing, he balls up his fists and punches me repeatedly before flattening his palm or digging his thumb between ridges of muscles. It is painful. “Your pain comes from here, doesn’t it.” He places a thumb directly on one of my vertebra, and it is tender, hot with nerve pain.
“Yes,” I say, and to this he presses downward, places pressure on either side. He is not gentle. He works my neck, pressing my face squarely into the cushion. I cannot breathe at all, I sip little gulps of air from my mouth, but my nose feels it has turned inside out, and is now pointing into the back side of my brain. But, the massage feels bad-good. The pain he is inflicting is causing my muscles to melt from my bones, I don’t even consider the need to stop.
He rubs my feet, violently poking the pads in various spots I can only imagine must be acupressure points. I consider howling, but I keep it to myself. I give myself up to this man I’ve never met before, hoping he won’t paralyze me. Standing above me, he grabs both shoulders and pulls me back and upward into an arched position. He shakes and jerks me right and left. I peek at Andrew, watching from Sonrisa’s other bench, his face a mix of fear and amusement. He shouldn’t laugh though, because he’s next.
Uh-Oh gives Andrew a massage, too, “just for health.” It’s amusing to see Uh-Oh try to work his way around Andrew’s 6’3” frame in the wobbling confines of Sonrisa’s cabin. Every now and then, Uh-Oh loses his balance and tips sideways. At the end, Mr. Uh-Oh laughs. “I’m seasick!” Grin and Andrew shuttle an uncomfortable looking Uh-Oh back to shore.
Left alone on Sonrisa, I test the results. I can stand up. I can walk. I can even touch my toes! It’s like magic. I can’t believe it, and I’m suspicious it’s temporary. Andrew returns to the boat, “how do you feel?” He asks, eyeing me with concern.
“Good! Surprisingly good!” I say.
Andrew nods and laughs. “Yeah, I figured you’d either be cured, or end up in a wheelchair after that massage.”
Now, I’m exhausted. I enjoy a great nap, one of those rests in which you are pleasantly conscious of your sleep state. I can feel my body changing. A sensation of electrical heat drains down the center of my legs and arms; it seems to exit from the bottom of my feet, the pads of my hands. I mentally shrug away doubts and say “whatever works!” That night and all the next day, my improvement sticks. I’m flexible, nimble, 85% of my normal self. I’m left with some tender spots where I’ve been punched, and my hips still ache a little, but this is nothing compared to the last week.
We schedule a second massage with Uh-Oh, in the hopes of bridging the gap between my 85% and 100% status. This time, we rent a hotel room for two hours to avoid making him seasick. This allows Uh-Oh the full space and stability needed to conduct an even more aggressive technique, and I get ring side seats to watch the Fire Removal. Uh-Oh is proceeding with no problem through Andrew’s massage when he hesitates over Andrew’s skull. “Oooh, oh.” Uh-oh scowls and slows. He takes a deep breath inward and places both palms flat, hovering over Andrew’s forehead. He claps, rubs his hands together vigorously, then lays them over Andrew’s forehead. “Hot or cold?”
“Hot.” Andrew confirms. Uh-Oh goes through the process over Andrew’s forehead, then his heart, and stomach. Just like I suspected from my own face down position, Uh-Oh snatches at something like he’s trapping a fly, pulls it with much effort from Andrew’s heart, then flings it away. From my front row seat, I can see Uh-Oh, stretch his arms outward, palms upward, lift them to the sky, then pull them back down until his fingers and thumbs meet in a triangle. He claps, rubs his palms together again, prays. His sincerity and effort are hitting eleven on a scale of ten. (Over-tryer loves this guy.) Andrew eventually experiences that curious temperature shift of Uh-Oh’s hot to cool hands.
After Andrew’s massage is over, I ask Uh-Oh “what are you doing when you are testing to see hot, warm, or cold?”
“I am testing to find Ghosts.” Uh-Oh says.
Ghosts! I’m transported all the way to Kumai, sitting on Madi’s shade hut, learning that babies need massages to relieve tension from all the ghosts they can see. Maybe Shaman could see my ghosts, and now all I need is a massage so I can sleep better. “Wow!” I say, “Does everyone have ghosts?”
“Oh no, no, no…” Uh-Oh smiles and pats his heart.
“Ghosts cannot attach themselves to you if you are strong in your self. You must be you.” Uh-Oh lifts one finger then tips it in my direction.
Right, of course I thank Mr. Uh-Oh and slide down the flight of hotel stairs with the grace of a jungle leopard. All my ghosts must be out; I’m a cleansed soul with a pain free back. (No joke!) I intend to keep it that way.