It was with a lightness of heart and a spring in his step that Bond stepped out of the taxi onto the crisp gravel driveway outside the entrance of the imposing but welcoming establishment which was to be his home for the next week. He looked up at it and smiled with anticipation. A stately pile from the Regency period, with a sandstone facade and a tall portico, from which he could see an efficient looking porter emerging. Bond handed over his single bag of luggage, paid the taxi fare and proceeded to be led inside.
It was ambiently warm and hushed in the softly furnished reception area. The floor was carpeted and on the walls hung a large number of plush tapestries and fabrics in muted pastel shades. It gave the impression of being inside a padded, soundproof room. The air smelt clean, as if it had been treated with disinfectant and wood polish, not quite fresh but having a similar effect.
He walked up to the front desk, checked himself in, took the room key from the receptionist, and went off to find his quarters.
Settling himself on the bed he stretched out, gave a blissful sigh, closed his eyes and dozed off in semi silence, the only sound being the hypnotic hum of the air conditioning, set to a rather high balmy temperature, which swaddled him like a warm blanket. Within minutes he was sound asleep.
Bond awoke to the sound of his room telephone ringing primly and persuasively. How long had it been going? He sat up and winced from the crumpled chill from having overslept by mistake, and feeling less rested for it. Damn it, he thought, blinking and rubbing his eyes at the lowering sunlight of the late afternoon. This was not a good start. He wondered how long he had been out. Groggily he picked up the receiver and heard a shrill voice on the other end.
‘Mr Bond? Ah, you are there. This is reception. Everything all right up there?’
‘Er, yes fine. Just been settling in.’
‘Oh splendid. Of course. Only we did wonder; you were scheduled for your first physical assessment at 2:00 today, and it’s now 3:30. Thought perhaps you were a late arrival but I checked with reception and they assured me you’ve been here since 11:00 this morning.’
Blimey, thought Bond. He really had been out of it.
‘I’m most terribly sorry.’ he said. ‘I must have lost track of time.’
The feeble lie carried little conviction behind it. He had been fully aware of the appointment. In fact he had pretty much memorised his schedule for the whole week, without having to cast his mind back too far.
‘Must have got the appointment times mixed up,’ he continued, again unconvincingly. ‘It can be a little confusing. I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.’
‘Okay.’ Came the reply, with more than a hint of disguised annoyance. ‘We’ll be sure to send up another copy of your itinerary, just to make sure. And do please try not to upset the schedule, it doesn’t do any favours for the effectiveness of the regime. Neither for us nor you.’
‘Understood.’ Said Bond obediently. ‘Should I come down to the treatment rooms now?’
‘No point now. There are sessions booked solidly for the rest of the day. You’re next appointment is… let me see,’ Bond could hear papers being rustled as his file was inspected, ‘No, nothing until massage therapy tomorrow morning at 8:00. Let’s see if you can’t make it to that one, eh?’
Bond ignored the receptionist’s pointed sarcasm. ‘Yes. I’m sure I shall. Thank you.’
He put the phone back down and silence reigned once again. He suddenly felt fatigued from/by the whole exchange. Well, at least he would have no trouble sleeping during his stay, that was evident enough. It was all so restful here, inviting semiconsciousness and reverie at every turn. Prising himself from the bed, which he reflected he had not left for almost entire time he’d been there, he finished unpacking his few belongings, stripped off his suit and changed into a pair of slacks and the complimentary towelled robe, which was hanging up in the bathroom. He sat in one of the pair of wide padded armchairs and looked out through the large window, which went from floor to ceiling, overlooking a leafy quadrangle around which were housed the rest of the residential staff and patients. Outside birds were singing their final song of the day, branches of the sheltering trees danced in the gentle breeze. What a delightful place, he really had lucked out on this assignment, if one could call it that. His earlier doze had made him more tired still. A few moments later he was, again, fast asleep.
The next morning James Bond, refreshed and well rested, was waiting patiently in the treatment room reception area for his first massage appointment. He was early. After yesterday’s fiasco he had no wish to further shame himself by appearing unpunctual or disinterested. Indeed, his own keen personal desire to extrapolate the most from the week’s experience extended beyond any professional obligations.
‘Ah, Mr Bond. Please, do come in.’
An enthusiastic, short, bald headed man stood in one of the open doorways, consulting a clipboard and ticking off his patient’s name.
‘My dear fellow, welcome. My name is Dr Mayebe. I believe this is your first time at the clinic, and indeed your first session?’
‘Yes it is. And I must say I’m rather intrigued. Remind me, you will be giving me the massage treatment?’
Bond didn’t in fact need reminding, but he was for a moment taken aback by the incongruity of the short man’s physical appearance, given his specific practice. He looked nothing like a masseur, nor anything even vaguely resembling a practitioner of physical healthcare. It would be a stretch to imagine him being capable of giving any worthwhile treatment at all to one’s health, his appearance far from emitting any attainable benefits from it.
As he let his body be gently pummeled, Bond involuntarily let out a deep sigh of satisfaction.
To describe him merely as portly would have been flattering, the heavy rolls of fat covering him making his girth grossly disproportionate to his height. Bond felt unhealthy just to look at him. How did a person let oneself fall into such extreme physical disrepute? Surely one would recognise the signs, if not just from the discomfort. It looked like an unbearable strain, carting around all that encumbering excess fatty tissue. Also his diminutive stature did not do his rotund, butterball physique any favours.
Once inside however, after a few routine questions and a brief discussion about his large collection of battle scars and breakages, amassed over his time in the service, Bond removed his shirt and trousers and lay face down on the massage table.
‘I’m going to start you off gently,’ Mabeye’s voice was warm and reassuring. ‘We’ll see how your body responds and up the pressure from there, m’kay?’
It was the spiel he gave all his first timers. Bond’s expectations were low, but he allowed himself to go with it. At least if was warm down here, and quiet.
As he was being gently pummeled, Bond involuntarily let out a deep sigh of satisfaction. He actually felt good, his body was responding surprisingly well under the strong pair of hands, working away probingly and consistently. The unlikely looking lard bucket actually knew what he was doing. In fact, he was quite possibly the best that Bond, who was no novice in these areas, had ever come across.
What a revelation. Behind all that gargantuan weight was some real power and force. It eased Bond’s muscles, while at the same time toning and testing them. He could feel that some real work was being done, tangible physical correction. It was a sign of a professional worker who really knew his ‘craft’, someone under whose hands one felt simultaneously steadily soothed and delicately mauled. Luxuriating in ecstatic bliss he became hypnotised by the rhythmic kneading of his flesh, his eyelids grew heavy and he slunk deeper into the soft surface of the table. Within minutes he was fast asleep.
A couple days went by and Bond had soon settled into the routine of daily life at the clinic. It was just as he’d imagined, like an extended holiday at a rather intensive spa, strictly timetabled. His meals were carefully prepared and perfectly balanced, to ensure the maximum absorption of his nutritional requirements. Massages, yoga, calisthenics and various other cardiovascular workouts were peppered regularly throughout each day. All this as well as rather more specialised treatments, such as he was on his way to now, in fact.
Mud bathing. It’s description inspired both a feeling of excitement and mild repulsion.
All sorts of images sprang to mind at the idea of it, all of them messy, like making mud pies in earthy riverbeds, or sandcastles in the beach. It certainly didn’t suggest what had been described in the itinerary as ‘a unique and cleansing sensation, gently stimulating, leaving you positively rested and revitalised’.
The use of mud has existed since ancient times, becoming more popularised in Europe in the seventeenth to nineteenth century. Rich in minerals, it’s high levels of iodine and bromide have a soothing effect on the muscles, thus being a good natural remedy for ailments. It is also used in cosmetology as it contains natural moisturisers, as well as enhancing blood circulation.
He had this basic knowledge still in his mind from skimming through articles and medical journals before his departure. He didn’t know much more than any other half interested layman. But it all sounded like generally good stuff, and he was keen to ‘get stuck in’, so to speak.
The mud rooms were situated in a different building from the main clinic, just a short walk across the concourse from where he had first arrived, and on the edge of a wooded area bordering the perimeter of the property. It was a beautiful spring day and Bond breathed the fresh air deep into his lungs, drinking in the pure summery perfume of damp dew and lush, fertile plant life.
By the time he arrived he felt invigorated and was relishing the thought of a few hours of what promised to be a relaxing new experience.
He removed his clothes as requested and immersed himself in one of the freshly prepared tubs. It was the most strange experience, a bit like sinking into a bath full of lukewarm blancmange. The mud was a deep, dark chocolate brown colour. It looked deceptively unappealing, but Bond, settling himself down in the heavy, enveloping, thick liquid, immediately felt as if he could have stayed in it forever. His body was perfectly encased in the viscous concoction, allowing it to absorb and remove all his troubles and tensions, leaving him cleansed and purged of all life’s trifling complaints and problems. The attendant adjusted the depth of the bath, wrapped a hot damp towel across Bond’s forehead, dimmed the lights and exited the cubicle, pulling the curtains behind her so as to allow some privacy. Bond could hear her footsteps growing fainter as she walked back to her main work station. He closed his eyes.
Heaven, he though. This is surely what heaven must feel like. Or at least Double-0 heaven at any rate! Smiling at his own joke he drifted off into sleep, as he had done so many times already this week, at the most inopportune moments. It had usually been during the middle of treatments and procedures which, ironically, were supposed to induce the opposite effect, to invigorate and stimulate. But instead all it did was to lull him into a sublime parallel existence, living on a shallow gradient between daydreaming and heavy slumber. For his brief sojourn sleep had become his natural state.
After all, wasn’t that what one was supposed to do on holiday?