The seventh day in my new flat, I found a worm in the fridge. It was flat, black and dead. I quite like interesting animals, but not this one – it looked remarkably like a leech. Where had it come ... [+]
"Yeah," Darius said into the phone as Jessica, the receptionist, made no attempt to disguise her eavesdropping. "I just finished the work-trade shift and will take a class with Hannah. After, I'll grab some take-out. What do you think about pot-stickers from King Dong?"
He stared at Jessica until she looked away and tried to focus on the phone call. He wished he still had a cell-phone and some semblance of privacy, but Cindy did make a convincing argument about the possible side-effects of telephone air waves and what they could do to his body. She was right. He might want kids one day.
"But King Dong is right down the street. I don't want to drive all the way to Oakland." The air conditioning kicked on and cool air washed over his shoulders.
"Ok. Yes, I love you. I'll grab the food at Uncle Chow's. It'll take a little longer."
Darius hung up, glared at Jessica, and then walked to the locker room. The Funky Door Bikram yoga studio had two locker rooms, and they offered showers, changing areas, and complimentary towels to the yogis who had just sweated out the everyday toxins of life.
Darius changed into basketball shorts and left his shoes and socks in his locker. During his first class, Darius had learned that heat dissipates most quickly through the extremities, so bare feet were a blessing while doing yoga in a 104-degree room.
Darius walked up to the front desk and grabbed a yoga mat, which reeked of tea-tree oil. They all did. The majority of his work-trade shift consisted of washing towels, vacuuming the floor, and spraying the mats with the foul-smelling oil. It seemed an easy price to pay for free yoga for Cindy.
He entered the glass-walled studio, taking a favorite spot by the slightly open window. The instructor, Hannah, walked into the room shortly after. She went straight for Darius's window and closed it.
"How are you, Darius?" Hannah asked, patting him on the shoulder as the class started Pranayama breathing.
It took a moment for Darius to remember that she was addressing him. After twenty-six years of living as James, the new name still threw him, particularly pronounced the way that Cindy insisted would be the coolest: Dar-Ee-Us. His arms flexed like butterfly wings underneath his chin as he breathed in slow and deep from his nose.
"I'm good, Hannah. Thank you."
Hannah smiled back. "OK, folks, it's time for Half-Moon."
As one, the class raised their arms above their heads, clasped their hands together, pointed their index fingers up, and kept their legs locked as they moved their upper bodies until each resembled a crescent moon.
"Been going to Baker Beach?" Hannah whispered in Darius's ear. "You look tan."
Darius imagined that he was blushing but wasn't sure if he was, or if anyone else could see it. Actually, Darius had not been to Baker or any other beach. In fact, he was in serious need of vitamin D. Between taking business classes at Laney Junior College, bartending at the Albatross, and spending eight hours a week doing work-trade at the studio, his skin had become glow-in-the-dark pale.
That was until he visited his buddy's new tanning salon. Darius was his first experiment in the newest evolution in tanning science: the Mystic Tan. Sadly, there was not much mystical about being sprayed with an orange dye while holding one's breath. Darius emerged into a hazy Berkeley day as an orange caricature of himself. The good news was that Cindy loved tan skin but hated skin cancer, so Darius had found another perfect way to please her.
"Something like that."
It was a pose he didn't care for, mostly because it didn't seem to serve much of a purpose. But life was like that. Sometimes you did things that didn't make any sense. Like when Cindy talked him into joining the protest at Cal. It was all centered around the removal of trees for the new student athletic training center. He ate, slept, and read books while perched precariously high in a tree, and he even took shits in a plastic bucket before his savings were depleted. Chief Zachary RunningWolf didn't even say thank you. Not even when Darius volunteered to pose nude for the TreeSpirit photo shoot.
"Get on the floor," Hannah said. She clapped her hands, as she often did this far in. Darius figured it was some kind of engagement tactic she'd picked up at a seminar. "Cobra Pose."
Darius laid face-down, up close with the stink of the tea-tree oil. With his palms flat, he rotated his shoulders back. Looking in the mirror, he had to stifle a laugh. The class didn't look like cobras or any other snake for that matter. Darius was an expert after Cindy had sent him for a month to the Rock House Holiness Church on Sand Mountain in northeastern Alabama to learn the art of snake handling. He had learned more about the Bible and anti-venom in that month than most people learn in a lifetime. It had been a surprisingly peaceful time. Often he had stayed after the services to sweep up the hardwood floors. Invariably he would find some discarded snake skin and he loved how it felt between his fingers and thumbs. He imagined how good that metamorphosis must feel, being too large for your skin and changing into something newer and bigger.
"Wind Removing Pose," Hannah said.
Darius laid flat on his back, pulled his knees to his torso, and wrapped his arms around. A woman let loose a squeaky fart into the otherwise silent room. Most of the class giggled or blushed. But not Darius. In fact, he was a bit jealous.
Darius missed farting. Cindy had suggested an experimental surgery to keep him from stinking up the bedroom, and now when gas needed to be released, it escaped in silent puffs from his ears. Hardly any smell, no noise, but he had to clean his ears three times a day with Q-tips and saline.
"Phoenix pose!" Two claps.
Darius stood, intertwined his ankles, pulled his shoulders back, and raised his hands. They didn't look anything at all like phoenixes, but sometimes you just had to go with the flow. That's what Darius had learned in his practice as a yogi: Just go with it. Shortly after starting at the Funky Door, Darius had spent months trying to track a phoenix down after Cindy saw Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. If Dumbledore could have a phoenix as a pet, why not Cindy? Darius learned the hard way that the city of Phoenix was not, in fact, named after the avian inhabitants, but rather a play on words. Once he realized this, he obsessed over the concept of something new and beautiful rising from the ashes of the old. He drove around aimlessly searching the skies for a bird engulfed in flames.
It was around that time that Darius decided to light his left arm on fire; Cindy complained that it was weaker than his dominant, right arm. Rather than a shiny new appendage, Darius received a lumpy red arm that was somehow even weaker. The skin graft was a miracle of modern science, but Darius still longed for the mystical change that a phoenix represented. He ended up getting a tattoo of a phoenix on the arm, and the melding of the scarred flesh and ink impressed Cindy enough that she ultimately dropped the subject.
When the pose was finished, Darius looked through the window at the clock on the wall by Jessica. She was looking at him while laughing into the phone. Darius squinted his eyes and moved his gaze back to the ceiling. He noticed something in his peripheral vision. The once white towel he stood on was as tan as he was. In fact, it was tanner.
"Great class," Hannah said. "Shake it out."
Darius looked reluctantly at the mirror. Orangish drops of sweat dotted his brow like a mutant version of chicken pox before dripping down his face and onto his towel. Would tea-tree oil cover that shit up? he thought. As he saw the streaks of orange flowing down his legs, he felt like a snake shedding its skin. He wondered, seeing the towel at his feet saturated with orange, when the transformation was complete, what would he look like, who would he be, and would Cindy still love him? Particularly when he came home with take-out from King Dong?