Wednesday, July 29, 2015


I developed an endearing type of affinity with Sophia. She was a hilarious Swedish girl who frequently crept into our darkened shared room to fetch something out of her overweight silver suitcase. Her creeping was both careful and thoughtful, ultimately intended to minimise any disruption to the eternally sleeping hostel workers. She would then invariably shriek upon seeing me, staring and standing motionless in the middle of the room. 

On her last night, she expressed a desire to have a tattoo to honour the end of her year in London. Foley calibrated his DIY tattoo machine on the desk at reception: buzzing, pausing and closely examining its stainless steel components. I was aghast when he got out the black Indian ink, I shrieked: "You cannot be serious, what the fuck!" I couldn't disguise my disapproval, it was a pale echo of my mother's violent anti-tattoo sentiment. I cited the prospect of pain, ugliness and hepatitis. They told me to get a grip.

Sophia went on to tell us what she wanted, showing us the design on her iPhone. It featured two upper peaks of a triangle aligned in parallel. It was the footprint of a Native American bird, its relevance was ultimately connected with the legacy of her grandfather. We looked at her right ankle to determine its size and placement. It was at that point when Sophia suggested I draw the design. Foley handed me a black ball point pen and I wildly wailed in opposition. I knew they were playing on my steadfast opposition to it, which makes it all the more puzzling why I finally relented. 

I crouched down closely and tentatively marked out a sequence of dots near her Achilles' Heel. The first few attempts were rubbed out with saliva, the design being too small or painfully placed. Once the dots were in place, I carefully drew the four lines. The right slope was slightly imperfect but it was meant to have this plaintive, hand-drawn quality. Once the design was confirmed, they relocated to the lounge. I got my phone out to take photos to send to our other Swedish friend, Malin. Sophia advised: "Just don't send the photos to my mother."

I couldn't watch closely as Foley pressed the buzzing double needles to her skin and the black ink dribbled over her ankle. I made myself useful and fetched some tissues to mop up excess ink from the ottoman. It was over in a few moments, which is just as well because she described the sensation as feeling "like knives". She wrapped some Glad Wrap over her now-throbbing, embossed skin. My vitriolic opposition to the tattoo seemed to soften when I saw how pleased she was. As Foley packed up his gear, I said to him: "You made your friend happy tonight."

What moved me more than anything was how she described the newfound significance of the design: "It means so much that it was done here, in this place and that Eleanor drew it and Foley tattooed it..."  Not much has changed in regards to my feelings about tattoos, but I feel moved that I became a part of the narrative of that symbol for her, a sign which is a conduit to an important time and place. It seems like hardly a fair exchange, but I keep the remains of her gold OPI nailpolish on my fingernails in honour of her. She's been gone a few weeks now and so they remain like flecks of precious gold leaf. 

It doesn't seem so long that she was still here, carefully creeping in the darkness.

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