Chapter 21 Fran: New Neighbours

There was nothing to object to, and Fran knew it. The village always looked beautiful, and even though some people let their front gardens become overgrown, the wildflowers and long grass were a mass of fragrant colour that attracted a multitude of bees and butterflies. Yet Fran still felt a grumbling irritation with life and the need to kick against anything she could. Anger and cynicism formed the lens through which she viewed the world, although some days she glimpsed the possibility of a different perspective if she could just bring herself to choose it.

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

“I just find her rather intimidating.”

“How about your other new neighbours? Have you talked to them at all?” replied Carlos from across the kitchen table.

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

“Yes, they come from many different backgrounds and cultures. Why not try just saying hello?”

“Ok,” said Fran reluctantly. “Maybe I need to get over how this particular woman looks. It’s just that I’ve never met someone who shaves her head and wears clothes like that. I mean, we had Asians in our neighbourhood, but at least they came from the British Empire. Not that we mixed with them.”

“That may be true, but people’s appearance is just the surface level.”

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 woman with the shaven head and full-length robes collecting apples and plums from the fruit trees. Fran hesitated but decided to approach her. The woman looked up and put down her basket.

“Good evening,” she said softly.

“Hello,” Fran replied in like manner, remaining at a distance.

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

Fran drew nearer, but stopped after a few steps. She felt apprehensive and somewhat embarrassed.

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

“I’m Fran. I live just down… well… of course I live right here… in the village. I 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.”

“Oh, I see. Have you met Sylvia and Carlos? They’re annoying, but everyone can get on people’s nerves sometimes. I mean we’re all here and we’re never going to die, so I guess we all have to 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 question a little strange.

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

“I am looking forward to eating these,” she replied.

“Of course, that’s why you’re here in the orchard. It’s funny, isn’t it? I mean, we don’t die if we don’t eat, but food here tastes good, so it’s like…”

Chesa picked up her basket and beckoned warmly for Fran to follow her.

“And where are you from?”

“I’m from London in England. Twentieth century. How about you?”

“I come from the eighteenth 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 recalled how she had felt toward ‘foreigners’ in the Previous Age. A Bangladeshi family had moved across the road from them in the 1960s, and she felt a sudden rush of shame as she remembered how she had called them names behind their backs and how white children had thrown stones at them.

“Well, it’s certainly strange that we’re all here together now, isn’t it?” she said, trying to change the subject.

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

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

“I’m sorry, maybe I asked the question the wrong way,” replied Chesa. “Did you follow Jesus there in England?”

“Well, I thought I did. Then I died and met Jesus, and now I’m very confused. I have to admit I don’t like him that much after all. Turns out I was rather mistaken with what I thought. That’s why I’m here, and I guess that’s the same for you.” 

“Yes, the same. It’s the same for all,” said Chesa. “There is much to learn. You... me... much to learn.”

“Well, do you know what? I’d like to teach God a few things too.”  Fran gave vent to the feelings of irritation and annoyance that were always simmering below the surface.

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

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

“Yes,” said Chesa without looking up.

“Yeah… sorry. Maybe another time?”

“Goodbye, Fran.”

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

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