Re­treat

Geist - - Findings - RANI RIVERA

From All Vi­o­let. Pub­lished by Dag­ger Edi­tions in 2017. Rani Rivera was a poet. She worked as a com­mu­nity co­or­di­na­tor at Progress Place. The works from All Vi­o­let were dis­cov­ered among her pa­pers af­ter her death.

Mark was the first one to speak at the cen­tre. The first one to break the car­di­nal rule of ob­serv­ing ab­so­lute si­lence. He had snuck in a cou­ple bars of dark cho­co­late. The kind you buy at gourmet cafés for five bucks apiece. He told me later that he had no­ticed a cer­tain sweet smell in my hair af­ter we left the train sta­tion to join the oth­ers.

“So how many smokes you got?” “Well, that de­pends on what you have to trade,” I said.

We snuck away af­ter af­ter­noon asanas to take in the scenery and ne­go­ti­ate the terms of our il­licit goods. He de­cided four squares of 75% co­coa for two cig­a­rettes was a fair deal; af­ter all, we were go­ing to be there for ten days and it seemed pru­dent to ra­tion out the smug­gled ex­cess we came there to es­cape.

He told me later he had been a lawyer for the past ten years and had re­cently be­come so dis­il­lu­sioned by the cor­po­rate world, he de­cided

to take a sab­bat­i­cal and find some sem­blance of mean­ing in his life. I looked at him the same way I looked at my sis­ter’s friend Dave when he told me he was leav­ing for Thai­land to vol­un­teer for an AIDS or­ga­ni­za­tion but didn’t ac­tu­ally have to touch the peo­ple.

Each time we bumped into each other in the com­mon room, he would find some way to ac­ci­den­tally touch me. He started plac­ing his yoga mat di­rectly be­hind mine, and grunted heav­ily af­ter a par­tic­u­larly stren­u­ous pose. Com­mented to the yogi, since he was the only one we were al­lowed to speak to, that his ham­strings ached af­ter down­ward dog and asked if he was al­lowed to re­tire early to his room to rest.

So it be­came a daily rou­tine for us, strolling the grounds solemnly be­fore din­ner un­til we faded out of plain sight to savour his sweets and my smokes. Joined the oth­ers in the din­ing room for brown rice and beans, both of us con­spir­a­to­ri­ally full. On the sec­ond-last day, I had only one cig­a­rette left and he still had half a bar of cho­co­late. He asked to kiss me in­stead. And I let him. I don’t know if it was out of sheer bore­dom or my life­long ad­dic­tion to good cho­co­late.

But nine days of ob­serv­ing al­most com­plete si­lence, twice daily yoga prac­tices and end­less hours of med­i­ta­tion will make even the most earnest adept crazy. Maybe it was some kind of twisted fore­play, ex­tended to ten days of un­sought so­lace and horny sugar and ni­co­tine highs.

Af­ter our last com­mu­nal meal, our guru brought around a do­na­tion bas­ket for the cen­tre. Any mone­tary amount or sim­ple thanks would suf­fice. Karma was the les­son we were sup­posed to have learned. Our own and how ev­ery­thing af­fects ev­ery­one at some point. We were fi­nally al­lowed to speak and Mark asked me why I had re­ally come to the re­treat, while slip­ping me his busi­ness card. I told him I had just lost a lover and needed some peace, some time on my own, and placed his phone num­ber in the karma bas­ket when it fi­nally came my way.

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