Looking back

Excerpt from – “Of All the Places”

Unpublished novel by Claire Spencer


I stare at this guy across from me, black rimmed glasses glinting, black hair casually flopping over his eye, sitting on the couch, legs crossed in a half lotus pose, reciting mantras to himself as ‘Greys Anatomy’ plays on the TV. I want to reach out and push the hair from his eyes, but I catch myself.

He’s holding his mala, and I can’t tell really whether he’s watching the show or not. An occasional smile, a quiet giggle and back to the bead counting and mantras.

It’s been a horrendous year you know. Some people say those words, like when you casually ask someone how their day has been and they answer “Oh you know, tough, but it’s over.”…

This isn’t an exaggeration. This year has been cancer. This year has been apocalyptic fires. This year has been a pandemic. It’s only June. You can’t write this stuff. Well, actually, here I am, so in fact, you can.

Back to the guy sitting beside me silently mouthing mantras. I love this man. I love him in a way I didn’t even know that love existed. Not that soppy Rom-Com, running from two sides of the beach to meet in a passionate embrace kinda love…but the “Can you help me to the toilet, can you wash my legs for me” kinda surprising, unnerving, vulnerable love.

I didn’t used to do vulnerable, or soft, or even approachable really. I tried, really I did, but I just didn’t trust the world the way he does. Or used to, but more on that later.

I used to bow to this man before me, hands clasped together, eyes down, carefully paying attention to the space between us. I called him “Venerable”. He, with maroon robes, dark shaved hair and a quiet and unassuming presence.

Now people ask me, in hushed and inquisitive tones, ‘does he ever get, you know….angry?’ I smile like I’m holding onto the worlds biggest secret.

“Good thing for us both that he used to be a Tibetan Buddhist monk, between you and me, I don’t think he really got what he was in for’. I don’t say yes, of course he gets angry, I don’t say yes, he feels all that we feel and more. I don’t want to be the person to ruin their idea that monks are somehow superhuman, because, they are- teetering on the edge of a world and tradition that is thousands of years old.

I don’t talk about the constant seesaw of life now- the back story of 19 years as a monastic in the Himalayas, nestled right up against the role of a family man in rural Australia.

Instead, I wait for the first step in a well known dance. And so the dance begins, the startled reaction, the quiet pause, me counting down the seconds between the beat of silence and the inevitable question hanging on everyone’s lips ‘wait- how did you? I mean, if you don’t mind, how did you two meet?’

Sometimes I like to think back on it like a chance encounter, but really, it feels like maybe our whole lives we’d been circling each other.

This man, and our lives that have been entwined together for nearly 10 years started on different sides of the world, but for all intents and purposes, it may has well have been different universes.

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