I stopped touching people years ago. I felt safer that way but I envied those who revelled in physical contact. I’d watch puppies suckling from their mother, kneading, squealing and squirming until they fell asleep, huddled in a cocoon of warmth. I’d see children at the park, hand in hand as they tumbled and climbed, laughed and shouted. I’d observe elderly couples, arm in arm as they hobbled down the road, contentment spilling from their faces.
My last experience of touch was my stepfather. Meaty fingers that probed and dug, wounding flesh and my innermost being. I knew God wanted me to deal with it but it was too hard. Ten years had passed and my habits were part of who I was ... and yet I sensed that God was at work.
I woke up one morning and noticed my skin had become dry with flaky patches that itched. It passed through my mind that it reflected the state of my soul: dehydrated, shrivelled and dull.
I passed a skincare shop later that day and fragrance drifted out; a sea of jasmine laced with rose and carnation. On impulse I went inside for a closer look. Wooden shelves held clear tubs and bottles, and jewel-coloured shower gels mingled with pearlescent creams. An effervescent saleslady came over with a smile. “Can I help with anything?”
I hesitated and then decided to respond. “My skin is quite dry so I’m looking for a moisturising lotion.”
“Well we have a wonderful range. Cherry, sandalwood, olive, lemon ...” She passed me a dozen testers to smell, and asked my opinion of each of them.
“The strawberry is very nice.”
“Great. I’ll use that range to give you a demo.”
I imagined this would involve a squirt of lotion onto my hands that I would rub in myself. I was wrong.
“Come and sit here and I’ll get the products ready.”
I followed her into an alcove with a gleaming hand basin set into a marble shelf. She ran warm water into the curved china shell and asked me to put my hand into it. I wasn’t happy but my fear of looking like an idiot was stronger than my dislike of being touched. I stretched out my arm and she splashed water over it before patting it dry with a soft white towel.
“We’ll start with the body scrub,” she said, opening a large pot. Using a spatula, she scooped some out and pasted it onto my skin. I flinched as she began to rub it in and she paused with a smile, “Too cold for you? It’ll soon warm up.” With firm strokes she rubbed it up and down my arm and then onto my hand and between the fingers. “Now we rinse again.” Streams of warm water caressed my skin and the scent of strawberries filled the air.
“Next is the body-wash. This doesn’t contain soap and is gentle and moisturising.” She squeezed a blob into her hand and began to rub it into my skin, creating a tingling mass of bubbles. “Can you feel how refreshing it is?”
I nodded as her hands skimmed my flesh, soft yet firm as she rinsed and dabbed dry. To my surprise, I was enjoying the sensation.
“The final step is the moisturising lotion.” She pumped a squirt of lotion into her hands and rubbed them together before smoothing the cream into my skin. I couldn’t help but close my eyes as she stroked and massaged and worked the lotion deep into thirsty flesh. The aroma of strawberries hung rich in the air and I imagined a field bursting with plump fruit, a bowl swimming with strawberries and cream, and a slice of fresh bread, slathered with strawberry jam.
Relief mingled with expectancy and excitement when she was done.
“Have a look and see what you think.”
I drew my arms together and looked at the difference. The left one was chalky and pale, dull and dry. The right one was smooth with skin glowing and fragrant with life.
“It’s amazing!” I exclaimed.
I left shortly after with a bag of strawberry scrub, body-wash and lotion – and the understanding that body and soul are intertwined and connected. A simple hand massage had brought more healing than years of isolation. I still didn’t like the thought of being touched but I knew that was going to change. I smiled up at the heavens. “That was just the beginning, wasn’t it God.”
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