Saturday 15 August 2015

The love song of the dark lady IX

Chapter 9

I’d noticed with approval David and Galina’s absence from the afternoon secession. So too I think did certain others. Was it just my imagination, but I thought I detected some rather Victorian looks of disapproval from some of Garudi’s friends. It was only later and indeed not only by means of various conversations, but also by letters from David that I found out what happened that day.

He’d been fairly passive with Galina up until that point and had accepted the few scraps that she had thrown his way, but he was sick of the whole situation and minded to get out. For the first two or three hours when they had first met at the airport, it had been great and he’d been delighted that he’d made the trip, but since then it had been a disaster. He told her straight that if he had in any way guessed it would be like this, he would never have come. He was paying a fortune for a room that was freezing. He slept in multiple layers of clothes and still woke up from the cold. He could barely eat the food that was served. But he would have endured all this if only they could spend some time together.

Galina explained that it was an important time for her, a time that she treasured. She worked in a rather dull office job and saved all her money so that she could go on these retreats. It was the next best thing to being in India. He asked her about what it had been like there and she described a nunnery somewhere with an old nun who had acted as her guide and her friend. She had spent months there, hardly able to communicate and yet they had found a special bond and a way of understanding each other.

David did not wish to be critical of her beliefs. He said that there were parts of the service that he enjoyed. He liked the songs, he liked the dancing. He even liked, to an extent the discussion, but he felt under attack. From her e-mails he had in no way imagined this. He had guessed that she was interested in eastern religion, but he had thought he was going to stay with a group of friends who were going to chat. He had thought that the two of them would have had time to be alone, time to become the friends they were again, time to find out about what they had been doing. He told her it was as if he had invited her to a revival meeting with the intent of converting her to follow the Lord. He felt deceived.

By this point he’d got Galina back. Her eyes were flashing. She was speaking Russian quickly and by default she had agreed to go walking with him. They were walking. The day was sunny, but desperately cold. She pleaded with him to be patient. She would try to spend some more time with him, but it was difficult. For one thing, she had to focus on saying her mantra and on Krishna. She couldn’t make any progress if she was continually thinking of him. All of that sort of thing was Maya or the Veil of illusion. She told of her life in Moscow. How she was regularly asked out by men she came across, but that none of that interested her. She tried her best every day to break through this Maya and spend time with the truth. It was difficult in everyday life. But here where she could say the mantra all day, here where she could listen to words about Krishna, here where she focussed only on these things, she felt herself make progress. So it wasn’t as if she was ignoring him, rather it was that she was focussing on what was most important to her.

“Then why ask me to come here,” he had said.
“Because I wanted you to share what I had found.”
“But why write at all? You remember how I left you in Kaliningrad? I was happy for that to be the end. It was a good end. Why write to me again?”
“I had feelings for you. I couldn’t bear the thought that I would never see you again.”
“You understand why a man writes to a woman for a number of years? You understand why he flies thousands of miles to see her?”
“Yes. I’m not stupid.”
“But you’ve used that fact to get me here. I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
“Why not just say what you mean to say, David. We may as well now that we are in the woods. You spend your whole time writing letters making hints that are fairly obvious, just say what you have on your mind.”

They continued to trudge mechanically through the woods. The snow in places was deep, but it was all clearly man-made. The paths were straight and there were piles of logs neatly stacked, and there were fences. But they focussed only on their conversation.

“I left you never expecting to see you again,” he said, “but you wrote to me. I took that as a sign, that what I had felt was at least in part reciprocated. I thought this thing was worth pursuing.”
“We’d only spent a few afternoons together.”
“I know, but anyway, I was willing to put in the effort to write to you. Do you know how difficult it was in the beginning?”
“I remember your letters were long and more correct than I thought possible.”
“It’s only because of you that I can write.”
“It was your effort, not mine. Come on, David, you’ve already made your preamble. Just say what you want to say. What is it that you want?”
“I want to marry you.”
This shook her. She stopped and he looked at her face. She had expected something like that, but not that.
“It’s impossible, David.”
“You don’t like me?”
“I hardly know you. We met a few times in Kaliningrad and we wrote e-mails, and now you are here. I do like you. Perhaps, more than that.”
“You, too, write to me sometimes of your tender caresses.”
“I do and I mean it. I do think of you in that way. I’m a woman and I sometimes need to think of a man tenderly and I like the idea of a man thinking of me in that way.”
“Is that why we’ve been writing?”
“We started because I couldn’t bear how you had left. I felt humiliated. It was like some sort of defeat. Politeness can be quite a weapon.”
“But writing has given you something you wanted.”
“It has sometimes. You remember when I was in India, I didn’t write for months.”
“Yes. I worried. I didn’t think I’d hear from you again.”
“I wasn’t sure I would write again. I was so focussed there. I didn’t think of Maya, the world, you, hardly at all.”
“And then sometime after that you begin thinking of me again. But still inviting me here doesn’t make a lot of sense. You knew why I was writing and that I wanted more than just letters. You knew that I wrote because I’m a man and you’re a woman. Why else? You invite me here and know that I will come because I have hope, but you have no intention of fulfilling that hope. It looks a bit like a deception.”
“I don’t think I can fulfil any of your hopes.”
“But why, Galina?”
“I don’t think I can bear to be touched.”
“Then there will be no need for you to be touched, I promise.”
“My God! You are willing to offer that? You would offer marriage without the one thing you desire from me?”
“I want to spend time with you, love you. There are different ways to love.”
“I know, but, David, this won’t work. What could I do in Scotland? And you would tire of this arrangement very quickly.”
“We could go to India, much more regularly than you can.”
“But you don’t want to go to India. What is there for you there?”
“There’s you.”
“David, this is not going to happen. You would marry me hoping that in time I would relent and we would sleep together. What other purpose would you have? As you say you are here because you are a man and I am a woman. It has nothing to do with friendship. Yet you want an arrangement that amounts to friendship. This would make you unhappy and it would make me unhappy.”
“Perhaps, but then why am I here?”
“It’s something we are asked to do. It’s a duty. We must try to get our friends to come to a meeting.”
“So it is a deception?”
“It’s for their own benefit. It’s an act of kindness. But it’s not only this, David. I do like you. I like you in the way not so very different to the way you like me. I wanted to see you. But some women feel differently. We don’t all or always desire in the way that you desire. It wasn’t a deception.”
“I know that, Galina. I know that very well. Don’t worry,” he said.

He saw that he wasn’t going to get any further with this conversation and he was beginning to get cold. But he thought they had made some progress. He knew that she did have some feelings for him. He thought if perhaps they could just spent some more time together, he could bring her round to his way of thinking. He looked for ways of finding hope from this conversation, picked out a word or look that he could latch on to. The main thing is that he had been talking to Galina again, rather than Garudi. She had talked to him as a woman talks who just might come to love. She was reluctant, but he didn’t see her “No” as final. He hoped to overcome the reluctance. He could be patient. He could wait. If only he could spend forever demonstrating his devotion, surely, eventually she would come to see him as a worthy suitor. 

Both of them were deceiving themselves. Galina thought she could make David a Hare Krishna through her love, while he thought he could make her a lover through his love. But love is such that it deceives all of us, especially when it is at its height. In that sense it can indeed be a veil of illusion, but a blissful, though sometimes painful Maya that makes us ignore reality. She had said “No”, she had, practically speaking, said “No, never”. In a nineteenth century novel this would be the moment when it wouldn’t be quite honourable to ask the lady again. But David loved such novels, precisely because even after a definite refusal, it was still sometimes possible to find a happy ending.  So combined with his disappointment, even his sense of futility and devastation, he preserved that tiny spark of hope. He would journey with her, he would try to spend as much time as possible with her, he would write to her, because his love meant that he couldn’t cease to believe in a happy ending. Not yet anyway. He was good at argument and he always thought that logic was the way to woman’s heart. If only he could find the right argument, if only he could find the words to persuade her. There was just some unknown obstacle hindering them, but in romance it was the task to overcome, to view each quest the lady set as a challenge to confound. This dark lady with her raven hair had sent him out into the world to find something. He didn’t even know what he was looking for and she didn’t know either, but it was the condition that would enable them both to love as they both wanted. It would reconcile all difference and bring a happy ending. After all, there had been no deception. There was feeling. There was a chance. But where to look when there are no sign posts and you don’t even know what you are looking for? But no matter, that after all was the quest. That was the riddle the dark lady had set him.

They soon found themselves coming back to reality and the here, and now was that they were in a snowy wood. She asked him which way they should go. He didn’t know. The paths were straight and after a time you came to an intersection, but there was no way of knowing which was the correct path and which was not.

“You’re the man, David. You should know the way back.”
“I wasn’t paying attention. I wasn’t even focussing on what I was saying.”
“We really must find the path. This isn’t a good situation.”

The situation indeed was quite dangerous. It was minus thirty and already the light was beginning to fade. People in Russia frequently die if they get lost in the woods.  Neither of them had brought with them a mobile. A mobile going off was very frowned upon when the guru spoke, so Galina had left hers in Moscow. David only kept one in his rucksack in case of emergencies. But he naturally didn’t take his rucksack with him for a walk in the woods. So they trudged up paths to see if they could find something that was familiar. But each pile of logs looked like every other pile of logs. They found at one point what looked like an expensive luxurious dacha, but it was deserted.  Besides breaking in there could be no help here and, anyway, breaking into an expensive Russian dacha was not necessarily a straightforward task even for someone skilled in these matters.

The trudging through the thick snow made them both tired and the cold and the emotions they had exerted in their conversation had drained them, but they each knew that they had to keep going. It was an absurd situation. They were less than a mile away from warmth, but they had no idea how to get there. They pretty much chose paths at random. For the first half an hour of the search, David wasn’t particularly worried, but as time went on he began to feel fear. This really would be an absurd way to die, but he began just to sense the possibility of it.

It wasn’t as if they had searched for the way back systematically. Neither of them had been in any sort of state to think clearly. But perhaps someone did guide them back. It might have been Krishna, but David did not believe in purple gods who set out to deprive you of your soul. Who knows what it was that took them back. It may simply have been their own initiative. It may be that they just were not that far away and that mere chance was enough so that within the time span allotted they were bound to make it back in one piece. The situation may not therefore have been in fact so very dangerous. The difference between what is dangerous and what is not dangerous, after all, can amount to mere chance. Which of us has not stumbled on some stairs and thought nothing of a situation which could have been falling head first to who knows what? So this walk in the woods may have been only fleetingly dangerous.

Nevertheless, it was with some relief that they found something that pointed the way back. Here was a woodpile with piece of wood in just that special position that he remembered from when they first began talking of love. That was the path forward, or rather here was the path back to the warmth. 

“This way,” he said. “I know where I’m going now.”
“Thank God!” said Galina.

Within ten minutes they were in the warmth answering questions about where they had been. There were some looks of disapproval. But David thought Galina only cared about being warm and safe.

Something had changed that afternoon, not merely because they had had one of those conversations that happen rarely in life, but because they had shared an adventure. What had been unspoken had been said and that changed things utterly.