Kerryn Jacobs saw the white lotus first in a book on Singapore that she had checked out from the library. Something about the image spoke to her and she could not clear it from her mind. It kept cropping up, unbidden. When she looked upon its beauty she was filled with hope for her future. At home, she Googled 'white lotus' to see what she could find out about its meaning. She discovered that the flower was symbolic in Hinduism and Buddhism because it comes from muddy water yet is itself pristine and beautiful. When one reaches the state of the white lotus it is said that they have attained mental purity and spiritual perfection. The flower is also linked with the pacification of one's own nature.
Kerryn was an English Honours student studying at Auckland University. She lived in Point Chevalier with two flatmates, one of whom was an engineering student and the other who worked full-time in a bar in Britomart. Kerryn made up her mind to get a tattoo of the lotus upon her wrist and made the journey to busy K-road one Saturday morning to visit a tattoo parlour. A couple of hookers were loitering outside the shop. She took the book on Singapore with her. The man behind the counter was burly and covered in tattoos. Tats were also displayed upon the walls; Kerryn could not see a white lotus on show but she had her book which she clutched tightly to her chest.
"Hello, can I help you?" spoke the man.
His voice was gravelly and Kerryn felt a little afraid of him. She didn't come down K-road often. She gathered her courage.
"I…I've come for a tattoo," she said, holding out the book with the page open at the picture of the lotus.
"Got something in mind have ya?"
"Yes, I'd like that lotus upon my wrist. Just a bud. Not yet opened. Do you think you can do that?"
The man scoffed.
"I can do anything sweetheart."
Kerryn winced. She hated being called 'sweetheart.'
"Got thirty years experience," boasted the man. He took the book from her hands.
"Now let's see the picture of this flower you want done."
He studied the picture for a while.
"White ink. Should be okay on your dark skin."
Kerryn was part Maori.
"Follow me out the back."
Kerryn dutifully trotted behind the man to a room at the rear of the shop. He gestured towards a chair and she took a seat. He got out his equipment and began to tattoo her wrist. Kerryn watched as the lotus bud took shape; the white blossom and then the leaves. She was silent throughout the course of the procedure. It felt like being stabbed with a hot matchstick. An hour and a quarter later, the tattooist was done. Kerryn looked down at her wrist. The lotus bud sat there, quiet and serene. She paid for the tattoo and left the shop, happy with the morning's proceedings.
The following week she was in a bar in Newtown and was showing somebody the tattoo when she noticed that it had sprouted three new leaves and an extra shoot out each side. She exclaimed out loud.
"Hey, my tattoo's grown shoots!"
A couple of people turned to look.
The man she was with grabbed her wrist for a closer look.
"Was it really smaller than this when you got it? Are you sure you're not just imagining things?"
"Yes those leaves are new and those sprouts to each side. It's grown. How mysterious. How amazing."
Kerryn began to take special care of the tattoo. She washed it with an expensive clay and spirulina soap and moisturized it with kowhai flower and sweet orange moisturizer. It rewarded her with extra growth – two new leaves and a bud. It tingled when it grew. The old bud had begun to open, showing its golden heart to the world. Kerryn was excited by the new growth but also a little freaked out and full of questions. Was the tattoo magic? Why was it growing? Was it ever going to stop or would it take over her entire body until she was covered in lotus blossom?
*Kerryn was assigned a difficult essay topic; choose a Shakespeare play, discuss the works it has come from and then relate the play to a modern day adaptation. Kerryn had been struggling with the topic. She had chosen The Taming of the Shrew –referencing Thomas Kyd's The Spanish Tragedy and Lodovico Ariosto as source material and Kiss Me Kate as a modern day adaptation. She wrestled with the topic for four hours one evening, then went online, googled and found an essay that was close enough to what she wanted written by an American student. She downloaded the essay, changed some of the text and submitted it as her own work.
The lecturer did not cotton on but the lotus knew. It shed three leaves and two of the buds lost their gloss and began to droop. Kerryn felt guilty, sad and ashamed that she had cheated and apologised to the lotus as if it was a real person who could hear her.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I just got stuck. I needed help."
The lotus was silent, said nothing.
Kerryn did her best to lead a good wholesome life to please the lotus and keep it happy. She wanted its leaves and buds to be glossy, she wanted it to continue growing. Prior to getting her tattoo she had been fighting a lot with her boyfriend, petty little tennis match arguments, batting the ball back and forth and getting nowhere, claws extended. Kerryn began making a special effort to ensure relations with her boyfriend, Darryl, were more harmonious. She cooked special dinners for the two of them to share and made more time and space for him in her life. She had previously been so wrapped up in her studies that she had only been able to allocate him small chunks of herself. She began to be more generous, meeting him after lectures and spending whole evenings with him in a bar or restaurant.
One evening they were getting on particularly well. Their fights had become a thing of the past and they were chatting together in a bar in Britomart. Darryl was a drama student and he was telling Kerryn about a part he had snagged in Midsummer Night's Dream. He was over the moon because he had won the right to play the character Oberon. He was flying high, especially after a couple of drinks. Kerryn liked him when he was like this; happy and free, settled in his studies, content in his life. He was an excellent actor, hard working and dedicated and she felt that he could 'go places' when he had completed his studies. He was building contacts, 'networking' – wasn't that what you were supposed to do? She didn't want to see him crash and burn and end up on the dole or waiting tables full-time with no time to pursue his dreams, like so many others.
That night, in the shower, she looked down at her skin. The lotus was glossy, almost glowing. Then, something amazing happened. One of the buds that was not yet opened, spread its petals and a dragonfly flew out and buzzed around the bathroom for a couple of laps before heading out the window. Kerryn stared in astonishment. The tattoo was bewitched! The man who had given it to her was a wizard, a magician, hiding out on ordinary K-road. The world was full of astonishment.
To assuage her guilt, Kerryn decided to re-do the Shakespeare essay. She asked for a deadline extension and this was granted. She applied herself to the topic, sitting in the library for hours on end. By the end of June she was satisfied with her completed project and she handed it in to the lecturer. It felt like a weight had been lifted.
She received an A- for the essay and she was more than happy with the mark. It had been a difficult topic and at least, in the end, she had not plagiarised – it had been her own original work that she had handed in. She felt that the lotus was bringing her good luck.
Other creatures came forth from it. One morning a bee flew out and on another occasion a butterfly came flapping into the open. It was a spectacle, a miracle. It had grown prodigiously and now covered over half her body; her left arm, half her chest, her left leg and her neck. It was on display during the day and people commented on it.
"Gosh, isn't that an interesting tattoo you've got. So unique."
"What is that flower. It looks so familiar, yet I can't quite place what it is."
Kerryn wanted to speak with the man who had given her the tattoo to see if she could get to the bottom of its mysteries. She returned to where the shop had been at four pm the following Monday. The shop was nowhere to be found; there was just empty space where it had been, a vacant lot.