Encounters

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The table is set with hundreds of small bowls of flowers and powders, chips of tree bark, seeds, and innumerable mystery substances of all colors and textures. Thick sticks of incense send curls of licorice-scented smoke into the air. At the far end of the broad-tiled terrace, a small white cabana-like structure stands with its sun flaps pulled down. Oscar is assisting Ms. Pilar with some refreshments and Brie asks Mr. Sandro if he would like something to eat. "Yes yes, Love, surprise me," he says, smiling after her as she goes to the small buffet to compose a plate of smoked fish tea sandwiches and spears of papaya. She pours him a slush of coconut aloe water spiked with lime and is setting down his refreshments when she spies new arrivals in her peripheral vision and looks up to find Heath arm-in-arm with Marian.

Brie's heart goes boom.

Marian's smile flattens when she sees Brie, but she quickly regains her composure. "Mr. Sandro!" she calls out, sauntering across the terrace in a tight-fitting dress.

"Jacqueline!" Mr. Sandro says, giving Brie a little eye roll as he rises to greet Marian. "You look very well." He kisses the hand she offers him as Marian levels Brie with a look.

"And who is this?"

Mr. Sandro makes the P sound, but his voice peters out. He looks at Brie.

"Petra," she reminds him.

Mr. Sandro knocks his own forehead with the heel of his hand. "The ancient city! My God, this is why we come here. No?"

Marian's eyes are fixed on Brie. "I know why I come here. Why others come is open to interpretation."

Brie responds with a placid smile, but inside she is busy at work, sliding the pieces into place. It would not be a stretch to assume that The Center's missing finances have something to do with Marian attending a one hundred thousand dollar monthly event. But why? What could possibly be worth all that money?

The terrace is filling with guests now. Strapping young attendants wearing white escorting expensive-looking people over fifty. A short man with long dark hair pulled back into a tail appears in the doorway. His mustache and goatee form a perfect diamond around his pink sharp lips. He is wearing a white linen suit. He claps his hands in slow rhythm to gently gather their attention. "Everyone has arrived," he says. "On time this month, so thank you." The crowd begins to laugh and look at Ms. Pilar, who shrugs cutely in her guilt of some past tardiness. The man recaptures their attention. "I am particularly excited about this month. Today we marry the Orient ands the Occident, we blend the hemispheres, we step into the nexus of ancient wisdom and scientific advancement. The world's leading longevity practitioners are here to consult and treat you using methods not available to the public." He draws a contemplative breath. "We know that life of the soul is eternal, but the body is like any other living thing—magnificent, fragile, fleeting. What we see on the outside, the loss of suppleness in our skin, the decrease of muscle tone, is really just a reflection of what is happening inside the body. We are not timeless, we are not immortal. But for a select few—you—the clock can be turned back." The man smiles, the shape of his facial hair morphing. "You can be younger. You will be younger." He walks around the table to Brie and puts his arm around her waist. "And you will have fun becoming younger, won't you Mr. Sandro?"

Everyone laughs but Brie.

The man continues on across the terrace until he reaches the cabana. "The sangoma of South Africa are diviners and healers of physical, emotional, and spiritual illness. They commune with their ancestors and yours for guidance on how to bring harmony and health." He gestures to the cabana. "I have seen this man heal a six-year-old boy of leukemia because he was able to intercede in a three-generations-long feud within the family, their disharmony manifesting physically inside this little boy." He strokes his goatee. "In the West we are steered away from understanding the blending of the spiritual and physical realms, but for the evolved, we open ourselves to it. Today we begin with a spiritual cleansing, a metaphysical full body scan, and the mixing of a custom muthi, traditional Zulu medicine by one of the most practiced and powerful sangoma of South Africa. Ladies and gentlemen of The Fountain, I present Vusamazulu Mpende."

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