TRAVELS WITH NINA

is the online portfolio and journal of Australian travel writer Nina Karnikowski.

Chapter Twenty Four

As soon as I walk back into our room I rush over to my laptop to see if Ryan’s written back yet. I fire it up and go to log onto the Wi-Fi network from the café next door (Wi-Fi, computers and all technological devices are banned at the ashram, but everyone knows stealing next door’s Wi-Fi is the secret to staying sane here), but it doesn’t seem to be connecting.

I’m desperate, so I tuck my laptop under my arm and grab a spare plastic bag to cover my hair, then head out into the rain to check what’s going on at the café. But when I get there, all the lights are all off and nobody seems to be around.

“Hellooo?” I yell into the darkness. A few moments later I hear the shuffling of feet and one of the workers appears out of the gloom.

“Yes, madam?” A short, slight Indian man with bulgy eyes greets me.

“I just wanted to grab a tea and use your Wi-Fi if that’s ok?”

“I’m sorry madam, Wi-Fi is not working. This rain, it is not usual. The river has started to rise and has broken some power.”

“Oh I see. Well, there’s nothing you can do about it. Thanks anyway.” I’m bummed and I have a feeling he might be lying, but what can I do? I head back out the door and into the rain, which seems to have gotten even heavier since just a couple of minutes ago.

I get back to the room and decide to spend the rainy afternoon reading my yoga of sleep book. But the rain’s beating down so hard I can barely concentrate. After a few failed attempts at blocking it out, I opt to open the balcony door, lay down on my little single bed, and simply listen to the roar of the downpour for a while. It only takes a minute before Ryan starts to seep into my consciousness. Not surprising, really, since this is exactly what we used to spend rainy evenings doing together. In fact it was probably only a month ago that Ryan declared a Phones Off Clothes Off Friday night, as he called it.

“Hand it over,” he’d said as soon as I walked in the door. Relinquishing my phone that night was the last thing I’d wanted to do – it was raining, my blowdry was ruined, as were my camel suede pumps and my confidence from yet another shitty day at work. The only saving grace was the empty hours yawning ahead of me, which I’d planned to waste cruising Facebook and making myself feel better by peeking into lives much less fabulous than my own. But Ryan had insisted that I hand the phone over, and had then insisted that I also strip off right then and there in the hallway, as he did the same. He’d then switched our phones off, hidden them somewhere in the kitchen, and pulled me into our bedroom, which he’d set ablaze with dozens of tea lights. A bottle of champagne was waiting by the bed.

We’d thrown the windows open wide and had spent the entire evening just laying there, sipping champagne, making love, telling each other stories and listening to the music the droplets were making on our corrugated iron roof. It was pure magic, and exactly what I’d needed. Somehow, Ryan seemed to always know exactly what I needed.

The memory makes me melancholy again, and I decide that sleep is the only thing that might eradicate the descending gloom. I reach for my little bottle of Valium on the bedside table to help me get there. I unscrew the lid and am just about to throw one down my throat when I suddenly stop myself.

Do you really need this?
the little voice in the back of my mind asks. Or are you just taking the easy way out? I want to tell it to shut up and mind it’s own business. But deep inside I know it’s right. Taking these pills isn’t mindful, as BD would say. I’m just taking them out of habit. I’m just taking them because I want to obliterate the pain that’s trying to escape from my heart.

With that thought, I pop the little white pill safely back inside and put the bottle back down on the bedside table, feeling pretty self-satisfied as I do it. That is, until I realize that it’ll be pretty much impossible for me to get to sleep now. I’m alone, in a stinky ashram in the middle of India, my husband won’t talk to me, my own father doesn’t want to know me, I have no idea what I’m doing with my job or my life…

I reach for the bottle again, but that pesky little voice pipes up again.

There is another way.

I know it’s right, yet again. But the other way is just so much bloody harder.

I pick the bottle up once again and shake two pills into my palm.

“Arrrgh!” I yell out in frustration, then grab the bottle and walk purposefully into the bathroom. I shake the entire contents into the toilet, watching all those tiny white dreams sink to the bottom. I push the flush button and they disappear.

There.

Done.

“Goodbye, and good riddance,” I say into the bowl.

I toss the bottle into the bin and realize I’m still holding those last two pills in my other fist. Maybe I could just have one, as a kind of last hurrah…

“No!” I shout out loud. I’ve had enough of obliterating myself. Enough of dulling the pain. Enough of disrespecting myself. I open my fist and toss the two pills down the sink.

Now what
, I wonder as I lie down on the bed, more awake than ever. Now, I realize, my only option is to meditate my way into oblivion.

With a sigh I sit upright on the bed, cross my legs into an almost-lotus position, close my eyes and head off into the ether. After a few minutes of chatter, the thoughts fade and away and I find my quiet place – away from the ashram, away from the raindrops, away from this catastrophic mess that I’ve created for myself.

The rain’s still pouring down as I wake up in the morning. But I’m completely refreshed, and feel a hundred times more energetic without that Valium hangover that I didn’t even realize I’d been swimming through most mornings.

I check the time and realize I’ve managed to sleep my way through breakfast and yoga. Well, I guess I’ll just have to book in for another massage to make up for it. I throw on some clothes and walk down to reception.

“Good morning Vivek!” I chirp cheerfully as I get down there. “Sorry, I totally slept through yoga and breakfast, but I’d love to book in for a massage next door if possible, with Shristy? The one I got from her yesterday was incredible.”

“Absolutely madam,” says Vivek, “let me just call to see if she has time.” He shuffles off to make the call and I gaze out the window at the sheets of rain. It’s causing a bit of havoc out on the road; small, muddy rivers are rushing by, carrying with them little flotillas of rubbish. There are a couple of skinny cows trying to get shelter under an awning, but it’s on the verge of collapse and the poor things are looking rather alarmed.

“Madam?” Vivek, back from making his phone call. “Madam I am sorry, but massage is not possible today.”

“Oh, that’s ok.” I try my best to hide my disappointment. “With talent like that I’m sure she must be very busy.”

“But it’s not that, madam. You see today, Shristy, her house has flooded. These monsoon rains, they have come heavy and early, the river is swelling and people’s houses are getting swept away. She is trying to rescue her house, and to find a place for her children to sleep tonight.” He says it in such a matter-of-face manner that at first it doesn’t really register. “Would you like me to book you in with another masseuse?”

“Wait. So you’re saying Shristy and her four kids are what, just walking around in the rain with nowhere to go? That they might lose their house?!”

“Yes, madam, that’s correct. But there is much Ayurvedic massage in Rishikesh, I will find you something.”

“No no, that’s not what… Never mind about the massage, Vivek. Can you tell me where Shristy’s house is?”

“She lives down on the river, in the bottom floor of the pink house right next to Ram Jhula Bridge. But I am telling you, madam, she will not want to take clients today.”

I don’t even bother explaining myself to Vivek again, I just shout him a quick thank you over my shoulder as I race back up to my room.

As soon as I get there, I realise I’m going to need help.

I’m going to need Babette.

But I still haven’t seen her since yesterday and I don’t even know where the hell she is.

WHERE ARE YOU? I NEED YOU, I text her. A couple of minutes later, a reply pings through.

SOUNDS URGENT, BE AT OUR ROOM IN 5

Thank God. I start throwing some dry clothes, empty buckets, and anything else I think might be of help into a bag. The minutes tick by until the door suddenly flings open.

“Cherie, are you ok?” Babette throws her arms around my neck. “I’m so sorry I’ve been, how do you say it, MIA? But I was just…”

“Babette,” I break in, “it doesn’t matter, it’s totally fine. But listen, I need your help.”

“Darling of course, whatever you need.”

“No it’s not me, you see all this rain has caused the river to flood. I’m just about to head down there now because I met this beautiful woman yesterday and apparently her house has flooded and her and her four children have nowhere to go. I need you to come with me and help them, ok?”

Suddenly, Babette’s face changes. Her eyes slip down to the floor and her expression moves from concern to something I can’t quite place.

“Babette, what is it?”

“Oh cherie, this is difficult,” she says, shaking her head and sitting down on the corner of the bed.

“No don’t sit down Babette, we have to go! Come on, just tell me what’s going on so we can go!” Time’s ticking away and all I can think about is Shristy and her little kids trying to fight all that water, all on their own.

“Cherie sit down for a minute, please. I have something I need to tell you.” She tugs at my hand and I realize that until I do what she says, she’s not going anywhere with me.

“Fine.” I plonk myself down beside her. “But be quick.”

“Margaux, I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I’ve met you,” she reaches out and grabs my hands in hers. “You’re a wonderful person and I really feel a connection with you. I feel the light from you.” She stares me intently in the eyes.

“Yes I feel that too Babette.” I glance pointedly at my watch.

“This is why I can tell you something very secretive, my sister, something I rarely tell anyone.”

Where the hell is this going?

“Cherie, I am part of something called the Rosicrucian Order. You probably have never heard of it because we Rosicrucian’s are kind of like a secret society…”

“Babette,” I butt in, “I really appreciate you sharing your secret with me, but right now we have a serious crisis to deal with!”

“We are a school of light,” she continues, ignoring me completely. “Those who follow the order need to feed their light and keep it safe at all times, and at all costs. We need to surround ourselves with positivity and good vibrations, so that we can harvest our light for the greater good. Now what I’m getting at is that while I’m very sorry to hear of your friend’s misfortune, I simply cannot come with you to help her. It may affect my light, you see, and I just cannot risk that.”

Clearly she’s taking the piss, and while it is pretty funny, her timing’s completely shit.

“Haha Babette, hilarious. I’m going to cack myself over this later, but right now we have to go, come on!” I stand up and grab her wrist, trying to pull her up. She doesn’t budge, and when I look back down at her face it suddenly hits me: she’s not joking at all. Not in the slightest.

“Please understand my sister. I will send my healing light from right here in the ashram, where it will be safe. I have the power to ensure it will reach your friend.”

I just stare at her for a minute. She looks back at me, unblinkingly, like what she’s just said is the most normal thing in the world. Suddenly, a surge of anger overtakes my confusion.

“You know what Babette? I don’t give a shit what your beliefs are. There are people out there who are losing their houses, people whose children might die from what’s happening down there by the river, and all you can do is talk about some bloody light that’s only happening in your head?!” I actually physically tap her on the forehead at this point and she jerks her head back, her hand fluttering protectively up to her face.

“I thought you would understand, cherie, but I see…” tries Babette.

“Oh shut up. Just shut up,” I say as I gather my things and start heading out the door. I spin around just before I do. “The funny thing is, Babette, I really did think you had a special light about you. Until right now.”

And with that, I walk out the door.