The following is a short story I wrote for an online exhibition at the beginning of pandemic-induced lockdowns in 2020.
Moe carefully rearranges the Hungry-Man meal onto a plate. He sits cross-legged in front of the monitor screen on the floor, propping up the fake velvet blanket he had bought from Costco underneath him. Sitting on the floor like this wasn't the image of independence Moe had in mind when moving out. But before doubt can creep and grow in his mind he types into his browser "is eating on the floor healthy". Asian Institute of Medical Sciences provides a long list of benefits to sitting and eating on firm ground asserting "ensure that you begin your meal sitting on the floor, with your loved ones and avoid indulging in television during meals."
Moe feels justified. Maybe he's better off cancelling that teak table he ordered. He recalls the last communication he had with the store when they called him two days ago. "Uhh, Mao? Yeah looks like your dining table's not arriving this week." "Do you know when it'll arrive?" "No. I'd say with the world going to pieces we don't know when your table will arrive in Canada. I can give you the depot's number to check with them." "Oh, I have to check with them?" "Look, you don't have to do anything buddy but our store will be closing indefinitely so you might wanna take their number". Moe could feel the guy rolling his eyes through the phone. Disoriented, he complied by taking the number. That was his last chance to cancel the order and get a refund.
After taking the first bite, ignoring the part of the article about avoiding television, he asks Siri to play a Youtube video putting his faith in the algorithm. Freddie Freeloader by Miles Davis plays. The richness of jazz makes his pre-packaged meal even blander so he skips the video looking for something educational. The truth is since moving out, the sound of people simply talking has been more comforting to Moe's loneliness than music. The second video is a TED Talk about Transcendental Meditation (TM).
Moe vaguely remembers trying some kind of meditation before giving up. Perhaps the reason was false expectations. This meditation coach, Bhagavan Raj, helps clarify that the purpose of TM is not necessarily to transcend or to experience awakening. How unreasonable it had been of Moe to give up meditation because after a few times he hadn’t become enlightened.
On the stage, there is plenty of space to move, yet Bhagavan Raj doesn't make full use of the space nor his body, giving the impression of efficiency and an economy of movement. Moe can't think of anyone in his life bearing such stillness and thank God for this, because he is drawn to people with interesting body language. Who cares if they use more energy than required to communicate.
He thinks of his coworker, Parth, an eclectic type who whenever talking about something imaginative brings his hands close to each other in front of his stomach as if holding an imaginary ball only to swing them outwards, upwards and away from each other inflating the imaginary ball into a giant ball making Moe nervous of it popping at any moment. And yet under a different circumstance, he will rest the tip of his stretched fingers onto each other not letting them come apart, making a diamond to signify the clarity of rationale in which he speaks or at least thinks he does.
Moe thinks back to a group of young poets he saw perform at a cafe a while ago. Reciting their poetry, at some passionate point they almost unanimously would close their fists, but not too tight, in such a way that Moe imagined something delicate was being held, concealed in their hand, something far too fragile to be looked at.
Moe's mind travels further back to one of his professors, Dr. Meaghan Birch. She could have been talking at the speed of light but if mid-sentence the right word eluded her she would bring her lecture to a halt. Instead of resorting to the next best word, she'd stare at the corner where the wall and ceiling met with a slant in her neck silently weighing two different words in her hands. A whole minute could go by silently like this. Most students considered this an annoyance but Moe knew as well as Dr. Birch that the right word and our search for it is what keeps the lecture hall from falling down, it is exactly what keeps the ceilings of the world attached to the walls of the world. Moe would watch Meaghan's hands closely to see if the candidate word would weigh equally against the ideal word.
For some reason the memory of Dr. Birch's hands now makes him remember her as Meaghan although they were far from being on a first-name basis. In fact, he never did summon the courage to speak with her.
Moe did however tell Parth that he appreciates his body language. Parth found this weird until Moe added the fact that he is hard of hearing in one ear. This was last week, before they were asked to not come to work until things clear up.
Although Bhagavan Raj doesn’t use his hands to talk, Moe remains drawn to his message. He only wishes that the camera would zoom in on the man’s face rather than wasting the frame on his immobile arms. Even some movement of the eyebrows or a wrinkle of the forehead would satisfy him. “All these gurus, how can they talk so passionately and yet be so static in their body?” He whispers to himself “Maybe it’s just that all of them are very old”.
He stops the video as soon as he is finished with his dinner. There were still four minutes of the video left. That means he finished his food in thirteen minutes – something he keeps track of. He stands up and walks to the tap to get a glass of water. He stares at the empty plate on the floor deciding to wash it later. He turns off the lights and sits on the couch. Out of habit, he sits on the left-hand side, but for the first time, he notices that the cushion on this side has become flatter and lower than the rest of the couch. He moves to the centre of the couch. It’s not about the couch really; in some ridiculous way, he wants to centre himself. He closes his eyes, interlocks his fingers, and rests his hands on his lap.