This story was gleaned from a real life experience. A long afternoon I spent years ago now. I have embellished some of the events (scarily – not many) and have changed the names to protect the bewildered and the slightly annoying. I don’t wish to offend, this is merely my take on a strange afternoon, which I think probably says more about me than the characters within it. Hope you enjoy it.
“I’m holding a woman’s group on Sunday at my place. Would you like to come?”
Skye smiled an over bright smile whilst stirring honey into her tea. Skye is my yoga teacher and we have become friends. We have coffee together after class. Well, I have coffee, Skye has a soy chai. Younger than me and vibrant, she wears a lot of orange. Orange silk pants, orange singlets, even on occasion orange lipstick. Her daughter, Nisha, is in Tom’s class at school. He thinks her name sounds like a sneeze. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go but I said yes.
I mentioned it to Adam. He raised an eyebrow.
“Syke? Yoga Skye?”
“Yes. What’s wrong with that? It might be fun.”
He smirked and I made up my mind. I didn’t know any of Skye’s friends. I wondered if I should take a bottle of wine but decided to bake. I chose my dress carefully as only a new girl would. Neither revealing nor matronly. And colour too, somehow I knew this wasn’t a navy kind of do.
On the day I chose a pale lemon cotton shift dress, formal and understated with flat white shoes with a buckle. I grabbed my plate of wholemeal muffins and headed for the car, waving my free hand goodbye to Adam and Tom in the shed. I watched their heads bent together over some project, Adam’s brown head against our son’s golden one and thought it would be a good thing for me to spend some time in female company. Syke called it honouring my inner goddess.
Although she lived barely a kilometre away I had problems finding her home. Skye rented an old school house on acreage. At the main gate I encountered a huddle of lively mailboxes. Pillar box red, a green dragon and a milk churn with a masterpiece painted on its side depicting Friesian cows on pasture. My smile at their quirkiness soon disappeared as I realised that the houses weren’t numbered and I had no way of matching Skye’s brilliant purple mailbox with her house. I pulled into the driveway of one house which could have been Skye’s. It had a small studio across the drive from the house. Skye had told me she had a yoga studio for her individual clients. A short disheveled man came out to meet me.
“Hello. Does Skye live here?”
“No. You here for the woman’s thing? The next house on the left, up the hill.”
He smiled broadly looking me up and down. “I’m Shaun. Skye and I, we’re…”
“Oh, yes of course. Pleased to meet you, Shaun. Gabby. Thank you.”
Skye had mentioned Shaun, he was an artist, hence the studio. She told me they had an open relationship which made me feel suburban and dull right down to my sensible sandals. At least I hadn’t brought the matching handbag. Shaun watched me too closely as I walked to my car and drove away. I felt uncomfortable.
A lovely house set on a large patch of green with vegetable gardens on each side of the house. I parked the car and Skye came out, skipping towards me, down the red painted front steps. She wore a floaty orange dress tied at each shoulder. Her bangles tinkled and I caught a flash of sunlight on her gold ankle chain. She embraced me. A musky smell filled my nostrils, patchouli oil or sweat, perhaps both, with an impressive sprout of hair under each armpit. Skye took my hand and pulled me up the path to her home.
“The girls are here already. Come, I’ll introduce you.”
Outside the door rows of exotic footwear gathered, pink satin slip-ons, black and gold embroidered shoes and a pair of thongs with a single large frangipani on each.
“Would you mind taking your shoes off, Gabby?”
“No, of course not. You want to keep your floors clean.”
“No, no, a yoga thing.”
I passed the plate to Skye and fiddled clumsily with the buckles on my plain white shoes.
Inside there a small crowd of women gathered in a long and narrow kitchen. Shelves hung on every bare patch of wall, filled with glass jars containing exotic herbs, spices and herbal teas.
“Everyone one this is Gabby. Gabby, let me introduce Calypso.”
Skye’s bangled arm pointed in the direction of a bosomy woman wearing a peacock blue sarong. She clutched a box to her chest which I assumed held her sarong in place. Ochre had long copper coloured hair which fell in waves to her waist and a tight little smile. Willow a serious looking blonde wearing white who didn’t smile at all. Jacinta, dressed in purple with matching eye shadow and Miriam, a thin woman wearing a lime green dress.
“What I thought we’d do is to sit on the veranda for a while. Get to know each other.”
Skye smiled her enormous smile and wafted in a cloud of orange out to the side deck. She had arranged large decorative cushions of turquoise and gold, glittering with sequins on an ethnic rug around a small wooden table set with a jug of water, lemons slices and coriander. Half a dozen glasses formed a circle around the jug. Willow and Ochre brought out a bowl of cashews and some vegetable sticks.
“Oh, at last. Something I can eat.” Calypso put down the box and picked up a carrot stick.
“Well done you for sticking to it.”
“Thank you, Skye.”
“What exactly can you eat?” Jacinta reached across, took a handful of cashews and shoved them all into her mouth.
“Well, I have five juices a day but they all have to made with green vegetables. And I can have just about any raw vegetables for dinner.”
“Why?” My words, sharp and pointy.
Calypso raised her head and with a condescending look said to me, “I forgot, you’re new. What’s your name again?”
“Well Gabby, I am on a cleansing diet devised by a scientist from the beginning of last century. Have you heard of Dr Fabricatorian?
“Thought not. I have some skin problems. Possibly cancerous.”
“Have you seen a doctor?”
A wave of laughter erupted around the table. “Gabby! We don’t use doctors. Doctors are dangerous.”
A sudden noise hit the air abruptly. The sound of clashing metal, loud and vibrating. Skye was on her feet with a small symbol held in each hand. “Now we shall gather some wood for the fire.”
The December heat bore down in a cauldron of heat. Willow noticed my frown and spoke to me as to a small child.
“A cleansing fire which we will set in the fire pit.” She pointed out a circle of bricks around a space. I decided I might be a little out of my depth but I dutifully joined the others in collecting branches and twigs for kindling from the bush surrounding Skye’s cottage. The pile of twigs I had gathered was prickling my arms and dirtying my lemon dress but I felt it would be churlish to complain. All the others seemed to smiling with faraway looks in their eyes as they were meditating.
“Wow! Look at the dam.” Miriam headed down the hill to the deep green pool in the distance. She stepped out of her lime green dress which vanished in the green of the grass and Miriam, thin, white and naked dived into the dam.
Calypso and Willow walked down to the dam, waving at Miriam while Jacinta and Skye linked arms, laughed together, without gathering any kindling. Ochre sat on a tree stump her arms stretched out in front of her with her eyes closed lightly humming as I gathered more sticks in the heat and swore under my breath. I had been expecting cake and coffee and a good gossip. I wonder what Dr Fabrication would think of that.
It was time for the next phase as Skye announced suddenly; “Now we will move indoors for sharing.”
Skye and the others, with the exception of Miriam, stood at the fire pit, now holding a decent amount of wood. Certainly enough for a cleansing fire, whatever that was. And what exactly was ‘sharing’? Tom often took things from nature into school for sharing, shells from the beach, river stones. I felt like a child who hadn’t done her homework.
We trooped into the house. The lounge room which must have originally been the classroom in the school, Skye had laid out in a similar fashion to the veranda. A larger table, bare except for a deck of cards which she had spread out face down around the edges. We sat on the cushions and Calypso placed the wooden box on the table with reverence, her face solemn. The box, big and solid, took up a fair portion of the low oval glass table.
Skye spoke. “I want to bring this gathering of peaceful souls to a joyful start. We will travel around the table, each one of us will take one of the goddess cards and flow naturally into sharing. Sharing whatever you wish to share.” She closed her eyes, her eyelids painted gold. “Shanti, shanti, shanti.”
Her eyes opened and she took a card, looked at it and breathed deeply through her nose.
“I have drawn Kali. The goddess of endings and beginnings.”
Ochre draped an arm theatrically round Skye’s neck, her copper hair getting in Skye’s eyes. She pulled away.
“For those of you who don’t know, my landlord has decided to sell the land I am living on. My ending, alas my beginning has yet to show itself to me.”
Ochre spoke. “I want to honour and thank you, Skye. For the time you have lived here and how you have shared it with me. You have been a great custodian of this land.”
“Thank you, Ochre.”
The room fell silent. Then a heavy clomping approached the table. Skye turned her head.
“What the hell! Take your bloody boots on!”
Out of the sunlight appeared Shaun, still smirking. “Oh sorry, Skye. Just wondered if you wanted this.” He held a painting beside him. A nude. On closer inspection I realised it was of Skye.
“No Shaun. We will talk later.” She pointed a finger to the direction Shaun had come from, the finger looking like a spike for all its forcefulness. And the small smirking man left. I heard laughter as Shaun walked back down the pathway.
Skye recovered her composure, wriggling her shoulders in a small movement. “Calypso. Would you like to share?”
Calypso looked around at everybody, meeting us all eye-to-eye, as if something significant might take place. “I want to introduce my treasure box to the table.” She lifted the wooden box and placed it beside her on the table. “A gift from my mother, every time I have a special moment, I place a symbol in the box to remember it.”
She opened the box and took a few feathers from its depths and placed them on the table, along with a shark’s tooth, some crystals, pieces of driftwood, decorated bangles and several locks of hair tied up with coloured ribbon.
“I take this box to all the women’s gatherings I attend, it goes everywhere with me.”
“You must miss her.” I said.
“Who?” Calypso frowned.
“She only lives in Brisbane, Gabby.”
“Sorry, I misunderstood. You must be very close then.”
She gave me a strange look, puzzled and irritated. “No.”
“Do you want to take a card, Calypso?”
“No, Skye. I just wanted to share this special box.”
I took a deep breath and the smells of incense assaulted me, a strong scent of sandalwood.
Miriam appeared, light- stepping and smiling. “Wow. What a swim. The dam is unreal.” She towel dried her hair and plonked herself down next to Calypso, crossing her agile legs. Miriam grabbed the big box in front of her.
“Mind if I move this?”
A shocked silence fell like a dark shadow. Calypso, furious, grabbed the box from Miriam possessively as if it contained a loved one’s ashes. “Don’t you touch!” Eyes narrowed, shooting poison in Miriam’s direction.
“This box is a part of me.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you. Really I didn’t, I’m so sorry.”
The room crackled with static. The thought of slipping out of the open door behind me floated through my mind but the strangeness of the situation held me in a vice. Willow broke the silence.
“Before I share I want to bring in the bush animals and forest sprites. The roos, the bilby’s and the native birds, all here before us.”
I looked around. Did she mean literally? No animals appeared in the room. Willow picked up a card and smiled broadly, the first time I’d seen her smile. I think I preferred her serious face, she looked mean and hungry. She picked up a card with great flourish.
“Ixchel. I knew it. Medicine Woman. It says here that I am a channel for divine healing power.”
A hush descended. Willow cast a puzzled face around the circle of women. “Dhama, my psychic, says I have the gift of healing.”
And so it went on. Jacinta shared her recent break-up and how she was so over him as she sobbed, her head hanging down for five whole minutes. Ochre told us about her deteriorating relationship with her father and Miriam how she couldn’t get her ex to acknowledge their daughter. It wasn’t that I couldn’t sympathise, but I couldn’t help but feel exposed. And then it was my turn. I picked up a card hesitantly wondering what was to come. “Kuan Yin. Compassion.”
“Go on, Gabby.” Skye encouraged.
“It says release judgements about yourself and others, and focus on the love and light that is within everyone.”
“Beautiful.” “Amen to that.” Whilst the others made their comments I squeezed my eyes shut and concentrated. Love and light. Love and light.
“Would you like to share something of yourself with us, Gabby?”
I opened my eyes to see Skye gently prompting me. Love and light. Love and light. Calypso with her weird diet and her box, Willow with her healing hands. Skye the custodian of this land. The only thing I could see in my mind was Adam, curled up with mirth, tears rolling down his cheeks when I tell him about my afternoon.
“No.” I said. “Thank you”. I sensed a coolness around me where before it had only been caution.
Later we gathered round the cleansing fire, Skye handed us small scraps of paper on which she instructed us to write something we wanted to release and throw into the fire. Each woman threw their much scrawled scraps to burn whilst I couldn’t even pretend. The paper stayed curled in my tight fist, blank. Calypso took a bird’s nest from her large handbag and held it up to the sky.
“This nest symbolises home, woman is home.” She looked at our faces gathered around the fire before continuing. “I will burn the bones of a home to let it be known that home is not a physical thing. It is of the spirit.”
With that Calypso threw the nest onto the fire. It smoldered and spat for a moment, blazed and disappeared. It was quiet for a moment, each I supposed reflecting the letting go of whatever they had written on those scraps of paper. Whilst I felt mine screwed up in the palm of my hand.
Jacinta perked up. “Lets have a group hug”.
I stood somewhere in the midst of half a dozen strange unshaven armpits thinking it couldn’t get any worse. When it did.
“Oooommmm.” Someone began. “Oooommmm.” We vibrated in a huddle of chanting.
Then Calypso brought her uniqueness to the gathering. “Hooommmeee, hooommmmeee.” I for one wanted to go home. When it was over I turned to Skye. “I’ve got to go. Adam’s expecting me.”
“We haven’t done the stomping yet.”
The faces of Jacinta, Calypso and Miriam. Willow and Ochre. Pinched and frowning, not friendly or understanding. I looked at Skye, lost.
“We’ve got some tribal drums and we stomp around the fire. You can’t go, you’ll spoil it!”
I ran up the steps and in through the open door, dumped my bag on the floor and took a large wine glass from the shelf. I poured myself a generous splash from a bottle of red. How did I feel? Abused? In shock? I looked around at my normal house. The sofa against the wall, the television, bookshelves and a coffee table. No forest sprites or cleansing fires.
“Oh, darling. I didn’t hear you come in. How did it go?”
Adam laughed helplessly as I recounted my experience. I watched him rolled up on the sofa, hugging his knees as I told all.
A month or so later I heard that Skye had found a place on a friends land, a small cottage. We crossed paths occasionally but kept it short. Last week I spotted a poster on the school notice board. A gathering of the tribe to celebrate our new home. Swimwear optional. Stomping essential.