The entrance to the sauna is via a discrete L-shaped screen; a man could quite easily be walking along the pavement on his way into town, not thinking about anything in particular, perhaps in his innocence a little too close to the shop fronts there – the gallery, the tatty sports shop, the cheap hotel - and suddenly find himself turning sharply to the left into a small reception area, a red and black themed room, with black rubber tiles on the floor, prints of naked male torsos around the walls, and a Plexiglas kiosk with a slot to slip your money through.
‘He’s in the locker room,’ says the man behind the screen, a young guy, bare-chested, his earlobes stretched by large black washers, his nipples pierced, his shoulders tattooed left and right with a tiger and a bouquet of lilies.
He buzzes a security door and we struggle through with our bags to a staircase, the kind of sharp edged affair you might find leading down to the kitchens of a restaurant. At the bottom is a changing area, wooden benches and lockers, and beyond it, a low-ceilinged corridor. There is a sign on the wall, a rack of arrows pointing in different directions: sun deck, cafe, hot and cold showers, plunge pool, solarium, play room, glory holes. The air is moist, vaguely sweet, vaporous with detergent, cologne and other, earthier flavours. Silent figures in the same institutional towel pad to and fro along the corridor. I’m conscious only of feet, legs and lower abdomen; I don’t want to embarrass anyone by making eye contact. But it seems to me that quite a few of the men find a reason to scratch their face, cough, or look in the other direction as they pass.
The receptionist stands in front of a middle aged man almost completely dressed now, leaning forwards to slip on his shoes.
‘Would you go outside to talk to him in the ambulance? It’ll be a bit more discrete.’
The man doesn’t look at us, but stands up and hurriedly slips his rucksack over his shoulder.
‘I understand you had a fainting episode just now?’
He looks down to the side and shakes his head.
‘No,’ he says.
‘What do you mean? We’d like to make sure you’re okay.’
‘No. No thank you.’
He starts to leave.
The receptionist smiles at us and shrugs his tiger and lilies.
‘Sorry to have called you out for nothing, guys.’
By the time he has finished talking, the man is up the stairs and away.