She told him that Mother Teresa had visited her in a dream. Adam braced himself for the consequences. “She wants me to work in her orphanage in Calcutta,” the steam from Elaine’s green tea shimmered between them.
“We’ll save up to get you there,” he replied. This was his style, to humour her and at the same time nudge her towards practicality. She had tears in her eyes now as she launched into a description of the dream. The feeling of being chosen, of having the ability to help others, of possessing a power, a gift. There were so many things Adam would rather save up for than trekking half-way across the world. It startled him that he could imagine her travelling without him.
He had always considered himself to be the perfect balance for Elaine. She would be up in the clouds or, more precisely, up in the attic, while he fixed the girls’ swing in the garden or took the cat to the vet’s. Elaine was always on the move, not necessarily forward but sideways, up, across. She was a chess piece that made her own rules.
When they had first met at college, she was studying nutrition and he was doing metalwork. She talked constantly about books she’d read or programmes about the supernatural on television. She didn’t seem to notice that Adam was only half-listening, captivated by the movement of her lips, her energy that seemed to ignite and propel him.
His family didn’t approve of her. They said that she was too different, but Adam didn’t care. Their objections sounded irrelevant and too late. After the wedding, Elaine started teaching yoga in the local centre. Neither pregnancy deterred her. She opted for a natural birth each time and used essential oils to cope with the pain. Her interest in alternative medicine started then. Throughout the years she breast-fed the girls she was also reading and studying for a long-distance aromatherapy qualification.
Adam was the one who converted the attic into a treatment room. He put shelves on the walls and carried up the special massage bed. In no time, Elaine managed to cram the whole wall with crystals, burners, jars and bottles. Her clients trooped up the stairs, ignoring Adam as he sat watching Disney DVDs with the girls. Elaine’s business was picking up but she let the housework slide. Under Adam’s bare feet, the carpet was gritty with cereal and crumbs.
“When was the last time you hoovered?” he called up to her. He had already opened the utility cupboard to get the vacuum cleaner.
She skipped down the stairs, her eyes bright and almost breathless. “I saw an angel,” she said. “A little angel flying past. He came to take a bad vibe away.”
The following weekend she went away to a meditation retreat. A month later she spent a whole week at a psychic fair and came back with a photo of her aura captured by a special camera. Adam stared at the red, yellow and green lights billowing around her familiar face. “You look like a witch,” he said.
Elaine gave him a fierce look. “I consulted a psychic. She told me I have the healing gift.”
‘But you know that already,” he said. “You’ve helped so many people.” She had helped him too, massaging the small of his back with lavender essence mixed with warm jojoba oil.
“There’s more,” she said. “The psychic said my healing guide is a Red Indian. And another is a Somali warrior.”
Adam snorted. “You’re wasting good money on these sessions. You need to focus on your work.”
“No, I need to learn to channel my energy and communicate with my guides. Then I would be able to read the forces surrounding my clients. I would be able to work with my guides.”
Geranium for PMT, petunia for a sluggish kidney, clary sage for mood swings. The scents of the oils hung around him. He could only shake them off when he got to work. He worked night-shifts as a welder. As he napped during the day, he would hear the New Age music coming down from above him.
Another black cat loped around the house. Elaine made sure they ate vegetarian cat-food. For the family, she cooked wholesome, organic meals even though Adam sometimes protested. When he craved red meat, he had to go and sit alone in Burger King.
That summer she took the girls and disappeared for two weeks. Adam started to put on the weight she had shielded him from. He lost the daily blessing of the two little ones. He often felt worried but they came back tanned and healthy. He hugged the girls and watched Elaine move around the house dressed like a gypsy.
“We travelled with the fair,” she explained. “From city to city. The weather was perfect. We picked strawberries and had picnics on the beach. These girls haven’t watched television in all the time they were away!” She sounded like she was boasting.
Adam felt even more left out. “Aren’t you going to ask what I’ve been doing?”
She folded her arms across her chest and said in a flat voice, “So what have you been up to?”
He deliberately went through his boring routine, hour after hour, day after day.
But she had had enough, “You should have just come with us. Why didn’t you?”
“Because you never asked me,’’ he shouted.
He had taken the night off work to be with her but she sat up in bed hugging her knees as if she were in pain, “There is so much I want to do, so much I want to see. I should have been in India by now.”
“It’s not practical. It never was. There’s the girls to consider, the house…”
“You go on about the same things but I am ahead of you, Adam.” She rocked from side to side. “I am so so ahead of you now. This is exactly what Indigo said.”
“Who the hell is Indigo?”
“A psychic clairvoyant. Indigo has been able to communicate with the Spirit all her life through vision, hearing and scent. She can tune into clients with amazing accuracy. She said someone close to me is holding me back.”
“I’ve done nothing to hold you back. All I’ve ever done is support you.”
“She smelt you Adam! She smelt grease and oil.”
“This marriage is over, isn’t it,” he said.
The next day Elaine propped up a For Sale sign in the garden. And everything happened very fast after that.
Leila Aboulela’s latest novel, Lyrics Alley, was Fiction Winner of the Scottish Book Awards and short-listed for the Commonwealth Writers Prize. It was long-listed for the Orange Prize, as were her previous novels, The Translator (a New York Times 100 Notable Books of the Year) and Minaret. Leila is a recipient of the Caine Prize for African Writing and her work has been translated into thirteen languages. She grew up in Sudan, spent most of her adult life in Scotland and now lives in Doha.