Eunice and Arpita rode the highway in the chauffeur driven Town Car in silence, until the pink sunrise began to break the horizon up ahead.
“Allow me to give you a little information, about where you’re going,” the driver said, making eye contact with Eunice through the rearview mirror. “The retreat sits on an acreage of beautiful flatland and big open sky, just outside Cuba, Tennessee. Over yonder if you squint, you can see Arkansas across the Mississippi river,” he said, in a pleasant sing song tone, that had Eunice thinking, she was on a hop on, hop off bus tour.
“Thank you. You’re awfully perky this morning,” she returned his smile.
“I pride myself on being an early bird, that’s for sure. Up ahead is Merman Shelby State Park,” he said.
“It’s not far now Nina,” Arpita said, patting her arm.
He pulled the Town Car up a circular driveway and stopped in front of the main entrance, “Namaste. Here we are at the Krishna Ashram. The main building is shaped like the letter H, if you ever happen to fly over it!” he said, as he waved goodbye.
Eunice followed Arpita inside the dimly lit lobby, down a long hallway to a door, “First let’s drop your bag in your room and you can freshen up,” Arpita said.
Her room was simple with a small window, a futon style cot and washroom with a pedestal sink.
Eunice was grateful to Dougie, who had left a small valise of items he’d picked up at Walmart. She was also relieved she’d not been awake, to face him in her shameful state.
Arpita plunked herself on the bed and motioned for Eunice to sit down, “Allow me to properly introduce myself. I’m Arpita. A servant of Krishna Ashram and a follower of Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of fortune and well-being. I am a part of the wonderful group of volunteers here. I’m going to help you adjust back into the real world,” Arpita said.
Maybe it was her drug addled brain but she could swear Arpita’s lips barely moved as she spoke.
“Who is Krishna?” she asked.
“He’s the Hindu god who represents love,” Arpita said. “Let’s go, I want to show you around,” she stood and led her out the door.
Arpita took her to a large central room, with cherry red walls, a vaulted ceiling and a very large aqua blue fireplace. Soft instrumental harpsichord played in the background.
Eunice was surprised to see people up and ready to take on the day so early. A group of performers sat as if discussing musical arrangements, on a vibrant tapestried rug at the center of the sprawling room. They had foreign looking instruments resembling bongo drums, flutes and what looked like an accordion.
A beautiful young woman in a canary yellow sari, sat cross-legged in lotus position. Another was gorgeous in fuchsia, quietly humming her own chant with her eyes closed.
The men were bald-as-eggs, clean shaven wearing orange one-piece linen tunics. They lolled on the ornate rug posing al fresco, as if they should be fed grapes.
Followers in colorful outfits, were grouped in various circles sitting cross legged on the floor. Others seemed camouflaged by decor and clothing were hidden in corners and recesses along the walls. If not for their movement she wouldn’t have noticed them.
Eunice had never been anywhere like it before. Everyone seemed calm and committed. It was a comfortable environment but she didn’t know what they were doing there.
Arpita motioned her to an empty cushion on the floor near the aqua blue hearth. She poured her a cup of lemon ginger tea, from the refreshment cart and handed it to her, “Try this,” she said.
“Thank you,” Eunice said. The sweet and sour tea popped sublimely in her mouth, followed by an evergreen tree medicinal taste.
“It will surely chase any toxic chemicals, out of your body,” Arpita said.
For once, Eunice promised herself to sit tight and stay quiet. On the long drive she told herself to surrender, to whatever Arpita’s direction would be. She had run out of options and was too exhausted to question anything. She could have been sitting in police custody.
“Here at Krishna Ashram, we look inside. Don’t be afraid. Part of the ritual of being still, is to listen to what is going on inside ourselves,” Arpita said.
“Okay Arpita. I’ll try but if I burst out laughing blame my nerves. This is a little weird for me,” Eunice said.
The room was lit with amber glowing candles and a forlorn Middle Eastern soundtrack of flute and mournful vocals intensified things. Eunice’s nose tickled as if she’d cry. She rarely ever cried. The ceremony was about to begin.
“I look forward to seeing you on the other side Nina!” Arpita said, as she moved through the room greeting others along the way.
“What? Wait you’re leaving?” Eunice asked. “Oh wow. You’re the leader,” she said, hoping to sit this round out or be a fly on the wall. The hypnotic scent of Sandalwood had her gripped so she would give meditation a try.
Arpita was center stage with a headset and microphone.
“Namaste everyone. Now let’s start with our breathe. Take a deep breathe in …then out. Close your eyes. Deep breathes, inhale, exhale. Now imagine yourself a piece of seaweed in the ocean near a coral beach. You look up and see the beams of sunlight coming down through the water. As the waves come and go you gently sway. As you inhale, you see the waves moving you. The sound going in and out with your breath is the sound of waves going in and out. Seeing yourself moving with the flow helps relax your whole body as you imagine the sensations of ‘going with the flow.’ Listen to your breath. Feel yourself letting go,” Arpita said in a seductive voice.
Eunice thought the ceremony was lovely but it would never work on her. Thank God, no one knew her here. She wouldn’t tell Arpita she thought meditation was pretty silly.
Arpita must have read her mind as she toured the room checking in with each follower.
“If your thoughts wander, bring yourself back to the sound of your breathing and the waves. Match the motion of the waves to the sound of your breath,” she continued.
With her eyes closed, Eunice focused on the sound of Arpita’s voice, as it got closer than farther away. She got to Eunice and put two fingers of ointment on her forehead, like she had done at the hospital. The scent was closer to eucalyptus and lavender this time.
Eunice focused on identifying the potent aroma, until the line between awake and dreaming blurred.
Eunice was light and hollow, as if floating inside the boundaries of her own body.
“There is no place you need to go right now,” Arpita cooed, her suggestion becoming the truth.
Eunice lay on her back, in a pre-historic cave with her eyes open. Fire light above reflected burnt umber, raw sienna and cadmium yellow. Light danced and illuminated row upon row, of stick figure drawings, an illustrated comic strip etched onto the cave ceiling. She had been transported somewhere in time.
Deep inside herself, she knew she was in pre-civilization, before the continents separated, as appearing on the world atlas today. Pre-historic thoughts were of the invention of fire, fur pelts and a hunt for food. Hypnotic flutes, the mournful wail and foghorns lured her to tears in a restful fantasy, straight out of Clan of the Cave Bear.
A large jaguar floated overhead, neither male or female. She inhaled its musky lavender scent, as strong as ammonia to her nostrils. The jaguar’s soaring body caressed her as if she were its protected cub. Even though her parents had conceived and raised her, it was the jaguar who created her. The jaguar would protect her into the next life and the one after that.
Her heart was ecstatic as she received psychic messages. She had clarity of her placement in the world. She might have the power to levitate or even fly. No earthly drug could top this euphoria. I must tell someone about this miracle.
She understood how people were hooked on religions, cults, gurus or heroin. I’ll have another glass of that raspberry Kool-Aid!
Eunice was spent.
“Get some rest, Eunice. I will introduce you to the Guru, this evening,” Arpita said.
She could do little else but lie in solitude on her buckwheat cot. A few auras had been stripped off her, like Acetone bubbled layers off an antique chest. She didn’t believe in the occult but she didn’t know what else to call it.
Hours later, Eunice rose refreshed for once instead of obsessively planning her next move. She was thrilled to have actually meditated. She had really been in a trance. Of one thing she was clear on, she would make things right with Sam.
After the seaweed experience, Arpita had announced their upcoming practice would be transcendental meditation and ecstatic dance but Eunice couldn’t imagine anything akin to what she had just experienced.
The ashram rituals had elements taken from Hindu and Jain mysticism along with a splash of Hare Krishna. Eunice remembered old movies that mocked the orange clad, Hare Krishna’s as weirdo’s who smiled a lot as they handed out daisy’s at airports. Now she was one of them!
That evening Eunice sat with Arpita, for ginger tea in one of the many vestibules of the great room, “I’ve been meaning to ask you Arpita. What exactly is an ashram?”
“You are funny. You ask after spending many days in an ashram! In India it’s a place to get away when life takes a toll. The ashram offers peace and spiritual guidance,” Arpita said looking radiant.
“What’s the guru like?” Eunice asked.
“He is a true devotee of several Hindu gods. He’s full of life and energy yet able to meditate for hours on end,” she said.
Eunice was sure Arpita was blushing.
“He sounds interesting,” Eunice said.
“You said we met before the hospital. Was it at Purple Haze?” Eunice asked.
“I saw you at both places,” she said.
Eunice’s stomach did a somersault. Both places? She didn’t remember another place or anything after Purple Haze. It broke her comfort zone of denial. She felt flushed on her forehead as memory fragments came through.
“Nina you are one crazy bitch!” it was Cindy Lewis from the band, “What the fuck? Picking fights with a bunch of Arizona bridesmaids! I had to pull you off one of em,” Cindy shouted at her.
An image of her slapping a girl across the face, pulling off her wig and tossing it clear across the room came to mind.
“Bitch! I’m going to finish you off!” said the mascara streaked cowgirl. Then bouncer involvement. Then her screaming at a doorman to let her back in the club.
“Nina, where did you go just now?” Arpita asked. “I came to find you after the club. You were at the Regency on Federal Drive, with some Nashville people,” Arpita said, without judgment.
“How do you really know me? It’s more than Purple Haze. How is it you seem to know all about me?” Eunice was more curious than afraid.
“I was waiting for the right moment. Doug Barnes is a friend of the ashram. When he calls we hear him. He has been very good to us over the past few years,” Arpita said.
Eunice was stunned silent. She absolutely could not picture Dougie sitting in a lotus position chanting or meditating. What a great way to absolve himself from illegally procuring falsified government documents.
“Oh my! Wait a minute, does Dougie come here Thursday to Saturday every week?” Eunice asked.
“Yes he does. You must have wondered where he was,” Arpita said.
“He told me he visits his mother in the mountains,” Eunice said.
“That was true enough for several years. His mother spent her final year as our guest. He came to visit her each week. When she passed a few winters ago, he continued coming to get away. He mostly volunteers as a custodian now, he remains dedicated,” Arpita said.
“Did Dougie ask you to find me at the Regency?” Eunice asked. He had her tailed? He betrayed her trust. Eunice was angry for a split second then was okay. Nothing in Memphis had been based on trust anyway and who better to be tailed by, than peace and meditation gurus?
A suave, formally dressed man with a beard strolled by. He could only have been Guru Kavi, proven when Arpita jumped up to introduce him, “Kavi, this is the young woman I spoke with you about,” Arpita said. She was more prim and proper in front of her guru.
Kavi didn’t smile but his face looked kind enough. He bowed to Eunice in that funny prayer hands greeting from yoga. So why is a guru bowing to a girl who just had her stomach pumped?
He was of medium build, with dark brown eyes and a perfectly manicured King of Clubs beard. Eunice wanted to touch it but abstained. She guessed he was Indian. Her first impression was of a wise owl who seemed legit but she wasn’t the best judge of character.
“Uh. Oh. Hello,” Eunice said. She probably had never been addressed this formally, nor expected it to happen in back water Tennessee.
“Nina will meet you tomorrow at 8:00 a.m Kavi,” Arpita said.
“Nice to meet you Nina. Namaste!” Kavi said. He bowed again! He left the room.
“Well that was interesting. He seems pretty intense,” Eunice said, doubting Arpita had never fallen for him.
The way Kavi presented himself, Eunice assumed he had grown up on the streets of Calcutta but Arpita told her his heritage was a mix of Italian and Afro-American, “but he claims to have direct ancestral lineage to Hindu gods,” Arpita said.
Eunice started laughing, “I’ll bet he does. You know what’s hilarious? While he was speaking I was thinking he was familiar or related to me somehow. I guess it was a recognition of our shared ethnicity. I was mistaken for Indian once in elementary school,” Eunice said.