Chapter 1

Spiritually enriching

Things tend to go away when you ignore them long enough, don’t they? At least that is what she kept telling herself. Because if she ever stopped to think, she would have to worry, to ask for help, to grapple with long buried things that she didn’t feel ready to stir up again. Whatever emotional struggle that she had going on had remained behind her, a bad memory of her teenage years that she could go around telling how this had made her stronger. Because that’s how it’s supposed to go, right? What doesn’t kill you and all that…

And yet, they never left her fully, these thoughts at the back of her mind, the images that filled her head at times. The more she tried to chase them, the more imposing they came to be. She had recently decided to accept them as part of who she is, as something that she was powerless against. But then, she had been to that spiritual retreat at the top of some remote mountain and been forced to grapple with past experiences and future plans, heavy things that she had happily put aside in her daily, transitory life. This experience had made her realize that she had to somehow get a hold on the dangerous meanderings of her imagination.

The past months, it seemed to her that none of her conversations with other people had gone beyond the introductory phase. Again and again, she had told where she was from, the countries where she had lived, how she was settling in her new city. Nothing too deep to avoid being pitied for being a friendless foreigner. She caught herself giving the exact same responses over and over again because the question themselves were so painfully same. Once a response had gathered some favorable reactions in one group, she would use it at a different outing, sounding to herself like a broken record. “Oh! You lived in Africa? Impressive! How was it?” This enthusiasm of the listener when this detail was introduced was the reason she never once failed to mention it. Casually. Unnecessarily. That. And the writing bit. “I am a writer”, she would say. “I try to be, at least”, would she nuance quickly to not sound as if she was boasting, but also to be more mysterious by virtue of her self-deprecation. This one didn’t get always get the same reception as her exotic life in some African countries that the listener would often confuse one with another. Sometimes, the listener would be a writer or an avid reader and they would extend the conversation in that direction. Sometimes, the listener would not push further beyond the expected: “What do you write normally?” And she would answer, awkwardly. Sometimes, saying that she would want to write a novel someday. Sometimes complaining that writing novels was too much of a commitment and that she could never. She would always be disappointed when the questions would stop. Secretly, she would die inside wanting them to ask for a chance to read her work. So that, she could show the book that travelled with her everywhere, the one where her name was writing in dark, elegant letters at the latest pages of a book that had been only read by few people apart from the ones who wrote or edited it. But she remembered how she felt when she first saw her name, there. Her name. The one she wanted to build a legacy for. This is the start of it, she thought. An unstoppable train set in motion.

From then, writing a novel would be easier because of the recognition that she had gotten. Writing something good enough to be released into the wider world would be a cakewalk. Because wasn’t she officially a writer now. For a while, she entertained the idea of writing a collection of short stories. What better way to adapt to the fact that her enthusiasms and motivations came in booms and burst. Producing a novel, she would start hating it and give up on it after the twentieth page. But a short story, you could write fast and move on. For a while, her mind pulsed with ideas. She sat and wrote a story. Another. And another. As it went on, the words that a good friend told her after reading one of her texts started to frolic around in her head. At each rereading, the doubts grew bigger, taller, festering, poisoning everything. Your style, he had told her, has been stuck in your early teenage years. From the earliest works of hers that he had read, not much had changed. Reading her, he still felt as if he was reading the words of a child. Cute when you’re 13 but past your twentieth birthday, it was nothing but sad. These weren’t his exact words but who care to remember such things when the damage is already done. For once, the words themselves didn’t matter as much as what they conveyed. She had won prizes after that but the discomfort never vanished. The certainty that she wasn’t much more than an impostor never fully left her. So after trying and failing to write something deeply meaningful and somehow poetic, she was convinced that it was time to quit, chase a new dream, pretend that it didn’t hurt to fail. Heck, it wasn’t even failure if you got to quit before the world told you that you weren’t good enough. There was even some kind of courage, a tragic beauty to it. Or there would be if she could stop talking about it. Embarrassingly, she had less than casually let the famous book on the living room’s table of her old shared apartment, hoping and dreading at the same time that someone would pick it up and read it. She panicked every time someone came to her saying “I have read your blog” but couldn’t help but asking what they thought of it. Year after year, she kept paying the bill to keep that blog online even though she hadn’t written a single word on it in an eternity. Indeed, she was a writer who didn’t write.


There she was, in one of these conversations, scratching the surface, without ever going deep. But for once, she had something new to say and that thought made her feel warm inside, anticipative, on the verge of bursting and filling the silence with words that she had nursed in her mind for days. She stopped feeling bad about that since the last time that a colleague had turned to her and, oddly pleased, narrated how he had eaten a soup, some fries, a burger an a pizza that day. The proper reaction to that tale, as she quickly gathered, was to be amused and slightly shocked at how unhealthy the guy’s diet had been. She wouldn’t have kept that memory if the next minute the guy hadn’t turned to the other side to tell the same little story, with the same self-congratulatory chuckles to the next person. When in Rome…she had concluded.

  • I got home so late last night. I still feel awfully tired, she volunteered when the long awaited questions didn’t come
  • Oh yeah! said Luis, lifting his head from his laptop. Everyone around her seemed focused on their work but having not yet shed her vacation spirit, she could not find it within herself to be bothered with deadlines and sales reports. You just came back from your retreat thing, right? How was it?

“Amazing!” she felt like screaming but opted for a more conservative response, one that wouldn’t set ten heads and as many pair of eyes on her hysteric person.

  • It was good, she said. Spiritually enriching, she added as if an afterthought.

Seeing her interlocutor’s single brow raising to his hair line, she was about to jump in again and explain when he suddenly burst into laughing. She felt weirdly naked and small.

  • You mean, you were visiting churches there or something? Or you joined a sect? Truth be told, I wouldn’t be too surprised about the second option.

Opting not to seek an explanation to that last sentence, she proceeded to expand further on her adventure, as she had wanted to do from the start.

  • No, any of that. It was just unlike nothing I have ever experienced. We got to talk about deeply personal things. And then there were some moments for connection and mindfulness…
  • Like meditation and shit?
  • Exactly! And spiritual music circles!
  • What now?

She felt as if she was losing ground. Things weren’t going as planned. This week spent with interesting people, in full digital detox, had made her feel that she had become a new person, more self-aware and ready to face the difficult truths in her life. It was something so uncommon because she stirred away from self-help books, never took any New Year resolutions, even laughed at the streams of “New year, new me” posted all over social media. Yet, as she was telling the story, the retreat started to sound like the kind of mindfulness, self-improvement craps that were good business these days. She felt like crying or shouting to protest against the thoughts that she felt were slowly forming inside Luis’ head. But now she couldn’t risk him asking her how much she had paid it. She knew for sure that she couldn’t handle the inevitable “you, poor thing” look that he would direct at her.

  • Do you want a coffee? She almost shouted as she struggled to get on her feet. I could die for one.

She knew that she was showing him her fakest smile. He seemed a bit disconcerted by the sudden change in the conversation but got back to his normal self rapidly. He nodded.

  • Double espresso, please
  • Coming right up! She said, bowed, felt like dying as all the pair of eyes turned towards her, and finally grabbed a lifeline in Augusta’s sympathetic smile.

She smiled back, awkwardly, and walked towards the coffee machine in the next room. All the while, she felt the tears coming up, restrained from slapping herself hard as she used to do in her teenage years. It wasn’t the first time that the words had failed her when it came to talk about experiences that truly moved her.

A real writer would have no trouble doing that, she thought.

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