Now we don’t eat at Mark’s anymore. We don’t need to walk the six blocks there for breakfast and dinner, and lunch can be a hot meal eaten around a wooden table that came from Tracy’s house. She has left her husband and the pretty Long Island home they had made and she gave the pretty wooden table to the institute and we have it out at the front where you first walk in. There is thick burgundy carpet now over the splintery bare boards. This carpet. Natvar got a deal on it. It was the last touch. After the months of hammering, washing, painting, living with sheetrock dust, the carpet went down and everything is different.
There are little rooms now. We made them. And a narrow corridor that leads from the front with its wide tall windows overlooking the street to the back, the meditation hall – four times the size of the old one.
I miss the old Institute, when things were smaller. When they seemed finished and done and permanent, a place I could go to any time I wanted. Now we have a big thing going on, a big monster to feed all the time and I am running and worried all the time.
The wooden dining table is up front and we eat around it three times a day.
We eat breakfast there early, in the dark. Tracy makes it. She doesn’t like to. It makes her angry. We can all tell she is angry by how she bangs the pots in the small windowless kitchen we made. We put up three walls near the big utility sink where we used to wash the paintbrushes every night. We bought a real refrigerator and two hot plates. Natvar instructs us to put masking tape labels with the date on all the left-overs so that we know when something is too old and has to be thrown out.
Tracy is the breakfast cook because she has to leave and go to work. So it’s kind of like her contribution before she goes for the day. I don’t like that she’s angry about making breakfast. It seems a pretty light deal compared to having to be here all day. We eat and then sit in the meditation hall and chant. Natvar has made a more elaborate puja than the old one. This one has a raised platform. Baba’s chair, the one Natvar made yars ago, before I knew him – made of wood and purple velvet – sits up on the platform with Baba’s framed picture sitting on it.
I never met Baba. He’s Natvar’s guru. He’s my guru too. I’ve read his books and I like them. I think of Baba all during the day as if he were present and watching, and I try to do things the way he suggests. I try not to fight back when things don’t go my way. I try to try hard all the time.
Natvar dashes off to work as soon as the chant is over. He has several private yoga clients now, wealthy women across the East Side. This is new. He leaves, dressed up smart in a cap and a flowing overcoat that we got for him. He looks glorious, smiling, happy, swinging his colorful bag that one of the women gave him. He carries his yoga clothes in there, pressed white cottons that Tracy has handwashed and ironed.
Mark goes into the office, one of the little rooms we made. None of the rooms have windows, just the big open space at the front. Mark’s office has short counter and a filing cabinet. He is the manager of the Institute. He keeps track of the bills and the not-for-profit paperwork. There is never any money. We always are working with a handful of dollars. Natvar has taught us how to buy groceries that are cheap and last a long time – like Goya products in a can. Plus I shoplift because I can’t stretch the money like Natvar can. Natvar does everything better: he cooks the best, he relates to other people the best – look how he met Arianna and is now teaching half a dozen rich clients. But only I shoplift. And Natvar loves me for it.
I am wearing a woolen skirt, navy blue, narrow, past my knees. And stockings. And a pressed cotton blouse. This is not how I used to be when I was with Jeffrey, smoking pot as soon as I got home from work, wearing jeans and elegant scraps from the Salvation Army. This isn’t the me who hitchhiked alone across the country or the one who listened to records on the screen porch, decoding every Dylan lyric and mapping my future with Leonard Cohen songs.
I have scribbled all that out. In the very beginning I came to class high once and told Natvar, thinking he’d find it amusing, and I was so surprised when he said no, I couldn’t get high and be in his classes, that yoga and pot did not mix. How strait-laced, I thought. I thought Natvar didn’t follow rules like that.
But I haven’t smoked pot since then. And I wear these clothes that he says are better. “I don’t want us looking like a bunch of hippies,” he said. Hippies. I had always wanted to be a hippy. Had never wanted to be anything else.
But I was wrong.
I am nervous now that Natvar has gone. He will be back for lunch and I must have everything ready – I must make it the way he has shown me, but it seems he never likes what I do, even when I am careful. And I begin again, timing the rice.
I must also call the telephone company and work some magic so that they don’t charge us for the last three weeks. There’s no way we can pay that bill. Whenever Natvar talks to people they just love him so much they make all kinds of exceptions. He said I should call today and he told me what to say, he said it over breakfast, holding a piece of toast in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. And I had nodded and kept my face serious, taking it all in, knowing to give him every reason to have confidence in me even though we both know I will mess it up and he will be furious.
And I should type up more of the manuscript. When Natvar talks I write it down in the speedhand I learned in high school and then I type it up for him. But maybe I should vacuum first and the window sills up front are dusty and the stairwell should be washed. Everything must always be clean and perfect. There is no excuse for it not to be. It’s a sign of unconsciousness.
When Natvar flies in at one I have the table set but the rice isn’t ready. He is furious – “What have you been doing all day, woman?” he shouts. “Come on, Mark,” he says with a smile to Mark, “let’s you & I go down to Paul’s and get something decent. She can eat this crap if she wants.”