Light streams in through the inevitable gap in the curtains, making bright pin pricks dance behind eyes firmly held shut. Finally, I surrender to the knowledge that it is morning. “Come on Naomi,” I groan. “Time to get up and get cracking; gotta get a run in before work.”
My roommate doesn’t like the idea. “God! Every morning! This run nonsense— just give it up! We already have to start work at eight. Getting up at six is just ridiculous. Let’s just sleep for one more hour and go for a run after work.”
“No way,” I say. “If we don’t go now, we’ll never go; let’s just do it!” I say determinedly.
“But you had such a busy day yesterday. Remember, you really need the rest,” he counters.
“I guess you’re right.” I give in and fall back asleep only to be awoken by the urgent beeping of my alarm. As I roll out of bed, my feet hit the carpet with a lazy thud, and I stagger to the shower. I gulp down a quick bowl of cornflakes and then dash out the door. I slide behind the counter just in time.
Work is dead. Dead, dead, dead. The sun is blazing outside—everyone is at the beach, of course. Tepid indoor pools are not the place to be. The only customers all day—a coffee group of young mothers with a gaggle of screeching children who take off their nappies in the pool and an elderly chubby American couple who argue about the price of bottled water and complain that we won’t take US dollars.
I try to look busy so the boss doesn’t give me some real work to do. While I tidy up, my roommate follows me around all day, shouting nasty remarks at the swimmers. “She’s way too fat. Look at that lazy bum—can’t even swim a width…Can’t those women take care of their brats?”
I get home from work, tired, bored, and frustrated. “Alright, we have to go for that run now,” I sigh.
“Why?” he asks. “You’ve had a hard day at work—you really should just relax and watch some TV. Come on, Home and Away is starting—just order pizza and chill out. You deserve it,” he says encouragingly. “I know how hard you work.”
“Come on,” I say. “We did nothing today. Work was dead, so I’m going for a run, and you don’t have to come with me.” I turn and head out the door before he can say anymore.
My feet drum on the pavement, and my ragged breath comes in fits and starts as I count my steps…twenty more and my legs feel like rubber…ten more… my lungs are trying to burst out of my chest…another twenty and the blisters start to form. “Don’t stop,” I say, “don’t stop. If I run fast enough maybe he won’t keep up.” He is there for the first few kilometres, discouraging me and yelling insults, but soon he begins wheezing and then he gives up and I’m running free. I get home from the run, hot, sweaty, and sore, and I drag myself into a shower. Dropping into bed, I fall into a deep, uninterrupted sleep.
But he’s there when I wake, like a storm cloud hanging over the end of the mattress, a panther about to pounce. Curled up in gargoyle position on the end of the bed, he unwinds his long, gangly limbs and reaches a sharp nail to scratch his protruding belly. He turns his head and pierces me with bloodshot eyes. The silence between us is eerie. I clear my throat and eventually venture a tentative “Good morning.”
He looks at me with a snarl, as his tongue whips out of his mouth like a snake, and he narrows his eyes. “What? You thought you could blow me off that easily? I know everything about you, everywhere you go, everything you do. You know I’m your only friend. You know I’m the only one who tells you the truth—all those other people…pretenders and liars the lot of them.”
It’s a wet, grey morning. No run today. Instead, a nice catch-up coffee with friends. We curl up around a fire, chatting, gossiping, as I eye up a mouth-watering chocolate cake—my friend Mandy’s latest culinary masterpiece. My mouth begins to water, and my stomach gurgles then moves on to tectonic plate-shifting rumbles. My eyes feel as if they’re about to drop out as they try to take in the cake in its full three-layer glory. “Come on,” I say to myself, “you had a filling and healthy quinoa and chia porridge just thirty minutes ago. You definitely DO NOT need that cake!”
“Look at that chocolate cake—wow! Doesn’t it look delicious? You’ve been so good on your diet the past few weeks. You deserve a treat, and you absolutely look like you’ve lost weight—at least two kilograms. I’m your friend remember; I would never lie to you.”
The cake is as good as it looks, so I have two pieces and lie back, satisfied to hear about the latest tribulations from Woman’s Weekly.
He sidles up to my chair, smiling… a bit too much “Like the cake, did you?” he inquires in a sickly sweet tone, then he starts again.
“Oh my God fatty! Why did you do that? You’re supposed to be on a diet remember? You have no self-control. You can’t even resist a tiny piece of cake, so how do you expect to lose any weight, huh? You know you’re just a fat loser and you will always be one. Everyone will know how greedy you are and nobody wants to be friends with a fatty. You’re going to die alone; alone and fat, and no one will come to your funeral.”
“Hang on a second,” I say, determined for combat. “You told me to eat the cake and that’s being a wee bit melodramatic, don’t you think?”
“What are you, a child? Can’t make decisions for yourself? Look, I’m not trying to be mean to you. I’m just trying to help; I’m your friend remember?” he wheedles.
I turn to face him, as he looks at me unblinking. I stare down the barrel of a gun. “You!” I spit, pointing right at his fat belly. “You are not my friend, you are a fiend, a fiend!”
Before he can answer, I turn and storm off down the road, nearly walking right into a tall, friendly looking lady with white-blonde hair, wearing a bright yellow top and an even brighter smile. “Hi,” she beams at me. “Are you from Wellington?”
“Well…” I say skeptically. “I moved here from Auckland about four years ago…” What does she want? I wonder. She smiles even more. “Great! Hey, we’re handing out flyers for a party at our yoga studio tonight. Great food, great music, great discussion. You should come along.” I take a flyer from her out-stretched hand. This looks interesting.
Later that day, I come to a two level, glass-fronted building just off Cuba street and walk apprehensively up the stairs, wondering what I will find at the top. I walk into a bright room and a girl with radiant blue eyes and a wide smile greets me at the door and takes my donation. I hope you enjoy your evening, she glows. “I hope so too,” whispers the fiend, “but I doubt it.”
Wow! This place smells amazing. My nose is filled with lavender-scented incense and something baking, cookies maybe? I sit nervously in a room that is slowly filling with people. The fiend is not happy. “What is this place—let’s go home. This chair isn’t comfy. We don’t like singing, and I bet these people are weirdos,” he whines in the background. I’ve really had enough, “Just sit down and shut up will you— you might like it. And anyway, dinner smells really good,” I state firmly. He sits there pouting. I just ignore him.
The music starts, and the mantra chanting begins. The leader sings first and then everyone follows her. At first I’m really nervous; I stare down at my knees, my lips barely moving. But there’s something about this enchanting music and the beautiful smile on the singer’s face. Slowly, it trickles into my ears, wearing down my cool resolve and I’m singing, chanting happily. By the end, I feel light, like I could jump out of my seat and dance. Even the fiend looks happy, peaceful even. A small smile is creeping across his face and he starts to look quite cute actually.
The leader slides over to another microphone and begins to speak. Fiend stands up in the middle of the room. “Boring!” he yells like a fog horn, “Sit down fiend and shut up,” I yell back. Humph. He folds his arms defiantly and flops back on the ground. Now he is quiet, I can listen.
“Kirtan, the chanting we were doing before, is a place where the mind can rest. A place where it can be peaceful. The Bhagavad-gita, which is the ABCs of yoga knowledge, says, ‘One must deliver himself with the help of his mind, and not degrade himself. The mind is the friend of the conditioned soul, and his enemy as well.’ An untrained mind is like a naughty child or an annoying person who won’t leave you alone. But through practice of meditation like kirtan, the mind can slowly become a friend and can be used to help, instead of harm. Now let’s move into some more kirtan, and afterwards we can enjoy a delicious vegetarian feast.”
The speaker moves into the audience and a new band moves up to the front of the room. I sit back and let the mantra float over me. The fiend sits there fidgeting at first but eventually he too is captivated.
At the end of the kirtan the leader leans into the mic and says, “Thank you for coming to Soul Feast at Bhakti Lounge. I hope to see you again soon,” and I think to myself, “Definitely.”