Sunday, October 23, 2011

SAECULUM (A Novel:Part 5) – VESPER I.

SOL OCCAXUS (Sunset) Monday, 19 September, 2011

CREPUSCULUM (Evening Twilight)
I. Friday, 23 September, 2011
II. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
III. Thursday, 29 September, 2011
IV. Sunday, 16 October, 2011

VESPER (Evening Dusk)
I. Sunday, 23 October, 2011
CONCUBIUM (First Sleep – Coitus – Rest)
MATUTINUM (Dawn Goddess)
DILUCULUM (Dawn Twilight)

SOLI ORTUS (Sunrise)



As Michael Mara climbed the short flight of steps, which led up from the pavement of the modern Carrera de Darro to the older street level of the fifteenth-century avenue, he looked ahead, searching for the doorway of the small Moorish bathhouse or banuelo. The doorway was framed by deep shadows and he paused for a moment to let an exiting customer leave. The customer looked pleased and flashed Michael a giddy smile. The carved, wooden outer door was not that thick, yet once closed behind him the street noise instantly, and near completely, faded. He made for the small reception area where he had made the booking the evening before. There was nobody at the reception desk and while he waited for somebody to appear wandered into a small narrow courtyard where a stone fountain and seat and an unkempt orange tree stood. There was a decorative, iron, external balcony-walkway overlooking the courtyard and he thought he saw some movement at one of the doors that opened out onto it. “Hello. Hello! Is there anybody here?” he called up.
There was a clatter of footsteps down the narrow staircase, which he had noticed just inside the entrance, and a bronzed, blonde and blue-eyed girl with pierced nostrils and eyebrows appeared in the courtyard. “Perdone, Señor. I did not hear you coming in. Are you waiting long?” she asked.
Michael noticed that her tongue was also pierced and that she also had a small defect in the lobe of her left ear. “No. Not really. I have an appointment for a massage at one o’clock,” he explained.
“Come,” she said in a strong Scandinavian accent and he followed her back to the reception desk where she checked the ledger and then looked at her watch. “Oh yes. Doctor . . .eh. . .Vara is it not?”
“Well it is good, you are on time,” she said approvingly as she reached down behind her and retrieved two thick bath-towels, which she then handed over. “If you go into the changing room …there,” she said pointing to a small wooden door off to the side of the courtyard. “And remove your clothing, you then go to the baths. When Isabella is free she will come to you for the massage.”
“Do I pay you now?” he asked.
“Sure. It is normal,” she said without looking at him.
Michael handed over the agreed payment and deposited his wallet and passport in a safety deposit box before gathering up the towels and walking to the changing-room door. He had to crouch a little to enter and stepped down into a mould-smelling and poorly lit room. To his left was the open archway entrance to the baths with its faded decoration of blue-and-white Moorish tiles and directly ahead there was a set of pegs for hanging clothes. On one of pegs hung what looked like a woman’s tracksuit and shirt and he wondered whether they belonged to Isabella. Turning right, he then entered a small cubicle at the end of the room and began undressing. Opening his knapsack to retrieve his swimming shorts he found that he had left them at the hotel and this oversight annoyed him as he quickly half-wrapped a towel around his waist and pushed open the cubicle door. He stopped just as suddenly at the sight of a fully naked young woman, who had her back to him, reaching upwards to retrieve her cloths from the peg.
“Oh! Perdone, Señorita,” he spluttered and made to retreat back into the cubicle.
The young woman turned without covering herself and smiled at his obvious discomfort. “It’s OK!” she laughed. “There is no need for you to be embarrassed. I will not be long.”
He thought her accent had the cadence of deep-south USA. She was in her early twenties, with the toned body of an athlete, spiky red hair and a small tattoo of a poppy on her shaven pubic mound. Michael noticed that there was a wet swimming suit on the floor. “I forgot my trunks. I wonder if they supply them here,” he asked.
The girl pulled a simple black t-shirt over her head. As her arms lifted her small firm breasts rose up as well. “I don’t know,” she mumbled from beneath the cotton shirt. “Why not ask at the desk?”
“I’ll do that. Thank you,” he said as he brushed past her to re-enter the courtyard and make his way to the desk.

The pierced Scandinavian was talking on her mobile phone as she sat on a small chair behind the desk. She looked up, a patronising smile creasing her face.
“I forgot –” he began to explain before the blonde held up her hand dismissively.
“It is not a problem, I think,” she said disengaging from the phone. “It is a Sunday and we close soon, yes. You are the last client and so there is no one to frighten. Isabella will not mind. Go ahead into the baths, Doctor Vara. I promise not to stare,” she giggled sarcastically.
Michael gave a sharp look but without replying turned back for the door that led into the changing room. The athletic young woman was just leaving; she smiled at him. “Enjoy the baths. Is this your first time?” she asked.
“Thank you. Yes it is my first time here. Where are you from?” he wanted her to stay and talk.
“But the accent?” he queried. She wore no jewellery but he noticed that there was small triangular area missing from the lobe of her left ear, which was uncannily like the ear defect that the receptionist had.
She caught his stare and pretended to brush her hair back. “I’m on an athletic scholarship to Georgia Tech. Hurdles,” she explained before heading to the desk to retrieve her belongings. After a few words with the blonde receptionist she left, giving him a small wave as she went. Michael watched the outer door close behind her.
“Oh Doctor Vara.” the silver pinioned Nordic tongue called out.
Michael looked at the bobbing bits of metal coming towards him. “It’s Mara,” he said with too sharp, and probably unnecessary, he realised instantly, emphasis.
“Ah, I see! The archdemon!” She laughed.
He over-reacted to her laughter. “What did you say? I thought that all you Scandinavians were a polite people,” he said angrily.
“We are. Do not be so serious, man. Relax!” she said dismissively.
“What did you mean by archdemon?” he asked.
“Oh that! I’m a Buddhist and in my religion Mara is the tempter who along with his daughters, Desire, Pleasure and Restlessness, inhibits us from achieving Nirvana and Enlightenment. I had always hoped he might pay the bathhouse a visit at some time. Your name is such a coincidence.”
“It’s an Irish name,” he said apologetically.
“Whatever! I go now, so here is your deposit key. Ask Isabella to make sure the door is locked when you are finished. Good afternoon Doctor . . . Mara.”

Michael returned to the changing room. Turning left he walked along the tiled passageway towards the cool resting area at the end. Along one wall were open cubicles with unusual double-seated small shower baths. Steam was coming from a narrow doorway that opened into the cool-room and following the drafting mist he entered into a large vaulted room, which had the shape of a cross. Along the nave was a rectangular pool from which the steam rose and in two side chapels there were beds for massage. There was no electric lighting and the natural light that was available outside filtered grudgingly through small stained-glass panels cut into the domed ceiling. The tinkling sounds of running water coursing through a series of tiled channels on the floor, echoed off the walls. After a while these noises became part of the atmosphere and in the otherwise hollow quietness of the murky tropical dimness he began to feel somewhat unnerved. He thought that somebody was watching him as he removed the towel quickly and slid into the shallow bath. Suddenly a voice came from the direction of the passageway. “Relax in the warm water for twenty minutes or so. I will be with you then.”
Was that Isabella’s voice? He could not be sure. It sounded somewhat different.

The time passed slowly and the room became darker and darker. Michael Mara wished there was music.
“OK, I am ready for you now,” the voice announced.
Michael could just make out a ghostly figure carrying what appeared to be two wicker-lit oil-lamps into the upper apse. The figure placed these on wall mounts and after a little adjustment a cedar-scented yellow glow soon lit up the shadows. He edged out of the pool and pulled the towel around himself. As he moved towards the shadow figure he saw that it was indeed Isabella. She was dressed in a finely woven muslin shirt that reached down to her ankles. When she moved towards him across the beam of the wall-mounted light the impression he got was that she was fully naked underneath. Indeed where the material was damp, he noticed that it clung, almost transparently, to sallow glistening skin.
“You may remove the towel and lie face downwards, on the bed. Are there any areas of your body in particular that are stiff or sore,” she asked.
“No,” he lied as he dropped the towel and lay on the bed as instructed.
“I am first going to rub you down with a kese cloth. This gets rid of all the dead skin,” she said soothingly. She then proceeded to work on his arms and legs and then his back with the cloth until the skin tingled. Turning him over she covered his midriff with a small towel and repeated the rubbing on his chest. There was very little eye contact between them. When she finished she lifted a bucket of soapy water and poured it over him. He held onto the towel for safety. “Turn please,” she instructed.
He did what he was told and watched as a stream of suds disappeared into a drain. There was a sensation of silk air bubbles cascading over his skin and he wondered what was she doing?
“Turn over again please, Michael,” she said quietly. Isabella had her back turned to him and was dipping the lower part of her long shirt into a bucket of hot soaped water. Turning towards him she gathered up the hem and pinching the material into a balloon shape blew into the neck until it expanded like a bladder. This she then patted down on his skin from neck to knees in one descending movement until the air was gone and the fabric deflated. The sensation of air hitting his skin through the fine weave of the muslin, he thought, was like that of champagne bubbles moving mercurially everywhere. The whole cleansing procedure took about five minutes.“You may face downwards again please.”
He could not but help notice how her nipples protruded erect and proud against the damp cloth of her gown. “That was a great experience, Isabella. Fantastic,” he said a bit too eagerly.
“Thank you, Michael,” she said. “Now I am just going to cover you with some warm towels, while I dry off and change my shirt.” She disappeared through a side door he had not noticed and about five minutes later returned dressed in a standard white trouser and short-sleeved jacket uniform. Her hair was tied back.
“It’s an interesting building this, Isabella,” he observed as he looked around. “A little bit eerie though. Who was that girl I met in the changing room?”
“Which girl?” She sounded irritated.
“The red-headed athlete.”
“Oh that girl. That was Zoë, my previous client. She is also, in fact, my cousin. Nice body. Did you notice?”
Did he what, he thought. “Yes. Are all your family so gifted?”
“Only the women!” Isabella laughed at her own wit and at his expense.
Michael squirmed a little, feeling exposed and cold all of a sudden. Almost on cue she placed a warm towel over his buttocks and legs and began working on his back.
“I thought you were meant to be going home today,” she asked as she began massaging his neck with firm but agile fingers.
“I changed my mind,” he explained. “I wanted to stay in Granada a little longer, to see a bit more of al-Andalous.”
“Your Arabic pronunciation is not bad,” she observed.
“Do you speak Arabic, Isabella?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
Michael was enjoying the skillful massage movements and as the time passed felt more and more relaxed. As she began massaging his upper buttocks the movement caused them to rock from side to side and he could feel himself becoming erect. Jesus not now, he pleaded silently.
“Yes.” There was panic in his voice as he thought she was about to ask him to turn over again..
“You should not lie so badly, Michael.”
“What do you mean, Isabella?” He was startled at the directness of the comment although it was said in a soft gentle voice. He thought it more an admonishment than accusation.
“You stayed in Granada to see me again. Did you not?” she asked.
“Yes,” he admitted.
“That’s better. There is no necessity to hide one’s true intentions. It is a waste of effort and willpower.”
“I –” Isabella’s fingers stopped moving. Her voice sweetened and cut across his defence. She whispered close to his ear:

“Were she to lose her love, because she had lost
Her confidence in mine, or even lose
Its first simplicity, love, voice and all,
All my fine feathers would be plucked away
And I left shivering’.”

“Very apt.” He theatrically shook his shoulders as he spoke, trying to ignore the astuteness and directness of the observation. “Yeats.”
“So, you are an Irishman after all! Yes it’s from The Gift of Harun Al-Rashid. Appropriate to the setting and the atmosphere. Don’t you think?”
“Yes it is,” he agreed.
Na’iman! We are finished,” she said as she gently squeezed his right ear lobe. “Turn over again and rest here for a few minutes. After that you can go and change. Do not shower. Let the oils work.”
“What does ‘na’iman’ mean?” He asked after turning.
Isabella smiled, the smile of an indulgent teacher. “Michael, you really do have some gaping omissions in your education. Have you never read Burton’s ‘Thousand Nights and a Night’?”
“No. At least not the original version.”
“You should, for many reasons. Na’iman is the polite greeting after being in the bathhouse, as we are. The modern reply is Allah ykhallik, God preserve you.”
Allah yuhanniki.” He dragged the phrase from his memory.
Isabella smiled again and flick-slapped him on leg with the wet corner-point of a damp towel before turning to leave. She stopped at the arched doorway and looked back. “Allah yuhanniki . . . God pleasure you . . . Very good, Michael. You have the makings of an oriental yet even if you have avoided Burton.”
It was his turn to smile as he spoke:

“And thus declared that Arab lady:
‘Last night, where under the wild moon
On grassy mattress I had laid me,
Within my arms great Solomon,
I suddenly cried out in a strange tongue
Not his, not mine.’ ”

“Touché, Michael! Yeats’ Solomon and the Witch. I am not sure whether to feel complimented or insulted. I will see you in a little while.”
“Isabella, wait! I need . . . I want to talk to you. Please,” he called after her.
“Of course you do, Michael. Sure. No problem. I will wait for you at the reception desk. Perhaps we could go for something to eat. I am hungry and I know a very good restaurant near by. Would that suit you?”
“Yes. Yes, of course. I’d like that.”

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