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When I packed my tennis shoes into my old blue backpack, my mentor laughed. “Nobody reaches Shambhala wearing tennis shoes,” he said.

“Shambhala calls.”

What could he say? For years, he had prepared me for the long journey to Shambhala, the liberation from the body’s shallow desires, the encounter with the only truth. He planned to reach our destination, the Himalayan town built upon transcendent wisdom, when my spirit was ready.

“You won’t get far, you and your tennis shoes.”

“Just watch me.”

“You have no heart,” he said.

Hell! I thought I had no need for a heart. He had promised me Nirvana for the mind.

But he was changing. That morning he suggested I listened to my body’s call to carry babies. His babies, for lack of other choices.

“Stand still,” I said. I stripped him of his long white robe and left him in his white cotton underpants. His body looked fuller without clothes. He pressed his palms together and bent his head over them.

I took the bread knife from the table, set for the ritual of our daily food. Masterfully, the way I prepared our meals, I cut his flesh and sliced his heart out of his chest.

He did not bleed. So good of him.

I placed his heart on my palm: tiny as expected.

He slipped gently onto the marble floor, the black hole in his chest caged under his ribs, pounding.

“Look!” I sat on my knees and eagle-spread the heart on the floor. It did not look like a love sign or a strawberry. It brought to my mind a little raw man weighed down under four large wires.

“I’ll pack it with my tennis shoes.”

“Don’t go. Shambhala only exists in our dreams,” he said by way of revealing a long-kept secret. His pale face reddened.

I tried to place my dreams, but they were well beyond the horizon. I took my backpack. “It is time.”

Avital Gad-Cykman’s work has been published or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Happy, Prism International, Imago, AIM, Nemonymous, Raven Chronicles, BigNews, Wild Strawberries, and Snow Monkey. It has also appeared online in, In-Posse Review, Zoetrope all-Story Extra, Salt Hill Review, Carve Magazine, Pindeldyboz, Vestal Review, Absinthe Literary Review, 3am and elsewhere. Her story collection and first novel are in the hands of her literary agent, and she hopes to publish both.

Copyright © 2003 Avital Gad-Cykman.