Chapter 9 of 21. If you haven’t read the earlier chapters, please read them first. You can find them here: The Willow, a serialized novel.

 

Mataji and Sneha turned their backs on everyone who loved them and headed for the Himalayas. They had finished the work they were born to do and were ready to retire to a life of meditation. Mataji’s retirement was brought on by the acceptance she could do no more to push fate in this lifetime. Though she could show people the path and nudge them along the way, if they blatantly chose another route, all she could do was wait for them to learn the lessons that they needed to learn.

Sneha’s retirement on the other hand, was brought on be a fierce anger, and mental and emotional exhaustion. Everything that she had put her faith in had disappointed her and she sought only to seek solace in the permanent, unchanging depths of her spirituality, the Atman.

Though they were sisters in this birth, they had traveled many lifetimes together. Mataji was always the one that people fell in love with, because she couldn’t help but pour her light out towards the world. Sneha though, was equally important in their divine dramas, for they were connected like the Sun and the Moon, each having their part to play in the process of creating, sustaining, and transforming life.

Though they saw the world as it was, a connected cosmic consciousness, each individual soul being like the many waves of the ocean yet still water, that didn’t stop them from riding the waves from time to time. In their present drama, Sneha’s daughter Reshmi, had been Mataji’s greatest love. Though Mataji had many disciples, she was born to give true knowledge to Reshmi. Reshmi had served Mataji sincerely while Mataji was dying from a terminal illness in a previous birth. Mataji’s heart couldn’t stop from seeking out and flowing towards Reshmi. Mataji gave Reshmi just a taste of her true Self, to create a yearning within. It worked, as Reshmi was lost for years in meditation.

Mataji knew that eventually Reshmi would rip both of their hearts out, but she didn’t share this fact with Sneha, for she held out hope that somehow Reshmi would be strong enough to escape her fate. Ultimate realization wasn’t to be, as Reshmi ended up leaving the ashram for the first beautiful man she saw. Sneha put the full blame of the failure of Reshmi’s spiritual life on the shoulders of Mataji. Reshmi was Sneha’s daughter after all, and she loved her more than she knew how to deal with. It had never been easy to put the future of her daughter’s spirituality in her sister’s hands. Yet Sneha had known that there was no one more capable than Mataji, to bring about Reshmi’s upliftment.

As soon as Reshmi left the ashram to get married, Mataji and Sneha, heartbroken but accepting, left to finish their days in meditation. They found a cave in the Himalayan foothills near the ashram of a well-known Sadhu where they could get food daily. The Sadhu’s devotees took care of all of the nearby hermits who’d given up the world for seeking truth in their final years, and would come begging for alms.

Mataji and Sneha didn’t speak Reshmi’s name for over a year. Eventually however, after Sneha’s anger had melted in the Himalayan freeze, she was able to broach the subject. At the end of their evening meditation and before going to bed, Sneha looked at Mataji and asked, “What do you think will become of Reshmi?”

“Her fate is already set,” said Mataji. “After striving for spiritual success, she will never be able to forget us. No matter how many honors she may get in the world, it will always be tainted by what-could-have-been. She’ll blame her husband and her husband will blame himself. This much is clear.”

“So there is no hope then?”

“Don’t worry, I’m going to take care of it in the next life. Her name will be Alyssa and for a short time, I will be her sister, Jasmine.”

“You already know about our next birth?”

“Of course I do.”

“Well what will my name be?”

“Ah Sneha that life will be a lonely story. The really interesting one will be the birth that you have after that. It is still unwritten. There is a fight coming between the forces of light and dark, and like all good fights, everyone believes that they are fighting on the side of truth. When everyone believes that they are the divinely inspired arbiters of righteousness, anything is possible.”

“Will we be sisters?”

“Sisters? In a manner of speaking.”

“Not real sisters then? So how will I find you?”

“Don’t worry, I will find you.”

“But what if I don’t recognize you? What will be your name? And what will be mine?

“Mine will be Willow, and yours will be Beth.”

“Beth? That is not an Indian name.”

“Do you think you’ve been here forever?” asked Mataji. “You had so many lifetimes as Beth.”

“Really? I don’t feel any connection to it.”

“So many Beths or Elizabeths. Sometimes Bethany, when your parents were a bit dull and not fully tuned in to you. But mostly just Beth. Short like your temperament.”

“I kind of like Elizabeth.”

“Ah that is your original name. Elizabeth, meaning God is my oath. You have a nice one coming up as an Elizabeth, but I’m much older than you in that one.”

“What is your name in that one?”

“Most will call me the Tree Lady, but those close to me call me Grandma Daisy.”

“I’m going to call you Grandma? Not likely.”

“You will, and you will love me as if I were your very own. Those are all beautiful stories, Sneha, but the Willow Beth story is the one I’m fascinated with right now. There is a cloud so dark hanging over that story, that I can’t quite see into it. Anything is possible. You know, sometimes the darkness wins.”

“Ah, Reshmi.”

“I’m taking care of her. Don’t worry.”

That was the last time they talked about the past and the future. Sneha was never very interested in anything but the present moment and as for Mataji, she saw everything as happening simultaneously so she never attached too much importance on any particular journey. The idea of an unwritten story though, at least for one night, intrigued them both. As she fell asleep, Sneha let herself mouth the names one last time.

“Beth and Willow.”

————————————————–

She felt her newborn body crying, but there was no attachment to the pain. It was a physical reaction of her body getting its first taste of limitless space. It didn’t know what to do with it self. But she was fully aware, taking in the situation, ready to play the game. Her eyes were not fully focused, but she had both inner and outer sight and could fill in the blanks with her intuition.

She saw that her mother was already old, with deep black, callused skin. She’d lived a long life and was not expecting to have more children. Still, her mother’s eyes showed a radiant satisfaction in the birth of her daughter. The baby could see the motherly pride on her face and felt a tinge of sadness knowing the pain that was in store for her mother’s household.

Her father had the smile of someone who had been through this enough times to keep his cool about it. His posture was straight, and his repeated nod of contentment, assured and stately, showed that he too had no idea what was in store for them. The baby saw the fierceness of his paternal instincts and knew that he would not suffer much, because he would be on the frontlines of the fight, and surely be one of the first to go.

Their doctor, nearly half the age of her patients, smiled and said in her rehearsed voice, “what a beautiful baby girl. What are you going to name her?”

Willow, the baby thought. Willow.

Her mother and father looked at each other and smiled. Together they said, “Willa.”

————————————————–

Willa had two elder brothers and three elder sisters. They were all much older than her. The eldest brother Terrence was nineteen, followed by Dianne at seventeen, Ida at sixteen, Martin at thirteen and Eliana at ten.

Willa and Eliana recognized each other instantly. Willa could see Eliana sought to protect her from the moment she arrived home. They had been through many journeys together, but Eliana would always look at Willa as her guru. Willa always looked upon Eliana as Reshmi, the closest thing to a daughter she’d ever had.

The family lived on a farm and horse ranch on the very outskirts of Seattle. Terrence and Willa’s father Richard tended the crops of potatoes, squash, and greens that they sold at Seattle’s Farmer’s Market. Willa’s mother Claire, was a retired teacher and homeschooled her children. In the afternoon, the kids were able to help the hired hands with cleaning the stables, and the feeding, grooming and exercising of the horses.

Whenever Eliana got free time, she hid away with Willa. Even though Willa couldn’t talk yet, Eliana still spoke freely with her.

“I knew that you wouldn’t send me to this place alone,” Eliana told Willa before she was even a year old. “I was looking for you everywhere. Everyone I saw, I thought might be you. But when Momma brought you home, there could be no mistake. I felt the connection instantly. My heart sang and I knew that this life would have some meaning.”

I’m afraid that we won’t get that much time together, Willa thought. But we all have an important part to play.

————————————————–

Although no one else was worried, Claire was concerned that there was a problem with Willa. She didn’t talk. She had reached one year of age and she didn’t even say Momma or Dada. They knew the baby’s vocal chords were working, because it cried when it was hungry or needed to be cleaned. But for Willa, she had no use of baby language. Her body cried when it was uncomfortable, and she let it.

It wasn’t until Willa had reached fourteen months of age that she started trying to pound out short sentences. Her family was entranced by her sudden insistence on talking. She hadn’t developed her motor skills, but her mind was clear and wanting to communicate. Willa became the center of her family’s attention, as everyone wanted to be a part of her growing process. But it was clear to everyone that Eliana had decided that Willa should be her best friend and the rest would have to vie for any extra time while Eliana was busy.

As Willa grew, she refused to talk or acknowledge anything mystical to Eliana. Willa preferred to discuss practical things like how far their farm extended, and to explore the gardens and stables. Willa wanted to know as much as she could, as fast as she could, but she also enjoyed sitting for hours under an old oak tree and gazing at the sky. Willa was sometimes torn between the joy of being a kid again and the knowing that time was precious and dark days were ahead.

Everything changed when Willa reached four. Suddenly Willa’s only concern seemed to be wondering where all the kids were. Everyday she pestered her mom on the subject until one day she managed to force the issue into Claire’s consciousness.

“Aren’t there enough kids around here?” Claire asked irritated.

“No, some are missing,” Willa answered.

“Missing? No all are accounted for.”

“But don’t you want to have more children around?”

“I think we have enough kids, Willa.  I’m pretty satisfied with our lot.”

“Not your own children, just kids to take care of. Like for money.”

“You mean like a daycare?”

“When kids just come over and stay for a few hours to give their parents time alone.”

“Yes, that’s a daycare, Willa.” Claire looked at her daughter closely, as if hypnotized by her entreaty. “Do you want me to start a daycare?”

“Yes, we need to start one right away.”

“Okay, Willa. Okay.” The next day Claire put an ad in the newspaper for a daycare running from 7am to 5pm daily. She got four phone calls that first day.

The next day, when Willa saw the other four year olds dropped off, her heart melted. As Eliana watched from a corner, wondering what Willa was up to, the kids all sat in a circle and Claire told them to each say their names.

“Willa.”

“Samuel.”

“James.”

“Andrew.”

“Caroline.”

 

 

I’ll see you next Friday for chapter 10.

Featured image via http://www.wikimedia.org

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