I liked East West Books, but even better, because it felt less mass-produced, was Sam Weiser’s Bookstore, the Bodhi Tree of Manhattan, an eclectic clutch of weird books in a corner of downtown that felt to me like a treasure trove of information. I couldn’t afford to buy hardly any of its books, but I liked spending time there, my head tilted to read the shelves of spines, picking out some rainbow-colored book about rising signs, or Tibet, or how to grow sprouts. It felt good inside of Sam Weiser’s, cozy and fraternal.
I looked at its noticeboard, assured that whoever posted something there was a friend. It was the usual scramble of fliers and things for sale. Roommate Wanted, the notice said, Upper West Side. I took down the number and called. I had been staying in Geoffrey’s apartment for three months and I was restless to get away from a place that –though rent-free – would never really be mine, a place that wasn’t much more than a fancy hotel suite.
Scott was tall and gangly and going bald early. He wore glasses and kept his 10-speed in the hall and sprouts in jars in the kitchen. In his apartment – that had the high ceilings and random layout of a house – I could have a corner room. I signed up and moved.
Spring was just coming to New York City, I was just steps from Riverside Park and the new warmth, the new beauty of trees and plants, the newness promised by my new address lifted my spirits. I walked the 50 blocks to work in the bright mornings now straight down Broadway in my sneakers and skirt, proud to break glamour rules, and feeling like an elastic Superwoman.
I had liked meeting that man, Natvar at that yoga school on Eighth Avenue, but I hadn’t liked his class very much. It wasn’t hard enough. He talked a lot about following your breath as you moved, but I wanted something more demanding, something guaranteed to keep me skinny and young. I continued going to one yoga school and then another, hoping to find the perfection that had been the L.A. school.
But I returned to Natvar’s class. He was very happy to see me. He remembered my name. I was not surprised. I knew he had noticed me that first time just like I had noticed him.
After his class, I accepted the invitation of a petite dark-skinned woman, who seemed to be helping there, to linger and have some tea. She spoke softly and shyly. Her hair was gray and pinned into a bun. She wore baggy white yoga clothes and though I would have guessed she was in her 60s or 70s her face was still very pretty.
There were three or four other people lingering with styrofoam cups. The older woman ladled tea from a saucepan on a hotplate. I looked into the pot and saw simply steaming water with chunks of raw ginger inside, a recipe I had never heard of. The others kew each other and chatted easily, sitting on the couch and floor. I looked at the books in the little bookstore, an elegant set of 3 shelves built into the wall. The same man whose picture sat in the big chair in the hall looked out from the covers of the books that lay flat on display. I didn’t reach for them. I liked the curved wooden incense burner though. I wanted to buy it. I wanted to send it to Geoffrey as a gift. I thought he would like it. I wanted to send him something that would help him miss me. But I couldn’t afford it.
I walked a few steps over to the typed paragraph that was framed, hanging below the picture of a plump Indian goddess with many arms. The paragraph said something about how the blessings you receive are in proportion to the blessings you give, and right beside it was a small wooden box with a slot in the top.
I squirmed inside and moved away.
I returned again for another class, and this time the older woman smiled when I appeared and told me her name in a low, quiet voice. Anjani. Her old face held wisdom and warmth.
When I went to the other yoga schools you never saw who ran them or who had opened them in the first place. Those people were invisible. Here though Natvar was always present, teaching all the classes. Anjani was always at his side or in the background, helping out. Eve was there too, a painter with long hair and a nose ring. And a boy called Mark, a dancer with high arched feet and a ready smile.
Natvar loomed larger than anyone though. When he strode into class or stepped into the lobby afterwards it was always with great energy and purpose as if he could never be idle, as if he were enjoying every moment and wanted everyone else to too.
After class, he disappeared into the back and then joined us in the lobby for Anjani’s ginger tea. “Aha!” he’d say. ‘What great company,” as he drank his tea, leaning back on the couch now, his legs stretched out and crossed at the ankles, his white yoga pants ironed with a crisp crease. And though it seemed it should be a place of ease I stayed alert in these small gatherings, aware that Natvar’s standards were high.
When he saw me he greeted me with tremendous joy and vigor. “Marta!” he’d call. He greeted all of us with this kind of unabating enthusiasm, and bade farewell to each of us after class with strong hugs, yet I never felt part of a crowd. I felt selected. I felt like I stood out to him as someone special – for my brains, my looks, my sensitivity. He saw me the way I wanted to be seen. Perhaps, I thought, he will be my next lover.