(The following story is true. Even the names have not been changed to protect the innocent.)
I had an hour to kill before jumping on late night calls with the U.S. and decided to take advantage of the steam sauna at the hotel to clear my head. I checked in at the spa desk, picked up a very charming antique skeleton key for a locker and began to wind my way through the labyrinth of hallways to find the changing room. I passed a woman, probably in her mid 40s, standing by one of the massage tables. She patted the leather cushion. “Ready, sir?” I politely declined and asked where the men’s locker room might be. She motioned for me to follow her. She led me through all the secret passage ways the staff obviously used until we saw the sign clearly marked “Men.” I was about to thank her for services but she marched right into the changing area.
OK, not that unusual. I have seen matronly women as attendees in men’s restrooms in Hong Kong and Germany. They go about their business cleaning stalls and sinks with no compunction as to the circumstances. But I didn’t really want to disrobe with her there so again I was about to thank Massage Lady as a hint for her to leave when she called out “Vivek!”
In a moment, a slender man, probably in his 20s, dressed in a bland tan uniform and who apparently was doing his best to grow a mustache, appeared. He smiled broadly for me. Maybe he recognized me from the gym the day before. I smiled back, and with this Massage Lady left me in good hands.
I proceeded to Locker # 55 and was about to insert the key when Vivek dashed around the benches and said, “Can I open for you, sir?”
I politely declined but he hovered uncomfortably close, inspecting my every move. His hands were fidgeting. Did he have no confidence that I could negotiate a skeleton key? Was he insulted that I said “no”? Was I depriving him of his only purpose in life?
I negotiated the task flawlessly (at least that’s my opinion) and opened the door. I expected this would give Vivek yet another clue that I could take it from here. But he stood there, now more nervous than before. In Asia, you get used to people being in what would ordinarily be “your space.” It’s crowded everywhere you go. But we were the only two people and I could actually hear him breathing.
Now what? Well, I couldn’t exactly take a sauna in my work attire, I had to change. I sat on the bench and took off my shoes. Vivek immediately retrieved the spa slippers from my locker and began unwrapping the plastic. I took off my shirt and Vivek retaliated by unfolding a spa robe and holding it up, as though for me to put on.
He wasn’t budging and he was matching me move for move. Was I suppose to put the robe on first? I was in a men’s locker room for crying out loud.
Vivek then held the robe up higher. Aha, he was providing me my own private dressing screen. I quickly changed into the little disposable gym shorts they provided and Vivek, right on cue, helped me on with my bathrobe. I quickly tied it up, afraid it might occur to him to take on this occupation as well.
I thanked him and smiled and began walking toward the sauna, clearly visible from where I was standing. He scooted out in front to lead the way. I half expected him to be right at the door when I came out. He was not there. I walked to the showers and there was Vivek with the water running, towel draped over one arm and a glass of herbal tea held up. He smiled.
If I knew how to say the equivalent of “touché” in Hindi, I would have congratulated him on his victory.