Later on that day, Laura walked into the small town that was located near the retreat centre. Annie was busy replying to her clients’ emails and organising sessions for when she returned from the retreat. Annie and Laura had come to call the retreat centre ‘The Palace of Peace’, because of the peaceful feeling that they both got when they were there. Thankfully there was a small town nearby with shops, cafes and a market – Laura wasn’t sure if she could have lived right in the middle of nowhere.‘Otherwise how would I get some proper coffee’, Laura thought as she walked along the dry pavement and the colourful lights on the billboards advertising everyday products in Mandarine. ‘I wonder what they are trying to sell’, Laura pondered as she stared at the foreign-looking Chinese characters.

‘What a language to learn,’ Laura said to herself as she approach the teahouse that made excellent iced pearl tea. There were many scooters in different colours parked at the front, one of the most popular means of transport Taiwan, as Laura had learnt in her first day in Taipei.

‘One iced milk tea to take away’, Laura said to the smily girl behind the counter.  Just for a double-measure, she pointed at the picture of the tea in the menu. All menus here thankfully had pictures in then, as Laura still wasn’t sure how much English everyone understood. She was pretty sure that most people understood a lot but were just shy to speak it themselves. Despite the language barrier, everyone was so hospitable and friendly that it made Laura want to learn some Chinese so that she could communicate with the locals.

Since it was a pleasant summer’s evening, Laura decided to walk to the canal that ran through the town and sit by the water as the sun went down. The day before, she had found a beautiful spot on the canal bank that overlooked the mountains. ‘This is blissful’, she thought as she sat down on the green grass. Birds were singing and Laura could see the pink rays of the sun behind the mountain as the sun set for the night.

Out of the blue, just when Laura was finishing her tea and getting ready to head back to the Palace of Peace, she heard a loud voice shouting from the direction of the tea shop. She turned around to see a tall, dark Western-looking man stomp out of one of the small super markets. He looked distraught and slightly angry. Right behind him, there was a group of locals who looked even angrier. They were shouting after the man in Chinese, but since the man didn’t even turn to look, they soon stopped, shrugged their shoulders and walked back into the store.

Laura was looking more closely at the man who appeared to be walking towards the canal and her spot of peace.

‘I should get up and go’, Laura thought. ‘Better not to talk to this man who seems to have caused commotion.’

Laura was just getting back on her feet when the dark stranger was standing right in front of her. He was much taller than what Laura had initially thought. Towering over her, he held out a chocolate bar towards her. As Laura looked up, she could see a clint of mischief in his deep brown eyes.

Then Laura took a sharp breath in as she realised who he was. He was Darky Lewis, a world-famous pop singer. He had sang with a very famous band called The Dark Stars until last year when he decided to go solo, and had built a very successful solo career for himself. Laura was in awe. She quickly tried to recompose herself and smiled at the man.

‘Were those people just shouting after you?’ She asked tentatively. To her surprise, Darky started laughing in very girlish giggles. There was something very captivating about the way he laughed, and Laura couldn’t help herself but to laugh along.

‘Yes, they were’, Darky said after a while of mutual giggling. ‘They were trying to catch me. And get me to pay for these treats.‘ He pointed at a couple of chocolate bars and a packet of cookies. ‘I haven’t had the chance to change any money yet, I only just got here today. I tried to pay for these with US dollars and British pounds, which is all I‘ve got, but they were having none of it. Soon enough they were all screaming at me in Chinese, not understanding a word I was saying… I couldn’t think of what else to do but simply walk out. I was starving and needed something to eat tonight before going to bed.’

Darky shrugged at Laura apologetically. He looked somehow embarrassed at what he had done.

‘How come a world-reknown pop star needs to steal chocolate bars?’ Laura whispered to herself, but nevertheless she dug out some Taiwanese shillings from her pocket.

‘Why don’t you go and give this money to them?” She suggested and handed the coins to Darky. ‘I bet that they would appreciate it. After all, they are only trying to make a living by running this shop.’

Darky took the coins and looked grateful. ‘Thank you very much. This is very kind of you. Now, please, at lest take one of the chocolate bars as a thank you.’ He grinned a charming  smile that spread across his face. ‘I’ll be back in a minute.’ Darky disappeared back inside the shop and, Laura didn’t have time for much else than for gathering her thoughts, when Darky was back by her side with some iced coffees in hand.

‘They insisted that you should have these’, he said as he pointed towards the shop. ‘I think that they were looking through the window and saw you giving me the money.’

Laura took the coffees and waved at the shop window. Since it was dark, it was hard to make out if anyone waved back, but she thought that she saw a red sleeve move in a wave motion.

‘That’s sorted then’, she said and smiled at Darky. ‘I am Laura, by the way, from London’.

‘And I am Darky, from New York.’

They shook hands.

‘So what brings you here?’ Darky asked after a while once they had chewed on their chocolate bars in silence for a few minutes, admiring the mountains that were now casting grey silluettes.

‘I am doing a yoga and meditation retreat down the road’, Laura said and pointed to the direction of the retreat centre.

‘Funny you should say that’, Darky grinned. ‘So am I.’

‘I guess that Annie’s prediction of celebrity clients was correct then’, Laura thought. Then she turned to Darky.’ Isn’t it a wonderful place for some relaxation and recuperation?’

‘You could say that’, Darky laughed as he swang around, took his mobile phone out his pocket and started walking away. ‘I’ll be seeing you, Laura. I need to make some phone calls before I pass out.’

With that, he walked away into the dark night.

‘What is he like’, Laura whispered to the birds that were flying by, as she started walking towards the retreat centre, with an uneasy feeling in her heart.


2 thoughts on “THE NEXT STEP (10)

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