Flumes Vol. 5: Issue 1, Summer 2020 - Page 64

here when you’re finished. No rush.”

The women escort me into what could only be described as a Turkish bath, all arches and marble and sapphire pools. One woman pours me coffee while the other shows me the enormous shower. She proffers a list of services, a shave, a haircut, a massage. I want it all, but I’ll start with a shower. I ask if there’s a time limit. At home, the shower is cut off after thirty seconds. The woman breaks out in bright peals of laughter that make me smile. Take as long as you want, she says. I accept the bathrobe, and feel immediately embarrassed. My skin looks so grimy against the pristine white. I become acutely aware of the dirt lodged under my fingernails, the dried perspiration on my forearms.

have never felt anything as glorious as those first minutes in the shower, the cool water hitting me from all sides, as though standing in a heavy rainstorm. I leave reluctantly, lured only by the promise of other things. I sip my coffee and try not to shove all of the pastries into my mouth at once. The women knock gently and reappear. One hands me a glass of iced water, while the other sets up her massage table. It’s only as one woman is cutting my hair that I finally think of Grace. Grace, who uses a pair of old kitchen scissors to cut my hair, locks falling to the floor in ragged clumps. The electric razor buzzes efficiently in my ear as the woman trims my sideburns. I feel inexplicably resentful of those old scissors, and the botched results they produce. And, by extension, perhaps I feel the tiniest bit resentful of Grace.I

grow quiet, even as the woman chatters on. It’s underhanded, what they’re doing. It’s practically criminal. Making us gorge ourselves on all this luxury. My spirit falls in accordance with these thoughts. I’m just a mark to them. This is all a perfectly calibrated process. The woman catches my eye in the mirror. She waits a moment too long before offering a smile, like an actress just a hair behind her cue. I try not to be too hard on myself. Anyone would react this way. I straighten my shoulders, and return the woman’s smile. If these suckers are going to give me a day off, I may as well enjoy it.

The women leave a set of clothes in the chair and then depart, giving me instructions to go back and meet the government worker. He is just where I left him, and even he seems a little taken aback by my tidy appearance.

He asks, “Are you ready, friend?”

“For what?”

“Why, the next part of your day, of course. That was only the beginning.”

He says this as we pass into yet another series of rooms, first a well-appointed library, then a gleaming kitchen, and then a greenhouse teeming with flowers and tropical plants

“This is what your house will look like,” he says. “The layout of all the mansions is similar. We’ve perfected it, really. The Honorables are most pleased. But if you don’t like something, well then we can change it like that,” he proclaims, snapping his fingers.