There was a time when there was question, even doubt, as to the existence of the soul. That time has long since passed. - Denver Vasquez, Faith Not RequiredNova Novak, No-No to her friends, slowly flowed from down dog to plank to cobra and back to down dog. Each breath signaled a transition. Inhale, move. Exhale, move. Centuries old, these movements strengthened, stretched, relaxed, and centered every aspect of her being. Body and soul flexed as one. As she finished one final vinyasa, she settled in to child's pose and slowed her breathing. After several breaths, she unfolded, stood, rolled up her mat ready to face the day.
Tea. Not coffee. Coffee has its place, but a mild black tea with honey, sometimes stirred with a cinnamon stick, settled her stomach where coffee would have left her with gut rot. And bread. Homemade. Baked twice a week with rosemary and sage. Finally, nuts. A handful of roasted Spanish peanuts tossed in a mixture of garlic and finely crushed peppers.
Each morning, No-No would begin her day in the same way. She would rise early, before the sun and before first Salutations. She would run through her morning vinyasa to limber up and stretch out any kinks or knots from sleeping. Then she would drink her morning tea with a light breakfast. Every day. If pressed, she would likely not remember a time she forgot or skipped her morning rituals. Some people are creatures of habit. No-No was something else entirely.
Once her rituals were completed, she would make her way to work. No-No's preferred mode of transportation was a black and gold single-speed bike. Riding to work was one of the few times throughout the day where she felt free. Her movement was under her control. She could peddle hard and feel the wind on her face and through her long auburn hair as it fluttered and snaked.
As she rode, she she tried to focus on her feeling of freedom just as she focused on her body's movement and breathe as she flowed from one asana to another while practicing yoga. Yet while in her tiny apartment on her favorite mat, she could forget the world. Out here on the street, no matter how fast and how hard she rode, there was no way to completely ignore the suffering imposed by the gods.
The gods did not see much use in sustaining human supportive infrastructure. Just like her apartment building those that lined the streets were one good storm away from collapse. Windows were boarded against the elements. Holes in exterior walls were plugged with mud, weeds, and old pages from discarded books.
Even the street she rode on was was nothing more than broken slabs of concrete. No-No was young, but so was everyone else. There was no one living, to her knowledge, older than twenty-five, and no one who remembered these structures in any other condition. To No-No the decay was normal, the way these had always been. However, they were also a glimpse into humanity's triumph. Or were buildings and roads a symptom foreshadowing the present. She liked to believe the prior, which is why she chose to live in the city and ride a bike. Those things were her way of embracing a heritage she could not fully comprehend. She had to believe that she was more than a simple pea pod.
Pea pod. That is what she was. That is what humanity was to the gods. They were shells that grew and developed souls, consciousness for those not comfortable with the spiritual. Either way, it took roughly twenty-five years to properly ripen a mature, edible spirit. No-No was only eighteen. She had seven years, seven more years.
For a fraction of a second, No-No has a flash of blasphemous thoughts: I could fight. I could run. I could kill myself. Her eyes popped wide as she pulled off the road and hopped off the bike.
No-No screamed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean it. Please!"
The rhythmical sound of sandpaper on rusted steel broke the city silence. The scratching sanding sound came over the tops of the tallest buildings.
She only knew them as enforcers. They came for the blasphemous. There was only one sin: expiration before due date. Take a life, the enforcers came. Think about taking your own life, they came. The "pea" was too precious to them.
There was only one. Its wings were wrong. Its body was wrong. Flight should have been impossible. Rather it looked as if it would have more at home in the deepest darkest crevasse in some alien ocean. Its wings were short, boney, and used only to change direction. They way it moved was to pull at the air as if the sky were as thick as bread pudding with long arms and twitching fingers.
The enforcer covered what must have been at least three miles in seconds to land beside her on the crumbling curb. Beached, it blinked its transparent eyelids and opened its toothed piranha mouth. No sound emanated from that jagged hole. Instead, it projected thoughts in flashes of muddy mosaics.
It showed No-No that there were worse things than death, worse than even having your soul eaten. These scenes reduced her to a horrid seizuring fetal position. She clutched her head, taking large handfuls of her hair between her fingers. Then abruptly, the images stopped.
It took a few minutes to unfolded her body and longer to remove her hands from her hair. When she was aware of herself being separate from those images, she sat up. "I will live."
Seemingly satisfied, the enforcer pulled itself into the sky, arm over arm, making that skin crawling noise until it disappeared between two buildings. As quickly as It had appeared, it was gone. No doubt off to horrify someone else who's thoughts wandered.
No-No was lucky. It must have judged her intentions of suicide as minimal. The thing could easily have collected her and taken her to holding where she had no chance of harming herself or simply popped her "pea" early for one of the many hungry gods.
After taking a moment, she got on the bike and rode hard for work. By the shadows the sun cast, she still had time to make it just before first Salutations. Her ride took her out of the city ruins to a field of chest high grass.
She dumped her bike at the edge of the grass and joined what must be over a thousand other humans. They all faced east, each finding just enough space to move without bumping into one another on the soft soil. And they waited, slowing their breathing, hands in prayer resting at the heart's center.
A white robed priest moved by No-No, touching her on the shoulder. She jumped, breath quickening. The touch was electric. Somehow, the priest knew. It knew she had just met with an enforcer. The touch also told her that she was being observed and that she was still being considered a risk. So, she focused on the Mala beads around her wrist. She counted them. She tried to feel each individual bead.
Then, in her mind, the Salutation began as the sun's full brightness kissed her skin. The vinyasa was ingrained in every muscle and ligament in her body. She did not need the reminders of the flow that the priests projected into her mind. She just did them. Inhale, move; exhale, move: Mountain, Upward Salute, Standing Forward Bend, Lunge, Plank, Upward-Facing Dog, Downward-Facing Dog, and up again ending in Mountain.
The crowd flowed through the Salutation ten times. Then, they all stopped. They crossed their legs folding down into a cross legged sit. Those who could sat in double pigeon or lotus. They all rested their hands on their knees and began to murmur.
In between their murmurings, the priests projected images of perfection of soul. The movements, the Salutations, the yoga cultivated a strong, healthy, and mature soul. No-No, slipped while the priest projected and saw her "pea" being popped from her body. She fought for control of her mind, but it was too late. She felt the gentle touch of a priest on her shoulder. The simple gesture sent hot tears down her cheeks.
She rose and followed the robed and hooded figure through a small cave entrance dug into the center of the tall grassy field. The tunnel was lit the soft glow of a pale green moss the covered all but a small well worn path. The path ended in a large open chamber where a god waited.
In the center of a elaborately carved stone slab sat a hideous combination of humanoid and elephant features. The rotund god had large stumpy legs that ended in flat feet, muscular human arms, and an elephant's head. The thing was sitting cross legged with eyes closed and hands in prayer at its heart's center.
The god sat so still that it looked like a statue. Then it opened both eyes and looked deep into No-No's soul. Its eyes closed again.
The priest spoke, "You are not ready. You will continue to perfect your soul through the practice of yoga. You are free to go."
No-No was lead back above ground. On her way up, three others were being guided down to where the god waited. They looked older and there seemed to be an aura of calm and focus emanating from each of them. Just brushing by them felt wonderful, and No-No found herself wondering how to achieve such peace.
The priest curled its fishy thin lips into a semblance of a smile. It tapped her on the shoulder and sent her images of happiness and joy.
The crowd had dispersed. The field was empty. The tall grass was already springing back from being trampled. By the arch of the sun, Second Salutation was still a few hours off. It was time for No-No to head to work, but beside her bike stood her closest friend.
Cillian, a lanky brunette, embraced No-No and said, "I thought..."
No-No, "Nope. Today is either the luckiest day of my life or the worst." She picked up her bike and started walking. As they walked No-No told the story of her morning, beginning with the extra yoga and a good cup of tea.
"You really need to take better care of your 'pea,' okay. I'm not ready to face the world without you."
"Cillian, I'm not going anywhere."
They passed several fields of corn, potatoes, and beans. Each field had men slowly harvesting the crops, filling sacs, baskets, and bags. They worked without shirts and the sun made their skin glisten.
Cillian smiled, "I hope today is my day." Her hands rested on her abdomen. "I'm ready."
No-No smiled. Many thoughts were trying to bubble to the surface of her mind, but she stuffed them back down as she said, "I hope so, too. You'd make a great mother."