No office would be the same without the one thing we all hide in plain sight: the boiling of blood.
On a good day, you can practically smell it – the rising pressure of pulsing day-to-day exasperation, as observed in the fraught faces of office dwellers, their muted fury fermenting like cooking oil in a wok. And yet, no-one complains. After all, it’s what they signed up for.
Hearing his colleagues sound off by the water cooler, whinging like wurlitzers with every waltz down his corridor, Wayne was beginning to grow sick of it.
Like old piano wire on the brink of snapping, the dust of his daily tedium was causing his mind to take a turn for the honky tonk. He scowled.
Massaging the creases in his forehead, Wayne sat at his desk gabbling into his phone, repeating those lousy, corporate-approved excuses for what felt like the thousandth time.
He slammed the phone down and sighed, briefly burying his head in his hands.
‘Tell me,’ came a voice beside him. ‘Have you tried yoga?’
Wayne lifted his head up to see Keith looking down at him. The air-con vent gently blew Keith’s tufts of thinning, taupe hair in what seemed like a slo-mo interlude.
Registering the agitated look on Wayne’s face, Keith handed him a flyer. ‘You really should try it,’ he continued, ‘I swear by it.’
Wayne emitted a mild sigh and read the flyer. It was an advert for yoga classes held at his nearby village hall, emblazoned with fancy Hindi calligraphy.
‘Yoga? Really?’ He smiled. ‘You never struck me as the type, Keith…’
‘Oh yes, you best believe it. I love it actually. It’s really not what you think. It’s quite an eye-opener. Are you interested?’
‘I don’t know, mate. It doesn’t sound like the sort of thing I’d go in for.’
Keith tilted his head to one side. ‘Listen,’ he started, ‘I hope you don’t mind me saying so, Wayne, but I can see how pissed off you were after hanging up that phone call just now. I see it every day—’
‘—So what? I’m stressed. Everyone is. It’s part and parcel of working in this bloody place, isn’t it?’
‘Stress is a silent killer, Wayne. You’ve got to kill it before it kills you.’ Keith pointed to the address on the flyer. ‘Trust me, yoga can help you. It will change your life. Next meet-up is tonight at 7pm – the least you can do is come and give it a try eh? First session is free, too. I can’t say fairer than that. What do you say?’
Wayne looked down at the flyer again. ‘I’ll think about it,’ he replied.
Later that evening, Wayne gingerly pushed open the door to the village hall, sporting an old grey hoodie and baggy tracksuit bottoms.
Often used as a community space, the hall had the same vibe as an old school gymnasium; blandly adorned with eggshell-white walls and drab climbing apparatus.
The others in the yoga class had already arrived, each doing stretch exercises. They all looked at Wayne curiously, bending their legs behind them, eyeing him up and down like he was an earwig arriving to an ant farm.
‘Namaste!’ he heard someone say behind him.
Wayne turned around. Stood in front of him was a Caucasian lady dressed in gleaming Kundalini yoga wear and studying him with earth-green eyes. She had dark, shoulder-length hair with streaks of yellow dye in, an ever-so-subtle turmeric tinge to her exotic visage.
The lady held out a tray of Chai drinking glasses, each topped up with a curious, cloudy-looking white liquid.
Wayne picked one up. ‘What is this? Milk?’
‘No, it’s palm wine,’ said the lady. ‘Taken from the sap of the Palmyra palm tree in South India.’
‘Wow. It’s amazing what you can buy in Waitrose nowadays, isn’t it?’
The lady stared at him blankly as Wayne took a sip.
It was then he saw Keith approaching. ‘Wayne, you made it. So good to see you,’ Keith said.
Wayne smiled and clinked an imaginary glass with him. ‘Hi Keith. Look, I’m wearing my only tracksuit for the first time in five years. This best be worth it.’
Keith nodded emphatically. ‘Just relax. You’ll see. This is what it’s all about.’
With that, Keith turned away to resume his stretch exercises. Wayne swallowed the rest of the palm wine and placed it back on the tray.
Pacing his way over to the middle of the hall, Wayne noticed there weren’t any yoga mats around. Worst still, the floor felt sticky with spilt coke and strewn with crumblets and cocktail sticks, presumably from a kids’ party the weekend before.
Wayne took a deep breath. He could detect the vague odour of pickled onion Monster Munch in the air. He shook his head slightly, trying to resist the urge to say something.
Suddenly, a man in white robes stood up in front of the yoga class. He placed his hands together in prayer.
Wayne assumed he must be the yoga teacher, but he looked far too young to be an expert in anything at all really. Like the lady, he was also Caucasian, had blond hair tied up into a man bun, with quite possibly the most expertly-crafted goatee Wayne had seen since Beppe di Marco used to be on EastEnders.
‘Namaste,’ the man said, bowing. ‘Welcome, friends. Welcome.’ The man scanned his eyes over his class and immediately noticed Wayne. ‘Oh… I see we have someone new today… Care to introduce yourself, friend?’
Wayne gulped. ‘Err, sure, I’m Wayne. I work in the same office as Keith here…’ He looked around to locate Keith, who was stood a few metres away from him. Wayne pointed at him. ‘He invited me along to your… yoga club.’
‘Oh, that’s wonderful,’ the man replied. ‘But please – don’t think of this as a club. This is a circle of trust. A sanctum. A sacred mandala inside which all of us are bound by a promise – that the experiences we share today are kept private, intimate and enlightening. Have you ever tried yoga before, Wayne?’
‘Well, this will not be a standard yoga session.’ The man smiled, pointing to his chest. ‘I’m Jolyon and this is my partner Zara.’ Jolyon waved over to the lady who held the tray of drinks earlier. ‘Zara and I discovered this obscure type of yoga we’ll be teaching you today several years ago while backpacking in India. We derive much of our methodology from the hatya school of yogic practice, and it can be summed up in three words…’
‘Ham ek hain!’ the whole class chanted, in unison. Wayne was startled by the surprise outburst.
‘That’s right,’ Jolyon said. ‘Ham ek hain. “We are one.” See, like most of you all here today, I was sick. Sick of Western culture’s lies we’re all spoon-fed from birth. Left anaemic by the spiritual blood-letting that is modern-day capitalism…’
At this point, Wayne’s eyes widened and he looked over at Keith, parting his lips to convey a sense of WTF. This all seemed lost on Keith, who simply just gave Wayne the thumbs up and continued to pay attention to Jolyon’s preamble.
‘I was crushed,’ Jolyon continued, ‘by the soul-crushing conformity of work and the mind-numbing rituals of social climbing. Stress gripped its demonic claws into me, day in and day out, just like it has for many of you here today. I needed more from life. So that’s when Zara and I set off on a gap year to find ourselves.’ He looked over at Zara and gave a nod. ‘And find ourselves we did.’ Then Jolyon looked back at Wayne. ‘And find yourself you shall. Ham ek hain!’
‘Ham ek hain!’ shouted the class again, Keith included. Wayne couldn’t help but roll his eyes.
‘Right, let’s assume the tree pose,’ said Jolyon. ‘Also known as vriksasana.’
Wayne took a look at the others and copied their body movements. He stood on one leg, placing his right foot against his inner thigh, and held his hands above his head in a triangular shape.
‘Imagine yourself as a palmyra palm,’ said Jolyon. ‘Breathe in, like its leaves.’
‘Feel the palm wine you drank earlier coursing through your body,’ said Zara, walking over to stand by Jolyon’s side. ‘Just like the rain soaks into its bark during a tropical storm, feel it seep into you.’
Jolyon closed his eyes, then opened them again. ‘You are at one with the Borassus,’ he said. ‘Breathe out like the breeze.’
Wayne wobbled and lost his footing slightly, stopping for a moment to scratch an itch on his chin, his mind obviously still elsewhere.
Breaking from position and placing both of his feet on the floor, Jolyon clocked Wayne’s small transgression but decided to let it pass. ‘Now, time for trikonasana,’ he said. ‘The triangle pose. Spread your legs like they’re rooted in the earth, and stretch out your right calf muscle…’
Wayne did so, looking to others for some guidance.
‘Raise your left hand,’ said Jolyon, ‘as if you’re branching up to the sky…’
Now bent over, with one hand on his knee, and one in the air, Wayne could feel his hamstring tightening.
‘Through hatya yoga,’ Jolyon continued, ‘we can transcend our deepest troubles. Nothing can uproot us. If the spiritual connection is deep, it’s impossible to unearth it…’
As a form of exercise, Wayne was starting to see the logic in the strenuous nature of this position, but the psycho-spiritual babble accompanying it peeved him slightly.
Next up was bālāsana. ‘It’s time to regress to your child state,’ Zara told the group. ‘Become a seedling once again.’
Everybody in the yoga class, Wayne included, got down on the ground.
Touching the floor, his hands made contact with the sticky glucose of last weekend’s cola spillages – he could even see a half-eaten sausage roll from the kids party within eyeshot. He winced before lowering himself and assuming position.
Now laying on his knees, Wayne found himself facing forward in a prone position, almost curling himself up into a ball, with his arms laying flat by his side.
‘That’s it, Wayne, very good,’ said Jolyon. ‘Now relax those shoulders.’
Zara continued to speak. ‘Whereas once you were a mighty palmyra palm, stretching up to the clouds, you are now a seed. Be ready to be planted in the soil. Be free from all the worries of growth. Your time to sprout is not yet here.’
Everybody in the yoga class lay there for a few minutes, breathing in and breathing out, freeing their minds from the need to be their tree-like selves.
‘Okay, you may all stand,’ Jolyon said.
Wayne picked himself up to his feet and brushed his thighs, smelling like a combination of citrus floor polish and frazzle crumbs.
This yoga lark was beginning to bug him now, as he sort of expected it would. He glanced over at Keith, looking to see how he was getting on, but was surprised to see he hadn’t even got up yet.
In fact, Keith hadn’t moved up from the floor at all. He was still slouched over on his front, his forehead pressing hard against the granwood floor.
‘Keith?’ said Wayne, deciding to take tentative steps over to his side. The others in the yoga class watched on in hushed puzzlement.
Wayne gave Keith a nudge but he didn’t respond. He reached down and placed his finger on Keith’s jugular, gently rocking his shoulder like an unenthusiastic masseur before the dreadful truth presented itself.
Putting his hand up to his mouth in disbelief, Wayne looked up at the others.
‘I think he’s dead,’ he said. ‘I don’t believe this, Keith’s bloody dead…’
There was a temporary outpouring of chitter-chatter in the village hall, with each yoga buddy privately mumbling to the other.
Before long, Jolyon traipsed over to Wayne’s side. He, too, knelt down and felt for Keith’s pulse, his face pained and sorrowful.
Wayne’s immediate urge was to grab for his smartphone. ‘We need to call an ambulance,’ he told Jolyon. ‘Right now…’
‘It’s too late, Wayne,’ Jolyon said. ‘Your friend Keith is dead. Very sudden…’
‘There’s really nothing more we could’ve done,’ Zara chimed in.
‘Well, at the very least, we need to call Keith’s family. They need to know what’s happened here. His body needs to be moved out…’
‘Just think about what you’re saying here, Wayne,’ said Jolyon. ‘Keith here was a huge advocate of hatya yoga; so much so, that he invited you here tonight. Remember what I said earlier? This hall is our mandala. Our sanctum.’
‘It doesn’t change the fact that he’s dead though, does it? Never mind all that sanctum bollocks.’
Wayne heard the others in his yoga class gasp, as if he’d just done something morally repugnant, like putting a baby in a bag and throwing it in the Ganges.
Jolyon took a deep breath, calming himself. Placing his hand on Wayne’s shoulder, he exuded the piety of a lay preacher.
‘This is our sanctum, Wayne. You are new here, so I’ll forgive your churlishness. Keith believed in our teachings, deeply, and minus any doubts. Sadly, he has died in the middle of our yogic ritual tonight, in the middle of bālāsana no less, which means his soul has chosen to take flight and find its higher calling. A very beautiful thing, no matter how sad it makes all of us feel.’ Keith took a moment to hold his hands up and gesticulate to the metaphorical heavens.
Wayne wasn’t quite sure where this was going, but he could see the others in his yoga class reverently nodding their heads.
‘If Keith’s body is removed right now, he will be wrenched away from his pathway to nirvana and will be surrendered to our corrupt Western practices. Is that what you want, Wayne? If we disturb his journey, Keith’s soul will be torn away from our hatya consanguinity, left forever spiralling in limbo. A state far worse than Hell as far as Keith would be concerned. How much do you honour your friend?’
‘Well,’ Wayne began. ‘I wouldn’t exactly call him a friend. I work with him, but it doesn’t seem right not to report his death. Besides, what are you saying exactly?’
‘I am saying how we treat Keith’s body now will affect how he spends the whole of eternity. Our actions at this very moment will prevent Keith’s spirit from being ripped from the bosom of Brahman and thrown into the clutches of Rakshasa. This teaching is central to hatya, as I’m sure Keith would be reminding you now. Our beloved friend. He is on his way to peace now – we must honour that.’
Suddenly, the room erupted with noise when the others in the yoga class let rip with a familiar chant: ‘Ham ek hain!’ they incanted. ‘Ham ek hain!’
Wayne took a confused double-take at Keith’s corpse and gawped at Jolyon bemusedly. ‘I’m still struggling to understand what you’re saying…’
‘The last samskara,’ Jolyon replied.
‘The last what?’
‘Friends, we must take Keith outside.’ Jolyon encouraged the other members of his yoga class to congregate around him. ‘You must assist.’
The yoga class members quickly gathered around Keith’s body and lifted him up, barging Wayne to one side. Supporting Keith’s limbs one by one, they hoisted his body high up into the air and carried him, with Jolyon as their ringleader, making their way to the back of the hall toward a fire exit.
‘Wait!’ Wayne cried. ‘Where are you taking him?’
Wayne felt the calming hand of Zara appear on his shoulder. ‘It’s OK. They are going to cremate him,’ she said.
‘—Cremate him?’ Wayne snapped, incredulously. ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me?!’
‘Don’t worry,’ Zara replied. ‘There’s no need to be fearful, we have a special pyre prepared for this very purpose. Jolyon will recite Vedic prayer to hasten your friend’s path to reincarnation…’
‘But, but, where?’
Zara slowly escorted Wayne into the back garden of the village hall – once there, he could see the others gently lowering Keith’s body onto a pyre. They placed Keith on his back, resting him in a supine pose, before stepping backwards to witness Jolyon’s recital of death rites.
Lying in peaceful repose, Jolyon stood over Keith’s body and raised his arms like a fanatical Maharishi. He was mumbling a short mantra under his breath, before speaking out:
‘Friends, tonight we must silently pay tribute to Keith as we watch him attain moksha. Through flame, his soul can alight according to our creed of hatya – he will finally find ascension, unencumbered by the wiles of Western chicanery. Without our intervention here tonight, Keith’s spirit would have been lost forever. We must do what needs to be done. Ham ek hain.’
Jolyon threw a match onto the pyre as he began chanting a mantra in Sanskrit, repeating the same Vedic phrasings over and over.
Zara gripped Wayne’s shoulder tightly as the fire engulfed Keith, immersing him in orange light with smoke billowing in great gusts.
As Wayne watched, through the ash-laden mist in front of his eyes, Wayne could hear the others in his yoga class start to intone loudly:
‘HAM EK HAIN…HAM EK HAIN…HAM EK HAIN…’
Whilst witnessing the flames lick and lap over Keith’s body, crackling like the sound of a well-worn vinyl, Wayne could feel something moving in him. He felt strangely comforted by the warmth of the heat against his face. What he was witnessing, despite feeling illicit at first forethought, now seemed oddly moving.
He looked over at the other yoga class members and they all smiled at him warmly. This peculiar feeling arose in him, familiar yet alien too, with the words of Jolyon’s ancient ceremonial antyesti soothing all his doubts. It was inescapable, timeless, flowing over him as if his sense of self were caught in the currents of a spiritual riptide.
Wayne found himself thinking about life, death, and everything in between. He saw the cosmos arranging itself kaleidoscopically before him and then dissolving like time lapse footage of shattered glass forming into a crystal skull.
Just like storm clouds ebbing and falling away, all was here today, gone tomorrow, but forever there nonetheless. Ever-changing, ever-knowing, and everlasting. Wayne could see it now, for the first time.
He felt visions come and go; entering and exiting his mind like dancing fireflies whilst he stood under the night’s sky, dispelling all sense of time and logic in his own headspace as he watched the fires bounce across Keith’s remains. He found himself weeping uncontrollably, not of sadness, but of pure unbridled joy.
It was indescribable. Soon, by the night’s end, Wayne had embraced the others in his yoga class in a highly emotional huddle formation, united by their shared understanding of hatya and spiritually transformed by collective mourning.
Now initiated, Wayne understood. It all made perfect sense.
He smiled. He belonged.
Back at the office the following week, Wayne walked into the copy room carrying some paperwork, only to see the office intern frustratedly thumping on the company printer.
‘Stupid, bloody thing!’ the intern yelped, giving the machine a damn good kick, letting rip in a flash fit of rage.
Wayne could see the same stressful glint in this boy’s eyes he once had, now expunged from his being thanks to the blessed discovery of hatya yoga teachings.
As if by dint of a miracle, he knew exactly what to suggest:
‘Tell me,’ Wayne found himself saying. ‘Have you tried yoga?’
© 2018 Luke Edley
Humorous fiction writer, poet and aspiring novelist. Fond of satire. Interested in comic novels, black comedy and tales of satirical derring-do.