Part three of Jane’s story
|Word count 1344
She followed the directions Lizzy had given her, although still unsure she was doing the right thing. After turning off the main highway, Jane listened to the instructions, the voice on the GPS sounded authoritative, and yet Jane found it soothing to let someone else guide her through this unfamiliar area. The sun warmed her pale skin, after being in the closed confines of the rehabilitation facility, Jane breathed in the fresh air pouring through the open car windows, each mile taking her away from everything familiar. Free, and with a sudden surge of exhilaration, she sped up the open country road.
When Jane visited the farm to work with the horses, Lizzie, the equine therapist, often spoke to her about how she herself had found peace through Buddhism. She’d told her she too, often went on the silent retreats held at the Buddhist centre in the hills, and what she’d learned there, she later used in her day-to-day life. She’d suggested to Jane that when she eventually left Rehab, some time spent at the Buddhist centre may do her good.
The nuns expected her, along with others, for the Spring retreat, Jane didn’t know much about the centre, other than this retreat too was a silent one. Once introductions had taken place on the first night, after supper, they were advised, no one would be permitted to utter a sound.
“You have reached your destination,” the voice on the GPS announced. Jane turned off the engine and sat in her car, noticing the beautiful gardens which surrounded the car park. The only sound was the engine cooling. She leaned back, turning her neck from side to side to release the tension from the long drive.
Taking her overnight bag from the back seat, Jane walked to the imposing building’s front door. A sign, instructing visitors to take off their footwear before entering, greeted her. Removing her running shoes without undoing the laces, Jane opened the massive, wooden door and gasped at the vast size of the room. The smell of incense was the first thing she noticed, then the main feature, a huge statue of the Buddha, in front of which, many multi-coloured cushions scattered across the floor.
“Greetings, you’re very welcome,” a voice said, startling Jane, she spun around to see a woman dressed in brown robes, her head shaved.
“Oh hello, I didn’t hear you come in, I’m Jane, I’m here for the retreat.”
“Welcome my dear,” the old nun took her hand in both of hers, “let me show you your room.”
Jane followed, their bare feet made no sound as they made their way out of the door. The nun slipped on a pair of slippers and waited whilst Jane sat on the step to fasten the laces on her sneakers.
With no further words they walked along the winding gravel path, through the manicured gardens. Ancient trees shaded them from the hot sun. After a few minutes they arrived outside a small hut, “This is where you will stay whilst you are with us, I hope you will enjoy your time here,” the old lady smiled.
“Thank you. What do I have to do now?” Jane asked, unsure of why she was even here.
“Settle in, rest for a while, meditation is at seven, then supper, that’s when you will meet the rest of the Sisters and our other two guests, who will soon arrive. The old nun placed her hands in a prayer-like gesture and bowed her head before turning around to leave. Jane opened the door of the hut, surprised to see how immaculate the small room was. The white walls were unadorned, save for a picture of Buddha, the room contained a single bed, covered by a patchwork quilt, a dressing table with a mirror, and an old, overstuffed armchair completed the furnishings. Another door led to a tiny bathroom. The cabin seemed to welcome her, and although it was so quiet, didn’t make her feel alone or lonely. She lay on the bed and closed her eyes.
The sound of a gong woke her from a deep sleep, at first Jane didn’t know where she was, then remembering, she looked at her watch, surprised to see she’d slept for two hours.
She found her way across to the main building and entered the huge hall, there a dozen brown-robed nuns knelt on the wooden floor in front of the Buddha. Two other people sat on the cushions behind the nuns. One was a man around her age, and the other an old lady, her long grey hair hanging over her lined face as she bowed her head. Jane whispered an apology as she herself knelt.
The elderly nun who had greeted her earlier started to chant, then the others joined in the sing-song chanting. Afterwards the nun introduced herself as Sister Uma and welcomed the three guests. “Mr Michael Armstrong, Mrs Jane Langham and Mrs Karen Jennison will stay with us for three nights, I hope you all find peace here with the order,” Sister Uma smiled at the three visitors, “Morning prayers and meditation begin at four a.m, you’re all welcome to join us.”
Shit! 4am, I don’t think so, Jane glanced at her two companions to assess their reaction to that news, neither seemed surprised at the extremely early hour.
“After supper, you will retire to your rooms and please remember that this is a silent retreat. You are welcome to use the library if you would like to learn more about our philosophy, our beautiful gardens are also at your disposal.”
The nuns as one, they rose from their knees silently, and in single file trooped from the room, Sister Uma gestured for the guests to follow.
Supper was a vegetarian meal, which Jane ate quickly, until then she hadn’t realised how hungry she’d been. The three strangers sat together and chatted, each telling the others why they came to be at the retreat. Jane decided she wouldn’t divulge too much about herself. Michael spoke in a quiet voice, although his handshake was warm and firm. Jane could see pain behind his wide smile and knew there was a story there, but one he wasn’t willing to share, much like herself. Karen told them she often came to the retreats, she enjoyed the company of the nuns, many of them her friends. She had thought once that she herself would have liked to join the order, but marriage and children had changed her mind. Now widowed and alone, she visited often.
After supper they said their goodnights and left to go their separate ways. Throughout the large property, the order had built numerous cabins to accommodate the nuns and visitors. Jane closed her door, wondering if she needed to lock it here in such a peaceful place. She prepared for bed, still unsure how she would react to three days of silence. I can still speak to myself I suppose, she thought. Not much of a repartee though.
Falling on to the narrow bed her thoughts turned to Sam and their broken marriage, still unable to comprehend that the man she had married over twenty years ago could simply walk away, leaving her to fend for herself. There was a time when he would have fought for tooth and nail for her, when the vows he’d made meant something. She thought about her children, Brad, who she still hadn’t received any word from, since he left, weeks ago, to join the armed forces, and her daughter Tilly, away at college. Knowing they had all turned their backs on her hurt her so much. Jane closed her eyes, listening for signs of another human being, but heard no sounds at all. Moonlight shone through the small window and an owl in the tree outside her cabin called, instead of it making her melancholy, she decided he was attempting to soothe her soul. “There is something magical about this place,” she whispered. For months she’d felt separate, reclusive and lonely, now for the first time for so long, she relaxed. Closing her eyes, she listened to the call of the owl, and the warble of a solitary magpie and slept.