Yeshi had once been Frances. The old name no longer felt part of her. She did not think of it, her flat in Islington, or her ex-husband. There were photographs in a lacquer box beneath her altar table. Their edges were curled, their colour faded.
Her attendant Dolkar knocked on the door, peeking around the frame. Her black eyes glittered, her lips suppressing a smile.
‘Yeshi la, I have some soup.’ She padded in and placed the bowl on the wood table below the window. Dragons chased each others’ tails on the translucent blue porcelain.
‘I saw Blini near the temple. He was trying to catch the fish from the pond. He’s very naughty.’ Blini was Yeshi’s spaniel—living at the monastery had not changed his errant ways.
Yeshi nodded. ‘He did catch one yesterday. I threw it back in before it was too late. Thank you, Dolkar. Tell Kusho la I’ll be down for puja shortly.’
Yeshi dipped her spoon in the thick lentil soup and lifted it to her mouth. She tasted cardamom and turmeric. Outside the window, the mountains were ethereal, their peaks dusted with snow and cloaked in fine mist. Further down, the jagged ranges were tinged indigo and dark ochre. From her walks, she knew the lower passes were populated with goats and their babies.
Her room was spartan. A single bed lay behind a bamboo-framed screen. There was a black dresser, a table and chair and her altar. It was crammed with gold buddhas and other deities. A vase of wildflowers was changed each day before morning practice.
Yeshi finished her soup and made her way to the temple for the puja. The sun was already high and warmed her back. She reached up and felt the fuzz of her hair, starting to grow.
Kusho la was waiting, her posture straight in her maroon robes. She acknowledged the younger woman with a slight incline of her head. Yeshi pressed her hands together in greeting, her body hunched as she crept to her usual position. Grey marble columns lined the walls, carved with images of deities and clouds. Incense smoke curled towards the wooden beams of the ceiling.
Her teacher’s voice was mellifluous. The other nuns joined in the prayer, their voices reverberating in the space. Yeshi rocked, the words making her light. She felt prickling at her crown.
The pujas calmed her, but her insights into the nature of emptiness were stagnant. Kusho la had said to remain patient. To examine the texts and question them. At times, Yeshi wondered why she was there. She felt unworthy of her robes. The energy at her crown flowed through her like cool water. Someone rang the dorje bell and she felt the sound in her chest.
As soon as the ritual was finished she made excuses and darted towards the forest. The leaves caressed her arms as she strode, her gaze on the patterns of shadow on the ground. Birds trilled and she smiled, the pure air filling her lungs. The stream was ahead, burbling and rushing.
She stepped on the stones to cross the water. They were large and speckled, the stream parting around them. She laughed, jumping from one to another until she reached the other side, then swivelled and crossed in the other direction. Starbursts of light shone from the water, its roar filling her ears.
Emptiness, she pondered. What is it?
Yeshi leapt back and forth, her robes fluttering around her calves. An idea formed in her mind and she stilled. The water was speaking to her. It did not exist, because it was dependent on everything else. The stones were the same. As were all things.
The stream can’t flow without the land. The plants can’t grow without the water. The fish can’t survive. I can’t survive.
Yeshi had jumped across the stream and into understanding.