The woman’s eyes are holding our gaze with something approaching pity.
We are in a tent, there is a crystal ball between us and her. She looks beautiful in a dressed-up sort of way: as if instead of glittery turbans and colourful patchwork skirts, she is used to wearing cashmere loungewear or dresses from Alexander McQueen, as if she put on hoop earrings and jangly bracelets today to better fit into our idea of what she ought to look like. We tell her this to see how she reacts. We think that she will either frown, or laugh and shrug, or give us an enigmatic smile. She goes for the smile, and it is almost a reply – revealing her two rows of very straight, white, perfect little teeth, not a hint of the crooked yellow that ought to go with her costume. When she asks us why we are here, her voice is not raspy but gentle and halting, like the voice of a talking deer. We tell her that we are looking for our new name. That try as we might, we can not find it. That our therapist is stumped.
We ask if she has some way of helping us locate it.
She inclines her head with a cervine tilt that is almost a nod. She does not ask any of the questions our therapist did. (Why do you feel the need to change it? What do you think is wrong with your old one?) Just for that, we feel a sudden rush of love for this stranger. We love her for not knowing anything about us, our history, our past, other than the fact that we are sitting before her now, with a very specific problem. We also feel like she is someone who knows more about the need for change than anyone else we’ve ever tried to tell about these things before, though we are not sure why we think this. Then the woman says: Have you always shared just the one name between you? We nod, slowly. She nods too, even slower. Maybe that is the problem, she says, maybe it’s time that you each had your own.
We stare at her, open-mouthed. We feel the disquieting truth of her words in the quickening of our heartbeat. The woman takes a quill and ink bottle out of the table drawer. She writes something on a piece of paper. We are reading it upside down, but we can tell that what she is writing is our current name, the one we are trying to get rid of.
How on earth she knows it, how she could have possibly guessed it, is completely beyond us.
We are becoming more impressed with her by the minute, on the verge of falling in love. She takes the piece of paper and rips it in two, then waves both halves over us and lets go. They catch fire in the air and float back down on the table, two little birds of ash. She takes a fresh piece of paper, again rips it in half, scoops up one pile of ash with each half. Thenshe blows on both of them very gently, as if trying to blow out the world’s tiniest candles. The ash starts to move around on each piece of paper. We are holding our breath as the ash whirls itself into curlicues, beautiful, miniscule letters, grey against white.
And then, for the first time in my life, I read my name.
Just as you read yours.
There is the faintest sound, as if a mirror is shattering in the distance.
I look at you.
You look at me.
I laugh. I laugh, and laugh and you watch me, just quietly grinning.
I’ve never laughed on my own before.
I tear my eyes away from your face, which is no longer just a mirror of mine. I want to say, thank you, to the woman.
But she has disappeared.