Ruby awakening

Twenty years ago, poor and a bit lonely, I moved into a studio flat above Ruby’s nails. It was a tiny little abode. Just a room really, with a kitchen the size of a toilet and a bath that you could only sit in and even then, the water would just about cover my knees. You could reach the toaster from the loo and watch tv from anywhere. I loved it!

Weird science. Today has been one of those crazy weird moments in time when you feel like someone is trying to tell you something. Or that something is right, even though you woke up feeling that everything was wrong.
That was how my day started anyway. I woke up three hours after I’d forced myself to go to bed. Eyes stingingly tired but unable to sleep. Too many thoughts invading my head. I grabbed a coffee and went to steal a sacred moment all on my own on the balcony. No peace to be found there either. With all the crap I’m trying to juggle at the minute, I just can’t seem to relax my brain.
Several hours and one hilarious trip to the orthodontist later, (lost in a part of Brussels I’ve never seen in 21 years, with numbers 2 and 3 children screaming at the gps as she kindly sent us down every blocked street and into roads closed for market day) I was back home. Restless, knackered, many many euros poorer and desperate to be somewhere else.
I didn’t realise I’d nodded off until my delicate flower of a daughter woke me up by somersaulting onto me on the bed, simultaneously nattering at me about getting her nails done…mid discussion, as if we’d been having the conversation before. We hadn’t. “if I get gel nails then it’ll help me stop biting my real ones and anyway I’ll pay for them myself and Joanna says it’s only 30€. Can you find a place that’s open now mum. Here, your ipad’s here Mum. Mum are you hearing me?”
I confess I was being a total misery. Only guilt at bad parenting inspired me to fire up the damn iPad and write ‘where to get gel nails in brussels’ in the search bit. What are gel nail’s anyway I was wondering, when there it was. The first result popped up. Ruby’s nails, Ixelles.
Twenty years ago, poor and a bit lonely, I moved into a studio flat above Ruby’s nails. It was a tiny little abode. Just a room really, with a kitchen the size of a toilet and a bath that you could only sit in and even then, the water would just about cover my knees. You could reach the toaster from the loo and watch tv from anywhere. I loved it! and every day, on my return from work, I would look in Ruby’s window. I had awful nails. Bitten down to the cuticles. I so wanted to get my nails done but I could neither afford it nor bear the shame of showing anyone my hands. Ruby’s obvious warmth and smiley disposition, she was always smiling when I looked, didn’t help me any. I never dared go in and only stopped biting my nails ten years later. I moved out and on after eighteen months of making my bed on the sofa. But I still have a fleeting, fond thought for my mini abode and Ruby when I drive past the place.
It was already 16.30 when I rang Ruby. I could hear a back-ground buzz through the receiver but she took the time to explain that gel wouldn’t work on bitten nails (my daughter inherited the joy of manicure by teeth from me sadly) and then lost me completely when explaining the merits of ‘resin'(?). “Why don’t you and your daughter stop by this afternoon and I’ll take a look and see what we can do” she said.
Twenty minutes (and twenty years) later I was chatting away to this lovely woman who I’d spied on whilst living above her shop.  I couldn’t resist telling her my story. Her and the two customers sitting in massage chairs whilst getting pedicures. It was sitcom-esque. Betty, a skinny little thing, who Ruby introduced as having pretty much financed her (Ruby’s) children’s educations through all her treatments and the other customer, a cheery Polish lady, trying to join in the banter, but clearly understanding nothing. Then Ruby. Absolutely the matriarch. Strong, warm and reassuring, whilst gently cursing her apprentice’s every deviation from instruction.
We took an appointment for ‘acrylic’ nails one hour later. Ruby told me she’d moved to this salon in 1995, from another situated in the exact spot I now live. We both felt the weirdness of this additional crossing of paths as I dragged my daughter off to fill the spare hour with a quick supermarket spree.
It was eight o’clock before we left the salon. Ruby is quite the artist: my daughter is now sporting beautiful turquoise-blue shiny nails. But the nails were just the support act. Ruby is a magical mix of Iranian, Pakistani and several other origins. She speaks seven languages fluently and she has a lot to say in all of them I suspect! Whilst she modelled and painted the nails, we discovered all sorts of, frankly, weird meetings of minds: Family situation; the same turns of phrase; we’d met through work, though I never knew she was Ruby….. Cliché I know, but it felt like we had some connection in a previous life. And just as I left, she said “oh, I must give you a flyer for my son’s bar/restaurant” Turns out its my local and a place that holds many happy memories for me. LOFT, on the Rue de Namur is where I always celebrate my birthday and take my closest friends.
I’m not sure I’m skilled enough to convey the impact that Ruby had on me today. I’ll just say this: No matter what shit is being thrown at you, keep your eyes and ears open because life, inspiration, is all around you and the positive messages are clear….if you are listening.

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