Chapter 21 Fran: Neighbours

There was nothing to object to, and Fran knew it. Even when it rained it was fragrant and made the whole world zing with vibrant colours. The village always looked beautiful. Even when some people let their front gardens become overgrown, the wildflowers and long grasses were aromatic and appealing. Yet Fran constantly felt the need to kick against anything she could. Anger and cynicism were the lenses with which she viewed the world. Some days she knew she had chosen to put them on, but most of the time they were the result of a grumbling irritation at life.

Fran finished her nettle tea and looked down into the mug.

“I just find her so intimidating,”

Carlos smiled with pursed lips and raised eyebrows.

“How about your other new neighbours? Have you talked to them at all?”

“I haven’t. I don’t miss the old lot, but I’m not to keen on these new folk either. There are all sorts out there!”

“Yes, but they speak English. Just… just be honest maybe? Tell them you’re not sure how to greet them?”

“Ok,” said Fran reluctantly. “I need to get over how she looks, I think. I’ve never met a woman who would shave their head and wear such clothing. I mean, we had black people and Asians in our neighbourhood, they came in from the old empire. But we didn’t really mix.”

“That may be true, but that’s surface level. You have nothing to fear from those who lived according to the Buddhist traditions in the Previous Age.”

That evening, after Carlos had left, Fran decided to go for a walk around the village. As she was nearing the end of the row of cottages, she saw the Buddhist woman collecting fallen fruit from the ground under the assortment of fruit trees. She approached her quietly with some apprehension, feeling rather alone. As she got nearer, the woman looked up and noticed her.

“Good evening,” she said softly.

“Hello,” she replied in like manner, and stood coyly some metres away.

“Won’t you come and gather with me?” said the woman.

Fran approached, her fingers fiddling with nothing. She stopped again after a few steps and stood leaning on one hip awkwardly.

“My name is Chan,” said the woman, who had not broken her eye contact with Fran since noticing her.

“I’m Fran. I live just down… well… of course I live right here… in the village. Was in a similar village before… I’m just… trying to adjust to the new setting …”

Fran stopped, realising she was talking too fast.

“I have come from a Buddhist community to this place. I believe because I can speak English.”

“Oh, have you met Sylvia and Carlos? They annoy me but… well, everyone can annoy each other, I mean we are all here and we’re never going to die, so I guess we should get used to each other sooner or later…”

Fran wanted to kick herself for talking so much.

“How are you feeling?” asked the woman. Fran found her wording strange.

“I think I’m well, thank you,” she said politely. “How are you?”

“I am hungry,” came the reply.

“Of course, that’s why you’re getting food. It’s funny here, isn’t it? I mean, we don’t die if we don’t eat, but we do get hungry, and food is tasty here so it’s like…”

Fran thought for a moment back to when a Bangladeshi family had moved across the road from them in the 1960s. She remembered how she called them names behind their back and how children would throw stones at them. She suddenly felt a rush of shame pour through her.

Her basket now full, Chan beckoned warmly for Fran to follow her.

“And where are you from?”

“I am from London in England. 20th Century. How about you?”

“I come from the 18th Century; from a country you would know as Tibet. We met English missionaries who taught us your language. We welcomed foreigners to our monastery. We learnt many languages from those who stayed with us, and much about the different religions.”

Fran blushed as she remembered how she felt toward ‘foreigners’ in the Previous Age.

“Isn’t it so strange to be here?” she said, trying to change the subject.

“Well, I wasn’t sure what to expect after death, but our traditions taught us to focus on our inner-selves and pursue that which is holy and pure. We certainly came to believe that the Divine nature was bringing us towards love and light, as this is what we often felt in our meditations. How about you? Were you a Christian there in England?”

“Yes of course,” said Fran abruptly. “I was a warden for several years at my church. Did the flowers every other week as well.”

“Sorry, maybe I asked the question the wrong way,” replied Chan. “Did you follow Jesus there in England?”

“Well, I thought I did. Then I died and met Jesus, and now I am very confused to be honest. I hate to say it, but I don’t like him that much after all! Turns out I was rather mistaken with what I thought. That’s why I am here, and I guess that’s the same for you,” she said turning it back on Chan.

“The same. The same for all,” said Chan. “Much to learn. You. Me. Much to learn.”

“Yeah. Well, I’d like to teach God a few things.”  Fran was feeling fired up suddenly.

Chan didn’t answer, but continued to walk slowly, looking at the ground.

“You know what? I’ve just remembered, I need to go and sort something out at my cottage.”

“Yes,” said Chan without looking up.

“Yeah… yeah… sorry. Maybe another time?”

“Goodbye, Fran.”

Fran pulled away, not looking back to see Chan wave goodbye.

“Smart-arse,” she grunted to herself. “I don’t need another bloody guru.”