Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Toenail Petals

I went for a pedicure today.

This is not a luxury I frequently grant myself.  Usually once a year near the beginning of sandal season I will go to get my feet into shape for summer, and then maintain them on my own until next year's sandal season approaches.

But this is not about my feet or my toes.
There will be no before and no after shots.

When I walked into the shop for my pedicure this morning, I was greeted with "Good Morning" in broken English.  The forty-something Asian woman instructed me with gestures to pick a colour and then sit down.    She had a warm smile and moved quickly - obviously not used to being able to take her time or saunter to her station.    I lowered my feet into the hot steaming water.

She took my calloused and rough foot with its jagged and uneven toenails into her hands and began to work.   She giggled as I flinched (as I often do with pedicures) and said "ticklish.....".  I nodded my head and laughed with her as she carried on.

As she worked on my feet, the familiar feeling of shame came over me.
She's looking at my feet, after all.  My neglected,  worn, seemingly unattractive feet.
It's vulnerable for me to be in that position - to expose the often-covered up parts like my feet.
But here a woman a decade older than me - likely having lived much much more life than my own was looking at them, refining them, and making them beautiful again.

She continued to move quickly and skillfully - applying the polish with broad, even strokes.  I  silently admired the color I had chosen.  The perfect blend of red and orange, just the way I like it.

Suddenly, she is talking - at first, I can only make out the word "flowers".  
I listen carefully as she gestures and explains in broken English that she wants to paint on flowers "for free".

I didn't want flowers painted on my big toenails today.
But she seems so excited - so genuinely wanting to give me this bonus, that it seems wrong to refuse.
I relent and say, sure, give me some flowers.

She takes her fine brush and expertly paints on white flowers with tiny dots going up and down the nail.    I smile down as I look at what my toes are becoming - not what I wanted at all.  Smiling because there may have been days in the past when this discrepancy between what I wanted and what I received might have left me in tears.

When she finishes the flowers she opens her tiny case of jewels and affixes purple ones onto the center of each flower.  Purple.   On my orange-red toenails.  She grabs her bottle of gold glitter and adds a little more embellishment to the petals - a finishing touch.  Afterward, she stands back and admires her work.  Though it is not what I wanted, I vocally admire it too - thanking her for her extra effort.

As I stand at the counter to pay her, my heart drops.

Two young women come into the shop and have began their interaction with the nail technician and the other employee.  They speak sharply -- loudly.... as though not knowing English very well also means you also have a hearing loss.  Their manner and tone is degrading and it makes me uncomfortable to be in their presence.  When one of them is not understood the first time, she waves her arm and hand in the air.  The other repeatedly demands a FAST pedicure - FAST - though she just walked in and someone else is ahead of her.  None of this seems to matter to her.

But it matters to me.

And that sense of shame washes over me again... though this time it has nothing to do with my feet.

Be patient with her - I want to say.
She is 20 years older than you - show her some respect.
Command of the English language is not a gauge for character or intellect.

I complete my payment - then sit down to let my toes dry.  I continue to listen and watch and cringe.  As soon as I am able, I get up and walk away.

I look down at the flowers on my toenails.
The white petals reminding me of more than what I didn't want.
They remind me of who I don't want to be.


  1. beautifully expressed.
    all things we don't want to feel but we do anyway.
    the lovely technician sensed your compassion and respect....why else would she offer the extra special embellishes?
    you are to see yourself covered in jewels and glitter my friend....even the deepest areas of shame (like our feet....) are to be adorned in glittery petals. may not be what you are used to, but its what you deserve. love you. xo

  2. i'm sorry if my above comment was kind of bizzaro. At least, I"m feeling now that it is....
    but I really love your compassion and love for others, that comes out so tangibly in all you do! thanks for that.