Shopaholic and Sister
To Gemma and Abigail, in celebration of being sisters.
DICTIONARY OF INTERNATIONAL TRIBAL DIALECTS
(The following terms were mistakenly omitted from the main dictionary.)
NAMI-NAMI TRIBE OF NEW GUINEA, p. 67
fraa (“frar”): elder tribesman; patriarch
mopi (“mop-i”): a small ladle for serving rice or meal
shup (“shop”): to exchange goods for money or beads. A concept unknown by the tribe until a visit in 2002 by British tourist Rebecca Brandon (formerly Bloomwood)
ROYAL CAIRO INSTITUTE OF ARCHAEOLOGY
31 El Cherifeen Street
Mrs. Rebecca Brandon
c/o Nile Hilton Hotel
January 15, 2003
Dear Mrs. BrandonI am glad you are enjoying your honeymoon in Cairo. I was pleased to hear that you feel a bond with the Egyptian people and agree it is quite possible that you have Egyptian blood in you.
I also welcome your interest in the museum’s jewelry display. However, further to your inquiry, the “sweet little ring” you refer to is not for sale. It once belonged to Queen Sobeknefu of the 12th Dynasty and, I can assure you, would be missed.
I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay.
BREITLING SHIPPING COMPANY
LONDON E14 5HG
Fax for: Mrs Rebecca Brandon
c/o Four Seasons Hotel
From: Denise O’Connor
Customer Service Coordinator
6 February 2003
Dear Mrs Brandon:
We are sorry to inform you that your Bondi Beach “carved sand mermaid” has disintegrated during shipping.
We would remind you that we made no guarantees as to its safety and advised you against the shipping process.
Customer Service Coordinator
Alaskan Trails and Adventures, Inc.
PO BOX 80034
CHUGIAK, AK 99567
FAX FOR: Mrs. Rebecca Brandon
c/o White Bear Lodge
FROM: Dave Crockerdale
Alaskan Trails and Adventures
February 16, 2003
Thank you for your inquiry.
I would strongly advise you against attempting to ship to Britain six husky dogs and a sleigh.
I agree that husky dogs are wonderful animals and am interested in your idea that they could be the answer to pollution in cities. However, I think it unlikely the authorities would allow them on the streets of London, even if you did “customize the sleigh with wheels and add a numberplate.”
I hope you are still enjoying your honeymoon.
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 carpetbags, 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?”