Chara lay naked from the waist down, spreadeagled on a massage table, separated from the rest of the shop by only a thin shower curtain.
Sounds of excited women yapping in unfamiliar tongues rose over the hum of the dusty old air conditioner unit.
A middle-aged Thai woman knelt between Chara's legs, applying a thick layer of hot wax to her inner thighs, followed by a thin strip of gauze cloth, which she patted down and smoothed out.
Rrrrrip! "Arrghh!" Chara cried as the girl ripped the stray hairs from her thighs, leaving her stinging and hot.
The aroma of lemongrass and lavender wafted past her nose. Chara stared up at the crude glare of the flickering, exposed neon light that stung her eyes, making them swell with tears.
She certainly wasn't crying, if that's what you think.
Chara had shed more than enough tears in the past year and had now run-out entirely of proverbial damns to give.
Oh sure her wealthy ex-husband was now screwing her even wealthier ex-boss every night. And yes, it's true that the drawn-out divorce proceedings had extinguished the fire in her eyes and made-squeaky the spring in her step.
It's also true that, in one final middle-fingered-salute to her old life, Chara had sold everything she'd owned (and some of the things her husband owned) in the garage sale of the century.
The neighbours whispered, snickered, and tut-tutted as they rummaged through brass candle stands and macrame trivets, with all eyes on the now shabby Chara as they spoke, no doubt, of how foolish she was to divorce a man such as Richard and who does she think she is, at 28, that anyone of consequence will ever want to marry her now.
Liberated from the tiresome obligations that came with being married to a big boss such as her ex-husband, Chara's only thought when counting out the cash she'd collected was to get as far away as possible from the hell hole that was her life.
She longed for simpler days. She missed her childhood on the Greek isles, lapping up the waves, wafting in the balmy breeze and spending hours preparing elaborate traditional dishes with her beloved grandmother.
A part of her wanted to return to her childhood Mediterranean home, but she knew there was nothing to return to. Her grandmother had long since passed away, and no immediate family remained. Going back to the isles would be a futile act of pining for past long gone.
What Chara needed was a new adventure, one as far away from her New York life as possible.
Which is why when deciding where to go, she spun the globe in her ex-husband's study exactly 180 degrees to a point precisely on the other side of the planet.
Koh Samui, Thailand.
She wanted to smile in this country. She really did. The locals were so friendly, so eager, so peppy. They reminded her younger island-bound self, but from the moment her plane had touched down among the collection of straw huts they called an airport it was just one thing after another.
From the tout that overcharged her for the privilege of carrying her own bags and squatting in the back of a rickety pickup truck ride into town, to the shrill voices of the slender young massage girls who seemed to have opened up shop three-to-a-block and were constantly chirping at the men who walked by to come in for a so-called happy ending.
From the violent rays of the midday sun, that threatened to singe her skin right off to the fact that the coconuts here tasted sour and watery and nothing like the syrupy stuff they sold in fancy bottles in the supermarkets back home.
Everything about this place seemed off.
It was nothing like the travel videos she'd watched.
There was no sign of the majestic cliffs that rose high above the powdery sands and plunged into the azure seas. There was no hint of the tropical fruit platters, orchids, and garlands presented to visitors upon their arrival. Not even a trace was there of the famed Thai generosity.
No, this place seemed riddled with tourist traps, and Chara kept falling right into them.
Which is how she ended up standing in front of a shoddy mirror, inspecting the bodge job the Thai woman had done on her bikini line. Chara held her dress up and moved aside the fleshy part of her inner thigh, and shook her head at the angry red bumps the aggressive wax had left her with. She shifted on the cracked, moldy tiles of the shared communal bathroom next to the creaky-floored bungalow she'd tossed her bags into.
Oh, how she missed her epilator.
Suddenly, she heard heavy footsteps followed soon after by a man's deep, booming voice coming towards the bathroom. She quickly scurried into a private shower stall and pulled the curtain taught. She wanted to yell at him, to tell him that the men's bathrooms are on the other side, but the need for caution got the better of her, and she kept silent.
She couldn't understand what he was saying. He wasn't speaking English or even Thai for that matter. His words sounded curt, staccato.
The man spoke again, his voice taking on an incessant tone, and, to Chara's relief, was followed by the sound of a woman speaking.
It didn't explain what a man was doing in the woman's bathroom.
Chara tried to ignore the intruders and fetched her tweezers from her toilet bag. She'd take advantage of the ugly, glaring light to clean up the stray hairs the woman had missed.
Well, that was her intention, until the woman in the stall next door began screaming "Oleg! Oleg! Da! Da! Da!"
The man apparently took this as encouragement and hastened the pace at which he banged his willing playmate. Chara knew this because the flimsy barrier between their two stalls seemed to be buckling under the pressure that these two horny Russians were applying to it.
Chara contemplated leaving--angry, messy bikini line and all--and coming back later. Maybe she should have just given up on personal grooming altogether and just gone natural from now on, but the idea of walking out of there with the job half done because of a pair of overeager lovebirds just pissed her off more.
Then the hinge broke.
The barrier that separated Chara from the fuckers next door had begun to buckle under the stress and was now held up by three, rather than four hinges.
Make that two.
"Oh for God's sake, will the two of you please just go screw somewhere else," Chara yelled, slamming her fists against the barrier.
That seemed to work because the two of them just stopped altogether.
Chara's sense of relief was short-lived, however, because half a second later the barrier fell on her, cracking as two burly Russians, a man and a woman, toppled with it.