Lorraine was returning to 44 Cherry Street, her arms laden with shopping bags. She had been to Chifferobe and had purchased a new tin of Asheville Grey Tea: so delicious!! Then she drove to Hopey’s on 70 and had loaded up on cookies. You never knew what treasures you might find there, and she had found a special on Jules Destrooper Almond Thins, her favorite cookie, at three boxes for $2. (Crazy!!!) She bought a dozen boxes, and she had already eaten half a box on the drive home. “Maybe I should have gotten more,” she thought.
She elbowed her way through the heavy front door, and as she entered the vestibule, she was assaulted by the strong smell of flowery incense. The other apartment on the ground floor across the hall from Elrod’s place was inhabited by Clara McGonagal. Clara had been away for a long time, it seemed, visiting an ashram in India, and Lorraine guessed she must be back. Lorraine didn’t know which was worse, Elrod’s stale tobacco smell or the sweet, heavy incense smell.
Lorraine tapped at Clara’s door and was greeted by an exotic-looking woman who opened the door. A cloud of incense drifted into the hall and swirled around the head of someone who resembled Clara. Clara was an Irish redhead, but this woman’s hair was shoe-polish black. Also, this woman was tanned to a golden brown, quite different from the pallor she was used to on Clara’s face. But that wasn’t the biggest difference. This woman was swathed in a magenta and peacock blue silk sari. She wore sparkly sandals and had a big red dot on her forehead. It was either Clara or a wacky sister. Either way, Lorraine was curious. She couldn’t think of anything to say, but just stammered, “Come for tea? I just got back from the store.”
“I’d love to!”said Clara (or her evil twin). Did she have a funny accent? Clara was from Hickory, and she had a strong accent, but this was different.
“Come up in fifteen minutes while I put away the groceries and prepare the tea,” said Lorraine.
Promptly fifteen minutes later Lorraine heard a knock at the door of her apartment. She was alone, as Frederick was at his part-time job at Cove Auto Repair where he answered the phone and kept the books. Lorraine hated that he had this job. They took advantage of him and paid him so little. She had told him to demand a raise, but he just shook his head. She would be happier if he just stayed home with her and they could pack a lunch and wander at the Biltmore Estate whenever she wanted to. He just wouldn’t listen to her though. He was so stubborn, but so was she. She wasn’t done with that demand yet. No, she wasn’t.
Lorraine invited this Clara-like woman in and brought out the tea things and some Almond Thins on a china plate. “So,” she began, “Tell me about your trip to India.”
“First of all,” said Clara, “I am not longer called Clara McGonagal. I am now Neetu Singh.” She did have a new accent. How long had she been gone? Did one pick up a whole new accent in only a matter of weeks? And she carried the sweet smell of that incense with her.
“I’m confused, Clara, what am I supposed to call you?
“Not Clara, Lorraine, my name is now Neetu Singh. Just call me Neetu.”
“Me too?” asked Lorraine. Had Clara been assaulted?
Neetu/Clara shook her head. “Neetu.”
Lorraine had just one more question. “Why?” she asked.
Neetu picked up her fragile china cup and took a sip of the Asheville Grey tea. “Yum. Delicious,” she declared. She settled back in her chair and spoke, “ As you know I was at the ashram for the past month and I was so taken by the message of the guru. One night after I had performed my service work I crawled onto my floor mat. As I was falling asleep I was visited by the spirit of Sri Baboo, the grandfather of the guru. He sat at the end of my mat and instructed me to become a Bodhisattva and to change my name and dye my hair.”
“I’m sorry,” said Lorraine. “What did you say? I was thinking about getting more of these cookies. They’re good, aren’t they?”Neetu smiled patiently and shortened her explanation. “The guru’s dead grandfather told me to give over my life to service to others and to change my name, my clothes, and my hair color.”
Lorraine sniffed as she did before she made a pronouncement. “As for me, I make it a practice to avoid the advice of dead people. They tend to be rather unreliable. Depending on how long they have been dead, they can be rather out of touch with current events. And did he specify black hair? It really washes you out.”
“Just so, just so,” said Neetu with even more of an accent. “Still…”
“You can’t seriously think about wearing that flimsy sari around Black Mt.!”
“Actually I gave away all my Western clothing. I plan to wear the sari from now on.”
Lorraine sniffed again. “Well don’t blame me if people think you are a terrorist.”
Neetu set her tea cup and saucer on the coffee table, excused herself, huffed loudly, and left the apartment.
Lorraine mulled over what had happened to Clara. She appeared to be possessed. She would have a word with the priest. It seemed that an exorcism was in order.