THE NEXT STEP (37)

As if sensing her thoughts and look, Darky turned and smiled at Laura.

‘Did you enjoy it?’ he asked her gently. There was a soft quality to his voice that Laura had not heard, or noticed, before.

‘Yes, very much so’, Laura nodded slowly. ‘I haven’t felt this relaxed in a long time. Funny, eh? When I am living in a retreat place and I am meant to be having a peaceful existence day in, day out.’

They laughed at that, good-naturedly.

‘There is something about music that simply touches the soul’, Darky said thoughtfully. ‘Always has, always will. Humans can’t escape it.‘

They sat in silence for a moment as they watched people walk out to the foyer for the interval where refreshments would be served.

‘Do you feel like having anything?‘ Laura asked Darky. ‘I kind of feel like sitting here, admiring this beautiful space, and not spoil the moment by getting up.’

Darky winked at her. ‘I feel the same.‘

Laura felt herself blush. Why did he have to ruin their nice moment together by doing something cheesy?

‘I hope that I can maintain this feeling of calm when I get back to London’, Laura said to distract herself from any thoughts that might spoil the evening.

‘You’ve said it’, Darky sighed. He looked at Laura carefully. ‘Are you also running away from something? Like the rest of us?’

Laura was slightly taken aback by this comment. What was he implying? She gazed at Darky cautiously.

‘Yes and no’, she replied eventually. ‘I am running away from a tedious career, from abusive colleagues, from the mundane life. But doesn’t everyone need a break sometimes?’

Darky nodded. He looked a little sad, Laura noticed with a jolt. She had to play it safe here.

‘And you? What are you running away from?‘ She touched Darky’s arm gently with her hand. He turned to look at her hand first, then he looked her directly in the eye.

‘I haven’t told this to many people, but you seem honest and reliable enough’, he said after a while. He looked her in the eyes sadly, as if to see whether there was any judgement, but Laura didn’t flinch. She had to hear what he was about to say.

‘When I was studying at university, medicine, can you imagine, me and my flat mates played a stupid prank on a friend of ours.‘ Darky was now staring right ahead, at the purple curtains that were in front of the stage. ‘We had some ongoing silly jokes amongst us all, but one evening, someone suggested that we put some rotten soil into our friend’s sandwich, as a joke, to see if he eats it and notices. The plan was to see him eat it and then laugh at him after. But that never happened. He had eaten the sandwich at night and died in his sleep during the night. He must have got poisoned from the soil.’

Laura was holding her breath. She didn’t dare to say anything, not to break the spell. Darky was silent, staring ahead for a number of minutes before he spoke again.

‘No one ever found out’, he said eventually. ‘The doctors said that it was a natural death, that probably he had had some underlying heart problem of sorts that had killed him.’

Darky turned to look at Laura. ‘But did he? Or did we kill him? We would never know and we all have to live with the thought that we might have killed him, that he might still be here today if we hadn’t put the soil in his food.’

There was a single tear falling down his cheek. He looked so lost and sad that Laura couldn’t help but reach out her hand to him. He held it tightly for what felt like minutes.

‘It was really the turning point in my life, the point that determined everything I did there after’, Darky spoke eventually. His voice was a whisper. ‘Not a day goes by when I don’t think about the incident. Did we actually kill one of ours friends? I couldn’t study to become a doctor, it would have felt wrong. Saving people when in fact I might have killed someone. Music was the only way for me. Music was the only way to feel safe.‘

THE NEXT STEP (36)

Laura walked slowly and quietly through the entrance hall of the concert venue in the centre of Taipei. It was a magnificent old building and there was no doubt that its presence itself made the audience feel at awe. Its old pillars and striking staircases with red carpets could make anyone feel like they had entered a magical place.

Laura immediately felt at peace. She couldn’t wait for the local youth orchestra to perform their repertoire of Mozart to them. Darky had made a good choice, she though, as she looked for her seat in the audience. The young musicians were getting ready, finding their own seats on stage. There was something special about listening to live music performances, in particular in this type of place, Laura thought. She felt sure that she had made the right decision to go back to working with music.

‘Well, hello, hello’, Laura looked up to see Darky standing next to their seats with a big grin on his face.

‘What, did you think that I wouldn’t turn up?’ Laura smiled at him.

‘You never know with women, such changeable creatures’, Darky laughed as he sat down next to Laura.

As soon as the orchestra started playing, Laura was fully absorbed in the beautiful melodies radiating from the stage. There was something mesmerizing about the string section of the orchestra in particular and, as she closed her eyes, Laura felt like she was transported to another place, another planet, where she could forget about everything and everyone. She let the sweet music wash over her, piece after piece, until the orchestra stopped playing and the audience was expressing their appreciation by clapping enthusiastically.

Laura took a sneaky peak at Darky. He also seemed to be some place else, the expression on his face absent and distant. Laura felt her cheeks flush. She felt a weird and unexplainable attraction to this strange man. What was it about him? Was it the mysterious feeling that he created that made her feel intrigued? Was it his handsome demeanour? She couldn’t quite explain it to herself, nor understand why she wanted anything to do with him at all. If you thought about it rationally, he was bad news all over. But there was something about him.

THE NEXT STEP (35)

The following day Laura took the bus down to the city centre. She wanted to go to one of the big book and music stores that she had spotted the other day. It was located in downtown Taipei where the highest sky scrapers were. The store itself was across three floors. It had a very calm and peaceful atmosphere and instantly filled Laura with a sense of tranquility when she entered the store.

Laura took the elevator to the 12th floor and walked past the beautiful marble entrance with a small fountain. She wanted to look through some sheet piano music. She just felt that she wanted to connect with music again at a deeper level and slowly set her mind into doing something professional with the art form again.

Laura was browsing a book of Chopin’s nocturnes when she felt someone watching her from the other side of the bookshelf. She looked up to see Darky smiling at her.

‘Well, well, well’, he said slowly. ‘Look who is here.‘

‘Well, well, well indeed’, Laura responded and they both laughed.

Suddenly Laura felt self-conscious. This peaceful atmosphere of the bookshop somehow made meeting Darky more intimate. Laura took a book of Chopin’s waltzes from the shelf.

‘I am just looking for some new music books’, she smiled nervously at Darky. ‘I decided to start teaching music when I get back to London.’

Darky laughed. ‘There are many professions in music in London, that’s for sure!’

‘I guess we have music in common then’, Laura said tentatively. How much should she or should she not give away on how much she now knew about Darky’s past?

Darky shrugged. ‘How about a refreshing coffee in the lovely cafe around the corner, music lady?’

Laura did feel like a coffee would energise her. And perhaps this was her opportunity to talk to Darky properly, find out what he was really up to in Taiwan.

‘That sound like a great idea’, Laura nodded. ‘Let me just pay for this book first.’

They walked the short distance to the lovely little cafe on the other side of the street. It had a small garden at the back and Laura sat there in the shade while Darky ordered them some iced coffees.

‘Ah, this is the life’, Darky said while they were both sipping their coffees.

‘So I haven’t seen you much at the retreat centre’, Laura said slowly. ‘What have you been up to?’

Darky gave her his typical shrug. ‘Nothing much, doing some things here and there.’ He looked a little sheepish. ‘You know, trying to clear my head and figure out what to do with my life next.’

‘No offense but I thought that people of your age would know what they wanted to do with their lives’, Laura smiled.

Darky laughed. ‘Yes, you would think so, wouldn’t you? But sadly it’s not always the case, like with me.’ Darky gazed out through the fence at the back of the garden.

‘You know, in Taiwan, they hold excellent classical music concert’, he said suddenly. ‘Why don’t we go and see one of those since we both enjoy music so much?’

‘That is an excellent idea!’ Laura clapped her hands. If she could get closer to Darky, she was sure that she could get more information out of him.

‘Brilliant’, Darky also clapped his hands. ‘Let me find out what is going on, maybe there is even a Chopin concert for you, music lady.’

They smiled at each other, and the smile seemed genuine from both parts. They were both looking forward to doing something together.

Aid to Nepal

The after match to the devastating earth quake in Nepal is going to go on for a long time. It is crucial that we do what we can to show our support – simple steps such as signing petitions and giving small donations can make all the difference. Why not start by signing this petition to stop taxes on tents sent to Nepal? Thousands of people are currently living in tents as their houses have been destroyed and this simple action could help them a great deal.

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-the-46-import-duty-on-tents-in-nepal?source=facebook-share-button&time=1433323922ea

We are working in partnership with Volunteer Nepal. This NGO is recruiting volunteers for construction work in order to rebuild homes and business buildings for the local people in and around Kathmandu. If you are interested in volunteering for the project, please contact us at tiija.rinta@gmail.com for further details.

THE NEXT STEP (34)

Since the charity ball night, Laura hadn’t seen Darky. She had paid special attention in order to catch him at some point, but it seemed that he was purposefully moving around at times when he knew that the others were in a yoga class or mediation sessions. It felt that he wanted to avoid talking to anyone. This raised Laura’s suspicions further and made her wonder what Darky was truly up to.

‘Why don’t you google him and see what you can find out?’ Annie suggests one evening, a couple of weeks after the charity ball, when the girls were in Laura’s room relaxing after a yoga class. ‘That’s what everyone does nowadays. It’s the easiest way to find out anything about anyone.’

‘You are right’, Laura says lazily from the sofa. ‘Why didn’t I think of doing that before?’

Laura took out her laptop and connected it to the internet. Apart from finding out what Darky was up to, she had been thinking about Ted a lot since the charity ball. It would have been nice to spend some more time with him, Laura thought as she typed ‘Darky the musician’ into google.

Hundreds of pages came up for the search. Laura clicked on the first page that came up. It told her that Darky had been in a world-famous rock band in the 80s. Apparently the group had dozens of number one hits and toured the world on many occasions. They were known for their rock and roll lifestyle too, always being seen in different parties. Laura shook her head. How come she hadn’t known? She must have been too young in the 80s to pay much attention to famous rock groups back then.

‘What are you finding out?‘ Annie asked after a while when Laura’s frown turned into a smile.

‘He was the lead singer and guitarist of a world famous music group called Dark Stars. Apparently they had number one hits in every single country on this planet and repeatedly toured the world while enjoying the excessive lifestyle that comes with it.’

‘Wow, that’s something!‘ Annie laughed. ‘I think I have heard some of their music. I would describe it more as heavy metal than rock and roll though.’

Laura typed in ‘Dark Stars’ into Youtube and, indeed, heavy metal music filled the room. Laura could just about recognise Darky in this black suit and dark sun glasses on stage. He was passionately playing his guitar and singing from the top of his lungs. He looked completely different to the quiet passive man that she had met here in Taiwan.

‘I bet he would have a lot of interesting stories to tell us’, Annie yawned as she kicked of the shoes and lay down on the soft persian rug in the middle of the room. ‘Imagine all that traveling! It must have been exhausting but also fascinating.’

THE NEXT STEP (33)

‘This one is a blue azizuli’, the man said in a soft voice. Ted looked intently at the mesmerizing deep blue colour that caused pools of water to form in his eyes. He had come to the famous jade market in Taipei. The market was like any other such a place, but here all the tables were filled with different types of crystals. Silver, blue, lilac, white… Each table was crammed with such riches, it almost hurt one’s eyes to look. Some tables were specifically for the amethist, some for jade and some others were a mix of all kinds of precious stones.

As soon as Ted walked into the market, he could feel an ooz of energy radiating at him. It was amazing how the stones seemed to give out so much energy. Now, after staying here for more than half an hour, Ted felt dizzy.

Ted held the blue stone in his hand.

‘I can really feel these stones’, he said quietly. It felt as if his hand was trembling under the stone.

The middle-aged man with a woolly hat nodded knowingly.

‘Each and every precious stone has it own energy. They really are quite something and really can help humans with so many things. There are stories from how crystals have bought man wisdom from the ancient times. They have been used for curing physical, psychological and spiritual problems for years and years….‘

The man drifted away with a distant look in his eye as he reached for a rose quartz.

‘These stones have such power that we can’t imagine. That’s why everyone should surround themselves with the stones at home and even carry them around with them. Look, see these beautiful necklaces and bracelets made with the stones. Aren’t they beautiful? And can be so beneficial too, so why not wear them?‘

The man pointed to a pile of rings, bracelets and necklaces on his table.

Ted took a couple of rings and swirled them around on his hand.

‘How come they have so much energy in them?’

The man smoothed one of the crystals with his finger.

‘They are taken from deep within mother earth. They have accumulated the energy from their mother and have stored it in their tiny cells. Somehow their consistency stores the cosmic energy from around us and then they can transmit this energy to us when we are near them.‘

The man handed the rose quartz to Ted.

‘Each one’s energy resonates with a different energy centre in our body. This one resonates with the heart chakra. Can you feel anything in your chest area when you hold this close to you?’

Ted lifted the stone close to his chest and closed his eyes. It felt as if the sun was very close to him. He could feel an expanding warmth close to his heart. He nodded slowly.

‘I can feel a very warm feeling taking over my chest,‘ he told the man as he opened his eyes.

The man smiled. ‘That is the energy from the crystal penetrating your heart chakra. You can use it in this way to open your heart and to feel love and compassion for all.‘

Ted looked at the light pink colour. It really did remind him of the real rose flowers.

‘I have read something about chakras before, but I cannot remember so well any more… There are seven chakras in our bodies, right?’

‘That is right’, the man started to explain. ‘There is one here in the lower abdomen, here in the stomach, here a little higher up the spine, the heart one, the throat, forehead and finally the crown. Each one is dominated by a different colour and holds different energy in it. And that is why specific crystals are suitable for specific chakras, as their energy resonates with them and they can aid the processes and workings of these chakras. Because of our way of living, we can easily get disturbances in our chakras. The chakras are connected to our bodies and minds, so when any of these elements are out of balance, the chakra can be affected and then our general well-being will be off balance too. It is all about the holistic whole. Likewise, we can use crystals and chakra balancing to treat physiological and mental disturbances. The energy in these centres can counter-act any illnesses and thus help us in our own life.‘

Ted looked at the small stones on the table. How could these tiny things hold so much power in them?

The man could sense his thoughts. He looked at Ted intently.

‘Yes, they do. They really do have such amazing powers. The universe and the nature around us are quite magnificent.’

Two hours later Ted left the market with a small bag filled with different types of crystals. There couldn’t be any harm in trying them at home and surrounding himself with them. The stones had a feeling of being alive, as if they had a life of their own.

As Ted was walking along the streets, he started noticing crystals everywhere. The precious stones were used for making furniture, plant holders, home decorations, even the door frames… Some of the window sills were made with precious stones. Ted looked closely at the environment that he was in in Taipei. It was true; there were precious stones everywhere. He had just not paid attention to them before.

Ted jumped over a footstep and sat down in a small park. The sun was very high and hot today. Women were walking past with umbrellas to protect themselves against the rays of the sun. Men were walking lazily with their summer hats on. Everyone seemed to be on their way somewhere.

There were some Westerners and South Asians walking past amongst the Oriental folk. Taipei was becoming more mixed and starting to resemble a cosmopolitan city. Taiwan must have been marketing itself more vigorously abroad. In particular Americans and Canadians seemed to come here for teaching English and for holidays.

‘Excuse me, do you mind if I sit here?’ Ted heard a voice in an American accent. He looked up and saw a young blond man standing next to him, pointing at the empty end of the bench that Ted was sitting on.

‘Sure, go ahead’, Ted said and shuffled along the bench to give the newcomer more space.

‘Oh boy, what a hot day!’ The boy said and wiped sweat off his forehead. ‘I have been here for two weeks, but this is without doubt the hottest day so far.’

Ted took a water bottle from his bag and offered it to the boy.

‘Better keep hydrated or you’ll faint’, he said and watched as the boy gratefully drank the water.

‘Are you here on holiday?‘ Ted asked as the boy thanked him for the water.

‘I am here to teach English for the summer. I live in Toronto, but wanted to do something different this summer. How about you?’

‘Oh, I am just volunteering and helping out at a monastery and a couple of schools here and there’, Ted explained. ‘ I also needed a change and figured that Taiwan would be the ideal place for that.‘

The boy nodded. ‘This place is quite something. People are drawn to it. It is smaller and more human than the vast state of the mainland China.‘

They sat in silence for a while, watching people walk past, feeling the heat of the sun.

‘This place seems to be much more spiritual than some other Oriental countries that I have been to,‘ the boy then said. ‘All the temples, crystals and connection to nature….‘

Ted took a precious stone out of his bag and placed it between them on the bench.

‘Yeah, I have been discovering the effects of crystals today. They are quite amazing stones. I am learning a lot about spirituality here, about our real existence. In the West, we have sort of lost touch with this side of ourselves….‘

The boy nodded. ‘I guess that that is one of the main reasons for why we are drawn to this place. So that we can return to our true natures and be truly who we are.‘

Ted took out another stone from his bag, The amethyst sparkled when the sunshine hit it. He was mesmerized by it. He felt that he could sit there forever looking at the stone and absorbing its colour and energy.

‘This is fascinating’, Ted said to the boy. ‘I have never been this drawn to a stone before.’

‘It is an amethyst. It must be your birth stone’,the boy said wisely. ‘I have just been reading about birth stones.’

‘Oh, that is interesting’, Ted was intrigued. ‘Can you tell me more about it?’

‘Each month and time of the year is associated with a different stone. Whenever you were born, the stone that is dominant at that time is your birth stone. It is all to do with the cosmic energy and how different precious gems absorb energy at different times of the year. Let me guess, you were born in February?‘ The boy looked at Ted questioningly.

‘Yes!’ Ted smiled.

The boy nodded knowingly. ‘The amethyst is the birth stone for Aquarians. And you do look like an Aquarian. You can use this stone in particular for balancing your energy, for healing yourself, or just for company.’

‘That is interesting’, Ted repeated. ‘Can you tell me more about my Aquarian roots?’ He was quite interested to know what the boy had to say.

‘Well, I could do a hand reading for you’, the boy offered. ‘I have been learning about how to do that too while I have been here.’

‘Sure, why not?’ Ted showed his left palm and the boy looked at the lines on Ted’s hand intently.

‘I can see that you are a man with a lot of ambition and determination. You want to make something of yourself. And you will. You will do many good things in this life, help many people and make a name for yourself. But you will also marry once and have two children. You have a soulmate out there and also other spiritual friends and guides who will soon come your way. You will live a long happy life.’

The boy looked up at Ted with an expression of satisfaction on his face. ‘You are one of the first people who I have done a reading for.’

‘Well, we’ll see with time how accurate you were.’ They both laughed.

‘All I can really say though is just trust yourself and do what you feel that you need to do. It will all work out for itself. Trust the way, the life force and let it unroll, at least that is my belief’, the boy concluded.

‘I couldn’t agree with you more’, Ted nodded thoughtfully.