The Garden was a small bistro tucked away on a side street off of a side street and obscured by a sprawling decorative garden. At night, it was a favourite of would-be Bohemians that were born about five decades too late. August walked in, wearing grey trousers and a black corduroy jacket. He took off his driving cap and ran his fingers through his tangled curls. Even though it wasn’t a very fancy place, August felt uncomfortable. He was supposed to meet Prabha; he checked his pocket watch and saw that she was running ten minutes late.
August noticed a girl with a forced smile staring at him. She was the hostess and she stood behind a black podium with a menu in her hand.
“Just one?” she asked.
August felt anxious. He wondered if Prabha was going to show up and wished that he brought his cell phone with him. As much as he hated the blasted thing, he certainly could use it.
“I’m waiting for someone.” admitted August.
“Would you like to sit at a table?” asked the hostess.
“No, I’ll wait.” said August. He didn’t want to go sit at a table just to find that Prabha wasn’t coming. Everyone in the bistro would know that he had been jilted. Just as his imagination started to run away with him, he felt a tug on his sleeve. It was Prabha.
She was wearing a sundress with a silk shawl blazoned with a bold, geometric print. Her dark hair was arranged in a long braid; August studied her sweet smile for a moment and realized he was smiling too.
“Day dreaming Mr. Rivers?” joked Prabha, coaxing August into a hug.
“A little.” said August. He didn’t want to tell Prabha that he was wondering if she had been kidnapped by Russians that were still fighting the Cold War in secret.
August and Prabha were seated by a window that looked over the street. The décor reminded August of an amalgam of the brasseries he had visited while in Paris, but there was a definite artificiality to it that he decided he wouldn’t mention. He didn’t want to seem like a world-weary traveler that looked down his nose at pedestrian establishments. Then, he considered what he should say.
“You look nice.” he offered. It seemed like a good place to start. “I like the shawl. The geometry reminds me of an inferior Elder Sign repeated. It is strikingly similar to the weaving pattern made by fisher folk of Jorvik during the fifteenth century. Some anthropologists think that it is evidence of resistance to a Deep One incursion.”
“Thanks.” said Prabha smiling. “You remind me so much of my father. It is scary.”
“I’m sorry,” said August, sinking into his seat, “I didn’t mean to.”
“No, no.” said Prabha, waving her hand. “It’s not a bad thing. It shows that you are serious about what you do. It is the same with my Father; he knows so much about so many things.”
“He’s still teaching, yes?” asked August, stretching out the conversation. Prabha’s father was an anthropologist and deeply steeped in folklore, and August was happy he hadn’t met him yet; he sounded like a very imposing man.
“Yes; he’s also taken a position at the Center For Spiritual Healing in Connecticut. Right now it is just as an advisor, but he’s planning on becoming more involved when he retires.”
The idea of retirement frightened August: paranormal investigation didn’t pay very well. While he was able to live comfortably between his freelance work and consultations, he seldom had much money left to invest in his future. He also wondered if he should bother, since his work was tending towards more and more danger.
“What are your plans?” asked Pranha. August felt like he had been clobbered with a ten pound club. He wasn’t prepared for such a serious question.
“Well, I am still trying to figure that out,” he admitted haltingly. He didn‘t want to lie or hide behind vague statements. “I never really intended to do this work. I was supposed to be a fine artist.
“I was a freshman in photography when I stumbled across my first case. I had heard about vampires and werewolves; my uncle was one of the leading journalists when the Supernaturals’ Right and Responsibilities Act was passed, so the occult had always been part of my life. When I came across real Supernaturals, I knew that I wanted to protect normal humans from their predations, and to protect the Supernaturals from unlawful persecution.”
Prabha listened intently, occasionally fidgeting with the ruby-encrusted earrings that dangled from her ears. August didn’t normally pay much attention to ears, but it occurred to him that hers were exceptionally perfect. They didn’t have any weird bumps, nor were their lobes too small or too large.
“I always knew what my path would be,” said Prabha. “as a vessel of the gods, you don’t get many choices.” She smiled awkwardly and glanced out at the street. Was she avoiding eye contact?
“What does being a vessel entail? I know that your body is essentially a channel for divine power, but what are the expectations? Do you have to,”
Remain a virgin kept trying to pull its way out of August’s mouth, but instead he said:
“make any special observances?”
“Nothing much beyond staying healthy and meditating daily.”
August restrained himself from leaping out of his chair with joy.
“However, there is something bad.,” said Prabha. Her eyes ceased wandering and she looked straight into August, who immediately felt his heart sink and rest uncomfortably in his diaphragm.
“Being what I am,” she started, “may limit my time here. No body can withstand being a vessel for very long. The longest-lived vessel grew to be sixty. The life-expectancy is only around forty.”
August’s felt like he was on the verge of tears. He didn’t know how short Prabha’s life could be; suddenly, he felt silly for wasting his morning watching cartoons, for all the mornings he wasted watching cartoons. Life was short, and not meant for wasting. The conversation was reminding August how mortal he was.
“It’s okay August.” said Prabha. She reached out with her slender hand and touched August’s softly. He felt a flitting, ticklish bolt shoot up his arm. Her touch was thrilling; it made August smile.
“None of us have much time here,” said Prabha, “and we all have choices about how we spend it. Mine has been made, and I’m happy with it.” She looked content when she said it, and August was in awe of her serene demeanor. He wished he could be as comfortable with himself as Prabha was with herself. She knew who she was and where she was going. August knew what he could do, but he had no great plan. He resolved that he would make one, and that if Prabha was in his life, she could help him make something of himself.
August felt that Prabha could bring out the best in him.