Episode Four ♦ Oracle

Avinashika Joshi woke alone in her bed. On the nightstand was a note. “I hate goodbyes. I’ve left the key for the new people on your kitchen table. Enjoy! Willem.”

She lay there a few minutes trying to sort through the emotions that swirled across her mind. It’s not that she expected anything from him, she just felt disappointed that she didn’t get to say goodbye. Well, not in so many words: not in the way one normally did.

Out of bed, she covered herself with an unbleached cotton t-shirt and panties before heading to the toilet and brushing her teeth.  She’d bathe after she weeded the garden and did some chores. From the hook on the back of the bathroom door she removed denim bib overalls, stepped into them, and fastened the shoulder straps with a pair of daisy buttons.

As promised, the key sat on the kitchen table: the stem of a single, pink rosebud through the hole. She removed the key from the stem, put it on the kitchen windowsill, and filled a small glass with some water for the rose. She left it in the middle of the small, wooden table.

She put some coffee on to brew, filled a mug, stepped out her door, and looked over at the empty home next door. She felt it odd not to see Willem stretching. Would the new people be by for the key today? She knew Willem had never been one for planning: he could have agreed they would move in next week. Avinashika took a few deep breaths and released the seeds of tension. Happy to help, it was not her responsibility. She cleared her mind of thought.

Her awareness shifted to the world that surrounded her. The morning was alive with birdsong and she watched as an oriole darted from the pea trestle after some small creature hidden in a patch of sage. Its prey in its beak, it flew to a nearby tree where chicks squawked hungrily.

A long drink of coffee and she was aware of a soft mewing under the wooden stoop. She rested the mug on the step and peered between the slats into the darkness below. She sensed movement but saw nothing. She crept off the steps, examined the structure, and found a gap between the boards and the foundation. This was the first time a feral cat had taken up residence under her steps. Could she have kittens down there? If that was the case, Avinashika decided it would be best not to disturb them.

As she finished her mug of coffee, a couple crows landed on the eaves of the house next door. They took up cawing and cackling as if in a heated debate over which part of the garden to invade first. She surmised the new neighbors would arrive soon. Another pair joined the first duo on the eaves in raucous debate.

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Gardening done, Avinashika dried herself after bathing. She dressed in some loose denim pants and a forest green blouse, preferring conservative dress when going to the market. On a piece of paper she wrote “will return before sundown” and hung it from a nail in her door frame she used for this purpose. She slipped into comfortable walking shoes, picked up a canvas tote, closed the door behind her, and headed through the garden.

She enjoyed a brisk walk and paid attention to her breathing and pulse along the way finally slowing as she entered the market. Her first stop: a favorite fabric stall. Avinashika browsed some stouter cotton fabrics certain she had a ready market for work shorts and pants, but her eyes and fingers were drawn to luxurious, imported silks. Unable to remember when she had last made herself a new dress, she still could not justify the expense. Another day.

Off to the food stalls next she picked up some lentils, brown rice, and a couple apples before stopping in at a tea stand for some sencha. She stood at the two-meter-long counter between two other patrons: a man and a woman who seemed too far apart to be together. Avinashika waited the minute for the tea to steep before pouring it into a wide-mouthed drinking bowl.

As she sipped the hot liquid, a woman with black hair and graying roots walked up. She was short by comparison and wore a bright, flower-print smock over her dress. “I’m so glad I ran into you Avinashika. I just had to see you today.”

“How are you, Bubbeh?”

“Oh, the knees hurt and my youngest tells me he is still not ready to marry…but what’s new?” Her voice was enlivened despite years of weariness and worry. “When I woke this morning, I had this feeling that something very wonderful happened to you.” She reached out gnarled fingers which had worked hard for twice as many years as Avinashika had been alive. Her hand stopped in mid-air.

“Wonderful?” Avinashika was puzzled. She took a longer sip of the tea enjoying how the slight astringency quenched her thirst.

Bubbeh examined Avinashika’s face. “Yes, I can see something is different.”

Avinashika remembered the warmth of Willem’s embrace, felt her face flush, but said nothing.

Stepping closer, Bubbeh’s hand made contact with Avinashika’s forearm. “Yes. Yes, it has happened. I’m sure of it.” The woman closed her eyes and laid her head back. She took a deep breath, releasing it with a guttural sound somewhere between a growl and a moan. She repeated this breathing routine four more times then stopped. A minute passed. Three sharps gasps for air were accompanied by a high-pitched tone.

The female patron drained her cup and bolted from the stand. Avinashika looked at the chai wallah trying to communicate non-verbally that there was nothing wrong – such behavior was normal for her friend. The male customer, oblivious to the spectacle, sipped his brew, probably engrossed in something on his Informateur.

“Listen and know!” The voice coming from Bubbeh’s mouth was whispy, otherworldly. It said:

Man of Bright Colors deposits a seed in an empty vessel
Elephant takes the vessel to a man of letters
Elephant and Man of Letters take vessel out of diseased garden
Man of Letters harvests fruit under a distant, barren land
Man of Bright Colors finds fruit.

“Listen and know!” It proclaimed and Avinashika reached to grab her friend as the woman gasped for air and her knees buckled.

“Don’t you have a chair?” Avinashika demanded.

The chai wallah rustled behind the counter and brought out his short stool and placed it behind Bubbeh.

“Sit, you’ve had another of your spells, Bubbeh.” She lowered the older woman onto the stool. Then to the chai wallah, “Please, some strong black tea.” Then to Bubbeh, “You like two lumps, right, my dear?”

“You know I take three!”

Avinashika smiled. “Just wanted to make sure you were yourself again.”

“Was it understandable this time?”

“Well, the words were English, but…”

“Did you write it down?”

“I don’t need to. Do you want to know what it said?”

“Is the message for me or mine?”

Avinashika shook her head. “No, that’s doubtful.”

Bubbeh changed the subject. “So, tell me about your young man then. When did it happen?”

“Mike and I decided to go our separate ways – I don’t know, maybe it’s been a week now. I don’t think about it.”

“NO! Not that one.” Bubbeh spat the words out.

The chai wallah dropped three lumps into a white, bisque teacup and poured the hot, dark tea after.

Avinashika reached for the cup waving away the offer of milk. “Here, Bubbeh. Drink this.”

“Thank you dearie. No, I mean the artistic fellow who lives next door.” She brought the steaming cup to her lips and puffed away the heat.

“We said goodbye this morning. He…”

“Goodbye? What do you mean goodbye?”

“He left for the west today.”

“Pfft! Such nonsense! How can a man be with such as you and then just leave?” She took a sip and let the silence hang between them for a few moments. “When will he return?”

“I don’t know.” Avinashika shook her head and looked at her feet. “I don’t think he intends to come back here. Ever.”

Bubbeh was pensive. “Promise me you’ll see a midwife next week. No excuses.”

“I will, Bubbeh. I promise. I’m so sorry, but it’s getting late…”

“Yes, I know. I must be going… Have to cook dinner you know.”

“Will you be okay walking home?”

“Pfft! Don’t fuss. It’s not so far.”

“Let me pay for your tea, Bubbeh.” Avinashika handed the chai wallah a couple pieces of market script and then slipped some more into Bubbeh’s pocket. Avinashika recognized the old woman ignoring the gesture. “It was good to see you today.”

“You come see me and tell me what the midwife says. And don’t be too long about it!”

The women waved goodbye as Avinashika headed out of the market. She tried to remember what else she needed but the oracle stuck in her head. The only part she understood was about the seed planted in her empty womb. She shook her head. “No. It’s not possible. It’s just not possible.”

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As Avinashika turned off the cart path into her garden, she was greeted by a young couple sitting on Willem’s porch. The mother nursed her infant; the husband stood and approached.

“Please don’t get up. I’ve got your key. Just a second and I’ll bring it.” Avinashika quick-stepped through the garden and up her stairs. She opened the door, set her bag on the kitchen table, and grabbed the key from the windowsill. Back out the door and through the garden, she started speaking before passing the corner of the house. “I hope you haven’t been waiting long. I needed to pop into the market and ran into an old friend…”

The man met her at the corner of the house. “Please, don’t worry about it. I’m Tristam, but most people call me Tris. This is my wife Beatrix and our baby Eton.”

“It’s so nice to meet you. I’m Avinashika. I hope you’ll like it here.”

Beatrix looked up. “No doubt we will. We were rather surprised to find Willem was already gone.”

“He didn’t tell you when he was leaving either,” Avinashika stated.

“Well, he said it would be soon,” continued Tris. “We stopped by to see if maybe we could use some of his furniture.”

“I’m sorry, but he cleared everything out last night. He mentioned you wanted some kitchen stuff. I hope it’s there…”

“Please, don’t worry about it,” the husband dismissed.

“We really do appreciate you holding the key for us,” continued the wife.

“When Eton’s finished, we’ll have a look around. Hopefully we can move in tomorrow – it just depends on the carting situation.”

Avinashika understood. “Well, if there is anything you need, please do not hesitate to come over anytime. And when you’re ready, I’m happy to babysit.”

“Well, we won’t keep you any longer, Avina…” he replied.

“Avinashika. And welcome to your new home!”

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