By Karl Saliter
While Nepal changed her, Yeumi changed out of her pajamas, loose-fitting cotton drawstring pants that had been yoga pants for a couple of years—-and were now covered in patches—some sewn on by her, some by dear friends.
Her pack, her pants, even her Kindle; there were objects all around her covered with memories. But this morning, she was less aware of them than an underground stone is of the stars. So she simply hoisted her pack, strapped herself in, and hit the walking highway of well-placed stones.
On her way up, large groups of tourists appeared.
She reminded herself that they were divinity: forms of God. Why did it feel like that distinction was life and death? It was so urgent to her that she not alienate herself from people. She didn’t get it.
Two girls walked by with bamboo-woven basket backpacks overflowing with gathered sticks. They were seven and nine, shoeless and laughing, straps from the baskets slung across their foreheads.
An old Tibetan woman with understated charisma offered to sell Yeumi a mountain orange.
“How many rupees?”
She hunted down a 20-rupee note and the woman handed her two oranges, amused as hell at her little joke.
“Good luck for you! Good luck for you! Good luck for you!” Her life-giving smile was undiminished by the three front teeth gone off to wherever teeth go.
She was walking and peeling the first orange. It opened to her touch—ready. Reflecting on the past, and on the coming new year, she found herself thankful for all that she had right now, and all she did not have.
She had left a small stone at a temple a mile back, for Ganesha, Elephant God in charge of the removal of obstacles. She wondered what this year had in store. “If current circs are any indication, nothing boring, that’s for sure.”
Then it happened.
She swallowed an orange seed. Instantly, her sense of hearing went up off the charts—not in volume, in relevance. No it was her sense of sight. No, touch.
Blossoms of orange light grew inside her. She felt eaten and fed, her body the perfect mud to this fruit-borne lotus. Bright orange, and yellow, the fire plumes inside her expanded every time she inhaled, growing into every inch of her walking body. She was suffused with a warm glow, and newly excited.
Something in the way the woman had repeated “Good luck for you!” reverberated inside her, chiming this seed into life. Something newly familiar. A heartbeat played on jembe. “Good. Luck. For.You.” It rang in her walking body.
Became a singing bowl, chiming out in a golden meditation hall somewhere, nailed four times sharply by a no-nonsense buddhist nun. It’s own truth rang, irrefutable. She kept walking, each step now a leaf falling on sunlit stones flowing beneath her.
Something Yeumi would spend years attempting to define grew in her while she walked. A composition, an index, written on handmade paper by the perfect innocent. A temple built of incense smoke and essential oils. A glowing orange trumpet made from river water, the sounds of crows, and the prayers of a broken people.
It wouldn’t stop growing—orange, saffron—informing her body of its presence in persistent waves of barely tangible pleasure. It was an encyclopedia revealing the sacredness of every action ever taken, a charcoal sketch made from the ashes of a Phoenix. It was the perfect Yo Yo Ma riff heard at a concert with an audience of 50,000 fellow monks: punctuated result of aeons of discipline.
Somewhere, a baby’s night cry ceased.
It was the Alpha and the Alligator, the wingless tiger shaking hands with the Brahmin. It was thousands of people at the jungle waterfall, with perfect patience waiting their turn to offer themselves to the water: to the plants, to each other.
It was a hawk in still-winged glide, the perfect serene heartless killer. It was a goat without a tool belt. A terraced farm where rice grew alongside fields of clarinets, where orange trees asked the sky if they could be friends. Where legs were the only truth, where climbing was absolution.
It was a thermos of hot tea offered by a friend on a mountainside on a windy day.
It was an air dragon fish devouring the ego. It was an exponential unfolding of the two children’s forehead-strapped laughter. A demystified poem. It was prayer flags and ancient horns blowing in a monastery: the gates only attainable on certain auspicious days, when a rope ladder is lowered.
It was the gentle and complete release of the need to ever accomplish anything, ever. It was instant, moon-granted freedom from the impulse to fix, correct, improve, change, or straighten. The flowering realization of humanity, balls to bone.
It was the very faint glow you see at sunset from the far side of older, slightly frayed prayer flags. The light passes through them in an incomprehensible collaboration. Flag after flag: gift, gift, gift.
Its left hand held rubies in a sky-formed blanket.
Its food was a distillation of rice, mango lassi, wooden elephant bells, and used rickshaw parts. Its God was tectonic plate play.
Its devil, the 10,000 forms of stagnation.
She walked and felt the seed pick up and put down her feet. Moving in. Getting comfortable. She was host to something. She noticed her breath, deep and long: she was being breathed by this inchoate life form. She was partners with it, with the saffron love monster.
Because it was that.
Benevolent as a field of Gandhis.
It had love that could qualify as heavy equipment. It could eat anger and fart affection. This thing was a water-fed prayer wheel without a stop switch. An endless repetition of a new chant, invented by people living in villages accessible only by hot air balloon.
It was deep sunny affection in the eyes of a painted holy man. Birds in conversation. A stranger on the road, pointing out that when certain scorpions are deprived of food, they can ingest and subsist on fog.
It was a handmade patch sewn on your favorite pants by someone who will love you until 3 days after you’re dead and who will then, on reflection, continue to love you. It was that time your dad took you fishing and then after awhile at waters’ edge, you both fell quiet and were inexplicably peers for 5 minutes. It was as likely as a penguin in an elevator.
It was a barking dog guarding the pencil case in which along with a half-tanked eraser, a sharpener and your four remaining pencils, you had stored the note Stacy gave you that said you are handsome because no fifth grader is cute, a found button and one pebble you took from a garden about three seconds after being told to touch nothing.
It was the rippling effects of all those decisions, for one moment contained. Safe.
It was a living spiral staircase, the steps built of thousands of marigolds, woven together with enormous care by genuine believers: riddled with ivy, (not the poison kind,) stronger than rhino bones.
It was your mom changing her mind and telling you that you had done a fucking fantastic job in that play. It was a complete, heartfelt confession whispered to a river stone, and instant unquestioned absolution.
And then it was you, lying down for no reason in a grassy meadow and forgiving life right back: for every implied insult, every wrongdoing, every mistake and you saying:
“Its ok, life, really. In the end, you worked your ass off, and the truth is, I love what you’ve done with the place, and I love what you’re doing with me. I love what you’ve done with the place, and I love what you’re doing with me. I love what you’ve done with the place, and I love what you’re doing with me.”
Yeumi heard herself praying. “I love what you’ve done with the place, and I love what you’re doing with me.” A woman in a green shawl and 3 goats on leashes appeared without context and nodded in agreement.
Yeumi repeated the prayer several times, trying on the idea that the orange seed in her, the Flying Tibetan Night Bus, the mile-long flock of autumn geese she had swallowed, was an aspect of her now.
An aspect she could enjoy (much less navigate.) An ally, a friend. A private boxing nun on her side, with multiple degrees from UNESCO, a hand-written endorsement from Pink Floyd, and a signed certificate of authenticity from the Society for Prayer for World Peace. A little orange nun monk seed resting in her gullet, her hand-held prayer wheel just hauling ass in tiny circles.
She’d go with that.
A new orange aspect of herself. “I love what you’ve done with the place, and I love what you’re doing with me.” It had a ring to it, as a prayer.
A celebration of unfolding.
Into God knew what.
Karl Saliter is a juggler by trade, an occasional sculptor, and a daily writer. He lives in Mexico, and travels to Asia whenever he can manage it. His two as-of-yet unpublished novels, Breakfast In A Cloud and Compassion’s Bitch, will be available as soon as they are produced. Could be anytime now.
Editor: Dana Gornall