petite, heavily inked young woman greets me at the counter. She says
something but I can't hear it above the music and buzz of tattoo guns. I
the form and sit down to fill it out.
Tattoo parlours are familiar to me. In my early 20s, I used to visit a friend when he did his apprenticeship at a biker's tattoo shop. When he opened a place of
his own I painted a mural on the front wall and he bought one of my first
enamel paintings to hang inside. He has a successful business in Europe now – people travel to him to add one of his works to the collection on their skin. I don't remember the last time we spoke.
The young woman leads me through a long corridor to a small room at the back of the shop. She hands me tinted glasses to protect my eyes from the light of the laser. I lay on a medical table, shifting position as she moves from one
tattoo to another. Each time I feel a blast of cool air then the pain of the laser, accompanied by a loud clicking sound like a sped up metronome. My body shakes involuntarily and I can smell my skin burning. When she does my lower back I cry out. She hands me a chuppa chup. I suck on it, then bite down until the candy splinters in my mouth.
It is over quickly. The lasered ink has bubbled into white patches. In a few seconds it becomes red – swollen and raw, bleeding underneath the surface of my skin. Tiny pinpricks of blood escape. She smoothes the area with aloe vera, wraps it in cling film and then a pressure bandage to reduce the swelling.
My friends with tattoos like to have reminders of people, places, experiences, ideals and stages of life etched into their skin. But the marks on my skin have long felt foreign to me. When I look at them now, all I see are words and drawings I have outgrown. I am only interested in watching them fade as the
ink disintegrates and is removed by my body as it heals.