Henry liked the way the building was connected to the parking garage. It had double glass doors on a second level opening onto a full glass walkway leading to the main offices. There was a nice lightness to the pathway and it always felt like a good start the day strolling through the sunshine even though it often opened doors onto a landscape of slow torture and “death” from non-action, indecision and loneliness. He had just arrived for the day and was just entering the walkway, heading diagonally towards the office when he saw Ralph ahead in his usual blue tie and wrinkled shirt, carrying a shoe box and moving at a hurried pace with Vice President O’Brien ahead of him in his freshly-pressed business suit. Ralph’s shoe suddenly caught the carpet a bit and with a stutter step, The box that he was carrying popped out of his arms sending one of the sneakers flying up in the air, in an arc that headed straight towards the back of Vice President O’Brien’s head hitting him as it descended. O’Brien stopped dead in his tracks and stood there, still for a long moment. Ralph stepped forward to pick up the blue tissue paper and the two shoes that had fallen out from his hands and he muttered, “I’m very sorry.”
O’Brien only turned around slowly to face Ralph and gave him a strong, blue-eyed glare. “Did you just throw a shoe at the back of my head?” O’Brien asked as he tensed up in such a way that he started turning a bit red.
“Sorry, no. I was walking fast and the box popped out of my hands. I think I was squeezing the box too tight,” Ralph said as he stood up.
O’Brien stood still, kept silent while everyone around him watched on. Henry stepped forward.
“I saw it Tom. It just flew out. It was an accident,” Henry intervened.
O’Brien turned his head and stormed off toward the office entrance in silence.
“Sorry!” Ralph called out again in a muffled voice.
Henry gave Ralph a nod and then headed through the doors and into the inner office. It was modern and dark. Ralph went right through a doorway ahead of everyone and down the rows and rows of cubicles to the second row from the back where his desk was located. Henry put down his overstuffed backpack, pulled out his lunch, his laptop, turned on his computer and sat down, all in a very automated sequence.
“Hey, are you done rewriting the Quest program?” Henry’s boss Rob asked leaning over the cubicle wall, as he casually stepped backwards to the back aisle of the cubicle farm with his untucked white shirt and half tied tie. Rob was tall with a marine style hair could and could easily look down at everything you were doing. He always started the day aggressively with his “carpe diem” coffee mug in his hand and a smug smile for those he approached.
“Good morning Rob. I just got in,” Henry said as he logged into his computer. he had seen Rsob pull in behind him in the parking lot. He did not want to talk to Rob so he quickly got out of his car, ran up the parking stairs, made it to the glass corridor and into the office before Rob could catch up to him. Rob still showed up early at Henry’s cubicle anyway.
“I was going to get back to it right now.”
“Good. Good. I just don’t want us to get backed into a wall with projects. Do you need help?” Rob asked.
“No, I got it,” Henry said. Help meant Rob standing over his shoulder for a few hours asking questions and slowing things down. Henry was determined to get the project done but hated the interruptions that were put on him like ants climbing over his hands. Rob was always a distraction and Henry needed to concentrate. It was hard in the gray cubicle in the middle of the row with nothing else but a desktop computer on the floor. A lonely keyboard, a mouse sitting on an old mouse pad with the logo of a bankrupt company kept him occupied enough. He managed to not listen to anything outside of this four by four foot box they called his office for nearly eight hours straight per day.
“I got a question for you,” Rob asked as he half sat on his desk. “Do you like it here?”
Henry paused and tried not to look annoyed by the interruption. He did not like it here and wanted to be far away from here. He was hesitant to tell his boss these very thoughts so he kept his true feelings to himself so he could keep his job. “Sure,” Henry said outrightly lying to Rob’s face.
“Cause sometimes it just seems like you aren’t happy here the way you keep to yourself and how quiet you are,” Rob said as he leaned in closer. Henry could smell the egg sandwich and aftershave on his face, so Henry leaned back in his chair to escape the conflicting odoriferous scents.
“I am just doing the work,” Henry said with some nonchalance.
Rob nodded with his disapproving smile. “OK, Buddy,” and walked away.
Henry leaned forward, looked at the screen and took a deep breath and thought of the time. It was before nine so he still had a long haul ahead of him. He had been at DynaPro for seven months already, rewriting buggy uncommented java code that had been acquired from other smaller startups DynaPro had swallowed up in the sea of medical billing software solution companies. He was in other words, the garbage man of the programing world, sifting through the recyclables and throwing out the trash while notating the results. It was not fun work. Henry was not even sure how he gotten to this level - or if he should even wonder why. He could sit there for hours, rehashed his past professional choices in his mind; a series of “am I going to program in this language or that”, “work for this company or that”, “make this much money or that”, or “live here or there” strings of questions would loop around and around in the peripheral free-spaces of his mind. He had always taken the easiest path to answering these questions and that is precisely how he had ended up here, at DynaPro working for Rob.
He did not hate Rob. No, he actually liked him. He pretty much liked everyone. He just did not like the way the projects were always driven at high speed with Henry in the front seat catching all the flack for not being fast enough even though there was no one else to do the job while Rob rode him with never-ending amounts of sarcasm.
The other folks sitting down the two grey cubicle rows were systems, network, and other sorts of engineers; Ed, Gavin, and Ralph respectively. Henry liked them too for the most part but they all hated Rob. It was constant whisper conversations back and forth about how ridiculous it was to have the place run by a big headed guy who had overextended himself and made everyone feel on edge and totally inadequate.
“Hey. When did you get in?” Henry said across the aisle to Gavin.
“I got here at five man. I rebooted the nexus after an upgrade,” Gavin said rolling back from his desk with his very skinny and long tie draped between his legs.
“Did it all go well?” Henry asked.
“Not even a hiccup,” Gavin said as he yawned and reached over for his cup of coffee.
Henry opened the Quest program he was supposed to be cleaning up. It was on his desktop so he double clicked it and his editor popped up. Shit. He just wanted to go home. Henry thought of multiple reasons he could give to get out of here as he scrolled through the code. I can’t take it, he thought. I hate this. Eight hours. OK. Four hours then lunch. Jesus.
“Morning all,” Ed said as he walked past Henry’s cube to the one next to the window.
“Morning.” Henry said as his panic was still setting in.
“Jesus, I am tired. I have to learn to bail out of a mission so I can go to bed, but people these days just don’t like timeouts. We were tearing it up again man. You should have seen it!” Ed extolled as he sat down in his chair his wavy hair bouncing as he moved around to settle in.
“How many hours have you logged on that game. You are totally going to die of thrombosis and what will you have to show for it,” Ralph asked.
“Pride and glory. Pride and glory,” Ed said from within the shadowy realm of his cubicle.
Ed was the most disgruntled of them all and laughed about it in a dry sardonic way that left you wondering why he even bothered to show up, but he did. He walked into his cube, put down his backpack on his expensive Sennheiser headphones and as with most mornings, he would go into his own world, ignoring his surroundings completely and severely. Ed had been at the job for seven years running their networks and had it down to some simple key presses so that he could then enjoy some music and get some reading done. Henry watched as Ed checked his network monitoring system and he thought back to last year when Ed’s wife left him and he wondered what it was like being alone again and how hard it had been to get back to being at peace. Henry wasn’t there. Maybe he just needed to take it easy. He thought that things would turn out alright for him, he just wasn’t sure about some the people around him. He wondered if Rob was even slightly happy in his life. Henry did not buy the shit he blurted out. Henry took a breath and sat back in his chair and pictured Gavin in pressed shorts throwing a barbecue with a bunch of people who were way overdressed for eating ketchup drenched cow’s flesh. It was winter now, Henry quickly changed his thoughts as he realised he needed to calm down.
It was sunny out this morning and a beam of light came through the shades just hitting Henry’s foot, at the edge of his desk. He glanced down at the bright spot and then slowly back to his flickering screen. He needed the sun. He needed the space. He just needed to get out of there, today. Just for one day. His body stood up before he had even made a mental decision to leave and he grabbed his jacket and said, “Guys, I am not feeling well and I am going home. Will you tell Rob when he comes by?”
“Really, Henry?” Ed asked. “On a Monday you feel sick. Oh no. I do too. I feel sick. Sick of work. Go home you lazy bastard.”
“Sure. Man. Feel better,” Ralph said as he tapped away at the keyboard. Henry walked away and out of the office through the sunlit glass hallway and back into the day.
Henry knew that he needed something new today. He walked to his car in the garage next to the building, got into his car and sat for a minute thinking of what he would do next. He had read about a variety of groups to join in town; a walking club, a nature club, a book club, but they all sounded boring. He had also been thinking he should get in shape and maybe put some muscle on his skinny frame and around the corner from his house down on the secondary main street there was a yoga studio called Studio of Love and Light. He disliked the name but had seen a number of attractive women come and go from classes there and Henry was feeling rather isolated at work at home and in general. Maybe he should try it, he thought. He checked his phone and saw there was a class at ten-thirty this morning. Perfect.
Henry started the car and drove home. He walked into his apartment and wondered what he would wear to class as he did not have any of the trendy yoga pants that he liked to look at on other’s bodies so he walked into the bedroom and put on a pair of sweatpants and a black tee shirt. He had some time so he went into the kitchen to make some coffee. He was taking another day off and he was letting Rob know before he left. Meh. He was sick of the place and needed to just get the work done but he was not going to be forced to act enthusiastically so he was going to take his leave as the company gave their staff “leave” without much questioning.
Henry poured a cup of coffee and looked at his phone for a moment. The news was the same as yesterday except worse. It seemed that the more time he spent reading the news the more he wondered why in the world he was even here on the planet. Where was “it” all going to end up, this “progress toward something”. Everyone thinks it is so important to make progress; more jobs, more people, more everything, but Henry did not see where this was all going. In fact, no one ever seems to mention that they did not actually know what the progress did, except bring up closer to the end of the world. At any any rate, he was going to try harder to enjoy himself, engage in life and for the love of God, meet a woman that would like him. It had been too long.
He had dated a few times in his life but every relationship had more or less slowly died off with less contact, less emotions or just less of everything until there was nothing left. There was never any drama or any extreme emotions, he just felt dull at some point and right now he wanted something to turn his life over on its head. He grabbed his keys and walked out the door.
It was bright and sunny with an ice cold wind blowing down the road. The trees moved back and forth and people huddled and skirted quickly across the sidewalks. He walked up the steps and went right toward the main street of Geneva, New York. It was a quaint little college town with an art community, some tech companies in a little enclave on the outskirts of where Henry worked. He walked past brick three story buildings that made up the downtown with shops at the bottom. The closest to his house was a coffee shop called Dominick's Cafe where Dominick worked and lived with his artist wife Claire. They were a younger inked couple from the city. She had pinkish hair and a bunch of Maori symbols on her arms and he had a shaved head and a steam train coming out of a tunnel on his large bicep with the words “I think I can” written underneath it. They were nice enough and had good coffee but today Henry just walked by and waved to Claire who was behind the counter.
He turned the corner and nearly bumped into a man wearing a trenchcoat and a wide brimmed hat. A newspaper blown by the wind flew suddenly between them and Henry did a kick step backwards with his right foot to turn around and avoid a collision. Henry hunkered his head down into his jacket as the wind hit him straight in the face while he walked the last two blocks to the yoga studio. There was some traffic but not much and only a few folks on the streets. It was a Tuesday and cold so most were in their offices staying out of the elements.
It was nine fifty when Henry arrived for his first yoga class at the Studio of Love and Light. Henry was consummately early for everything and extremely early for new things. He was easily flustered and wanted to be sure he did everything right and did not embarrass himself. He opened the door and a bell chimed behind him.
“Welcome,” a smiling slender bright eyed woman in yoga pants and a light blue athletic shirt with the words “yoga for life, life for yoga” in a wispy font on the front as she stepped forward out from the practice floor which was a little podium up at the front next to a bulletin board in a wide open space that you could see into from the street.
“Hi. Henry,” he announced as they shook hands. “I am here for the nine o’clock class.”
“Have you ever been here before?” she asked her smile unmoved.
“No. I have never done yoga before.”
“OK. Well, let me get you settled in before we get started.”
She grabbed a yoga mat from a pile along the wall. “ You can borrow a mat for today but you will need to get your own if you keep coming back. It is more hygienic.” She guided him to the back of the open room and spread the mat out in the corner away from a few other students who were getting ready.
“Go ahead and take a seat and Melanie will be starting class in a little bit. You can pay me after. Enjoy.” She turned and went back to the door where a couple of other women were walking in with yoga pants and jackets on holding colorful rolled up mats.
Henry sat down on the mat and watched as several people lined their mats up in parallel to the sidewall as his mat was. There were no other men in the studio at all. The walls were bare brick with some abstract paintings of pink white and purple blurred dancers with clouds around them. There was also some writings on scrolls of affirmations in bouncy calligraphic writing. One said “The divine light in me bows to the divine light in you” and another “Feel good, be good and do good. Namaste”
A slender woman with a long ponytail came through a doorway at the back of the room and clapped, “Hello all.”
“Hi,” a short pregnant woman in all brown said back from the side of the room.
“Hi, Melanie,” said the taller black woman with multicolored flowing yoga shirt and pants and dreadlocks up in a bun next to her.
“OK,” Melanie said clapping again,. “Let’s get started.” There were eight women on the floor with Henry now; some stretching, others just sitting and waiting. The woman who was at the door stood at the podium typing at a computer.
“I see we have the usual group and a couple of new people so let me start by introducing myself. I am Melanie and I am instructor here at the Studio of Love and Light and have been here for five years. I have studied Hatha, Bikram, and Vinyasa yoga and have a certification from the The Yoga School of Ithaca. I like to start the class by setting an intention. If all of you will sit in Sukhasana,” Melanie bowed slowly in silence.
Everyone moved to sit cross legged so Henry did the same.
“Good, now remember it might be known as the easy pose but you want to be sure your spine is straight with your chin up and the top of the head lifted as if it is on a string. Now go ahead and close your eyes and set an intention. What do you want to enhance and express in yourself today? Think of it and then take a deep breath close your eyes and hold.” she said as she walked down between the rows of people on mats. They were seated in three rows, two of three and one of two in the back where Henry was over near the wall. He did not know what to set his intentions to since he had never really set an intention other than to get through something like a day of work. Maybe he could set his today to enjoying this class. And yes, that would definitely work for today.
“OK. Good. Exhale and breathe gently now,” she said softly as she stepped up to the front and tapped on her phone. A soft sounding music whispered out of a small pair of bluetooth speakers at the front of the room. “Let’s begin with Balasana.” Henry glanced around and sized up his fellow yogis as he mimicked what the others were doing. There was a larger woman sitting in the back next to him and she went down on her knees and bent her head to the floor. “Breathe in, hold and breathe out,” Melanie directed as she herself followed her words.
Henry followed along as best he could as she called out poses and told them to hold and breathe. She came over at one point and pushed down on his buttocks while he held a plank position but other than that she did not interact with him directly at all. Henry was getting a little sweaty and was surprised at the burning session growing in his limbs. He knew it was exercise but it looked so slow and easy. The other women varied in age. Some were twenty something friends, an obvious couple, and a couple of upper middle aged women all following along just fine. Henry was slow to get into position and when he did, he did not find them particularly hard to get into but holding them burned after a few seconds. This went on for the fifty-five minutes and in the end, they lie in a corpse pose consisting of lying flat on the floor and relaxing. Henry like this one the most.
“Well, I hope you all enjoyed it. Namaste,” said Melanie beaming as she slowly bowed her head down while everyone started to rise and bow. Henry felt good but still empty. He thought perhaps he would go have a drink now when Melanie approached from the side and put her hand on his arm.
“You did well...umm?”
“Henry. Nice to meet you,” he said, pulling back his arm so he could extend his hand towards hers. She took his hand but without the usual handshake.
“Did you like the class?” Melanie asked.
“Yes, it was fine,” Henry said backing sideways towards the door awkwardly.
“Melanie,” she said smiling. She was so bright and shiny, it really took Henry back. Her presence inherently made him feel like his state of mind was a maelstrom of negative malfeasance defiling a flower. He struggled to smile politely and stammered a “I enjoyed the class and I will be back...”
She was so lovely and smelled so good, Henry tried to appear like a happy person and extended his hand again. “Namaste?” he spat out in a panic.
“Sounds good, Henry. Namaste,” and with these last words he opened the door and headed back home.
Melanie turned towards the practice area and started gathering up some wayward blocks and blankets when the bell above the door sounded again. Melanie glanced up and saw her friend Rachel walking in. Melanie knew she was probably here for the next class that was being led by another teacher. Rachel had been to Melanie’s class a few times and was becoming a good yogi in Melanie’s mind. When they first met, Melanie felt some air of distance between them that she could not quite make out. As they practiced together however, they became good friends and Melanie began to really appreciate Rachel. They subsequently took classes together with other teachers that they both felt most in tune with, from a more spiritual side and would often go to tea to talk about it. On one occasion over the last summer they were sitting in front of the downtown cafe when a bird landed on the table in front of them.
“Oh my,” Rachel gasped as she quickly stepped back from her chair.
“I think it's a raven,” Melanie said, without even moving and calmly sipping her tea while pointing at the bird with the other hand. “I think it means good luck, Rachel. I just hope it doesn’t poop!”
The raven walked back and forth across the table a couple of time and then flew away.
“Good luck?” Rachel asked. “How come it frightens me then?”
“Are you OK?” Melanie asked leaning forward and reaching out for her hand.
“Yes....I am fine. I just felt a little out of it today, you know...lost, and then this bird just made me jump,” Rachel trailed off as she sat back down.
“It was kind of random but that is how life is,” Melanie said pulling her hair back into a ponytail. “Is something going on with you?”
“I just feel out of place all of the time. For some reason I just can’t let myself be,” Rachel said fidgeting and looking off to the hillside ahead. “I am beginning to think that even in yoga I need to find a better way to just be. You have been great teacher but I think I might have to find another teacher.”
“I totally understand, Rachel. We are all teaching each other. Don’t feel bad about it,” Melanie said. “Why don’t you try some reading first. The bookstore has a good yoga section. Look for ‘Living Your Yoga.’ That really is a good start,” Melanie said as she slid her phone down into her purse while fishing out a few dollars she laid out on the table. “I gotta go. I don’t think you have to look too far to find your center. Just get into some meditation like I taught you before. I’ll see you in class!”
With that Melanie smiled, stood up and started to walk away.
“OK,” Rachel replied. “I guess I will check out the bookstore then.”
The bookstore was only just down the street. Rachel waved to Melanie as she walked away and continued to sit for a few moments longer.
Melanie realized today that she had not even said hello to Rachel since that conversation and she was already packed up and ready to go. Rachel was already on the floor in a sitting position, ready for her class. Melanie looked towards her, hoping for some eye contact so she could wave but none came her way. Respectful of one’s pre-yoga space, Melanie walked out the door into the cold evening air.