Archive for Seniors

Master Plan

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , , , , on April 19, 2012 by javedbabar

Mr. Amin was away for a month, having gone to visit his family in India. Open Hearts seniors daycare centre obviously couldn’t run itself, so The Authority had sent a temporary replacement, forty years younger than most of the clients, and sixty years younger than James. Everybody loved Mr. Amin, but a change would be refreshing, especially this smart girl up to date with all the latest developments. They awaited Shazeen Simoninian with enthusiasm.

Her arrival at the Centre was unforgettable. Sharp fragments of light flashed through the lounge. Her silver sports car’s reflections illuminated everyone present, and seemed to form a bright fabric clinging to the roof. A little tune played when she locked the car doors. “Beethoven’s Fifth,” said Gemma, knitting.

“Sure it wasn’t his sixth?” said Albert. “Or maybe his fifth-and-a-half? I’ve heard its one of his better ones.” Gemma shook her head.

Both lounge doors swung open – people usually opened only one – and a silver-suited woman of medium height and slim build appeared. There was a heady waft of jasmine and pomegranates. “She’s Persian,” said Gemma. “You can tell by the features.”

“Good morning everybody,” said Shazeen Simoninian. “I’ll be running this Centre for the next month while Mr. Amin is away. We didn’t get the chance to perform a formal handover. Would someone please show me the Master Plan.”

People stared blankly. Ex-cowboy Albert said quietly, “Yez, de Master Plan. Maybe she iz German.”

She pointed to him. “You, what did you say?”

“That your name is Persian. Am I right?”

“That’s very presumptuous of you to say that. We live in a multi-cultural society. My name is Canadian. Now can you please answer my question about the Master Plan.”

“Er… this place sort of runs itself, Mizz. Mr. Amin has a hands-off approach to management.” He looked around and raised his eyebrows. “Isn’t that right?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Shazeen Simoninian. “No institution runs itself. I’ll need to see the Work Schedules and Food Plans, Exercise Policies, Conversation Structures, Dispute Resolution Frameworks, and everything else required by The Authority. Now where will I find those?”

Nobody spoke. “You, in the blue uniform. Where will I find them?”

Zoe, the cook, couldn’t help smirking. She said, “In Mr. Amin’s head I think.”

“What do you mean by that?” Shazeen Simoninian looked around to ensure equal eye contact with everyone present. “You mean that none of the daily procedures are documented? You just make them up as you go along?”

“Pretty much,” said Albert. “It’s really not that hard. You just see what the day brings you, see what needs doing, and do it.”

“Sir, what’s your name? Albert? Okay Albert, from your attire I gather that you’re a cowboy of some sort. Am I correct? I thought so. Your duties would include, I imagine, riding horses and moving cows.”

“That’s pretty much it, Ms. Simoninian. You seem to know the job pretty well. Which ranch did you work at? Or are you a rustler? You can tell me, I promise I won’t tell the Sheriff. Most of the…”

“That’s enough Albert. My point is that you are a cowboy and I am a professionally trained facility manager. We don’t ‘just see what the day brings’. We bring things to the day. We don’t just ‘see what needs doing’. We do what is planned. That is why I have asked for the Master Plan. It provides the essential rhythm of every facility. Now if we don’t have one here, my first job is to create one.” She left them alone for the rest of the day.

The next morning began with the Seniors Song, composed by Shazeen Simoninian. “It is vital to share our vision daily,” she said, passing out song sheets. The song began:

“We arise each morn with the gift of life,

As an ex-husband or as an ex-wife,

We sit neither alone nor bearing strife,

For today our Hearts are Open to life.”

Albert didn’t sing, just shook his head. Then Shazeen Simoninian announced the 28-day menu rotation. On Tuesday when there was an unexpected cold snap, they ate fair-trade salads rather than the harvest stew suggested by Zoe. No external food was allowed, as Shazeen Simoninian said “it could be unhygienic.”

Albert said, “I’ve been unhygienic all my life. That’s how I…” He stopped when given a vicious look by the acting facility manager.

They were made to watch one hour of TV daily for “asymmetric socialisation,” and were discouraged from wearing brightly coloured clothes as they “created disharmony” within the “decor-neutral” facility scheme. They were allowed only one toilet visit per hour, and if they needed more than this, Shazeen Simoninian suggested adult diapers or urinary catheters. All talk of religion, sex, and politics was banned in case other people were offended. And of course Albert was not allowed to tell jokes as these could lead to over-excitement and heart attacks. The centre was suffocated by jasmine and pomegranates.

Mr. Amin was shocked when he returned from India. The vibrant seniors community he had nurtured now seemed like a mortuary. He unbuttoned his yellow shirt, put down the pakoras he’d brought for everyone, switched off the TV, and threw on a Bollywood CD. When the guitars and sitars started up he called out, “Everybody, I’m back! Let’s do some dirty dancing!” Then realizing that his stomach was unsettled he ran to the toilet, but didn’t have time to close the door. His holy vibrations resounded around the centre. They blew out Shazeen Simoninian’s heavy fragrance and returned the Centre to life.

World Food Council

Posted in Lucerne Village with tags , , , , , on April 18, 2012 by javedbabar

“May I have a word please, Zoe?” said Mr. Amin. His impish smile had won over many during his political career as Minister of Culture for Northern India, and continued to do so now in the not-for-profit sector of Canadia. It was only that smile, he believed, that had kept Open Hearts seniors daycare centre open. So many times when it was on the brink of closure, bank managers and provincial officials had been charmed by it. It wasn’t just his smile though. It was a million smiles gathered together from every senior that came here and was entertained, fed, and listened to, and whose children and grandchildren slept better knowing that Ma, Pa, Grandma, or Grandpa looked forward to their day ahead. Mr. Amin said, “Which delicious items are you making for us today?”

Zoe said, “We’re having East Indian today, especially for you, Mr. Amin. Tarka dal, mutter chawal, roast chicken for carnivores, and saag aloo for vegetarians, plus some salad, pickle, and sweet.” She didn’t have time to stop working. She whisked gram flour, chopped coriander, and wiped down surfaces as she spoke.

“Mmm… That sounds delicious,” said Mr. Amin, licking his top lip. “What’s the sweet today?”

“It’s halwa with flaked almonds. It’s the first time I’m making it here. I hope it turns out ok.”

Mr. Amin said, “I’m sure that it will. When are you taking your break, Zoe?”

“I don’t usually take it,” she said, peeling onions and squeezing out tomato paste. “I don’t have time. I work straight through.”

“You never take it?”

She nodded.

“Ok, please come and see me when you’ve finished cooking?”

She was about to ask something, but he beat her to it. “Yes, after you’ve done the preparation, but before serving.”

She came to his office at 11.30am. Mr. Amin knew that there was never a good time for these conversations, but it was best to have them in the middle of the day. That way the victim wasn’t shocked immediately upon arrival at work, but also didn’t hear about it just before going home. They had half a day without the knowledge, then half a day to deal with it. He called this his “Half-and-Half” approach to human relations.

He said, “Zoe, do you recall the questionnaire last week? Yes, we asked for clients’ views on how we ran the centre. One of the questions concerned the food we provide. Did you know that? Good.” It was going well so far and he gave her a winning smile. She smiled back. Maybe he’d smiled too much though, so he followed it with a frown, and Zoe frowned too. That was better. “Well as you know, you can never please everybody, however hard you try. Some people always complain. That’s not a reflection on you. Not at all. But we should at least be aware of their opinions, and maybe we can make small changes to please them. Things that are easy for us to do, and will make them happy. Yes, yes, I’m about to tell you.”

He specified the complaints: “cold food”, “boring food”, “flavourless food”, “stale food”, “disgusting food”, “ugly food”, “horrible food”, “food that produces nightmares”, “food that gives you diarrhoea”, and “food that makes you constipated”. Mr. Amin felt that there was little merit in these complaints. These Seniors were going through a process of transition – written about in the Indian scriptures – with one life stage changing to another. Their Childhood and Householder days were long gone, and now they were disempowered Elders. Their opinions counted for little, even in their own homes. The questionnaire had provided them with an opportunity to flex their muscles, and show some authority. At least on paper they could still be boss.

Poor Zoe was shocked. “What will happen now?” she said. “Will I lose my job? Will you bring in prepared food instead?”

“No, no, of course we won’t,” said Mr. Amin.

Her eyes flashed. He’d never noticed the amber. “Who said these things?” she said with anger. “Was it lots of people or just one person? I’m sure it wasn’t Irene, or James, or Albert, or Smuel. They appreciate my food. I bet it was that miserable Gemma – doing her knitting and talking about math. What use is that to her now? Counting down the days till she dies?”

He said, “Zoe, I know that you’re upset by this, but that’s enough. I can’t tell you who said what. Don’t take it personally. Let’s think what small things we can do together.” He left it there, as it was time for Zoe to serve lunch. He saw her slopping food out to clients. Her scowl alone would give them indigestion. Mr. Amin’s Half-and-Half approach wasn’t perfect he knew. They had a further conversation after lunch, and his smile worked wonders. Zoe was a sensible woman who knew that every job had hurdles to overcome. She now accepted the situation, and said that she would do the best she could with the time, budget, and resources available. In his view she performed miracles already with the $2 per person per day ingredients budget.

That evening Mr. Amin called an influential old friend in India. He told him how Zoe marinated food at home so it would taste better for the clients, that she shared her secret family recipes, sometimes added her own special ingredients, was often too busy to eat, and went without food when people wanted seconds.

His friend agreed that her daily good actions superseded her annoyance at the clients. It was clear that she filled her food with love. The next week a registered package for Zoe arrived from India. It was a certificate of merit from The Karmic World Slow Food Council. Mr. Amin framed the certificate and displayed in the kitchen. It was easy for him to do, and made her happy.

Nice Views

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience, World Myths with tags , , , , , , on April 17, 2012 by javedbabar

It was a gorgeous day and the clients of Open Hearts seniors daycare centre sat outside. Whether they could or couldn’t be outside the centre’s “protected atmosphere” was a hazy area in the regulations. The centre was built to modern construction parameters and was completely airtight, making it highly energy-efficient. No air entered or left without being conditioned – pre-heated in winter, pre-cooled in summer, and something in between during spring and fall. Windows were never opened, and doors were double doors, regulating variations and tempering sounds. Floors were washed daily and walls wiped weekly. Insects and pets were forbidden. It was entirely spick and span.

None of this could be said for the great outdoors. Wild filthy nature was filled with birds and bees, richly-microbed soils, and every kind of allergen imaginable, including floating pollens, sneaky bacteria, communicable viruses, choky tree nuts, pointy oily seeds, five-bellied dairy producers, and gluten-filled grains. And of course there were all kinds of people not obeying rules and regulations, doing whatever they liked. The Authority discouraged the Centre’s clients from going outside. But as mentioned, it was a hazy area. The manager Mr. Amin took the view that culture must be tempered by nature. Today clients sat spread across the lawn – some in sun, some in shade – before Mt Alba, which rose up among the Valley’s swirling mists, as if to God.

Mr. Amin thought about Guru Baba’s great pilgrimage. It was both the highlight and the lowlight of his recent life. It had been a privilege to spend time in the company of such a great holy man. The residents of Lucerne had been shocked when this revered Master announced that he would retire to “that lovely little village with the white mountain above it.” The Authority had immediately offered him a mansion with acreage and horses, but he said that wasn’t necessary. He just wanted one of the “little houses” that he had seen there, meaning a seniors’ housing unit built by the local fraternal group The Tigers.

An empty unit was provided for Guru Baba and he moved right in. Nobody knew what happened to the Italian woman who had been living there already. Despite being over eighty – some claimed he was a hundred, even a thousand – Guru Baba was fit and strong, and led a hundred-person pilgrimage to the top of Mt. Alba. Mr. Amin’s knees had only allowed him as far as the base camp. It saddened him to have not attained the summit with Guru Baba, but upon his return, the sage gave him a holy rock upon which to dream.

Irene looked into the forests clothing Mt. Alba’s lower slopes. She wondered how the little girl who had become St. Sandrine had managed to ride her horse up there? Irene had once walked the forestry roads at its base, searching for crystals. Even those roads were overgrown and barely passable on foot. But Sandrine had ridden Thunder, her powerful charger, right to the summit. Stories of her horse having eight legs confused facts with legends. Odin’s horse Sleipnir had eight legs, not Thunder, who was just a working farm horse. He had a huge heart – which was what had drawn Sandrine to him – but the usual number of legs. Thunder’s owner, an Old Family farmer, had immediately seen the love between this young beauty and beast. He had also seen the holy light in her eyes. He had given the horse as a gift to Sandrine, and requested that she “ensure this fine beast accompanies you to heaven.” Sandrine had taken him literally, riding Alba’s trails with Thunder, and they died together at the top. This story of God’s creatures rising together had captured people’s hearts, and caused Sandrine’s elevation to Sainthood.

James too sat staring into the distance. Since his stroke he did little else. His thoughts however were as lucid as ever. People didn’t seem to understand that he may not be able to sing and dance, but that his mind ran free. In some ways it was stronger than ever, as there were fewer distractions, just flowing possibilities. He thought of diabetic amputee Safira climbing the mountain. How had she managed it without legs? She’d had a support team, of course, carrying food, water, camping and medical equipment, but the exertion had been all her own. The thought of her struggling up there with steel legs and canes was so inspiring that he often cried. People mistook those tears for sadness at his personal condition, but that was not true. He was resigned to the life that fate had delivered, and that was the thing – that Safira wasn’t. She had achieved the impossible. She was an amazing woman. An inspiration to all.

Gemma sat in the shade, knitting and purling. Tik-Tak-Tik-Tak-Tik-Tak-Tik-Tak. She wondered if Ozwald Melchizedek had really climbed Mt. Alba? He was her spiritual mentor – and occasional tormentor – but some of his stories did seem quite tall. He said that he’d climbed Mt. Alba in his mind, raising his level of consciousness “to the top of his Man-Head, and the bottom of the God-Head”. He had balanced his soul at the mountain top – which he referred to as the “pyramid point” – and at that moment, intersected with divinity in a “holy checking in” of transcendent involution.

They all stared at the holy mountain, knowing that soon they would be climbing it together. “Okay, time to go inside,” said Mr. Amin. “Last one in is a mountain goat!”

Shitty Brown

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , on April 16, 2012 by javedbabar

“I’m looking forward to the art class,” said Irene. “It’s been years since I’ve painted anything. It will be fun I think.” James stared past her towards the front windows, where light poured in. He seemed to prefer facing that direction, not that he could tell her himself. She just had a feeling.

She enjoyed her daily visit to Open Hearts seniors daycare centre. It got her out of the house, and she’d made a couple of friends now. Most of all she liked to spend time with James, who had been her soulmate in many lifetimes, even though she’d found him too late in this life to share much, and his stroke had left him unresponsive to her and everybody else.

What did he do all day, she wondered? What did he think? What did he feel? What was it like to be locked up inside yourself, unable to share your thoughts and dreams? Poor James. Her James. King James. She said to him, “Okay darling, I’m going to see Mr. Amin to see if I can help today. He seems to appreciate my assistance.”

Mr. Amin said, “Irene! Nice to see you.” She wondered if they had magic imps in India? If they did, then he would definitely be one of them. “The art teacher will be arriving at ten. Would you please help her to set up when she comes.”

Mr. Amin was amazing. Where did he find resources for these kinds of activities? The Authority had cut back severely on funding. Public services were closing down everywhere, yet Open Hearts was running smoothly with cultural activities weekly, even twice weekly. They’d recently been taught a dance called Zumba, Egyptian belly dancing, healthy cooking, pottery, origami, and rapping – at which ex-cowboy Albert excelled, though Mr. Amin was displeased with the continual rhyming of his name with gold pannin’ and jammin’; “It is pronounced A-meen,” he said. “Not Am-in.” Albert had then rhymed his name with spleen and unseen, and obscene and latrine, at which point Mr. Amin had asked him to stop.

Irene helped the teacher lay out paper, paints, brushes, and pots. She hadn’t brought many colours – just the basics: red, yellow, blue, black and white. Enough to make something garish like they would have produced when children. Maybe they would succeed in mixing subtler shades. From what she recalled though, mix too much and you end up with shitty brown. There was enough of that around here already.

Mr. Amin called everybody together. Not everyone wanted to join in though, and not everyone was able to. Her James for example just sat to one side, staring. How could he engage? Never mind a paintbrush, he could barely hold his spoon.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” said Mr. Amin. “Here is our teacher, Stella. She has been an artist for twenty years, and has kindly agreed to deliver a six-week art course at Open Hearts.”

“If she’s an artist, then why isn’t she making art?” said Gemma.

“What do you mean by that?” said Mr. Amin.

“Isn’t there a saying: ‘Those that can do, and those that can’t teach’?”

There was an embarrassed silence, broken by Stella. “Actually I do both. I teach two days a week and paint three days. I’ll invite you all to ‘Being Become’, my next exhibition in the City. Mr. Amin, would you be able to arrange the transport?” He nodded. “Good. Let’s begin. Why do we make art?”

“Because it’s lovely?” said Irene. “It improves our environment.”

“Yes, it does. Anybody else?”

Mr. Amin couldn’t help joining in. He said that we had a basic instinct for harmony, balance, and rhythm. We desired experience of the mysterious. It was an expression of the imagination. It held ritualistic and symbolic functions. Nobody needed reminding that he had once been the Minister of Culture for Northern India, before retiring to Canadia to be near his grandchildren.

Stella said, “I think you’ve covered everything, Mr. Amin. Shall we begin?”

People fiddled about, knocked over water, got paint on their clothes, bent brushes, and ripped paper, but eventually paint made it onto paper, and artworks “became”.

Nobody noticed James rise. He shuffled over to the central table and seated himself before an art station. “What’s he doing?” Gemma said. “Watch out, he’ll make a big mess.” Stella helped him to get started, and he continued independently. It was true though, he was making a mess. There were patches of colour beside and then atop each other, which quickly fused into browns. Shitty browns. It was time for lunch, and they went to the dining area for oil-free chicken curry with chick pea rice. James stayed where he was, manifesting his vision.

Mr. Amin went to check on his progress. As Minister of Culture he had considered all manner of artworks for purchase and display in national museums. From Mughal miniatures to pickled sharks. He saw that there was merit in this painting. Within the shitty brown he saw a strong story emerging. He saw two trails of colours joining, separating, and rejoining, arching and twisting, fading and reforming – losing and then finding each other – yet their forms were always entwined.

Questionnaires

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , , , on April 15, 2012 by javedbabar

“What are these for?” said Irene, fiddling with the white envelopes and then holding one at arms length and reading. “The Authority, 10001 The City. Why are you giving them to me? Why don’t you take them to the Post Office?”

“There are questionnaires inside the envelopes,” said Mr. Amin. “I’d like you to hand one out to everybody here.”

He could have done it himself, but then what could Irene do? Just sit there doing nothing? As manager of Open Hearts seniors daycare centre he had to be ingenious at all times, which was the only way to keep the place running. “When completed, they should go back in the envelopes and be returned to me. Then I will take them to the Post Office.”

“What are they for?” said Irene. “I’ve filled out enough forms to last me two lifetimes. We all have. What don’t they know about us already? We’re old and we’re dying. What else is there to know?”

“Irene,” said Mr. Amin. “We are regulated by The Authority. There have been bad news stories about care homes recently, and they are a hot topic provincially. The Authority is doing some Quality Control.”

“What’s the point of doing surveys now? It will take them years to analyse results and implement changes. By then we’ll all be dead!”

Mr. Amin knew she was right. The Authority’s capitalist system was based upon dissatisfaction. Do satisfied people feel the need to buy things to prove that “they’re worth it”? Of course not. They stay at home and appreciate simple pleasures. You may as well do what good you could though. He said to Irene, “We’ll be dead anyway, so why not help future generations of oldies?”

“Okay, I will. Why not? What have we got to lose? Don’t blame me for what they write though. They’re not all in the best of moods, or even sane.”

Irene walked over to Gemma. She didn’t want to interrupt her knitting, so stood over her for a while. There was no appreciable slowing of her knitting and purling of purple and white yarns. Irene cleared her throat and said, “Gemma, may I give you something?”

Gemma’s needles slipped. She grimaced to herself, and looked up furiously. “What do you want! Disturbing a woman doing her knitting. You should know better than that! Who the hell do you think you are anyway?”

“I’m sorry Gemma. I tried to get your attention but you were too engrossed. What are you making?”

Gemma was still irritated and said sarcastically, “Can’t you see? It’s the fabric of life. The knit is what should happen to you, and the purl is what does happen.” She jabbed a needle.

Irene said, “I didn’t know that you took it so seriously. I thought it was just a pastime, making bootees for your grandchildren.”

“I don’t have any grandchildren,” she said. “Or any children, for that matter.”

Maybe Gemma was onto something, thought Irene. The yarn was a good analogy. The Two Laws of the Universe did create a kind of fabric. The weft was the Law of Attraction, drawing you along, and the warp was the Law of Karma, pulling you up or down. Us oldies must be getting wise.

Gemma said, “So why are you bothering me? What’s in that envelope?”

“It’s a questionnaire about the Centre. Please complete the questions and return it to Mr. Amin.”

“You must be joking. I was a high school teacher for thirty years. A damned fine one too. I’ve taught every person in Lucerne under forty to add, subtract, multiply and divide, and the smarter ones square roots, squares, integration, and differentiation too. And then they saddled me with so many forms to complete, lesson plans to create, reports to write, key stages to follow, observations to pass, and endless other bureaucracy that I had a nervous breakdown. Can you understand? Someone who could add real and imaginary numbers, divide by irrational ones, and multiply by transcendent ones with her eyes closed, was made to drown in a sea of stupid papers. Idiotic! Vacuous! Pointless! I never recovered and never returned to work. All I’m doing now is waiting to die. The last thing I want to do is complete any more forms.”

Irene told Gemma that she didn’t need to complete the form. She would explain to Mr. Amin, who would understand surely. She handed out forms to others more successfully, and then came to James. She wondered what to do with his form. He sat there all day, unresponsive to everybody – even to her, his one-time soulmate, so many lives ago, but he couldn’t even look back into her loving eyes now. That was life. Or should she say that was lives? She decided to complete the questionnaire for him.

It was a simple system. There were twelve questions, with a choice of responses – Good, OK, or Bad. She looked into his eyes as she asked each question, hoping for a clue to his thoughts. She asked him what he thought of the location of the centre, its facilities, staff, the food, the information they provided, responses to clients’ concerns, the treatment of visitors, their occasional excursions, overall cleanliness, healthy and artistic activities, daily timings, transport. “Anything else?”

He stared blankly ahead throughout her questioning, and gave no indications at all. She ticked OK for all of the questions. Maybe the conditions of his next life would be Good.

Who knew what The Authority would do with the results anyway? Would they reduce services to dissatisfied respondents for being unappreciative? They were just as likely to reduce services to satisfied ones, thinking that they were getting more than they deserved. Why should unproductive members of society be so happy? If everybody felt like that, The Authority’s economic system, based upon perennial dissatisfaction, would fall apart.

Two Laws

Posted in Mystical Experience, Unknown, World Myths with tags , , , , , , , , on March 16, 2012 by javedbabar

Noop hobbled into the lounge and looked around her. It was airy, bright and open. The small manager welcomed her personally, saying, “Mrs. Irene Todd, it’s always nice to see new faces. I hope that we will see you here often.”

She said, “I’ve been quite busy since Aidan died. It’s been a difficult period.”

“We’ll do whatever we can to help you.” He indicated the staff now busy making dinner. “Our main goal is sociability. We like to draw people out.” He smiled at her like an imp. He was an imp. “So please don’t be shy.” It must be hard work “drawing people out” she thought. Some of them were drooling and dazed. Thankfully she still had her wits about her. That was a nice little temple they’d made, with different gods and goddesses. There were Ram & Sita. Why did it feel so natural to say Hai Ram?

“Please make yourself comfortable,” said the manager. “Will you be dining with us, or have you brought your own lunch?”

“I will be eating here,” she said. She hadn’t heard great things about the food, but wanted to try it. She hoped it was something spicy, even if they made it poorly. It would be better than bland food.

“Okay, great. I’ll introduce you to some of the others at lunch. Will you be okay here for a while? I’ve just got to call the Village about transport, and the Medical Centre about their new healthy eating guidelines. As you can see, bureaucracy never ends – even when our lives do.”

Noop sat on the sofa outside the manager’s office. She could have walked over to the other women, but preferred to be introduced. There aren’t many men here, she thought. They must have disappeared early like her Aidan. How did the tradition develop – all over the world – of men marrying younger women? On average men die five years before women – it doesn’t make sense. Hai Ram.

Her Aidan had been a good man mostly. He’d provided well for her and the kids. He’d built her a home. He’d taken her on holidays. He’d bought her flowers and gifts. In fifty years he’d never missed one Valentines’ Day. “There was more than one St. Valentine,” he said. “Maybe three or four. But all were martyrs. Let’s go one day to Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome, and see St. Valentine’s flower-crowned skull.” They’d never made it. Like the manager here, Aidan complained about bureaucracy. He blamed it for most things – even their lack of seeing the flower-crowned skull. “Bloody governments,” he said. “Making rules and regulations. How’s a man ever to fight his way out? My skull is crowned with photocopies and receipts.” He’d done his best. He was a good husband. But in her heart she had always known that he wasn’t her true love.

Noop looked across the room and saw…

The next thing she knew, bright lights filled her eyes. She was looking up at the ceiling. What had happened? Was she lying on the floor? The manager’s imp face was close to her, saying, “Mrs. Todd? Can you hear me? Irene?” Other staff crowded around her. She panicked at first, but relaxed quickly. This wasn’t the first time. She knew it had happened before. But where? And why? The man she’d seen was known to her. But who was he?

An ambulance came and took her to the hospital. They said that it was just a momentary lapse. Nothing to worry about. She checked out later the same day.

Noop should have stayed at home the next day, but just had to go to the Centre. She knew the man there. He didn’t seem to recognize her though. He had lost his mind. He was drooling slightly. She wiped his mouth with a tissue. Other women began gossiping about her. She didn’t care. The way he looked at her. He knew too. So late in this life! Why so late in this life! But they were still connected. Hai Ram.

Through Noop’s many lifetimes, with many different names, one thing had become clear. That there were only two laws at work in the world. The Law of Attraction and the Law of Karma.

The Law of Attraction was qualitative. There were no absolutes. Its vehicle was your imagination. Whatever you thought about, desired wholeheartedly, and worked towards was ultimately yours. It may take a while to get there, but it would come. Noop and Raja had been circling each other for countless lifetimes, like the gods Ram and Sita. They came together like sugar and water, dissolving into each other completely. But that water was spilled again after forty, fifty, or seventy years. They were entwined and could never be separated entirely, but must find new containers to mingle. That was their endless journey, to find a grail in which to merge. Maybe one day forever.

The Law of Karma, however, didn’t make things easy. You did the best you could, given your circumstances. You tried to be diligent, hardworking, truthful, just, and kind. You retained faith in God and fulfilled your earthly duty. But no one knew the repercussions of their every action, multiplied infinitely. You did your best, that’s all you could do – and that changed continually: with each moment, day, year, and lifetime. Karma was quantitative: a huge balance sheet of plus and minus – leading to a grand net total. If positive – you advanced, and if negative – you retreated. So it was.

Plato spoke of divided souls, searching for their completion. Sufis yearned for a return to their original unity. All lovers seek soulmates. Twin flames, lit from the same source, can merge again. But till then they must wander as lone sparks.

Noop looked into Raja’s eyes, though he didn’t seem to be looking into hers. She held his hand, squeezed his fingers, and said, “I have found you again, my love. I am your Sita. Hai Ram.