I walked carefully down the cobbled path under the giant archways of the Byker Bridge. I had started to think of them as Mindfulness Cobbles, since I always had to concentrate when walking on them. It was good practise, brought me right into the moment. My stomach lurched as I rounded the corner and the seats came into view. I was late and Adam was waiting for me.
I still had no answer to his question. The books and endless pages from the internet hadn’t helped. There was all this talk about Buddha nature, original mind, and luminous emptiness, but I had no idea what any of those terms really meant. They were just words. I could tell Adam I was my original mind, but suspected he would know I didn’t know what I was talking about. Bullshit never worked with him.
‘So, Zoe. Who are you?’
‘I’m a bit confused.’
Adam chuckled. ‘Confusion is good.’
‘I’m not my body or my feelings or my thoughts because they change and I can observe them, watch them changing. So I must be something that doesn’t change, the thing that observes all this change – the I or self.’ I knew what was coming…
‘What is the I?’
‘I don’t know. It’s me observing, I suppose, but I can’t get outside of me to look at me to see what’s going on. I would need another self to look at that self, and on and on and on. Where does it end?’
‘An infinite regress.’
‘Yes.’ I shrugged.
‘We’ve stripped back the body, the emotions, and thoughts,’ said Adam. ‘These are the contents of our consciousness. What is left?’
‘Yes, but let’s call it Awareness,’ he said. ‘It’s less confusing.’
I was still confused.
‘So, I am Awareness?’ I couldn’t see why this was such a big deal. ‘But what is it? What is Consciousness or Awareness?’
‘This is why we meditate,’ said Adam. ‘To discover the true nature of Mind.’
‘Is it the same thing as original mind?’
‘You’ve been studying.’
I shrugged. ‘I didn’t understand most of it. Are they being deliberately obscure? Is it some kind of elitist thing, where only the initiated get the keys to the kingdom, or whatever?’
‘It’s not obscure. You just think it is.’
‘Look, Zoe, this is the bottom line. Awareness is all you need to know, it all comes back to this one thing. And you have it, right here.’ He tapped his forehead, then the centre of his chest. ‘How does it feel when you meditate?’
I lowered my eyes and breathed deeply, letting my thoughts fall away into nothing. The sting of frozen air pressed against my skin, the river babbled softly over the rocks, and the wind seemed to hold its breath. Even the traffic on the bridge, flying over our heads, had stopped. All was still.
‘Hard to say,’ I said, my voice almost a whisper. ‘It’s kind of peaceful, spacious. When I’m moving around, doing things, it’s like I’m not really trying, things flow and seem to happen on their own. It’s weird.’
I looked at Adam. ‘Can it really be that simple? I mean, life is so complicated. How can you possibly solve all your problems with Awareness?’
‘It’s where you start. Everything arises from Awareness.’ Adam twinkled and opened his arms wide. He looked pleased with me, although I couldn’t think why.
‘Keep practising,’ he said.
The throb of the sub-bass hit me in the guts before I even got to the pub. The whole building vibrated, sending shockwaves into the surrounding air. I eased open the door and pushed into the crush of bodies. A sticky fug of compound clashing aftershaves and sweat hit my throat and, trying not to breathe, I squeezed towards the bar.
A low stage had been set at the far end of the room. Jonah’s pride and joy sat on its stand, basking in a spotlight: a gleaming custom Les Paul, red orange wood flaming under the lights. Ray was standing at the bar near the stage, towering over everyone. He saw me and waved. I retrieved my wine from the barman and inched my way down the bar towards him; a Cosmic lighthouse in a storm.
Jonah appeared from behind Ray and wrapped himself around me. He was wearing his favourite purple silk shirt, which made his skin glow deeper than usual, and his dreads were adorned with multi-coloured beads and silver amulets. He was beaming and wired, his head full of music, and I knew I’d get no sense out of him until after the show. I let myself be vigorously hugged. Robin was beside us, bouncing on the spot, eyes fixed on the stage, like a dog desperate for his ball to be thrown.
Sitting at a table across from the bar was Linda with a queen’s view of the stage. She was surrounded by a gaggle of friends, all squawking with excitement. Linda, for once, was serene, calmly awaiting the arrival of Dionysus Wept, as she had many times before. I had listened to the band rehearse for weeks and couldn’t wait to see the songs performed for real. Aside from the boys themselves, only Linda and I knew the audience were in for a treat. I caught Linda’s eye and grinned. She gave me a regal wave, followed by a cheeky wink.
My breath was coming in shallow bursts. I was letting the tension in the room get to me. I needed to calm down. I gulped at my wine and straightened my spine, planting my feet and raising my chin. Jonah still had one arm around me and I could feel his exhilaration shooting through my body, running around inside me like I’d eaten too much sugar. I hated that feeling, especially when I couldn’t do anything about it. Maybe I should start jumping about and screeching, maybe it would help. Or maybe it would be plain undignified. I took another deep breath.
The pulsating jukebox and incoherent noise from the crowd swirled through my brain. This kind of sensory assault always left me feeling ragged and I longed for peace, for some space. Niggling at the back of my mind I knew I should meditate. It was Adam’s answer to everything. But there were times when the meditation gave rise to something else. Maybe I was doing it wrong, but beyond the peace and clarity a storm was menacing on the horizon, and I knew I couldn’t out run it.
I tried to focus on my awareness of what was happening, the space around the stuff in my mind, to not get caught in the battles erupting around me, but the racket was too intrusive. A shout at the bar for three shots of vodka, the wail of a rising guitar as it morphed into a shriek from a girl, followed by the lascivious laughter of the man who had finally succeeded in throwing a peanut into the shrieking girl’s cleavage.
It would be all right when the band started; order would be restored.
An image flashed into my mind. A memory of a room in uproar, chaos triumphant. But the only person in this room had been me. I was seven or eight and looking for washing up. The room was my dad’s work room, his artist’s den. Normally I avoided going in there; it was just too crazy, and Dad too unpredictable. I picked my way into the middle of the room, hands clutched to my chest, and stood, awed by the mess. There were stacks of paintings turned to face the walls and a long bench running below the windows piled with brushes, pastels and paints. Dirty rags, old jam jars spattered with explosions of colour, heaps of magazines, photographs and sketches strewn over the floor and every surface. Dad was a magpie, hoarding trinkets and curios; a squirrel storing inspiration and revelation. You never knew what you would find in this room; it contained the whole world.
I didn’t want to touch anything, as if the clutter was sacred, a jumble sale of holy relics. Turning on the spot, I scanned with my eyes, not looking for anything in particular, just resting my gaze on whatever was there, and the domestic objects would jump out. A plate of crumbs or a scummy mug didn’t really belong, so I saw them without trying.
‘I see you got a new one.’
My attention snapped back to the bar. A tall and dazzlingly beautiful Asian woman was looking down her nose at me. She transferred her attention to Jonah, who had a look of utter panic spreading across his face.
‘Nisha,’ he said, trying to sound unruffled. ‘This is Zoe.’
‘I meant the shirt,’ said Nisha, running her fingers down Jonah’s silky torso.
‘Zoe found it in Oxfam,’ he said. ‘Where you left it.’
Nisha flashed her teeth at me; it wasn’t what you could call a smile. I wondered what Jonah had seen in this woman, apart from the obvious. This was where thinking with your gonads got you. Men could be such fools, at times. As if on cue, Nisha was joined by an enormous, rippling hunk of a guy who was undoubtedly cute, but his eyes were too close together, and his collar size probably exceeded my thigh.
‘What are you doing here, Nisha?’ said Jonah. ‘Come to gloat?’
‘Darren wanted to see you,’ she said, hooking her long scarlet nails around her boyfriend’s tree trunk arm. Darren smiled meekly at everyone. I was starting to feel sorry for him.
‘I’m glad you’ve moved on,’ said Nisha, looking me up and down. ‘She’s… cute.’
Jonah’s jaw was clenched. I could see the muscles working down the side of his face. He still had his arm around my shoulder, but now it was rigid with tension as he fought to control his temper. It was all I could do to stop myself throwing what was left of my wine in the stupid cow’s face. But then, I didn’t want to waste it.
Nisha’s clawed hand came up and cupped Jonah’s cheek. He jerked his head back, a fierce scowl flashing over his face. My heart rate tripled – he was going to rip her head off. I needed to act, do something to diffuse the situation, but what? It was obvious Nisha still fancied the pants off Jonah, and frankly, I couldn’t blame her.
‘Oh, Joe, don’t be like that,’ said the bitch. ‘We can be friends. Can’t we?’
‘That’s not what you want though, is it?’ I said.
‘Huh…’ said Nisha, all fake surprise, ‘she speaks.’
‘Zoe don’t,’ said Jonah. ‘You’ll encourage her.’
‘I know how this works,’ I continued, slipping Jonah’s arm from my shoulders so I could square up for the fight. ‘I know what you do and I know why.’
Nisha stood up straight and glowered over me. That rictus smile must be giving her lockjaw by now.
‘Zoe…’ warned Jonah.
‘No, no, Joe,’ said Nisha, through her teeth. ‘I want to hear what the opinionated little elf has to say.’
‘When I saw the way you dumped Jonah, I thought you were passive aggressive. But you’re not, are you?’ I said. ‘There’s nothing passive about you.’
‘You’re flattering me.’ She flicked her hair and fluttered her eyes at poor lust-struck Darren.
‘You think if you give them a hard time, play the bitch, make them crazy, they’ll keep coming back. Because no matter what you do, no matter how far you push them, even if you dump them, they can’t resist you. Look at you. Half the women in here probably fancy you. The question is, why do you do it?’
Nisha bent her head close to mine and looked into my eyes. ‘Why does a dog lick its bollocks?’ She stood straight again, triumphant, and beamed at Darren, who gave her a blank look, waiting for the punch line. She shrugged. ‘Because it can.’
Darren chortled, rather sweetly, and gazed at her like a devoted puppy. Jonah rolled his eyes and glanced at his watch, desperate to start the gig.
‘I do it because I can,’ said Nisha. ‘You got yourself a jealous one, Joe. Your perfect match.’
Jonah took a step forward, and I thought he was going to slap her, so I grabbed his arm and elbowed him aside.
‘Oh, I’m not jealous of you Nisha. After all, I have what you want. You had your chance. He invited you to move in with him. You dumped him, expecting him to come begging, grovelling on his knees. But he didn’t. He went off and met someone else. You lost him because you were too busy trying to prove how irresistible you are. And now, the man you want is living with someone else.’
Nisha’s eyes darted back and forth between me and Jonah as she fought to keep her cool. ‘You moved in with him?’ Her voice froze the air between us.
‘Nisha, will you please fuck off,’ said Jonah. ‘We’re about to start.’
‘Well,’ said Nisha, staring at me with naked contempt, ‘you’re a braver woman than me. I hope you realise what you’re letting yourself in for.’
‘You know what?’ I said. ‘I am braver than you. I’m also less lonely.’
She took a step back with a look on her face that said she’d been punched. She fiddled with her dress and draped herself on Darren’s substantial shoulder. I was just warming up, ready to hit her with everything I had, but felt Jonah’s hand slip into mine, pulling me back towards him. He would have to do more than that to stop me now.
‘I actually feel sorry for you, Nisha. It’s a tragedy that someone as beautiful as you on the outside can be so ugly on the inside. But you only have yourself to blame. Perhaps you should spend less time looking in the mirror.’
Nisha turned away and pushed against the bodies crammed into the bar. There was no escape.
‘Zoe, stop,’ said Jonah, but I wasn’t listening.
‘No amount of adoration will ever be enough for you, no amount of attention will fill the black hole in your heart. You keep clawing at them until you destroy them, until they feel as wretched as you.’
Nisha pulled Darren’s arm and tried to use him as a battering ram to break through the crowds, but no-one would move. Her face began to crumple into tears. With my victim trapped, I continued my tirade.
‘Relationships built on insecurity and self-hatred will never give you the love you’re so desperate to feel, and compensating for that by getting yourself fucked silly by some hunk of meat with more neck than brains is just going to make it worse.’
Jonah yanked me round and encased me in his arms, holding on tight until I shut the hell up. I felt his mouth warm and wet on my ear.
‘I love you, you crazy, beautiful freak.’
‘Was that too much?’ I said.
‘Little bit.’ He kissed me, long and deep, then pulled back. ‘Gotta get to work.’
I turned round to face the stage. There was no sign of Nisha or her sex slave. I realised I’d over done it, but refused to feel guilty. Someone had to tell her the truth.
The rage was still burning my blood. Where had it come from? The distant tempest was closing in. I took a deep breath and willed myself to calm down. The band were taking the stage, the jukebox was silenced, the audience hushed. I allowed my mind to relax, feeling my way into the spaces between the sounds. The clink of glasses, a cough, the buzz of the guitar switching on. I closed my eyes.
A still, eternal pause.
A beatific voice sliced through the silence. The melody carried every heart skywards, hope sprouting wings, Jonah’s joy transmuting all grief into grace. I knew it was coming but the crack from the snare still hit me like a gunshot to the head, the music igniting around me like the flames of a furnace consuming the air. I stood transfixed as Jonah, Daylight and Cosmic turned every member of the audience inside out, showing them how to live. This is what you do with your rage, this is what you do with your pain, this is what you do with your joy.
Magicians birthing a new world.
Copyright © All Rights Reserved
What happens next?
Will Zoe heed Nisha’s warning about Jonah
and can their relationship survive what’s coming?
Will Adam’s strange disappearances ever be explained?
How will Zoe cope when Jonah makes a devastating
discovery about Adam that changes everything?