Everything and Nothing: Summer Ballet

Aïda Rogers

Posted August 16, 2022

By Aïda Rogers

The focus is immense. Across from me, a woman with brown hair is fixed to her phone. To my left, a woman with blonde hair has grown into her iPad. Before me on a small chair, an Asian man bends over my feet. Where could I be but a nail salon, getting that all-important summer pedicure?

I’m in Chair 8.

My gentleman is young and industrious, preparing his tools. I’m neither, and twice his size. Normally I get into conversations with people who are doing things to improve me, but the assured sophistication of this place is holding me back. Serious business is at hand (and foot). “This is a ballet,” I think to myself.

He leans forward. I lean back. Feet in bubbling water, I take in the subdued neutral colors, the soothing instrumental music, the pleasing light. There’s nothing out of place. Nothing jarring. The workers, in black shirts and pants, move easily between their stations, speaking English when they’re spoken to or to direct feet and hands. Occasionally conversation and laughter burbles between them, in their soft language.

“Thank you,” my pedicurist murmurs when I raise my pants leg for him to work. Hands in plastic gloves, he busies himself with salts and sugars, scrubbing and rubbing, changing the water in the basin. While he scrapes and softens, I experiment with my chair.  A wonderland of sensations can be mine by pushing buttons on its right arm. Do I want to stretch, tone, flex, or glide? I try them all. Dancers do all these things. 

A basket of color choices for polish is passed down the line of chairs like a basket of bread in a restaurant. Blonde Lady with iPad knows what she wants. “Snow White,” she announces.  “Go easy on that toe. The nail is thin there.”

My color doesn’t have a name. Just a number. And that’s okay because here and now I’m a number, a nameless faceless member of this corps de ballet.

Across the room, more dancers appear. They are young, thin, slouchy. They look like they just got out of bed (it’s almost noon on a weekday) and pulled on the first pair of shorts they could find. Out of school for the summer, I think.

Carrying takeout cups of coffee, the girls move to the counter and sit, side by side. The young Asian men take their seats across from them. The dance begins. The men lean forward, prepared for their partners. The girls lean back, paws extended. Soon the men’s fingers are flying, their faces intent.

Back at Chair 8, my pedicurist is winding down his solo. He’d shimmied cold aloe goo on my legs and wrapped a hot brown towel around them. Ready to help me off the chair, he guides my toes into purple spongy separators and then my feet into green papery flipflops, waiting while I heave myself to the floor. Fluidly he retrieves my bag and shoes, escorts me flapping to the thing that looks like a bar, with a granite countertop and lights on the bottom. Here I sit, feet under the lights to harden the polish, knowing I’ll be exiting stage right soon.

When I hobble to the front, present my gift card and leave a tip, I see more women trek in. They plop on chairs expectantly. Immediately their dance partners arrive. Bend forward, lean back.

Immigrants. Where would our fingers and toes be without them?

Aïda Rogers writes from an old house in Columbia and a new porch in McClellanville. Her three-volume anthology series, State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love, includes stories by 108 Palmetto State writers.

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