Mary, the Suffering Alcoholic
The trip to the Head Temple in Japan was postponed, Akira told me. I felt the delay was due to my lack of virtue. I redoubled my efforts to introduce those in the villages near my husband George’s farm.
Many a time, I stopped by the farm to watch the sunset and drink the tea laced with delicious jaggery that Sunbeam, George’s right-hand man prepared for us. I had introduced him and his in live-in companion Mary to the Kyudo on the farm.
Sunbeam and I on the farm
I admired Sunbeam. He had left a cushy life in the city to rough it out amidst nature that he loved. Sensei planted cashew saplings on the farm at his request. The alcoholic Mary, drunk as usual, welcomed us, bowing and touching Sensei’s feet, even mine. She had begun to call me ‘Buddha’. It embarrassed me, and yet I liked her reverence, never confusing it with her respect for Sensei, for I was no enlightened one. If Sensei had not been there with me, Mary would not have called me ‘Buddha’.
I was glad Sensei could bless the farm with her presence, and lighten the heavy vibrations that Akira sensed there. It would protect Gautam when he visited the farm. I had procured some sacred ash from the urn on the Temple altar, and I sprinkled it on the four corners of the six-acre property.
“Why didn’t I think of that before?” I wondered aloud to Akira.
“The time has come,” said Akira, following me as I walked through the shrubbery, over the dark rocks and past the trees growing so fast.
I had helped Sunbeam plant the Singapore Cherry trees, and the Teak. I had watched their growth lovingly, nurtured them with my Reiki and delighted in the sandalwood saplings that sprang suddenly from a heap of manure.
Oshima Sensei, my son, George and I on the farm
Mary showed me where a family of wild hares lived beneath the rocks. She was never sober, but she was always laughing, and telling Sensei about villages they could visit.
On one such visit, Mary, the left side of her face and jaw swollen, sobbingly complained to me about Sunbeam’s violence.
“What can I do?” said Sunbeam, tall, lean, dark and bearded, resplendent as always in his white kurta pyjama and turban covering his dreadlocks. “She doesn’t leave anything alone in the house. She’ll steal anything – soap, salt, anything to barter for alcohol. I lose control sometimes. And look what she’s done to me.”
He lifted his pyjama bottom and revealed a blackened, swollen ankle with a gaping wound on it. Mary cowered against the brick and mud wall of their shack, covering her face with her ‘sari’.
“Don’t kill her, Sunbeam san,” said Akira, her eyes pleading.
Beam smiled guiltily and went away to inspect the sandalwood saplings that now were a grove of young trees.
“But she can be pretty violent when she’s drunk,” I told Akira. “There used to be a beautiful big barn right here where we stand. All bamboo and straw. Gautam was a baby then and we were sleeping up in the loft when there was a crackling sound and yells from George and Sunbeam. They had just had a terrible fight – Mary throwing stones at Sunbeam, so he had to wear a helmet to protect his head, and a drunk George had kicked her out of the farm.”
Akira’s delicate hand flew to her open mouth.
“I’d gone to sleep with her drunken curses in my ear – and woken to the fire. It was Mary seeking revenge.”
“Oh!” gasped Akira.
By then Mary had disappeared into the shack and they were sitting on a stone bench Sunbeam had built, beneath a tree exploding with yellow flowers.
“Are you sure she burned it?” said Akira.
“Well, Sunbeam and George were very sure. No reason for anyone else to have done it. Only someone out of her mind could do that, knowing I was in there with my son.”
“Were you all right?”
“I ran down with Gautam, and in a matter of minutes, the barn burned down. What a fire it was in the night! Gautam thought it was fun.”
“It is good she has undergone the Kyudo,” said Akira. “What happened to her?”
“George threatened to throw her out, but Sunbeam said he would leave too if she did. And without Sunbeam the farm is nothing. He says she is his greatest test.”
“Whatever it may be, he must not beat her up.”
“I don’t see why he doesn’t get rid of her. Tell her to go back to her father’s house. She used to be his mistress once.”
“Oh!” said Akira, hand flying to her mouth again. She sighed. “Karma.”
Two weeks later, I got a call saying that Mary had died that afternoon.
Moksha for Mary
I did not grieve for Mary’s death. I was glad Mary was free from her suffering. Her cracked jawbone had prevented her from eating well. Her continuing need for alcohol had made it impossible for her to benefit from medication. She was with Roubo now, but I wondered what level she would attain in heaven with her attachment to alcohol. There were, they said, nine levels in heaven. The ninth, for those who had had the Third Eye opened, and as one cultivated oneself spiritually, one progressed to the perfect enlightenment of Level One. Would Mary be reborn as the result of her attachment after her promised hundred days of bliss?
I wondered how her body had been in death. The Temple said, and so did many of the devotees who had lost their loved ones, that the body showed no signs of rigor mortis; that people called in doctors to ascertain death. Akira’s grandmother had been soft and supple and beautiful in death. The body of one of the Grand Masters of Sentendaido, had remained fresh for a month before the funeral. Akira had seen him, radiant in death.
“An entire month?” I had asked, intrigued.
“He had so much virtue, Anita san,” Akira had answered, shaking her head.
Sunbeam came home. He seemed upset, but very much in control. I thought I saw regret in his eyes.
“What happened?” I asked. “Did the infection from her jaw spread to her brain?”
“I don’t know. It’s just that for the past month she’d stopped eating, and could only drink juice – and booze, of course. She died of weakness, I think. Her heart must have finally given way.”
“Didn’t you take her to the doctor?”
“No. I thought she’d get better.”
I was angry at him for neglecting Mary. It seemed he just wanted to get rid of Mary, and Mary wanted to be rid of life. She would weep and tell me she wanted to drink and die.
“How did she die? How did she look in death?”
“I found her outside the shack. She must have dragged herself out. When I picked her up and tried to get some water down her throat, she made a rattling sound in her throat, and brought it up – and died. But she looked very peaceful in death. Her skin seemed very fair, and she looked like she was asleep. She had never looked as beautiful before. I took her to her village and buried her on her land.”
“She looked peaceful because of the Kyudo,” I said.
I could see the guilt in his eyes. Regret and guilt. I knew he would never admit to it. He was too proud.
Sensei said Sunbeam would realise himself through Mary’s death, for he had seen how she looked, and Mary had completed her karma through her suffering. Roubo had taken her back early so she would not create fresh bad karma with her alcoholism.
He died suddenly a few years later, keeling over in his chair on the porch of his shack, vomiting blood. He was in his early forties.