by Anupa Mehta
Caring for the soles of people is an art. Anna Bauer—she is of German origin but was born in Latvia—trained to be a foot technician when she moved to Hamburg. Initially, it was a way to pay the bills. Over the years, though, she has come to love what she does. To people who ask for her qualifications, she says, “It wasn’t a very extensive course—just seventy-two hours. But it’s a service that I enjoy. I like making feet look beautiful. I especially like working with old people as the skin on their feet is so fragile. One wrong move and you could burst a blood vessel. It is said that the soles of our feet are like little souls. They have sensing abilities. But, of course, you can’t walk barefoot in cities like Hamburg, where young people think nothing of smashing glass bottles on the pavement in fits of rage or when inebriated.”
Anna is prone to having longish monologues, mostly as she lives alone in her fifth floor apartment in an unholy by-lane in St. Pauli, which is actually a semi-stylish area of Hamburg filled with chic cafés, little boutiques selling handmade curios and shops selling expensive, well-packaged organic produce. She has lived alone in this building for nearly fourteen years. She was once married to a man who didn’t do any work but preferred to stay at home and raise their children.
With him she has a son, now grown up and who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder; and a daughter, who is in her teens, loves black lipstick and nail paint, and who has several piercings on her body. Her son Damon, twenty-two, is, as she puts it, ‘a difficult one’. When Anna separated from her husband, it was decided that the boy would live with her and the girl would live with her father till she turned fourteen, after which the parents would swap the kids.
Only, it didn’t quite turn out that way. The boy, Damon, is six years older than the girl. In his teens he was already in trouble with the school authorities and, badly enough for Anna, with the law. By eighteen he had done a stint in jail. Now he no longer wanted to live with his strict mother who couldn’t understand the speed at which his mind raced around in never-ending circles. And who tried her best to discipline him in much the way parents discipline errant toddlers.
Her girl, who had just turned fourteen, told her mother in no uncertain words that she did not want
to come and live with her as she was well–looked after by her over-indulgent father, who often took her to pubs where his cronies lavished attention on the pretty little girl. So Anna is left to live by herself in the rented apartment.
In her spare time, Anna paints. She also bakes, cooks, cleans and gardens. At night, she watches a bit of TV and plays computer poker. On Tuesday evenings, she sings in a chorus of six people who sing all kinds of songs, including gospel and, occasionally, an upbeat rock number. Her favourite musician is Eric Clapton. She sings ditties in a very low pitch, her head bent downwards such that her long greasy hair falls across her old guitar.
On alternate weekends, she takes the metro and makes her way to a special house for aging, handicapped people where she gives all the inhabitants a quick pedicure followed by a foot bath with sea salt and aroma oils. “People’s feet tell you things about their constitution. For instance, the leathery feel of some soles is a sign of internal dryness. As if they no longer enjoy the juice of life. Ingrown toe nails tell a story about stubbornness, and smelly feet are a reflection of the person’s disconnectedness from their surroundings, their deep fear of the world.”
On the weekends when she goes to the home, she earns about 200 euros for the day’s labour.