LESSONS FROM LEELA:
I first heard the word ‘Leela’ when I was learning to play congas on a Brazilian Percussion course. Our teacher always emphasised feeling the music, feeling the drum, and letting the rhythm play you rather than trying to master it. One day, the group was struggling with a particularly tricky rhythm. As we thudded out the sounds and tried to grasp the counts and theory, our teacher’s patience gave into his fiery Brazilian spirit.
“No, stop, stop!” he shouted. “It is ‘orrible, this noise! I want you to get into Leela when you play! Leela! You understand what is Leela?” He went on to explain that Leela was a Sanskrit word, loosely translated to mean ‘divine dance of life’, or ‘miracle’ and it was also used to describe the state musicians get into when they allow the music to play them; the state dancers go into when the dance dances them; when composers let the music be written; when writers let the book write them…
I recounted the incident to my partner,Josh, and Leela became our chosen name for the child we were longing to conceive, should it be a girl.
Years later, we handed over that heavenly name to our ten-week-old spaniel; not quite what we had imagined in our ideal baby-naming ceremony but hey, life can be like that. Sometimes you just have to let life live you…
The door to Flat 4, Kilgannon House slammed shut for the very last time. I stared at the brown wood with its familiar grainy pattern and resisted the urge to dive into my pocket, fumble for the key and open it again. It was too late. The moment was gone and there was no point in trying to relive it. I had wanted a ceremonious exit over the threshold, a conscious step into the big wide world. Instead, we had bundled clumsily over it with the last of our possessions, all elbows and baggage, leaving the door to swing itself shut with a callous bang.
I felt a lump rise in my throat and at that moment, Rick, our about to be ex-neighbour, opened his door to see us on our way. I bit my lip and willed myself not to cry;not now, please not now, not in front of Rick. Not that it would have mattered. Rick was as sad as we were that we would no longer be neighbours. It was just that I wanted this to be a happy occasion. I wanted to show the world how excited I was. After all, everything was fine, this was the beginning of our great adventure. Our home was now the van and it was the start of something brilliant. We had finally thrown caution to the wind and our hearts over the bar. Only at this moment I was starting to wish we’d thrown them on a boomerang.
Leela sat close and was unusually still and quiet, not taking her eyes off me for a second. I knew she was looking for reassurance and, as top dog, it was my job to do that; to let her know that she was safe, I knew what I was doing and would take good care of her. I smiled weakly at her. Unconvinced, her eyes widened even more. Remembering the language of the Dog Listener, I took a deep breath, broke eye contact to assume confidence, stood up straight and placed a clear thought in my head that all was well. Nervously, she moved closer to my leg. Damn it, dogs always know what you’re feeling.
Leela had been sick in the last hour of us being in the flat.Her tail that normally wagged continuously from morning ‘til night had been strangely still. She had followed us everywhere as we put the last of our stuff into bags and did the final bits of cleaning. It had been an emotional day; in fact, it had been an emotional five weeks. I had gone from exhilarated to petrified, with not much respite inbetween. I must have been a joy to live with! Despite the emotional roller coaster, though, everything felt right, since we had been asking for a push from the universe and an adventure from life. Life being life, though, it came in a package we weren’t expecting at all and, as with all true stories, how it all started goes back a long way. But more of that later.
We had spent the past few hours saying goodbye and preparing our old home for the new tenants. Josh, who had been steady as ever in the last weeks, was now as emotional as me. He’d been fine until our friend Russell phoned to see how we were getting on. I had picked up the phone with a cheery “Hello” and heard Russell say, “How’s it going?”
My breath caught in my throat. I pinched myself hard, smiled into the phone, got the words, “Great! Fantastic! We’re really excited” ready in my mouth… and then burst into tears. “It’s all empty and bare and … and … and … it’s empty and bare and empty!” I cursed the affirmation I’d chanted religiously for the last month: “I express myself clearly when under pressure.”
Russell, known by Josh and myself as Russell Big-heart, was living up to his name and pouring words of wisdom and reassurance in my ear but I couldn’t hear anything he was saying. I was staring at the beautiful, sunshine-yellow walls of our gorgeous home as the last rays of July sun shone through the huge ceiling-to-floor windows that looked out directly onto the sea. There was a magical glow all around the room. God, this place was special. I numbly handed the phone to Josh and was taken aback when I saw he had huge tears in his eyes. So it wasn’t just me being over-dramatic, this really was hard. This had been our home for nearly ten years and the only place either of us had settled in since leaving the homes we had grown up in. It had also been the home I had moved into just before we had met and it had soon become ‘ours’, which had been a big commitment for both of us.
Josh mumbled a quick end to the conversation with Russell and put the phone down. We stood in the middle of the room and held each other. Leela pushed herself in between our feet, which made us cry and laugh at the same time. She was the catalyst for all of this. In the eight amazing months she had been part of our lives, she had wreaked glorious havoc and we had no desire to turn back time and change anything, not one thing. She had entered our world and hit centre in a way neither of us had expected, certainly not Josh, who wasn’t a doggy person at all. Now we were a family, the three musketeers, the explorers, the pioneers of our own future the bravest of the...
“Let’s go.” Josh’s voice jarred me back into the room and I realised he had moved on from the moment whilst I had dropped to my knees and was sobbing into the ears of a rather alarmed-looking spaniel. I needed to get a grip! I stood up and prepared myself to go.
I once read a book by Karen Kingston who specialises in FengShui and space clearing, in which she explained how she would enter a building and stroke the walls in order to make a connection and encourage it to tell its story. I decided that would be a good way to say my last goodbye to our dear flat,which I had christened ‘Sunshine’. I stroked the living room wall and said thank you. I began to feel overwhelming amounts of love and appreciation.Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion, my heart filled with gratitude and I was aware of every detail of the wall, the way the light fell on it, the coolness and texture under my hand. I became totally immersed in this precious moment.
And then the memories began to flood in. The cosy nights and days watching the wild sea as the rain lashed against the window; sunbathing in the living room with the windows flung open; gatherings and parties with friends, visits from our families; romantic moments after a day on the beach; glasses of wine watching the sun going down. I willed all the memories the walls held to flood back into me one more time.
Then a more recent one popped in. My sister Kaye had phoned up the week before, saying, “Put Channel 4 on now, there’s a programme about people who fall in love with buildings. Weird.” The phone went dead and I knew she was probably phoning my other sister to repeat the same instruction as I crossed the room to put the TV on. We would have one of those “Oh my God, can you believe it?!” conversations at a later date.
She was right, it was weird. The last ten minutes showed a woman fulfilling her dream as she sat straddling the Eiffel Tower with no underwear on. Thankfully, she did have her over-garments on but that still left little else to the imagination as she shared her triumph with the nation.
“Weird.” My sister’s voice echoed in my head and I froze mid-stroke and moved away from the wall. Suddenly very self-conscious and acutely aware that my bizarre behaviour was being witnessed, I turned my head around slowly and met Josh’s bewildered gaze. My eyes dropped downwards to Leela, who wore the same expression. Time to swiftly move on! I cleared my throat and said loudly, with all the dignity I could muster, “Okay, flat, thanks for a lovely time,” then added a cheerful, “Look after the next tenants as much as you looked after us.” Then we all turned our backs on the living room, marched down the hallway and shuffled ourselves, and the last of our possessions through the front door. It slammed shut.
So here we were on the other side at the beginning of a new chapter. We had arranged for Rick to take our Dyson while we were on the road. We had shared it whilst we were neighbours and often enjoyed enthusing over its efficiency as we passed it back and forth between the two flats. I watched Josh hand it over now and everything seemed to go in slow-motion again. I loved that hoover! Oh this was ridiculous, what did I mean I loved that hoover? What a stupid thought. I hate hoovering, I do anything to get out of it. But as I looked at our beautiful Dyson, I wanted to snatch it back, open Flat 4 again and lovingly vacuum its beautiful floors to make up for all the times I had resented it.
“Weird.” The memory of my sister’s voice jolted me back. I pulled my gaze away from the household appliance I was aching for and smiled shakily at Rick.
“Well, look after yourself,” I managed to squeak. I could taste blood on my lip where I had bitten it so hard. Rick hugged me, and Charlie, his thirteen-year-old son, appeared at his side. I forgot about the Dyson and felt sad to be leaving the humans who stood in front of me and relieved to be having normal feelings again. We would miss them – not that we had lived in each other’s pockets, or even been in each other’s flats that much, for that matter,but we had been good neighbours and we did watch out for each other.
“Where will home be tonight then?” asked Rick.
We hadn’t fully decided.We actually only had one night before Josh was to go on a course in Dorset whilst Leela and I stayed with my friend Sally for a few days on the other side of Brighton. We had considered the seafront, and Stanmer Park where a lot of other travellers parked up but, although it was already 8.30pm and we were hungry and tired, we were both feeling it would be more adventurous to go out of Brighton for the first night.
Rick suggested The Anchor in Barcombe. “If you eat there, they’ll probably let you stay in the car park for the night.” That sounded like a great idea. Barcombe was about half an hour’s drive away. We knew the Anchor and the thought of a good meal and a drink appealed to us both.
We said our goodbyes and went down the stairs, out of the building and across the road into our new home, Romany, a Peugeot boxer camper van. We climbed in and Leela wagged her tail, seeming relieved to be out of the intensity of the flat. The van was a state. The plan had been to have everything in its place by the time we left. However, despite our good intentions, it hadn’t quite worked out. Packing up and getting the stuff we wouldn’t need into storage, had taken much longer than we expected. We had already extended our stay in the flat by a week and, in the end, we just shoved everything willy-nilly into the van to be sorted out later. Only now was later and our new home looked like we had loaded up for a trip to the tip! Every bit of space was taken up with clothes, plates, cups, dog towels, food, shoes, raincoats etc, etc.
We climbed into the front, Josh in the driving seat and me in the passenger seat, with Leela on my knee. We looked across at each other and smiled. Leela yawned and snuggled her head under my arm, obviously feeling secure again. In fact, we all felt secure again; relieved and happy that the worst was over, we had left the flat and it felt good to be on this side of the story.We had finally stepped into our future.
Josh touched the picture of Ganesh, remover of all obstacles, that sat on the dashboard. This is his usual ritual at the start of a journey and one of the things I love about his Indian culture. Then he beckoned fate by starting the engine. Our new life had begun. Read more....