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Book by Kinsella Sophie
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OK. I CAN do this. No problem.
It’s simply a matter of letting my higher self take over, achieving enlightenment, and becoming a radiant being of white light.
Surreptitiously I adjust myself on my yoga mat so I’m facing the sun directly, and push down the spaghetti straps of my top. I don’t see why you can’t reach ultimate-bliss consciousness and get an even tan at the same time.
I’m sitting on a hillside in the middle of Sri Lanka at the Blue Hills Resort and Spiritual Retreat, and the view is spectacular. Hills and tea plantations stretch ahead, then merge into a deep blue sky. I can see the bright colors of tea pickers in the fields, and if I swivel my head a little, I can glimpse a distant elephant padding slowly along between the bushes.
And when I turn my head still further, I can see Luke. My husband. He’s the one on the blue yoga mat, in the cutoff linen trousers and tatty old top, sitting cross-legged with his eyes closed.
I know. It’s just unbelievable. After ten months of honeymoon, Luke has turned into a totally different person from the man I married. The old corporate Luke has vanished. The suits have disappeared. He’s tanned and lean, his hair is long and sun-bleached, and he’s still got a few of the little plaits he had put in on Bondi Beach. Round his wrist is a beaded bracelet he got in Tanzania, and in his ear is a tiny silver hoop.
Luke Brandon with an earring! Luke Brandon sitting cross-legged!
As though he can feel my gaze, he opens his eyes and smiles, and I beam back happily. Ten months married. And not a single row.
Well. You know. Only the odd little one.
“Siddhasana,” says our yoga teacher, Chandra. He’s a tall, thin man in baggy white yoga trousers, and he always speaks in a soft, patient voice. “Clear your minds of all extraneous thought.”
Around me I’m aware of the eight or nine others in the group moving into position on their mats. Obediently I place my right foot on my left thigh.
OK. Clear my mind. Concentrate.
I don’t want to boast, but I find clearing my mind pretty easy. I don’t quite get why anyone would find it difficult! I mean, not thinking has to be a lot easier than thinking, doesn’t it?
In fact, the truth is, I’m a bit of a natural at yoga. We’ve only been on this retreat for five days but already I can do the Lotus and everything! I was even thinking I might set up as a yoga teacher when we go back home.
Maybe I could set up a partnership with Trudie Styler, I think in sudden excitement. God, yes! And we could launch a range of yoga wear, too, all soft grays and whites, with a little logo—
“Focus on your breathing,” Chandra is saying.
Oh, right. Yes. Breathing.
Breathe in . . . breathe out. Breathe in . . . breathe out. Breathe—
God, my nails look fab. I had them done at the spa—little pink butterflies on a white background. And the antennae are little diamonds. They are so sweet. Except one seems to have fallen off. I must get that fixed—
“Becky.” Chandra’s voice makes me jump. He’s standing right there, gazing at me with this look he has. Kind of gentle and all-knowing, like he can see right inside your mind.
“You do very well, Becky,” he says. “You have a beautiful spirit.”
I feel a sparkle of delight all over. I, Rebecca Brandon, née Bloomwood, have a beautiful spirit! I knew it!
“You have an unworldly soul,” he adds in his soft voice, and I stare back, totally mesmerized.
“Material possessions aren’t important to me,” I say breathlessly. “All that matters to me is yoga.”
“You have found your path.” Chandra smiles.
There’s an odd kind of snorting sound coming from Luke’s direction, and I look round to see him looking over at us in amusement.
I knew Luke wasn’t taking this seriously.
“This is a private conversation between me and my guru, thank you very much,” I say crossly.
Although, actually, I shouldn’t be surprised. We were warned about this on the first day of the yoga course. Apparently, when one partner finds higher spiritual enlightenment, the other partner can react with skepticism and even jealousy.
“Soon you will be walking on the hot coals.” Chandra gestures with a smile to the nearby pit of smoldering ashy coals, and a nervous laugh goes round the group. This evening Chandra and some of his top yoga students are going to demonstrate walking on the coals for the rest of us. This is what we’re all supposed to be aiming for. Apparently, you attain a state of bliss so great, you can’t actually feel the coals burning your feet. You’re totally pain free!
What I’m secretly hoping is that it’ll work when I wear six-inch stilettos, too.
Chandra adjusts my arms and moves on, and I close my eyes, letting the sun warm my face. Sitting here on this hillside in the middle of nowhere, I feel so pure and calm. It’s not just Luke who’s changed over the last ten months. I have too. I’ve grown up. My priorities have altered. In fact, I’m a different person. I mean, look at me now, doing yoga at a spiritual retreat. My old friends probably wouldn’t even recognize me!
At Chandra’s instruction, we all move into the Vajrasana pose. From where I am, I can just see an elderly Sri Lankan man carrying two old carpet bags, approaching Chandra. They have a brief conversation, during which Chandra keeps shaking his head, then the old man trudges away over the scrubby hillside. When he’s out of earshot, Chandra turns to face the group, rolling his eyes.
“This man is a merchant. He asks if any of you are interested in gems. Necklaces, cheap bracelets. I tell him your minds are on higher things.”
A few people near me shake their heads as though in disbelief. One woman, with long red hair, looks affronted.
“Couldn’t he see we were in the middle of meditation?” she says.
“He has no understanding of your spiritual devotion.” Chandra looks around the group seriously. “It will be the same with many others in the world. They will not understand that meditation is food for your soul. You have no need for . . . sapphire bracelet!”
A few people nod in appreciation.
“Aquamarine pendant with platinum chain,” Chandra continues dismissively. “How does this compare to the radiance of inner enlightenment?”
Wow. I wonder how much—
I mean, not that I’m interested. Obviously not. It’s just that I happened to be looking at aquamarines in a shop window the other day. Just out of an academic interest.
My eye drifts toward the retreating figure of the old man.
“Three-carat setting, five-carat setting, he keeps saying. All half price.” Chandra shakes his head. “I tell him, these people are not interested.”
Half price? Five-carat aquamarines at half price?
Stop it. Stop it. Chandra’s right. Of course I’m not interested in stupid aquamarines. I’m absorbed in spiritual enlightenment.
Anyway, the old man’s nearly gone now. He’s just a tiny figure on top of the hill. In a minute he’ll have disappeared.
“And now.” Chandra smiles. “The Halasana pose. Becky, will you demonstrate?”
“Absolutely.” I smile at Chandra and prepare to get into position on my mat.
But something’s wrong. I don’t feel contentment. I don’t feel tranquillity. The oddest feeling is welling up inside me, driving everything else out. It’s getting stronger and stronger . . .
And suddenly I can’t contain it anymore. Before I know what’s happening, I’m running in my bare feet as fast as I can up the hill toward the tiny figure. My lungs are burning, my feet are smarting, and the sun’s beating down on my bare head, but I don’t stop until I’ve reached the crest of the hill. I come to a halt and look around, panting.
I don’t believe it. He’s gone. Where did he vanish to?
I stand for a few moments, regaining my breath, peering in all directions. But I can’t see him anywhere.
At last, feeling a little dejected, I turn and make my way back down the hillside to the group. As I get near I realize they’re all shouting and waving at me. Oh God. Am I in trouble?
“You did it!” the red-haired woman’s yelling. “You did it!”
“You ran over the hot coals! You did it, Becky!”
I look down at my feet . . . and I don’t believe it. They’re covered in gray ash! In a daze, I look at the pit of coals—and there’s a set of clear footprints running through it.
Oh my God. Oh my God! I ran over the coals! I ran over the burning hot smoldering coals! I did it!
“But . . . but I didn’t even notice!” I say, bewildered. “My feet aren’t even burned!”
“How did you do it?” demands the red-haired woman. “What was in your mind?”
“I can answer.” Chandra comes forward, smiling. “Becky has achieved the highest form of karmic bliss. She was concentrating on one goal, one pure image, and this has driven her body to achieve a supernatural state.”
Everyone is goggling at me like I’m suddenly the Dalai Lama.
“It was nothing, really,” I say, with a modest smile. “Just . . . you know. Spiritual enlightenment.”
“Can you describe the image?” asks the red-haired woman in excitement.
“Was it white?” someone else chimes in.
“Not really white . . .” I say.
“Was it a kind of shiny blue green?” comes Luke’s voice from the back. I look up sharply. He’s gazing at me, totally straight-faced.
“I don’t remember,” I say with dignity. “The color wasn’t important.”
“Did it feel like . . .” Luke appears to think hard. “Like the links of a chain were pulling you along?”
“That’s a very good image, Luke,” chimes in Chandra, pleased.
“No,” I say shortly. “It didn’t. Actually, I think you probably have to have a higher appreciation of spiritual matters to understand.”
“I see.” Luke nods gravely.
“Luke, you must be very proud.” Chandra beams at Luke. “Is this not the most extraordinary thing you have ever seen your wife do?”
There’s a beat of silence. Luke looks from me to the smoldering coals to the silent group and back to Chandra’s beaming face.
“Chandra,” he says. “Take it from me. This is nothing.”
After the class is finished everyone heads to the terrace, where cool drinks are waiting on a tray. But I stay on my mat, meditating, to show how dedicated I am to higher things. I’m half concentrating on the white light of my being and half imagining running over hot coals in front of Trudie and Sting while they applaud admiringly, when a shadow falls across my face.
“Greetings, O Spiritual One,” says Luke, and I open my eyes to see him standing in front of me, holding out a glass of juice.
“You’re just jealous because you don’t have a beautiful inner being,” I retort, and casually smooth back my hair so the red dot painted on my forehead shows.
“Insanely,” agrees Luke. “Have a drink.”
He sits down beside me on the ground and hands me the glass. I take a sip of delicious, ice-cold passion-fruit juice and we both look out over the hills toward the distant horizon.
“You know, I could really live in Sri Lanka,” I say with a sigh. “It’s perfect. The weather . . . the scenery . . . all the people are so friendly . . .”
“You said the same in India,” Luke points out. “And Australia,” he adds as I open my mouth. “And Amsterdam.”
God, Amsterdam. I’d completely forgotten we went there. That was after Paris. Or was it before?
Oh, yes. It was where I ate all those weird cakes and nearly fell in the canal.
I take another sip of juice and let my mind range back over the last ten months. We’ve visited so many countries, it’s kind of difficult to remember everything at once. It’s almost like a blur of film, with sharp, bright images here and there. Snorkeling with all those blue fish in the Great Barrier Reef . . . the pyramids in Egypt . . . the elephant safari in Tanzania . . . buying all that silk in Hong Kong . . . the gold souk in Morocco . . . finding that amazing Ralph Lauren outlet in Utah . . .
God, we’ve had some experiences. I sigh happily and take another sip of juice.
“I forgot to tell you.” Luke produces a pile of envelopes. “Some post came from England.”
I sit up in excitement and start leafing through the envelopes.
“Vogue!” I exclaim as I get to my special subscriber edition in its shiny plastic cover. “Ooh, look! They’ve got an Angel bag on the front cover!”
I wait for a reaction—but Luke looks blank. I feel a tiny flicker of frustration. How can he look blank? I read him out that whole piece about Angel bags last month, and showed him the pictures and everything.
I know this is our honeymoon. But just sometimes, I wish Luke was a girl.
“You know!” I say. “Angel bags! The most amazing, hip bags since . . . since . . .”
Oh, I’m not even going to bother explaining. Instead I gaze lustfully at the photograph of the bag. It’s made of soft, creamy tan calfskin, with a transparent resin handle and discreet zipper. But what makes it unique is the beautiful winged angel hand-painted on the front, with the name Gabriel underneath in diamanté. There are six different angels: Gabriel, Michael, Dante, Raphael, Uriel, and Ariel. All the celebrities have been fighting over them, and Harrods is permanently sold out. holy phenomenon says the headline beside the picture.
I’m so engrossed, I barely hear Luke’s voice as he holds out another envelope.
“Ooze,” he seems to be saying.
“Sorry?” I look up in a daze.
“Here’s another letter,” he says patiently. “From Suze.”
“Suze?” I drop Vogue and grab it out of his hand. Suze is my best friend in the world. I have so missed her.
The envelope is all thick and creamy white and has a crest on the back with a Latin motto. I always forget how totally grand Suze is. When she sent us a Christmas card it was a picture of her husband Tarquin’s castle in Scotland with from the cleath-stuart estate printed inside. (Except you could hardly read it because her one-year-old, Ernie, had covered it with red and blue fingerpaints.)
I tear it open and a stiff card falls out.
“It’s an invitation!” I exclaim. “To the christening of the twins.”
I gaze at the formal, swirly engraving, feeling a slight pang. Wilfrid and Clementine Cleath-Stuart. Suze has had two more babies and I haven’t even seen them. They must be about two months old by now. I wonder what they look like. I wonder how Suze is doing. So much has been going on without us.
I turn the card over and see that Suze has scrawled a message.
I know you won’t be able to come, but thought you’d like it anyway. . . . Hope you’re still having a wonderful time!
All our love, Suzexxx
PS Ernie loves his Chinese outfit, thank you so much!
“It’s in two weeks,” I say, showing Luke the card. “Shame, really. We won’t be able to go.”
“No,” agrees Luke. “We won’t.”
There’s a short silence. Then Luke meets my eye. “I mean . . . you’re not ready to go back yet, are you?” he says casually.
“No!” I say at once. “Of course not!”
We’ve been traveling for only ten months, and we planned to be away for at least a year. Plus, we’ve got the spirit of the road in our feet now. Maybe we’ll never be able to go back to normal life, like sailors who can’t go back and live on the land.
I put the invitation back in its envelope and take a sip of my drink. I wonder how Mum and Dad are. I haven’t heard much from them recently. In fact, the last time I called home, they both seemed a bit distracted. Mum hardly listened to my story about the elephant orphanage, and before I could ask Dad how he did in the...
What’s a round-the-world honeymoon if you can’t buy the odd souvenir to ship back home? Like the twenty silk dressing gowns Becky found in Hong Kong...the hand-carved dining table (and ten chairs) from Sri Lanka...the, um, huge wooden giraffes from Malawi (that her husband Luke expressly forbade her to buy)... Only now Becky and Luke have returned home to London and Luke is furious. Two truckloads of those souvenirs have cluttered up their loft, and the bills for them are outrageous. Luke insists Becky go on a budget. And worse: her beloved best friend Suze has found a new best friend while Becky was away. Becky’s feeling rather blue—when her parents deliver some incredible news. She has a long-lost sister! Becky is thrilled! She’s convinced her sister will be a true soulmate. They’ll go shopping together, have manicures together....Until she meets Jessica for the first time and gets the shock of her life. Surely Becky Bloomwood’s sister can’t...hate shopping?
Sophie Kinsella is a former financial journalist and the author of the bestselling novels Confessions of a Shopaholic, Shopaholic Takes Manhattan, Shopaholic Ties the Knot, Can You Keep a Secret?, and The Undomestic Goddess. She lives in England, where she is at work on her next book.
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