03Feb2013

A Load-Shedding Mystery

Lines of shoes in a shoe cupboard.

After three solid days of bureaucracy, with at least two more to come, a woman’s fancy lightly turns to facials. Well, mine does, anyway. Even during a rolling blackout.

So I abandon my spawn and head out into the weird semi-illuminated, post-apocalyptic maelstrom that is Thamel during load-sheddding in an attempt to further mitigate the wire wool effect that Himalayan winds have on the skin.

I suppose you could call it microdermabrasion, but, what with the spots that Kathmandu’s rich air has added to the skincare mix, I wouldn’t, really.

Despite the fact that I’m wearing flip-flops, the girl at the entrance insists that I change into what passes for spa shoes at this price point, the ugly, ribbed black plastic sandals sold everywhere in Asia as shower shoes and/or guest shoes (delete according to climate and culture).

No problem, think I, abandoning my spangly Israeli flip-flops in a weirdly full shoe cupboard, and processing up the stairs to the spa where I am, as last time, the only client, for a most excellent, indulgent massage of a facial with even a discreet attempt to lose some of my myriad blackheads, all by the light of emergency lighting.

Quite how anyone could have mistaken my lovely spangly flip-flops for a pair of gents’ black work shoes, I do not know. For much as I’ve adapted to load-shedding, which would, incidentally, make a splendid setting for a 1950s British stage farce, although the makeup I apply by emergency lighting is more clown school than West End theatrics, I WANT MY SHOES.

I am in a thoroughly zen mood when I leave, which dissipates slightly when I reach the shoe cupboard and, in the half-darkness, am able to locate only pair after pair after pair of gents’ leather shoes.

The chap who runs the spa comes down to assist, and, by the light of his mobile phone we confirm my suspicions that, thanks to load-shedding, some utter, stinking bastard has stolen my shoes.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I think someone has taken them by mistake.”

Quite how anyone could have mistaken my lovely spangly flip-flops for a pair of gents’ black work shoes, I do not know. For much as I’ve adapted to load-shedding, which would, incidentally, make a splendid setting for a 1950s British stage farce, although the makeup I apply by emergency lighting is more clown school than West End theatrics, I WANT MY SHOES.

Not only because I like those flip-flops. But because if I need to get another pair, I’ll need to shop in Thamel, which entails a wearying hour of fending off shop assistants until I find the ones I like, and then haggling until I get the price down to what I’d pay for a pair of cheap spangly flip-flops in the UK, my personal ne plus ultra when shopping for cheap spangly flip-flops in the Third World.

“What are we going to do?” I say.

“Well, we only had male clients today,” he says. “I will take your number and if he comes back, I’ll call you.”

That’s weird, think I. Admittedly most higher income Nepali men have well-maintained nails, but there are one hell of a lot of men’s shoes in that cupboard given I was the only client for 45 minutes, and the two men I saw when I came out appeared to be waiting for something.

Bizarro.

If this really is a brothel, the guy’s going to have some explaining to do when he gets home to his wife wearing what are really blatantly obviously ladies’ shoes. Although, I guess, it’s probably not an uncommon occurrence during load-shedding. People probably end up taking home the wrong wives and children if they’re not careful.

In Asia, as elsewhere, “massage” parlours can often offer extra services and, in my limited experience, will often have a front desk with beauty products and similar.

But they tend not to be enthusiastic about foreign women showing up in their environs, so, when the nature of the services isn’t obvious, they present as fully booked.

Although… this was a good facial, with good products, and the girls seemed really professional.

I look again at the shoe cupboard. There are more than ten pairs of men’s shoes there.

Wow! I think. If this really is a brothel, the guy’s going to have some explaining to do when he gets home to his wife wearing what are really blatantly obviously ladies’ shoes.

Although, I guess, it’s probably not an uncommon occurrence during load-shedding. People probably end up taking home the wrong wives and children if they’re not careful.

And then, just as I’m leaving, still in the horrid shower sandals, a guy shows up.

We namaste, I reclaim my flip-flops, and I wander down the road feeling really, really confused. It didn’t FEEL like the front for a brothel. But what the hell are all those men’s shoes doing in the shoe cupboard? And what on earth happens up the stairs?!

I text him to enquire whether it’s possible that a legitimate beauty salon could have a brothel upstairs. Radio silence. Humph, I think stroppily, as I gird my spawn and don my kneeboots for our regular dinner at K-Too. Anyone would think I’d offended him or something.

Mr Darcy, after a flurry of texts while he was bored on the long bus ride home enamoured of my sparkling personality most recently shown to its absolute finest in glorious Drunkovision, has gone rather quiet.

So, because a 23  24  25 quite-possibly-30-if-he-went-to-university-first-and-did-a-masters-which-he-didn’t year-old soldier who’s been out of his home country serving in the British Army for all his adult life and some of what Amnesty might nitpickingly call his childhood is quite clearly the right person to ask about the subtle nuances of downtown Kathmandu, I text him to enquire whether it’s possible that a legitimate beauty salon could have a brothel upstairs.

Radio silence.

Humph, I think stroppily, as I gird my spawn and don my kneeboots for our regular dinner at K-Too. Anyone would think I’d offended him or something.

I’ve met the American backer, a charming chap of impressive vintage, with whom I have debated the burning question of the inclusion or otherwise of soda in a Negroni, and generally chatted cocktails. This time it’s the Nepali backer who wanders over and joins our table.

We’re now virtually part of the furniture at K-Too. I’ve met the American backer, a charming chap of impressive vintage, with whom I have debated the burning question of the inclusion or otherwise of soda in a Negroni, and generally chatted cocktails.

This time it’s the Nepali backer who wanders over and joins our table: it’s only the front man we have yet to meet.

I tell him the story of my shoes, and, in particular, the men’s shoes. “Could it be possible,” I ask. “That in Thamel there’s a brothel with an actual real-life beauty parlour below it, rather than a fake one?”

We discuss a bit more. It would be possible, he concludes, but unusual. Because in Kathmandu as elsewhere, when a brothel’s masquerading as a beauty salon or massage parlour, the front operation does not usually offer legitimate services.

But he has no alternative explanation for the array of men’s shoes.

As Zac and I amble home, I get a rather sullen text from Mr Darcy. He has no idea about brothels.

Hey-ho, I think. Looks like the Radisson for me once Project China Visa is complete on Friday…


Thanks to Ozlady for the lead image.

2 Comments

  1. Nonplussed says:

    Of course, there’s many a confirmed spinster who favours a sensible brogue, particularly at higher altitudes. It may have been a Lesbian bar with a beauty parlour attached. They were all upstairs discretely dancing to Dusty Springfield and trying on your flip-flops.

    • Theodora says:

      Oh dearie me! I was thinking you’d forgotten me. That must, of course, have been it! All the huskier ladies I never saw on the streets of Thamel engaged in an intimate session of flip-flop appreciation…

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