My day at Bali Botanica Spa starts with sweet ginger tea while Ayu, my therapist, prepares the room. During the short wait I am shown a selection of four ceramic bowls filled with Farrow and Ball colored powders. Chalky green, string, brick and taupe. I am invited to sniff and asked if, when it comes time for the exfoliation, I want the milk, the herb, or the rice, sandalwood and turmeric scrub - each of which are followed by a yoghurt moisturizer - or the coffee exfoliant which is finished off with fresh papaya.
Always a sucker for green anything I decide on the herbal scrub and walk toward the treatment room. Creamy yellow flower arrangements are placed on every surface. The air is scented with frangipani. Candles burn. A soft flute plays as if from the bamboo trees outside and the respectful padding of small bare feet on clean white tile makes sure I knew my ritual has started.
The front wall of the treatment room looks out on to a stream bordered with banana leaves and coconut palms, and it is like entering a hut in the jungle. An arrangement of hibiscus and alamanda flowers reclines against a rolled towel. Petals float in pale green dishes everywhere. I even spy them through the head hole in the massage table. I lie there listening to birdsong and the running of the stream.
The first treatment is the two and a half hour Ayurvedic Chakra Dhara massage. Ayu has magic listening hands. Every movement is sure, concentrated, focused, every stroke a response to what information she receives through her skin about my needs. I am not having a job done to me. I am not meat being battered for the barbie. I am a Goddess, and it is only a matter of seconds before I feel utterly held and celebrated.
During the course of my day in Ayu's hands, I try to figure out why her massage, whether it is facial or foot, whether done with fingertips, forearm or an elbow, is so exquisite, and in the end I decide that it comes down to rhythm. It is as if I am an instrument she is playing. She sets something in motion and stays in a rhythm with it so I can join her through my breathing and in my awareness. She makes it possible, it seems to me, for me to meet her half way. A litre of warm oil is dripped over the chakras to balance my mind body and spirit. As I lie with the copper vessel drizzling its oil on to my third eye for twenty minutes my whole being feels warmed, unified. I am then invited to move on to a stool and rest my feet in a bowl of rose petals while my head is massaged to finish up the morning's treatment. I don't know why I start to cry.
First up in the afternoon is the full body scrub and moisturizer and I am glad, as I lie on my stomach once more, that I resisted pigging out at lunch. In fact, I could have abstained completely. There is a glass of exotic juice waiting for me by the side of the bath tub and the aroma of the yoghurt mixed with the herbal powder is heady enough to compensate for any hunger.
The bath is beneath the wall-width window looking out on to the jungle, and indeed on to some interested 'fishermen' there. Having had my scrub, I lower my yoghurt clad body in to the tub brimming with rose petals and it is while I soak that I remember.
I was pregnant once for a very short time. During those few weeks I was overwhelmed with wonder at and gratitude towards my body. I took time every day to practice some gentle yoga and to meditate on becoming present with our baby. At various intervals in the day I traced the curve of him with listening fingers. Everything slowed down, became sensual. I shopped for clothes made from fabric that would hang sublimely from and flutter in the breeze around his dome-like house. Above all, however, I remember feeling connected in a new way with the women in my life, joined in the age-old non-verbal ritual of pregnancy.
There were complications and I never did give birth. However, ten years afterwards - years of mourning, needles and hormones, and finally acceptance - I have been told that I am at long last going to be a mother. A phone call from Bamako informed me that a little boy of three months is waiting for us to bring him home. Today, through the ritual of cleansing and purifying, through a woman's hands tracing my form and bringing it, with that unique woman-to-woman understanding, to life, through petals and oils and unguents, I feel something opening in me. A remember a verse of a song…
Cette petite âme blanche.
Elle sera née deux fois.
La première entre vos hanches,
La seconde entre nos bras
(This little while soul will be born twice. The first time between your hips and the second in our arms - Francis Cabrel, Mademoiselle l'Aventure)
I shower and prepare for the facial. I am warmed by creams, cooled by toners, and my impurities are removed by a mask. The chilled avocado hair treatment makes my scalp zing and all the while Ayu's fingers keep the blood flowing in my neck, arms and shoulders, breaking down tensions, cellulite, blockages and creating flow. I feel increasingly moved by her constant attention and want to communicate to her that today is not just my birthday but, in a way, the day I also gave birth. That today she has been a sort of mid-wife to me. Her English is not good. We get as far as a baby in Africa and there is a Grandmother somewhere in there (probably me, she thinks, or the Grandmother I have left my child with back home in Africa while I hang out in Bali), but it doesn't matter. I know she knows that I am receiving her gift of touch deep in to not only my skin and bones, but also my heart, and that in some way Louis Joseph Merrow-Smith is receiving it too.