In Bangkok we went to get a couples massage and had trouble finding a place that was legitimately for straight up massage and not for anything else. A few places we passed seemed immediately seedy or suspect. One place had the girls dressed beautifully in matching blood red Asian silk robes, they stood huddled close and frozen like a careful still life in front of the shop in the darkening night. The girls were exquisitely arranged close together group gazing straight ahead as though they were posing for an eternal picture that was always just about to be taken.

The women at these places called demurely out to prospective clients but when we approached they fell silent. I took this to mean these establishments were not meant for us. The girls at all the parlours looked beautiful, sweet and vague, some of them looked painfully young. I tried my best not to overthink the moment, not to gaze too intently or to judge. I of course still did all of those things.

We eventually finally found a place that seemed like it might be legit. The women there treated us with courteous welcome but with some reservation. Maybe this was because Dylan and I were foreigners, or because we looked and seemed strange, maybe it was because the place was actually for sex not massage but the workers were humouring us as naive innocent unversed obvious tourists.

The place itself was pretty, calm and clean. The atmosphere was dimly lit, hushed and soothing. There were small sparsely interiored bamboo chambers containing long thin floor cushions laterally arranged. Each space was divided from the next by simple thin curtains that could be silently moved aside. We were led into a chamber by two girls who looked sixteen. We were motioned to lay down next to each other, we smiled and held hands while the girls set about their tasks with a degree of professionalism and poise that was remarkable considering how young they seemed.

The girls conversed freely in soft tones while they worked. Dylan’s girl slowed a bit as she felt and considered his skin. When she got to his forearms and his hands, her amazement and wonder apparently became uncontainable. She made loud exclamations in excited rapid fire Thai. My girl weightlessly hurdled over my prone form and rushed to see. Massage girls from all the neighbouring chambers came crowding around. All the young women started gingerly touching Dylan’s skin. They caressed it reverently and made low murmuring sounds of appreciation and surprise as they marveled. They looked at each other in wonder as they petted and stroked. They made “Oooooooooooooooh” sounds. The girls couldn’t believe Dylan’s skin could be male and real. Such softness and whiteness on a man was beyond them. The girls stroked and conjectured and made “Oooooooooooooooh” sounds. Finally I cut in. I snapped my fingers and said brusquely, “Ladies. Please. My massage.” The chastened girls flew back to their posts at once, sheepish and still murmuring. Christ. What’s a woman gotta do to get a decent massage. Jeez.

And so the massage girls went back to their workaday lives. Collectively they recalled the dreamlike softness of the pale male foreigner’s delicate silken skin already like it was a distant and beautiful memory, a story to tell their grandchildren, even though Dylan was still right there. His massage girl set about to concluding Dylan’s massage with the greatest reverence. There was to her every motion immeasurable focus and exquisite care. My girl was okay but much more perfunctory. Also, as she was so young and tiny, I felt her maneuvers were a bit too jabby and poking. I suppressed comment and tried to relax. My face at times did the not comfortable brows furrowed thing. Dylan meanwhile laid all loungingly out at an apparent height of repose. There was a totality of effortlessness to his contentment. I scowled. He grinned.

I was basically relieved when my massage was over. Dylan claimed his was the best massage he ever got in his life. He surely was overstating the case. Mostly he was probably just proud and stoked to have his preternaturally soft womanish skin be so loudly exclaimed upon en masse in a Thai massage girl frenzy of elaborate appreciation and ecstatic notice. I told the whole story months later to Matty when he visited. Matty listened calmly with his habitual attentiveness and laidback ease. When I finished, Matty musingly stroked his chin. Then he gazed into the infinite future and declared in uppercase, “ILL.GATES: SOFTER THAN A WOMAN.” His was the voice of finality and conviction. I rolled my eyes while Dylan beamed.