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.