From Chapter 1 an excerpt of the in progress novel The Kali Algorithm an adventure romance.
A spirit that lives in this world
and does not wear the shirt of love,
such an existence is a deep disgrace.
It all started with yoga. Which makes sense if you think about it. Yoga is the beginning. My beginning. The beginning of my day. The beginning of coping with things after my dad passed. Or “disappeared” if you want to take my mom’s view on the matter.
Focus on the breath.
I was in London, buzzing, Brexiting, beans on toast, Spring-heeled jack, burka blooming feeling on top of the world London—my first international trip in 16 years (well, not counting Mexico), since I was 12 actually, the year we lost my dad, who had so loved to travel, whose work required travel, who met mom while at work on travel.
When telling this story, I have a restless mind.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
It all started with yoga, and the yoga class. I was in London to present a paper I’d published on research I’d done with machine learning algorithms in a very obscure and esoteric mathematics journal at a very obscure and esoteric mathematics conference attended by, well, you get the idea, right? I loved math, but I know most people get that deer in the headlights look when you say that you not only love math but that you have a PhD in math. And then when you tell them you’re a data scientist at a big, evil, oil conglomerate and your job is to use big data algorithms to help find more oil (or what we call E&P, energy and petroleum) well, then the deer with his eyes lit just wants to bolt. I was a real hit on the cocktail conversation circuit, I tell you what.
At least that’s the story I liked to tell myself. To be honest, I was what one might call socially awkward. I’d never had much patience for small talk. I was really only ever totally in my comfort zone when losing myself in numbers or losing myself in yoga.
Which is how I ended up at the yoga studio that second morning in London. I was getting plenty of math at the conference sessions, but was in yoga withdrawal. Plus my lower back was hurting which I blamed on the flight over. I was lucky enough to have flown in first class but unlucky enough to have been assigned a lay-flat seat which was broken and only went back to what was an uncomfortable lay-not-flat pitch. Sitting through several conference sessions the first day hadn’t helped. I knew I just needed to stretch myself out.
But it wasn’t the yoga class but what happened right after the yoga class that’s important. I’d set off into the bright morning with a jaunty gate that matched my mood—one part post-yoga endorphin rush and one my ongoing on-top-of-the-world feeling at being in London (where I imagined that people said things like ‘jaunty gate’). I weaved quickly through the other pedestrians, eager to see what day two would bring. Despite my jauntiness, however—or, perhaps, on account of it—I’d forgotten something very basic about walking in London. Coming to a cross street with a center median—the pedestrian signal was flashing but I figured I could beat it safely and to the median. Barely slowing, I did a quick look left for oncoming traffic, and, seeing it was clear, stepped off the curb.
Suddenly there’s a blaring of horns and screech of brakes and the sheer terror of realizing that I was going to be hit by oncoming car and that’s when—in that instant of hopeless resignation—I felt myself being clutched by my upper arms, then quickly yanked up like a doll and pulled back to the safety of the pavement just as a squealing cab jerked to a stop in the same space from where I’d just been plucked.
I was knees weak flushed with relief and embarrassment, and the cabbie had a few adjectives to describe me, none of which included ‘jaunty.’ Considering my forgetting that traffic flows in the opposite direction in the UK, the cabbie’s colorful disparagement of my intelligence was on point, though ‘yield for pedestrians’ still should have held, I thought without my conviction. I knew I was in the wrong.
“In a bit of daze are we?” Asked a man in calm voice, releasing me from his strong yet gentle, life-saving clutch. I was trembling and still looking at the spot in the road where I’d almost been hit.
“Yes, I guess so… thank you,” I said, turning to face my rescuer and finding that he was an absolute stunner, a sort of a younger, hotter and slightly darker version of Danielle Craig—tall, lean but muscular, fit, very very fit, and with piercing steel blue eyes and a dreamy accent as well.
“I must have been… I dunno… daydreaming.” I didn’t want to admit that I’d forgotten the difference in traffic flow. “I’m so sorry.”
“Oh, no worries. I’ve always been a daydream believer.” We looked at each other saying nothing until it started to feel awkward and I broke away first. He had a navy blue yoga mat under his arm. Was he in the yoga class? I wondered. No, surely, I would have remembered this guy.
He caught me glimpsing the yoga mat, and shrugged in an “oh this?” kind of way.
“Ever notice how people compete to have the largest yoga mat,” he said, giving me pause, as that was not at all what I had been expecting—jumping right into some coy chit chat as if saving some stranger from being struck by a passing cab was just an everyday thing and not worth dwelling on. Not that I minded, as I was really embarrassed at my lack of awareness with the near miss, so I was happy for the change in subject. Plus he was hot.
“No, that’s not something I’ve noticed.” I was regaining my composure, as my heart rate began to return to normal.
“Yours looks like it’s better than 3 meters long. You could roll that thing out like a red carpet,” he said with a little wink that I confess sent my heart rate back up, and I giggled, yes, giggled, it was out before I could stop it, like I was fourteen. It had been a long time since a guy had made me lose my balance, but this guy just gave off a, I don’t know, a presence, I guess you’d call it.
“Well, it’s not that long, and I’m not tall enough to need a 3 meter,” I replied and instantly chastised myself for not be able to come up with something less lame, something wittier. This guy really had me feeling a teetering, breathy pang.
“My yoga mat’s only half a meter. I’m embarrassed to be seen in public with it, but my mama gave it to me.” He said ma-MAH, with the accent on the second syllable which I assumed was for effect bases on the half-grin he flashed me, a half-grin that could melt candy. The effect worked because I didn’t even attempt to hold back a laugh. I was happy to continue our flirty back and forth.
“Funny, but you don’t look like the yoga type,” l said, shaking my head with a smirk, wanting to see how he handled a little pushback.
He made an indignant face and put both hands over his heart in an “I’m wounded” pose, and I recalled how strong his hands were holding me just a moment ago and how good his hold felt, so secure… My skin tingled.
“What, just because I’m ruggedly masculine, I don’t fit the stereotype of a master yogi? Why I’m positively vexed,” he said, smiling devilishly. He was ruggedly handsome, but I had no trouble imagining his flexibility, no trouble at all.
Abruptly the light changed, and the kinetic backlog of pedestrians that had built up waiting for the light to turn, released, surging forward and, ready or not, we all set off. Despite being so close to my life-saving stranger a few seconds before that I could have reached out and touched him, we were now separating quickly, swept along by the pedestrian flock bounding forward with resolutely harried walkers darting and dodging filling in any and all gaps. I caught his eye in the jumble and managed to get off a “Well, good luck finding a less embarrassing mat!”
Our eyes met again and he gave me another wink, whirling up a stomach of butterflies, and I began to slow down and tried to nudge and work my way nearer, but I was also trying to do it surreptitiously so it wasn’t blatantly obvious as to what I was trying to do, but just then two women in full black niqab, one pushing a wide-eyed toddler in a stroller, cut me off, and while looking down to avoid crashing into the stroller, I lost him—poof, just like that he was gone and the moment and the butterflies with him. I continued to look but I was still struggling with the glare. I shifted positions as the crowd began to break left and center on the opposite corner and squinted this way and that, but he was elsewhere—nowhere near me.
I continued on to the hotel without a trace of jauntiness. It wasn’t everyday—truthfully it wasn’t any day, or at least any day I could remember—that I’d encountered someone who’d flipped my switch like that. I also couldn’t think of anything I could have done differently. I didn’t expect to just lose him in the crowd. But that’s the think about randomness—we don’t see it coming, so we are typically unprepared for it.
Breathe, Sana, breathe.
I took a deep breath and begin to rationalize away my disappointment. What had happened—losing him in the crowd—was for the best. I still hadn’t finished, actually, I’d barely started pulling together my notes and slides for my conference presentation the next day, which already had me on edge because I’m not a “last minute” type— quite the opposite—but the conference invitation to present had caught me unaware and with very little time to prep. Besides, I continued to rationalize, I was in London for the conference not for, well, whatever that little sidewalk tête-à-tête was. Business before pleasure had gotten me this far…
Yet back at the hotel, I continued to dwell on the all too brief encounter, replaying the scene over and over in my head while letting the warm water of the Sofitel’s rain forest shower head pour over me. Had I let myself get separated from the handsome stranger intentionally? Not explicitly, no, but perhaps by an implicit fear of the unknown? I’d been caught without a plan, and I’d never liked not having a plan. That would be enough to make me subconsciously reticent. And what plan could I have had? What would have happened if our little repartee had continued? No, the whole thing was silly and doubtlessly forgettable.
First of all, there was nothing to say he was doing anything more than some good old-fashioned flirting with a pretty stranger he’d just yanked out of the way of oncoming traffic. Secondly, even if he had more interest beyond some off-the-cuff, innocuous sporting around, I was a pony-tailed, sweaty mess after the Bikram class, not ideal for taking the coquetry up a notch. Thirdly, and most importantly—I just wasn’t that kind of girl.
No, I wasn’t a nun. I was more of a serial monogamist. At least in theory, as to imply a series was something of a stretch. Honestly, I just hadn’t had much time for the distraction of a boyfriend. There had always school and now work. I closed my eyes and did a quick “so hum” breath mantra to clear my head.
After the shower, I dove into my presentation prep with a vengeance, and by the time I was finished, my morning tingles from the nameless handsome stranger were cataloged and filed under “travel, occurrences, random.” Math had a way of doing that—I loved to lose myself in it just as I lost myself in yoga.
Head cleared—or mostly cleared—of romantic trifles, I took in two more conference sessions, then decided to spend the rest of the afternoon doing a little sightseeing. I went for one of those ubiquitous Hop-On Hop-Off buses. Sure, one couldn’t possibly be more stereotypically tourist than that, but from the problem-solving perspective of ‘how to see the most city in the least time?’—well, you didn’t need a class in combinatorics to understand the brand’s popularity.
I ended up with very little (as in none) of the hopping-off and remained stoically hopped-on—rubbernecking from my upper deck perch and hoping maybe I’d spot my white knight somewhere in the passing faces, despite knowing that the odds—even with taking multiple loops (yes, I confess)—were very much against it.
Returning to my final hop-off, where I’d started, across the street from the hotel, I felt a newfound empathy for all those weekly jackpot lottery players and a newfound contempt for the conceit of lightning, striking once and moving on. I chastised myself for falling into the all too easy trap of simplifying things, creating a narrative, trying to make inferences—He probably lives nearby! I knew, as well, that it was this very condition of simplifying that leads us to think the world is less random than it really is, yet still I found myself riding around in the bus and thinking in the simplest terms—I saw him once, it could happen again!
Back in my room I had a room service dinner and occupied myself with practicing my presentation—saying the entirety out loud over and over until I was coming in right at the 30 minute mark I was shooting for. Having achieved that, though, I slipped right back into my imagined narrative, like the lottery player so entranced by the potential payoff—reuniting with my white knight stranger—that I was blinding myself to the odds and treating one in a thousand and one in a million as just the same.
Breathe, Sana, breathe… Let it go.
Having a math education and knowing how irrational I was being, didn’t make it any easier. I continued to imagine scenarios of casually bumping into him again. Doing so was human nature, and it takes a considerable force of will to resist and see facts for how they are and not how we want them to be. I confess that night I had no such force of will, and was only able to placate my mind by planning to get up early and return to the yoga studio in the morning. Maybe he had been in the class and I hadn’t noticed him? He was carrying a yoga mat, after all.