He awoke with a start. It was still dark outside. He looked at the other bunks to see that everyone was still asleep. A small red glow from a digital clock told him it was three-thirty. He closed his eyes and lay down but he felt compelled to get up. He knew he wouldn’t return to sleep now. He dressed silently and tip toed out into a full moon night. He thought that if he went for a short walk he might get drowsy. It was a still, humid night and the scent of gardenia and mist filled the air. He walked across the lawn, his bare feet relishing the sensation of the grass. He was now wide-awake.

He thought he heard a whisper and turned to see where it had come from. He thought he saw a flash of a leg disappear around a corner. Curious he decided to follow. He walked between buildings toward the driveway. As he turned a corner he was shocked to see the girl Gopi standing near the gate. She was only wearing a skirt, her skinny brown chest bare and her long hair falling around her in a wild tangle. She was staring directly at him. As he walked toward her she ran toward the gate and pulled it open, disappearing behind it. What was she doing in the ashram at this hour? He picked up his pace as he walked toward the gate. He could hear voices close to the rear of the kitchen and could make out some men unloading a truck. It was a delivery of food and they obviously hadn’t closed the gate properly. He stepped outside onto the road and looked up and down. At first he couldn’t see anything and then he saw her standing at the far corner of the ashram. She waved at him to follow her. He thought it was odd and perhaps he should be cautious. What on earth was such a young girl doing up at this hour? Milking cows? He walked steadily to the corner and she stood waiting. When he reached her she took his hand,

Tu majhya sobath yeshil ka?’ she said, pulling at his hand.

‘What?’

‘Follow me, ye – come.’

She led him into a field, He could make out a dark house to his left but she took him beyond that to a copse of trees. As he got closer he began to make out an orange glow. He was now starting to get nervous, but his curiosity drove him closer.

‘Where are we going?’

‘Kauli Ma.’

‘Where’s that?’

She remained silent, urging him into the forest. There was someone sitting in the flickering light of a fire. Gopi pushed him toward the figure. As he got closer he was shocked to see it was a naked woman, her hair matted and her forehead and arms streaked with white stripes. She seemed old. Her breasts sagged and her wild hair was streaked with grey. Her eyes were closed. Gopi moved toward her, bowed and touched her feet with her forehead. The naked old woman opened her eyes and stared directly into him. He felt his guts pull up toward his heart. His pulse raced. Her eyes were drawing him toward her. He was compelled. Fear mixed with wonder. He knelt before her and following Gopi’s example touched his forehead to her feet.

‘Ah, it is you,’ she sighed, her voice sounding like the wind in the trees.

He looked at her face and now she seemed young, no more than fourteen. She reached to her neck, pulled off a necklace of seeds of some kind and placed them around his neck. Gopi appeared beside her naked, with a red powder in her palms. The woman spat in her palm and made a paste, which she then put in the centre of his forehead. She put three fingers into a white powder and wiped them across his forehead, finally pulling him toward her. She lent toward him and whispered something in his ear. He began to shake. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. It was pure fear and bliss coursing through every nerve of his body.

‘Kiss her yoni, it is a blessing.’ He thought the voice belonged to Dora. He lent forward and the old woman lent back and opened her legs. A sweet smell hit his nose. He kissed her yoni as if he were performing an act of worship. She lifted his head and smiled at him, toothless. Then she waived to Gopi and she walked toward him, thrusting her skinny hips forward. His lips found her smooth yoni and he kissed it gently. He could taste honey. He closed his eyes and was in the scintillating darkness. It was the emptiness before the beginning, a nothingness that was alive with the potential of all creation. It was saturated with bliss and stillness. He had always known this moment, the fraction of a second before orgasm, fleeting but eternal.

When he opened his eyes Kauli Ma was gone. Gopi stood silently in the dark, still naked, watching over him. He was disoriented and relied on Gopi’s tender hand to guide him through the trees and fields and back to the ashram. She left him at the corner, waived and then ran sprite-like back into the night.

When he was back in the ashram grounds he saw white clad figures returning from morning meditation. He followed them to the dining hall where hot chai was being served and stood quietly in line. He could still feel tingles, as if every atom of his body had been set afire. He was more alive than he had ever felt before and this paradoxically stilled his mind. He noticed that the people ahead had taken two cups and as they sat, still in a meditative state, they carefully poured the chai from one cup to the other to cool it. The pouring sound began to sound like the roar of the ocean.