by Boshra Rasti-Ghalati
They say hot air rises and now I know with a certainty that it does. You can see the steam rise, rise, rise up to the wooden ceiling. I am watching her breath heavily. She is naked, a towel wrapped around her. Sweat beading down her neck, lodging right in the middle of her cleavage before disappearing into her bra. She is Australian. She is White. I know she’s Australian because I heard her say “thanks mate” to the Kazakh girl who gave us towels. It is getting hot in here. I glance at the clock. 10 more minutes. The Kazakh girl said she would come for us in 15 minutes after our pores have sweat, sweat, sweated all our impurities out.
The Australian is self-conscious. Maybe it is the sauna, the fact that we are closed into a small, minimalist, wooden house. Maybe all the stereotypes about ‘the other’ has come crashing down on her this very instance – the stereotypes about women being the upholders of modesty, or the one about women being second class citizens, their bodies scornfully clothed to cloak their perverting influence on mankind. She catches my gaze and adjusts her towel over her bra. I catch myself slyly repressing a grin. I am naked – confidently bare-breasted. My dark areolas shamelessly on display. Why should I be embarrassed? No men have ever worked in a woman’s Hamam and it wouldn’t matter for me anyways. I always thought her kind were the shameless ones. They were known as non-monogamous. They were known to kiss their boyfriends right in front of their brothers and fathers. I scoff loudly at the dichotomy. She gets up without a word and leaves. The door bangs loudly behind her.
One feels lighter after having been scrubbed clean in a Hamam. It is a soulful lightness. As if the scrubbing didn’t just peel off a superficial layer of the skin, but the ritualistic steps involved have rebirthed one’s soul. The crisp fall wind in Istanbul still never ceases to stun me. The cobblestone under my feet stony and grey, the stone hills adding character to an already distinct city. The smell of fury, or intersections, of culture boundaries forever being tread upon. I wrap my scarf tightly around my neck, making sure to tuck it well into my leather jacket. I didn’t see him first. I saw the baby buggy and the little Asian woman pushing it merrily down the cobblestone hill. He was an afterthought, an out-of-place centerpiece that you ignore at first, and then when you notice, can’t seem to shake it from your mind. He was tall and skinny, like I remembered him. His head bobbing up and down to the arithmetic trot that all lanky men seem to have. He caught my eye. He knew who I was, even though our paths had diverged a decade ago. I could tell by the way he swallowed just before we passed each other. I think it was fear. I actually hope it was. I could have stopped him and extended a hand to the Asian chick he was with now. Did she know? I don’t think she did, or why else would he pass me by and swallow so hard like a coward?
Later that evening, sitting beside the fireplace I rub oil on my breasts. The hamam had dried me out. My mind sparks back to the time we sat together on that Island, over a decade ago. Holding each other’s hands. The moment he touched my breasts, and the sense that of repulsion that came over me. He shouldn’t have touched me. We weren’t engaged. He lied to the security guard about it, when he came to ask why we were sitting together. The guard asked for the document. He said we could have ended up at the police station. But we didn’t. I learned a very valuable lesson then. I will frequent the Hamam’s again soon looking for the Australian chick or another one like her.
Boshra Rasti is a Canadian teaching abroad. She currently lives in Qatar as a Middle School teacher.
Boshra draws inspiration from the teenage mind, one she may not have fully outgrown. She also is an avid runner who enjoys the self-torture of running in Qatar. She has other eclectic interests, such as making vegan ice cream. You can follow her adventures on IG @boshrascribbles