Belinda bent over double as the bat enveloped her with his enormous leathery wings. It was like suddenly being covered in a delicate, yet strong, elastic latex sheet, held firmly in place around her by a skeleton of thin bones that she could see inside the skin of the dark brown wings. She felt that the heavy weight of his body bearing down on her was literally sucking out all the air from her lungs. Her knees began to buckle under his weight, and her instinct was to curl up in a ball or lie down and maybe he would leave her alone, but something told her she had to be strong.
The sight of his long, shiny curved claws on his back legs that were now firmly gripping her body made her start to panic as if this was the end, and the ability to scream out was stifled by sheer terror. But strangely she felt comforted by the feel of the soft brown fur on his face as he rested his cheek against hers. A dark black unblinking eye looked deep into her eyes, and a cold nose sniffed and nuzzled at her. Ironically at no point did she feel that he was going to bite her. It was as if he only wanted to hold her. As if she needed to know something. She had to breath. To stay calm and stand up or she felt she would be lost forever.
As had happened so often over the years Belinda was struggling to stay at the top of her game in her job as an engineer. A job she really loved but also had to juggle with home life and caring for her husband, grown children, elderly parents and a younger brother who had Down’s Syndrome. Every week at the office seemed to get harder and harder and no matter how many hours she worked or how well she performed; she was being sidestepped for promotions by less experienced male colleagues and constantly felt frustrated with the calibre of people that she was forced to manage and so often cover for. At home she was relied upon as the main breadwinner now and person responsible for sorting out every aspect of everyone’s life there. She was exhausted by the weight of the responsibility but there seemed to be no option but to carry on. They all depended on her.
Leaving the office that night she promised to sort out problems for some colleagues under her management and promised them she would have an answer for them by the morning. That day she had been working at the Head Office and had taken a 6am domestic flight north from her hometown on the South Coast. She had left it until the wire to leave the office just before 6pm to catch the 6:50pm flight home, which involved negotiating several underground tube stations to reach the airport. Expenses would not cover taxis.
Racing in high heels was not easy at the best of times and being tired and of frazzled mind, her feet felt like lead balloons. It seemed no matter how well that she knew this route, fate was determined that she might not make it to the airport in time again tonight. Every escalator she needed to use was either broken down and she had to take the stairs, was so packed with commuters such that she could not move up or down or get past them or there was an incident making her divert to another tunnel or route to reach her connecting train. However hard she ran and rushed she felt like her progress was somehow being purposely thwarted and she was being forced to go backwards, and the time left to check in at the airport on time was rapidly receding.
As she finally reached the check in desk at the airport the sign ‘Gate Closed’ was a sign that she always dreaded seeing. And this happened often. She knew that despite the plane still being sat on the tarmac, and without any luggage to check in, no matter how hard she pleaded with airport staff she would not be allowed to board. Slumping into an unrelenting hard plastic chair in the adjacent waiting area, with a throbbing headache, feeling faint from hunger pangs having hardly eaten all day, she angrily resolved herself to getting the next flight in two and a half hours’ time.
Belinda reluctantly decided to grab yet another coffee from the café despite knowing that although it would help revive her for now, the caffeine hit would stay in her blood for hours depriving her of the deep night’s sleep that she so desperately wanted and needed.
Chucking too much sugar into the cup in order to mask the foul taste of the badly brewed cheap coffee, and blindly stirring whilst imagining herself on a beautiful desert island somewhere, she was oblivious to her mobile phone ringing. As she jumped back to the harsh reality of the airport lounge, she saw ‘Home’ calling. It was her husband asking when she would be home, and what time he could expect his dinner. She knew he would be annoyed that she had missed her planned flight and as she desperately tried to explain, he cut off the call having admonished her for leaving the office too late and as always putting her work first.
Two What’s App messages then suddenly appeared on her screen from her children now that she had picked up full wifi service also asking her where and when the dinner would be ready. None of them had asked after her and only seemed interested in what she could do for them. Her eyes pricked with tears, and as they rolled down her cheeks and soaked into her white business shirt, she shielded her face with her coffee cup from the other people sat nearby.
Through blurry eyes she typed messages back to her children apologising to them that she had missed her flight but that there was food already partly prepared in the fridge and advised how easy it would be to make dinner for them and their father. Her son replied saying he was too tired to cook and had now ordered pizza having guessed she would be late again. Her daughter replied that her father had gone to the pub and that she wasn’t really that hungry anyway as she had eaten lunch at work already, and by the way one of their cats had been bitten in a fight and needed to be taken to the vets.
Belinda sighed deeply and decided that she had better call and check in on her parents and brother because she would not get to help them before the weekend. She was greeted with the same old moans and groans she heard during every call about their poor health, the cost of living and the News on TV and she reluctantly commiserated with them. They told her how they needed more support from her for her brother who was now becoming harder for them to control and that she needed to sort out some respite care for him.
As she finished the call, she held her head in her hands and wanted to scream and shout. Things have to change she thought. I cannot do this anymore. As hard as she tried to please some people, she failed to please others. She felt totally drained and exhausted from trying to find time for everyone except herself. As she looked up and around the airport, she noticed excited families and couples dressed in their holiday attire ready to jet off somewhere warm. Couples who were lovingly chatting away, probably jetting off on a lovers break. Envy surged through her body.
She could not remember the last time that she was in their position. She was only 44 and already felt old and so totally miserable with her lot and could see so no way out. Was she being punished for not being a good person? Did she not matter to anyone? Was this simply over-tiredness and self-pity? She had to stop this wallowing, but she hated the person she had become and maybe she deserved all this and had brought it upon herself by wanting to have a career. Should she have been the stay-at-home mother her husband always wanted or often demanded? Should she not have refused to take her brother in to her home and care for him? Should she have seen the addiction her son has that has almost ruined their lives? She was a bad person, a failure, she decided, and the tears flowed again.
In order to bring her to her senses she opened her laptop to work on the project that she promised to help her colleagues with to pass the time before her flight and so as not have to face the work when she arrived home. As she pondered on the viable solutions she couldn’t concentrate fully and zoned out noticing an advertisement on a nearby poster for a holiday break to Spain. A last minute, all-inclusive, 3 day spa retreat break at a luxury 5 star resort in Spain. She studied the images of azure blue seas, deserted sandy beaches and beachside cottages shown on the poster, closing her eyes, and imagining herself right there. The next flight was leaving in just three hours. She could not possibly go. Not with everyone depending on her. Or could she?
As the airport assistant swiped her credit card at the holiday booking desk, she felt her heart beating almost out of her chest. How could she be doing this? How selfish was this of her? Courage and bravery swirled around her gut trying desperately to rise up through the sludge. She felt sick and suddenly very sweaty and hot. The assistant looked at her oddly, when she said he had no luggage to check in and was still dressed in her dark business suit.
Airport shops were as good as the high street these days, she thought and with a brand new holdall packed with her business suit, beach wear and now dressed in a smart new casual outfit and trainers, Belinda remade her make up in the mirror of the toilets, brushed her hair, and headed for the new boarding gate. She prayed that nothing would stop her from boarding that plane. As she walked towards the gate, she heard the last call for her flight home. Fear gripped her stomach, and part of her wanted run for that flight.
Belinda slowly opened her eyes bringing her surroundings into focus. She realised that she had not slept in her own bed. She felt the luxury of rich creamy Egyptian cotton bedlinen against her skin and felt totally revived and refreshed after what seemed like days of sleep. Sunlight was reflecting on the wall through wooden shutters, and she could hear the sound of waves lapping on a beach. In so many years she had not felt the urgent desire to leap out of bed. As she slowly opened the door to her beachfront cottage, she saw the reality of the poster at the airport come to life in front of her. She had made it to the retreat. She had run away. Run away to find herself. Or was this another taunting daydream?
After being served an amazing breakfast in the open air restaurant Belinda checked the retreat schedule and opted for a session of kundalini yoga and a guided meditation session followed by a full body massage. She would then take an afternoon tour of the local village. She had decided that her mobile phone would remain switched off. After all she would only be away for three days, and they could all survive without her.
In the course of the yoga and meditation teachings she learned about the secret thirteen chakra system. It was demonstrated so well by the gentle speaking Spanish instructor called Beatriz. She told the group that chakras are energetic centres within and around the subtle body of every human, albeit the physical body contains 7 of these different coloured chakras. The others are equally important in being able to achieve total wellbeing, with the ultimate chakra, number 13, being pure connection to the Divine and thus achieving wholeness and enlightenment. Never before had Belinda felt such connection to others and so relaxed. Yet she also understood that this retreat would not be a magic quick fix and this session had revealed that there would be so much healing work for her to do.
During the village tour Belinda realised that this was a whole different world to the one she lived in. The air was fresh, clean and pollution free. Traffic was non-existent and the ancient white village sat silently at the foot of pine forest covered mountains. The residents went about their work cheerfully, in the cafes, small shops, and gathering grapes in the adjacent vineyards. Piling ripe plump fruit of all sorts on to open carts pulled by small ponies to take to the market. The market stalls were stacked with an array of every different type of fresh fruit and vegetables, local wines and cheeses, fresh bread, pastries, paella, and olives with bottles of golden oil. Belinda was in awe and inspired and wished she could stay forever. Escape.
Back in her cottage after dinner that night Belinda felt exhausted however her mind was amazingly clear and revitalised. Not once had she remembered the heavy burden of life she carried only yesterday. Soon she fell into a deep sleep. She dreamt vividly, almost lucidly, that she was walking away from her office making the same promise she had done in her waking world the day before but met up with Beatriz in the marketplace. Beatriz was explaining how easy it can be to set up a small business in Spain which excited Belinda. Could this be way for her to leave her old life behind? As they stopped at a fruit stall, the Spanish stall owner offered Belinda a huge red and yellow apple which she gratefully took from her and offered to pay for. The owner refused to be paid and smiled widely with joy at Belinda’s gratitude for the small gift.
Belinda walked away with Beatriz walking behind her left shoulder and found herself at a bus stop. She began to eat the apple. As she ate and stood admiring the village, she saw the blue skies suddenly darkening and noticed what looked like bats flying high overhead. She pointed at the bats and mentioned to Beatriz that she liked to see bats as they were endangered, such good pollinators and provided insect control for the environment. A few bats turned in to a whole swarm of bats and the sky had darkened to night. Belinda was acutely aware that one huge bat was heading straight for her. Did he want her, or want the apple she had been eating?
The bat finally lifted his weight from Belinda’s body and released her from the grip of his wings. When she stood up, she looked for Beatriz but she was gone. The skies lightened once more, and the sun shone brightly. Feeling alone she suddenly remembered she had promised to return with solutions for her colleagues and noticed a large field of lush green grass in front of a dense dark wood. She ran through the grass and felt safe again as she disappeared into the wood.
The next day in conversation Belinda mentioned the dream to an older lady who had asked if she could sit at her table at breakfast. As she recounted the story, the old lady without hesitation explained that being offered the red and yellow apple was a sign of nurture and also the colours of the red root chakra and her yellow gut chakra and much like the symbol of Adam being offered such an apple in the Bible, or the modern story of Snow White. She went on to say that as the bat did not want to hurt her and only held her, it was showing her that he had her back when all was lost and with his sonar, he would show her the way out of the darkness she saw in the dream and had been experiencing metaphorically in her life.
The fact that she walked away into a dark wood and felt safe meant that she was ready and prepared to face the shadows inside her.
Belinda said she must tell Beatriz about this amazing dream and the old woman said there was no one who worked at the retreat called by that name, and she was the owner. The old lady went on to say that the girl she knew as Beatriz who was behind her left shoulder in the dream, was her guardian angel.
Belinda packed her bags, leaving the retreat the next day with a heavy heart but she knew she had had an epiphany during the stay and within that dream and now knew that she needed to love herself as if meeting herself in the moment for the first time. She was not a product of her past and whatever comes up she would face it. She would find that 13th chakra and be at One with herself and everyone around her and experience herself just as the Divine always has. It was time to go home.