“It’s weird,” I said, “Because it’s like you’re in the dark, reaching out to total strangers. And you make contact with one, and then it’s like you’re sizing each other up, circling each other… ‘Are you the right kind of associate, or not?’”
“Reminds me of that Anthony Gormley exhibition, Blind Light,” said D. “A glass room full of steam, you walked round with your arms out in front of you, and then someone would loom out at you, like an apparition.” D is small and spry, with almond shaped eyes and leaf shaped ears. He’s an amazing yoga teacher, and a brilliant musician. He’s made his own guitar, and it looks like him, with pointy cut-out shapes in the wood. “It was perfectly safe though… just very unnerving,” he said, of the exhibition.
The internet isn’t safe, of course. There are predators out there, beyond that screen of blind light, and whole organisations, spying on me. And people laughing, and sneering, and pointing their fingers… Is it the internet that’s caused my eczema?
My Ayurvedic doctor thinks it’s definitely a contributing factor. She’s the tiniest bird of a woman, with long purple hair, and huge, luminous eyes. She’s calls me “Love”, apart from she’s French, so it’s “Lov”, which I find very endearing. The first time I saw her she asked me a list of questions as long as your arm, in her husky French voice, including “What is your fa-vor-eet weazer-r-r condition?” and “Would you say, lov, that you are a cr-r-r-ritical person?”
She looked at my skin, and looked at my tongue, and diagnosed both a Vata and a Pitta imbalance. “No bread, milk, cheese, fish, red meat or tomatoes,” she pronounced. “Also, no tea, coffee or alcohol.” She recommended a tea of fresh ginger at dawn, followed by a self-massage with organic, cold pressed coconut oil. After that I would spend the day very quietly (“No screens, lov, I beg you!”), and drinking lots of aloe vera juice and rose petal tea. I would need lots of ayurvedic herbs, which she said she buy for me in Tooting, and hand to me in Café Nero the following Thursday.
Thursday came round and I set off for Café Nero. After a dairy- and coffee-free week, I eyed her steaming bowl of cappuccino with lust. Surreptitiously she produced some plastic bags and passed them across the table. They seemed to be full of dust, but I handed her a twenty pound note. People were turning around and looking, and it did all feel a bit dodgy, especially as she was whispering instructions to me in a most conspiratorial manner.
As well as the sacks of dust she produced a small, treacle-dark bottle.
“Neem!” she whispered excitedly, her eyes two enormous shining orbs. “For a self-massage before bed!” Then she took my hand, and dropped her voice further. “But lov – I must give you a warning. This oil – it stinks.”
“Oh no,” I said. I’d only just got used to smelling of macaroons, from the coconut oil. She nodded grimly. “Neem oil, it smells terrible,” she said. “But, lov, it is the best thing for your skin.”
I cycled home with my black oil and my bags of dust, half-wanting to throw them all in the bin and have some cheese on toast. Instead I tried some of the dust, dissolved in warm water…. And could not believe how bad it tasted. Like the crushed, thousand year bones of some plague-ridden crone, discovered in a stagnant bog somewhere. Still, I’d paid my money…
I kept taking the different dusts at different hours of the day, as instructed… and then it was time for a self-massage with the neem. My doctor had told me to mix just a drop of it in with coconut oil, but I didn’t realise how quickly the stuff would come out of the bottle. I got it all over me, and also the bedroom floor.
I rushed to get a cloth, wanting to have mopped it up and got rid of the smell before S came up. As I mopped, I started to realise just how bad the smell was. Raw onion, rotten eggs, and something unimaginably worse, all working itself into my skin. I jumped in the shower, and scrubbed and scrubbed… But it was hopeless. I still reeked of it when I got out.
Luckily S had been out drinking, and was exhausted and desensitised. He was put out, but he didn’t make me go and sleep downstairs. He put some eucalyptus oil on a tissue, laid it over his nose, and was asleep very quickly. I stayed awake, in my cloud of neem, worrying about what people thought of me.