The Ritual


The young woman is sobbing to herself when I notice her at a table in the busy restaurant I’m sitting in. The staff are carefully avoiding her as best they can. She doesn’t seem to notice anyone anyway, adrift on an endless ocean of despair. I could just wander off and assume she’s broken up with a boyfriend or broken a nail, but something makes me quietly turn around and ask what’s wrong. She stares at me from an infinite distance, her eyes getting redder by the minute. Her face would be quite pretty if it wasn’t contorted into such a heartbroken grimace.
“Why what?”
“Why do you care what’s wrong? Why should you bother? I’m not worth it, trust me.”
“I don’t know. Do you think I should know?”
She pauses for a few moments, then returns to staring at some point far beneath the floor. I figure I may as well move opposite her and wait to see if she’s ready to talk yet. She looks at me with a mixture of anger, sadness and fear.
“You got the hots for crying girls? Is that it? You like ‘em sad so you can get them to do anything?”
I just let it roll past me and rest my head on one hand and wait a while before speaking again.
“So is it a boy you’re upset about?”
“No! Yes.. well maybe a bit, but It’s always a boy isn’t it? Fucking up my life then walking away.”
“Yes, we’re all bastards who exist only to make your life more miserable.”
I must say it with the right level of sarcasm because she smiles involuntarily before letting her face droop in misery again.
“Fuck you too”, she adds after a while.
“Is that an offer? I mean you are pretty cute, but I prefer women with a smile.”
My evil smile tells her how I mean it and something breaks inside her. She explains her tale of woe, how the world has conspired against her, taken any chance of happiness away. She’d been travelling with some guy she met in Prague, they’ve had a messy couple of weeks followed by a hysterically bad breakup involving plenty of screaming and the destruction of her laptop at his hands. Then stolen baggage on the last train means she has nothing left in the world but a passport. She managed to get her parents to wire some money, but still doesn’t want to go home.
“What’s the point of it? I’ve been cursed somehow. Whatever I touch turns to shit. Why bother?”
“So you’re cursed you think?”
“What? Yeah… it feels like that.”
She keeps staring at me, trying to figure out what I want from her.
“Well…who would want to curse you?”
“My ex probably”, she says with a sad smile.
“So if he’s cursed you, what will you do about it?”
“I don’t believe in that crap.”
“Well, plenty of people do.”
“So what will you do about it?”
“About the curse? I don’t believe it really, I was just saying it felt like that.”
“Well maybe if it feels like it, then it’s real enough.”
“Umm… What? You think I need a voodoo witchdoctor now? Where am I going to find one of them at this time of night dammit? …. Probably wouldn’t work for me anyway.”
“Well…when I was in Tibet I saw this ritual in a small town there that apparently will clean off bad karma…or curses…or was it bad spirits? .. same thing I think.”
She looks at me strangely again, considering the possibility.
“So… what do you need to do for it?”, she asks quietly, filled with new curiousity.
“Well… just stand up.. and grab this napkin.”
She stands up entirely unsure of what’s going on, but grabs the napkin and stares at it.
“What am I meant to do with this, put it on my head?”, she asks whilst doing so.
“If you like. But really we need to set that on fire, so we’d better just step into this smoking area first.”
She considers that for a moment and looks at me sideways again. I gesture towards the area and start moving. She follows slowly, filled with cynicism and doubt.
“Okay, now what you first have to do is gather the bad spirits to the napkin.”
“How do I do that?”
“Just turn your hands towards the sky and make a bowl with the napkin in the middle. Now turn clockwise….no clockwise…which way do clocks turn where you come from?”
She shrugs and smiles with the mistake but turns slowly holding the napkin cupped in her hands.
“Now picture the curse draining out of you and into the bowl. Think of every part of the evil and let it all run into the bowl.”
She continues turning for a minute as her faces changes through expressions of sadness, anger, misery, hate and despair. She stops turning with tears in her eyes staring at the bowl, then a few teardrops fall onto the napkin.
“That’s it!”, I exclaim.
“Now shake the napkin out onto the ground, let it all fall away from you and back to the earth.”
She shakes it furiously as I spark up the lighter in my hand.
“Now let the flame finish the job.”
She holds the napkin over the flame until it catches and burns with a slow flame. She watches it being consumed slowly and holds it until a tiny fragment remains. She throws it into an ashtray and watches the final piece burn away to ashes. I can feel her mood changing, lifting. She looks at at me sideways again.
“Why does that feel so much better?”
“I don’t know, but it does, doesn’t it?”
I watch her consider it and feel her mood lighten again.
“It’s done…if there was a curse, it’s not on me now.”
“Yup… you’re free to live your life again.”
“So what’s your name?”, she asks me as an announcement sounds above us.
“Does it matter?”, I ask with a broad smile.
“That’s my flight, I’ve got to get to the gate before they leave without me”, I add.
“So you’re already leaving me.”
“You don’t need me, you don’t even want me. You just did all that for yourself.”
“I did?”
“I didn’t see anybody else spinning around there.”
She seems to understand something as her mood keeps getting lighter.
“Now you’ve started every hour will get easier. In a week you’ll be laughing at how upset you were.”
“I’ll…I don’t know..but what am I going….?…”
“If you don’t want to go home, go somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit. Then you just have to decide where.”
“Maybe Vietnam.”
I give her a huge hug, lifting her off the ground and setting her back down gently.
“Have fun there”, I say over my shoulder with a wicked smile as I start walking to the gate.


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