WRIT LARGE: Ch 9, Part 2
Treasures of the Orient
I have arranged to have breakfast with Olivia and the boys this morning before we travel but have a spare hour to fill between now and then. I recall Tuah and Putera in the steam room yesterday morning telling me about the four-hand massage they had received in the Barracks Hotel’s spa. I call through to the hotel reception and ask them if they might book me in for the same at such short notice, which they do within moments.
The spa is elegantly furnished in keeping with the Barracks brand, painted in calming shades of ivory and cream, and with an indoor zen garden to welcome visitors. I am offered a green tea on arrival, and a private room in which to undress where a fluffy white bathrobe is folded into a perfect square and tied with a snowy ribbon. There are slim white slippers to use when walking through to the treatment room.
I could count on two hands the number of massages I have had in my lifetime. They often make me feel uncomfortable, and unlike most people who tell me they are so relaxed they fall asleep, my experience is quite the opposite. I am all too aware of the masseuse, of their proximity, of the sensation of their hands on my skin. Also, when I find myself in situations where I am supposed to liberate my mind of all thoughts, my brain is wont to do the opposite. It chooses to wander. I will contemplate plot twists if I am writing fiction, character traits, and book titles. Itches spring to life, in parts of the body I’m unable to scratch. My breathing becomes irregular and something that I need to focus on to bring under control. In short, I am often less relaxed following a massage than I was before I entered the spa or salon.
Calming music is playing when I go through to the treatment room. The two massage therapists greet me with wide smiles and bright eyes. One gestures for me to lay on the bed, my face positioned in the cushioned hole at one end for breathing. I close my eyes instantly, and force myself to count as I breathe, in … one … two … three, out … one … two … three.
It is an unusual sensation: four hands instead of two. I try to follow them, my brain attempting to maintain control over who is working on which muscle, but it soon becomes impossible, and I find rather unexpectedly, that I have completely switched off, my thoughts spiralling into oblivion. I must doze. The next thing I am aware of is a therapist placing a warm towel across my shoulders and telling me to take as long as I need before sitting up. They have placed a frosted glass of cold water on the table by my side.
I take my time, sipping the water, my legs dangling over the side of the bed like a child on a wall waiting for his friends to come out to play. I am smiling all over. I am unsure of a time when I have ever felt quite so relaxed outside of my own home and I realise I am grinning when one of the women returns to the room to check on me.
“How are you feeling?” Even her voice is soothing. I tell her that I feel great, never better, and certainly mentally prepared for the flight to Malaysia later today.
She smiles and nods, offering me a hand to help me down from the bed. Her touch now is light, and I am surprised to feel almost as though I am floating above the ground. The woman gestures to the emerald set, white gold signet ring on my finger. “Such a beautiful ring. Does it mean something?”
I explain that it is representative of my Writer’s Guild and each author is presented with a similar ring as a welcome gift. It dawns on me then that I have been so immersed in tourist attractions, biographies, and poker games, that I have yet to order Leann’s ring.
With my newfound buoyancy, I return to my room and email my assistant in Sydney, asking her to collect the four new signet rings I arranged to be delivered to the Boucheron store, and express courier one to Resorts World Genting along with a welcome pack for Leann. Fifteen minutes later, she confirms that the package will be delivered tomorrow for my attention.
At 9am I meet Olivia and the boys for breakfast by the pool. I am ravenous.
“Why are you not wearing your jacket?” says the eldest boy.
I take my seat, unfolding the pristine white napkin and laying it across my lap, and suggest that Olivia must have told him to ask the question. He giggles and the younger lad nods.
“I thought we could travel in our matching jackets,” says Olivia. “In case anyone forgets that we won.”
I tell her it is inconceivable that anyone could forget such a game, especially when taking into consideration the outcome and today’s trip by private jet.
“I don’t think that flying by private jet is something I could ever get used to,” says Olivia. “It makes me feel like … I don’t know … like a little girl pretending with her pink plastic Barbie jet. It’s so surreal.”
I agree with her and suggest that we should embrace these opportunities with open arms and a cheap disposable camera.
Olivia orders a full English breakfast again, and I am unable to resist doing the same. Travelling, no matter the mode of transport, is draining, and my massage seems to have awakened a healthy appetite in me. I am hoping the combination of relaxation and food will see me through the day without flagging.
“We have been creating another itinerary,” says the eldest boy. “Did you know there is a new theme park at the resort, Lucas?”
I sip my orange juice and tell him no more rollercoasters for me.
“And we can take the cable car ride through the clouds.”
That is more like it, I say, especially as my wife has insisted that I ride the cable car and take photos for her.
“The cable cars have glass bottoms. How are you with heights?” asks Olivia. I inform her that a glass bottom is better than no bottom at all, and that I shall keep my eyes fixed firmly on the camera.
“Oh, but you’ll be missing out.” She pauses, thoughtful. “I know where we really must take you, Lucas, the SkyAvenue shopping mall. You can buy your wife lots of lovely gifts to take home.”
I sidestep this suggestion by asking if she has been given a schedule for the Malaysian trip either by Bernard or Tuah.
She shakes her head. “No, nothing.” Then her eyes widen. “Oh my god, you don’t think they expect us to play real poker while we’re there, do you?”
I ask if we were not playing real poker last night, and she replies, “You know what I mean. In a real casino with real players and not just a group of friends who are there for the banter.”
I assure her that no one can make her do anything she isn’t comfortable with, especially when it involves money, although from what I’ve seen, she would have nothing to worry about playing with ‘real people’.
“Can you teach me to play poker?” asks the youngest lad.
“Only if you promise not to tell your grandfather,” says Olivia.
Our breakfasts arrive, and Olivia eyes up the plate as if she hasn’t eaten in a week. Since my operation, I have stuck to a cautious diet of yoghurts, grains, cereals, and plenty of fruit and veg, but I realise with that first waft of grilled sausage and bacon, how much I have missed this as an indulgence.
“There is an LED show in the resort,” says the eldest boy. “And an arena. Who do you think will be playing? Do you think we will have time to watch a concert?”
“And play the video games?” adds his brother.
I swallow a mouthful of bacon and fried egg and say that if it is in my power to make time for a concert, then I will. The last show I saw was Celine Dion in Vegas.
“My mum saw Celine Dion at Wembley,” says Olivia. “Years ago. She said she was amazing.” Olivia is quieter than usual while we eat. Eventually she says, “Seriously though, have you seen the size of this resort? It has the biggest hotel in the world. In the world,” she repeats, her eyes narrowed.
I sense that she is feeling a little apprehensive about this trip and ask her if that is the case.
“I don’t know.” She shrugs. “It’s just … I’m used to sitting on a quiet beach on a Greek island, and this, I mean, why do you think they invited us?”
I explain that I think firstly, they will try to persuade me to write their CEO’s biography, and secondly, they will use the opportunity to convince me that the Netflix series is a viable option. They were certainly enthusiastic at the prospect.
“But why all of us?” persists Olivia. “Why extend the invitation to all of us? Not that I’m complaining, of course.”
I consider my answer. I can think of several responses, but in the end, I go with the simplest: it would have been unfair and poor etiquette to have singled out one or two of us to invite when we had all spent the evening together. She still seems unconvinced, so I press the matter of her dubiousness.
“Everyone is so … I mean …” – she stares across the pool at the palm trees and the gloriously vibrant bell-flowers – “… everyone else is used to mixing in these circles.”
I tell her that I always get butterflies when I am preparing to meet people I am not acquainted with, and that it is a basic human instinct, and one that I believe helps to keep us grounded. Given the option, and with my career taken out of the equation, I would rather be at home with my wife than preparing for a flight to Malaysia to meet with a rather formidable billionaire.
She nods. “But, even so, you do get to mix with these people regularly.”
I remind her that she is Bernard Arnault’s PA, and not many people can claim such a grand title. She laughs then.
“I guess, after last night, I feel like I’ve been winging it so far, and one day soon, everyone is going to realise that I am just a girl from Surrey, England, and that I shouldn’t actually be here.”
Olivia pushes her breakfast around the plate with the tip of her fork, her eyes fixated on the fluffy scrambled egg and tiny grilled button mushrooms, and I am surprised to see this unexpected vulnerability.
I assure her that no one thinks she does not deserve to be here, and that she earned her role on Bernard’s staff on merit, because I doubt anyone was standing behind her offering a leg-up. She sniffs and gives me a half-smile.
I tell her that I have googled Resorts World Genting, and it is huge. It probably would not be my choice of holiday, but we can rest assured it will be an unforgettable experience. I am assuming that she has visited London as a tourist. “Many times,” she says. “I love days out in London: Covent Garden, Chinatown, Harrods, and a show in the evening.” I suggest that she has found her own solution and should compare this trip to a day out in London; if the busy city streets do not faze her, then this resort will be a walk in the park.
The youngest lad has been following the conversation with his large brown eyes. “I’ll hold your hand, Olivia,” he says.
I wish I could be so lucky to be a part of a Writer's Guild and be wisped away to different parts of the world like the narrator and the other characters.