One thing I am good for is my word, so come the following Tuesday, I was happily having lunch in the cafeteria with Paul instead of navel gazing with Dr Geoff Masters and his female disciples.
It was the first time I’d caught up with Paul in a week, so I filled him in on a few things, including the meditation group. I deliberately avoided the bit about the rustic guy with the beard passing pieces of wisdom to me as I meditated.
“Sounds cool,” Paul said, stuffing half a chicken into his mouth. “I’ve always wanted to join a meditation group. Maybe I can come along next time.”
I was more than a little surprised. I had half expected him to laugh at me.
“What the hell? I thought you were the skeptical, computer nerd type. Anyway, I’m not going back.”
“Hey, don’t pigeon hole me, dude. I may have a critical mind, but I’m not a bigot. My mother is a psychologist, and she meditates all the time. She’s up on all the research too. There’s plenty of literature which ways that meditation helps you relax and makes you smarter.”
“I wish I had a mother like that.”
The corner of Paul’s mouth creased up as it often did when he was thinking about something.
“I suppose she’s OK,” he said. “She’s a bit out of touch with the modern world, but I respect her professional honesty. She knows what she is talking about when it comes to this kind of thing. I’ve actually done one or two meditations with her.”
I’d never have expected this from Paul. Deep down I’d always thought he was the shallow type. I decided to let him know something.
“I was the only guy in the room, except for the teacher. It was full of women.”
I suddenly felt a bit defensive.
“Yeah, one or two were alright. I think one of them liked me.”
“You sure they didn’t pump some hallucinogens through the air conditioning, dude?”
“Just jokin’, bro.” Paul reached over and slapped me on the shoulder. “So if she likes you, why aren’t you going back?”
“Like I said, I think she likes me.”
Paul half choked on his chicken as he let out a laugh. “She must be mighty fugly then.” The term ‘fugly’ was an acronym, short for “fucking ugly”.
I felt my face going red. If there was anyone who was going to beat me up, it was going to be me.
“No,” I said dryly. “As a matter of fact she’s pretty cute. But two can play the game of rejection. Only I’m playing it first.”
“You’re a funny guy, Greg.” Then he wiped his hands on a napkin, and delivered the dictum, like the local parish persist. “You’re going back, and I’m coming too. I’ll be glad to take her off your hands.”
After my last lecture I trudged back along the trail towards the Hall. It was 5pm, so everyone was heading back. I passed by the office on the way to my room. The officious young office lady, Maria, was at the window as usual.
She looked at me blankly as I stood there. Dr Blackpool, the bearded, middle aged Edwards Hall manager was standing around behind her, doing whatever he did whenever he wasn’t acting like a fascist goon. We usually just called him “The Doc.”
“Hi, I would like to request a special meal form.”
“Is that for religious reasons or some other particular requirement?” Maria said like she was auditioning for the role of Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. She had dark blue eyes. Beautiful, but cold.
“Um, nothing to do with my religion. I prefer not to eat red meat, and there’s a too much red meat on the menu for me. I’d like to eat only chicken and meat in terms of animal protein.”
“A chicken is not an animal. But why do you not want to eat other meat?”
“Oh, it’s just for health reasons”, I said blankly. For some reason, when I spoke to Maria, I always felt just as stark, cold and soulless as she seemed to be. It was like her robot efficiency was contagious. “I’ve been reading about it a little lately, and eating red meat can lead to serious health problems, so…”
I never got to finish. Suddenly a great boom of thunder smashed into my eardrums. It wasn’t a terrorist airstrike. It was Dr Blackpool, as he marched over to the office counter, placed his hands aggressively on the counter, leaned over and began to yell at me.
“Bullshit! What utter bullshit!” I could see the red veins in his cheeks glowing. “How do you know what the latest research is!? Have you read the literature?”
The blast was so sudden and unexpected, I barely knew how to respond. “Uh, n… no.” I then straightened and added something just slightly forcefully enough to surprise myself. “I don’t need to read everything to know what’s good for me.”
“Bullshit, kid! If you don’t like what we serve up here, then you can get the hell out of Edwards Hall!”
He made an almost obscene gesture with a flailing arm as he pivoted and marched back to whatever he was doing before. Maria looked at me, taking a deep breath. “I’d say that’s a no,” she said quietly enough so that the Doc didn’t hear.
I walked away briskly, headed straight to my room, and slumped at my desk. Some other students had mentioned the Doc’s explosive temper. Now I had witnessed it for myself. To tell you the truth, I was scared. And angry. Was the guy a fucking psychopath or something? What the hell was wrong him? Couldn’t a guy ask for a decent, healthy meal around this place without being verbally assaulted?
I looked down and noticed my hands were shaking. My heart was beating fast in my chest, and my breathing was shallow. A cracking headache had begun to pound my temples.
That was when I made a decision. Or was it that the decision made me?
The reason was simple. I needed to calm down. So I focused upon the breath moving in and out of my chest. I began to relax, and as thoughts of the Doc moved into my mind, I tried to let them go. Then they would return and I would let them go again.
It didn’t work. The anger just seemed to sit there like a great ball of fire inside me.
It was when I was about to give up that I saw him. He was a child of about three or four. His eyes were red, sad; and I heard the sound as clear as if he was right before me. The crying. I opened my eyes and looked behind me, half expecting the child to be there. But there was nothing. The room was empty. The fading light of day had left it dark and empty and I was alone.