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 been doing 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’ve 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 first morning in London. My lower back was hurting which I blamed on the flight over. I was lucky enough to have flown in first but unlucky enough to gotten a lay-flat seat which was broken and only went back to what was an uncomfortable pitch. I knew I just needed to stretch it out and I’d be fine. Conveniently, I’d found a brochure-card in my room advertising a yoga studio just a few blocks away. The photos looked appealing, so I headed over to see for myself.
The studio was fantastic: a beautiful Japanese design-inspired space with blond hardwood floors, bare white walls with soaring ceilings, and - along one wall - long floor to coving windows filling the space with soft, late-morning spring sunlight.
The class turned out to be worthy of the space as well. The teacher was a petite and very lithe Indian woman in her 30s who radiated a really pleasant energy that the dozen or so of us in the class, mostly women but a few guys as well, were able to easily center on. Right away I liked her voice—clear, calm, and well-modulated—and the British accent filled me with childhood nostalgia. Mom’s accent has faded a lot after years of living in Houston, so whenever I hear that syllabic rhythm of native Hindi speakers mixed with heavy consonants of British English, I get a momentary, warm memory rush, and I let this one carry me into the sun salutation before letting it and everything else go except the experience of my breath.
Wiping my eyes after class (I quite often tear up after a particularly good session), I thanked the instructor, and despite being covered in sweat and it being a pleasantly warm day, wrapped into my calf-length tunic for the short walk back to the Sofitel. Although I’m not afraid to say I liked the look of my ass in yoga pants, there’s a time and a place, and the streets of London are definitely not the place.
It was a bright morning and the glare stung a bit. I wish I’d thought to bring my sunglasses. I squinted into what was a pretty good-sized pedestrian crowd on the street, businessmen and women headed to an early lunch and the normal gaggle of tourists. As expected, my back was feeling great, and I slipped totally in my post yoga endorphin rush where each step became a perfect balance of serenity and action. I imagined this is what a cheetah or a gazelle or even a dog feels all time—in the zone, happy in your own skin, or better yet, beyond happy and sad and just being.
Suddenly there’s a blaring of horns and screech of brakes and the sheer terror of realizing that I’d stepped off the sidewalk and into the street just as the light had changed. Worse I’d forgotten I was in the UK so naturally squinted left for oncoming traffic rather than right and that’s when I feel someone firmly and confidently taking a hold on both my upper arms while purposefully lifting me up and pulling me back to the safety of the pavement just as a squealing cab jerked into the space from where I’d just been plucked.
I was knees weak flushed with relief and embarrassment.
“In a bit of daze are we?” Asked a stoically calm voice behind me, releasing me from his strong yet gentle, life-saving clutch.
“Yes, I guess so, thanks…I don’t know what I was thinking” I replied, turning and seeing that my traffic plucking white knight was an absolute stunner, 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. He also had a navy blue yoga mat slung under one arm. Was he in my class? 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. And he was hot.
“No, that’s not something I’ve noticed,” I replied regaining my composure a bit 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’s not very often that a man makes me lose my balance like this, 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 back, 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 mom gave it to me,” he continued with a half-grin that could melt candy, and I didn’t even attempt to hold back a laugh. Not because it was all that funny but because I wanted to play along.
“Funny but you don’t look like the yoga type,” l said, playfully, shaking my head, wanting to see how he handled a little pushback.
He made an indignant face and his hand 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 thin out and squinted this way and that, but he was elsewhere—nowhere near me.
And probably for the best, too, I rationalized away my disappointment—I still hadn’t finished, actually, I’d barely started pulling together my notes and slides for the 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 was in London for the conference not for, well, whatever that just was. Business before pleasure had gotten me this far. Later I’d planned to do a little sightseeing—maybe try 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 and, well, you don’t need a class in combinatorics to understand the brand’s popularity.
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 was 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 just as I lost myself in yoga. Head cleared—or mostly cleared—of romantic trifles, I took in two more conference sessions, then spent the rest of the afternoon hopping-on and hopping-off a London tour bus with a whole lot more of the hopped-on—rubbernecking from my upper deck perch and hoping maybe I’d spot my white knight somewhere in the passing faces, despite knowing the odds—even with taking multiple loops (yes, I must 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 Powerball players and a newfound contempt for the conceit of lightning, striking once and moving on.