It had been three weeks since they had boarded ‘The World’ – a gargantuan folly of a ship, designed as a moving home for jaded millionaires. One could see the world from ‘The World’, although most of them had seen it all before. Still, it was better than being a retiree in a wealthy suburb, their days so similar it was hard to distinguish one from another.
Astrid had convinced her husband to take another trip. ‘You can watch the market from the ship, it’s just like being at home.’
Niels raised an eyebrow. ‘You don’t need to convince me. I bought the residence from memory. It was actually my idea.’
‘We bought it,’ she corrected, ‘and that may be so darling, but we haven’t travelled on it for six months. The only thing you have to leave at home is the golf course — everything else is there.’
Within days they were bickering. ‘For God’s sake Astrid, go to the spa. I can’t stand you breathing down my neck. I’m busy, can’t you see?’
‘Why do I have to leave?’ she retorted, ‘All you do is study the Dow Jones, Hang Seng and NASDAQ each day. You’re a bloody bore. I try and talk to you and you grunt at me. You could go and play tennis, or see the golf pro at the putting green — I want the place to myself.’
‘To do what Astrid? Pluck your eyebrows? I need the computer. What do you need?’
‘A new husband?’
‘Hilarious. Look, I’ll book Portraits for tonight. We’ll have some dinner and relax. In return, can you please go to the spa?’
She shrugged. ‘Okay. But in return, can you stop checking your portfolio for one day?’
Astrid spotted the coast of Madagascar as she strolled along the deck, deep green against turquoise sea. A salt-laden breeze caressed her face. The pool was occupied with five middle-aged women taking a water aerobics class. Their faces were red and shiny as their arms windmilled, almost colliding with each other. The instructor was olive-skinned with bulging pectorals. She remembered him as a trainer from the gym and smirked at the womens’ slavish attention.
Making her way inside, the marble tiles of the hallway echoed beneath her. Arrangements of fresh flowers decorated alcoves in the mirrored walls and she inhaled the expensive scent that emanated from the air-conditioning grilles.
The receptionist greeted her with a bright smile. Astrid squinted, it was a little too bright. Teeth whitening, she thought, thumbing through the brochure of services.
‘I’d like a mud wrap please.’
‘Certainly, Madame. Would you prefer a male or female therapist?’
‘Either is fine, thank you.’
She ran her finger down the list of appointments and smiled again. Astrid squinted.
‘I can fit you in at twelve o’clock with Jorge. He’s excellent.’
‘Haw-Hay?’ she said, suppressing a laugh.
The smile dimmed a little. ‘Yes, Jorge. Is that all right?’
Astrid nodded and sat on the white leather banquette to wait.
Jorge emerged from the darkened hallway behind reception, wearing a grey linen tunic and matching trousers. Eyes like black embers were deep set in an angular face. His caramel skin gleamed.
‘Good afternoon, Madame. Please come with me.’ His voice was deep and accented.
Astrid swallowed and followed him.
After some preliminaries, she lay face up on the heated table, swathed in warm towels. Jorge had instructed her to strip to her underpants and her eyes flitted around the room. She tapped her fingers on the edge of the table and watched him stir the mud in a metal bowl.
He lifted the towel and painted the mud from her ankle to her inner thigh, his face serious with concentration. Astrid pretended to close her eyes, but they were slightly open, observing him. The mud was cool on her skin and she let her thoughts wander. She was deep in reverie when the sensation changed. Jorge had his hands on her thighs, massaging them. Their eyes locked. For a moment, scolding words sat on her tongue, before she swallowed them. She closed her eyes as his hands inched higher, biting her lip.
Niels found her lounging on the pool deck with a paperback. The sun was high and she felt her shoulders burn.
‘How was the NASDAQ?’ she asked, turning the page.
‘Up three percent. I made one hundred thousand on that tech stock I was telling you about. How was the spa?’
Astrid pushed her sunglasses up her nose.
‘It was rather good. I had a mud wrap. Must say, I feel twenty years younger.’
‘That sounds better than rather good.’
‘Hmm, I guess so. Have a seat, the old ladies are about to do their yoga session. Watching them in down face dog is so funny.’