How Can You Be Modest – Akka Mahadevi
Here is a portion of Chapter Five from my novel in progress:
The walk to Zubiri was pleasant with sunshine and forests as part of his experience. When he got to the bridge over the Agra River, called Puente de la Rabia, Rainy decided to walk along the river a ways to find a quiet spot where he could relax, perhaps even meditate. About two hundred metres away from the pilgrim path, he saw a small mat of grass along the river’s edge with a small bush that hid the sunlit grass from all passersby. It was perfect, the perfect place to enjoy the sun and to meditate.
Rainy took off his socks and boots and took a sitting position for meditation. Try as much as he could, he just didn’t find a comfortable posture. He struggled to hold his meditative attention for quite a few minutes before giving up and laying back on the grass to enjoy the heat of the sun. It wasn’t long before his tee shirt was off so that he could feel the breeze coming off the river. He was tempted to remove his shorts and sunbathe, but the idea of someone seeing him was enough to stop that idea. However, perhaps meditating half nude would work. Strangely, it was much easier though he could feel the strain that his shorts put on his body in comparison to the freedom he felt on the rest of his body.
As he closed his eyes and began focusing on his breathing, he heard a voice singing, a woman’s voice. Rather than have the beautiful sounds be a distraction, he simply accepted the music as part of this place and time and returned to noticing that small space between outbreath and in breath, that in between space of nothingness. The voice became stronger letting Rainy know that whoever was singing was coming closer. Almost against his will, his eyes opened and he saw Akka on the other side of the river, slowly walking as she sang. Her long black hair framed her unclothed body. As if aware of Rainy’s eyes on her, she turned her head and smiled. Giving him a slight wave of her hand, she turned and continued her song and her riverside stroll. He listened as he watched her. He heard the words of her song:
A half hour later, Rainy put his tee shirt, socks and boots back on and walked into Zubiri wondering if he had imagined the scene with Akka as he had with Sid the day before. It didn’t take too long to reach the Albergue Escuela in the town, an old school building that had been converted into a basic needs hostel. The talk among the group from the night before had suggested that this be the first place they would check upon reaching Zubiri in hopes of meeting up together for an afternoon of enjoyable company and recovery from two good days of hiking. As expected, the hostel had lots of room. Rainy checked in and found that Sid and Akka had already claimed their bunks in one of the three dormitories.
Rainy claimed a bed next to them after greeting them with a smile and a voiced Namaste with hands clasped together as if in prayer. Rainy liked to honour others in small ways such as with greetings in their own language if he could. In his opinion, it was all about respect. It was obvious by their widened grins that both were pleased with his efforts. As he set his backpack on the bed, he asked about their walk that day as well as making small talk about the pleasant weather. As they chatted, he got out his change of clothes and his shower kit. He knew that washing his socks and tee shirt needed to be done early so that they would be dry by the evening. As he headed to the shower, he asked if they would join him for a late lunch at one of the local restaurants. Receiving a nod of assent, Rainy then left the room to shower, shave and wash his few items of clothing.
In the shower, he thought again about the incident at the side of the river. He could still hear the words of the song and the voice that sang them. The words seemed to have been burnt into his mind, or perhaps his heart. Wearing a clean top and his lightweight runners, a pair of Merrells, Rainy rejoined Akka and Sid as they set out to discover a place to eat. It wasn’t a long walk before they found a sidewalk café just past the non-descript square building that appeared to be the village’s church. Before leaving, Rainy had posted a note on the bulletin board letting Joe and Karl know that they had already checked in and were out for lunch.
With a bocadillo, a glorified sandwich, on his plate with some fries, and a cup of café con leche, Rainy felt he was in heaven. It wasn’t too hot out, if that was ever possible in his mind, and it was sunny. What more could a man ask but to share this with someone. That thought brought a small cloud over his mood . . . ‘with someone’ . . . he missed his wife, Marianne. Sensing his quick change of mood, Sid asked Rainy how his meditation by the river went. Rainy was jolted out of his inner mood with a start. How did Sid know he had meditated beside the river?
“Ah, my friend,” soothed Sid as he noted the look of discomfort on Rainy’s face. “Akka had told me earlier that she saw you meditating by the river.”
“She saw me?”
“Yes, she said you were meditating half-naked and so got to know why others call you the half-naked pilgrim.”
Turning a deep shade of pink, Rainy mumbled, “Uh, yeah, I was meditating there. I didn’t think anyone would see me there hidden from the road and nearby buildings.”
“Oh,” remarked Akka, now speaking for herself. I am sure that I was the only one who saw you. I thought that you saw me, Rainy?”
“Um, I guess I did see you. I, I . . . I just thought that maybe I was imagining that,” he replied softly and with a hint of embarrassment.
“Oh no!” apologized Akka, “I hope that I didn’t offend you.”
“No.” Rainy quickly returned. “I just thought that maybe you had hoped to have privacy while you walked and sang.”
Akka looked at Rainy with a hint of a smile of understanding. “You are so gentle, Rainy. Yes, you saw me walking without my clothes while I was singing one of my poems. I didn’t mind that you saw me. After all, it was an honest and innocent moment that we shared by the river, don’t you think?”
“Um, yes; I guess,” he spoke hesitantly. All of a sudden, what Akka had just said about singing her poem registered in his head. “You wrote that song, er, poem?”
“Yes,” teased Akka, “Did you like it?”
“It was beautiful, your voice was even more beautiful. I can still hear the words – People, male and female, blush when a cloth covering their shame, comes loose. – that you were nude as these words came from within you was somehow appropriate; I mean, it just seemed so perfect.”
“Yes, for me it was a holy moment,” agreed Akka. “For me I feel closest to the gods and goddesses when I sing to them without hiding behind clothes, as you say, a moment of perfection.”
Sid interjected, “I think we should go back to the albergue and see if the others have arrived yet.”
“I think I will just wander around a bit more,” said Rainy as he excused himself from the two. “I want to get a few photos of Zubiri and perhaps find an Internet café as I want to send Marianne a few photos. I’ll join you guys later.”