Tony put on his sunglasses and took the small cooler before alighting the shuttle bus. I followed his bulky figure through the crowd on the paved rim trail. When he got to the sprawling tree, he hung the cooler on one of the branches and waited for me.
“Lesson number one,” he said. “To make your senses keen on recognizing signs, you must learn to quiet your mind. So let’s do an important exercise today.” Tony stretched out his hands and wiggled it.
“What exercise?” My protective instincts shot up. We stood near the rim and I was in no mood to fly over the abyss again. I still wore the Maglev shoes, I realized.
“You don’t mind trading your running shoes for those?” He pointed at my feet.
“Are you serious! These probably cost ten times more, not to mention feel more comfortable.” Unlike Tony, I rarely get sentimental with clothes and things I own. They were commodities to use, not to hold on to. Kate, on the other hand, was my exact opposite and even kept the first Ferrero Rocher chocolate container I gifted her and turned it into a jewelry box. But come to think of it, she never owned any jewelry worth keeping.
“Hey, are you with me?” Tony waved his hand in front of my face.
“Sorry, was thinking of my wife.”
“So how did you two first meet?”
“In Paris.” I remembered that day like it was yesterday. “At the foot of the Eiffel tower.”
I grimaced. “Not really. I was on a bench, eating…” Just like those birds pecking on crumbs a few steps from me and Tony. I had found a half-eaten sandwich the day Kate saw me scrambling to the bench to beat the park cleaning lady to it. I had been starving for a week, too proud to beg. “Kate approached and offered to share her lunch bag.” I laughed and Tony joined in.
“Drew the ladies like a magnet, do you?”
More like repelled the ladies. If only he knew. My gaze drifted to the paved trail in front of me. Only Kate and her soft heart took pity on a homeless man.
“Jeff, no matter how much you avoid your past, it will come to haunt you. I know you’re not telling me everything but that’s alright. Some things need more processing than the others though eventually you’ll need to face it, man.”
There was no denying, Tony could read me like a map. “Sorry. Lost my parents at a young age. Orphanage hopping is the summary of my life. I’d rather forget the gory details.” I followed the birds’ flight from the tree to the rim.
“Does Kate know?”
“Not the details.” Expecting a look of pity on Tony’s face, I was surprised to find none. My shoulders relaxed.
“Jeff, the devil is in the details. What you opted not to tell her are the missing links that would explain the things she finds hard to understand in you. And sometimes, that’s all our wives need. You’ll avoid crises if you do this.”
“What are you? Some marriage counselor?”
“Sort of. Tammy and I underwent a bootcamp to patch some major loopholes in our relationship. You should try it.”
“What? Counseling? Kate would be greatly offended. She thinks we live a perfect life and she’s a perfect wife.”
“No, not counseling. Timeline.”
“What are you talking about?”
Tony took out a pen from his front pocket and what looked like a receipt from his pants. He wrote on the blank side of the paper and showed it to me.
A long horizontal line…
“Timeline is sharing the high points and low points of your life, every detail—the who, what, when, where, why, and how.” He tapped on each perpendicular lines he had drawn.
I pushed the paper away. “I’m not that sort of guy.”
He shook his head and folded the paper. A shadow of a smile crossed his face. “Neither was I. But that exercise set me free to be the sort of guy I was destined to be. Anyway—”
A familiar movement behind Tony caught my eye. “Kate,” I whispered. She was heading towards us, looking at her watch, with my two girls behind.
Tony turned and stiffened. “Your wife?” He grabbed my arm and said, “Hurry! Over here.” He pulled me towards the side of the paved trail, by the bushes and made some strange gestures with his fingers, like he was punching some buttons and grabbed me towards the tree.
Kate and the girls passed by us.
“She can’t hear you. Nor see you,” Tony whispered behind my ears.
The hair on my nape stood. I jolted away from him and tipped on my back. But my falling body met a soft but firm resistance and pushed me upright. “What the—”.
“You’re inside Xtreme Simulation Tunnel.” Tony’s hands ran over the invisible wall and ceiling. “Sound proof yet allows you to see through your surroundings. However, the outside world can’t see you. The tunnel is coated with paint that mimics a chameleon skin. It’s my wife’s brilliant design.”
“You work with your wife?”
“Why is that a surprise?”
“Kate and I always argue when we do projects together,” I said.
“We used to, until we discovered we held the answer to the other’s questions. It’s tough at first to recognize that my wife holds the solution to my problem at work. It was even tougher for her to accept that she needed me.” Tony seemed very amused at his last words.
“How did you do it?” I’d pay him a day’s worth of salary to have that kind of peace in my life.
“It’s hard to explain. You have to watch out for it. And that’s the reason why I brought you here. To train you to listen. But in order to hear, you need to quiet your thoughts. Your mind.”
I groaned. “Are you going to teach me how to meditate? You’re just like Kate, trying to convert me.”
“No one’s trying to convert anybody, Jeff. We are merely testing whether what applied to us, could be applied to another. And then we adopt the method. It’s research. You’re a man of science. You should know this.”
“Why do you always have a way with words?” I said.
“I should have been a writer, right?”
I rolled up my eyes. He never missed a tiny chance to poke on my dream. He slung his heavy arm on my right shoulder. I stiffened instantly as he guided me forward.
“I was born stiff,” I mumbled.
“Must be quite a baby to behold,” he said. “Sorry. Bad joke. Let’s talk about meditation.”
“Look, I tried that stuff before. Don’t work.” I wiggled out of his arms. “My mind’s got a lot of stuff to deal with. It has no time to be quiet.”
“But see, that’s the problem.” He stopped and faced me. “You try to solve your problem with your mind, when the answer lies in your spirit.”
“And to get there, I should do nothing? That’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever heard. That’s when nothing becomes possible. When one does nothing at all!”
“Punny, Jeff, and true but only partly true. Meditation is just the first step. You don’t stop at the doorstep. You need to find the key to the keyhole of the door that leads to the solution.”
“And where does this door lead?”
“So you want to turn me into a monk.”
“If that’s your synonym for contemplative, then yes. I want you to tap to your unconscious, the unknown where the spirit of creativity resides, where great ideas are born.”
“And meditation will lead me there?”
“Meditation is the liminal space, the threshold to the genius and ingenious.”
“Enough of the abstract. Show me.”
“Show don’t tell.” He chuckled and nodded his head.
I wanted to wipe the smug look off his face. I knew he was secretly congratulating himself that another writing concept should spontaneously come out of my mouth. The concept of conditioning was working, that much was apparent.
He reached for the cooler and laid it on the ground. Kneeling, he rummaged inside.
“How did your hand pass through the Simulation Tunnel’s barrier?”
“You noticed.” He took out a spoon and two eggs. “Eye for detail plus keen observation equals uncanny memory. So is photographic memory one of your gifts, Jeff? Is that how you got through all your courses, amassed tons of information in a short period of time?”
“That’s quite a conclusion you have there. I’m impressed,” I said, eyeing him as he shook the eggs, put on the spoon and pocketed the other.
“Math and science are the same language spoken in different tongues. One plus one does not always equal to two if you observe the pattern long enough,” he said.
“I know. Pattern of synergy, or symbiosis.” That was right. He was right, as always. I leaned on the invisible wall. But he still did not answer my question. How did his hand managed to get through the wall to get the cooler?
“One plus one is more than two. And one plus one equals one. You’re brilliant,” Tony said.
“Tony, the invisible wall.” He may be trying to distract me to avoid answering the question. I was a master of such tactic. Distraction keeps the enemy’s nose away from the target.
“Why don’t you still trust me, Jeff? Have I hurt you?”
“You think I’m the enemy. I’m not. What will it take for me to convince you? Do I have to risk my life for you? Dodge a bullet perhaps? Or die for you?”
“No. No. Heavens, Tony. I’m just—” I rubbed my nape. The guy had an x-ray vision and could read my thoughts.
“Thoughts speak loudest in the subliminal space, Jeff. And when your mind is aligned with the spirit through contemplation, you can discern the energy of anyone’s thoughts that travel through the invisible wave and read it.”
“Whoa!” I jumped. “How?”
“I’m trying to teach you how, but you reject the concept each time.”
He slapped his forehead and scratched his bald top. “Sometimes common sense escapes the genius.”
I still did not get it. I stared at him, my mind blank.
“Oh, yeah, right. Meditation and contemplation.”
“Until you accept these concepts, your mind will never understand. Only an open mind will hear.”
“Alright.” I combed my fingers through my hair. “Spit it out.”
“Here.” He handed me the spoon, took off his sunglasses and put it on me.
“Whoa!” The tunnel emerged like a vortex in rainbow of colors.
“See better? Lens FX. I’m toying with the idea of creating more realistic and tangent illusions for my holofilm.”
When I flipped up the sunglasses, the tunnel disappeared. Amazing.
“This exercise is only one of many that will train your brain to stop, look, and listen. Ready?”
”Walk through the tunnel and make sure the egg does not break apart.”
“Oh, that’s easy.” I was good at this parlor game when I was a child. Focusing on the egg, I stepped forward then the surrounding rainbow wall started to turn, spun round and round.
“Whoa!” I fell sideways and gripped Tony. The egg landed on his loafers.
He wiggled his shoes. “What is it with you and these loafers?”
“I’m sorry. You didn’t warn me about the additional effects. Not my fault.”
“As always. It’s everyone’s fault but yours.” His jaw tightened.
Uh-oh. Tony, the scary was back. “I—”
“Never mind. Come here.” His hand clasped me still. “See that dark hole with light at the end of the tunnel?”
It looked like a target mark, with a thick black rim and white light in the middle. I nodded.
“Fix your eyes on that light.” He took out the other egg from his pocket and laid it on the spoon. “Make sure this does not break or else—.”
“Are you threatening me?”
“Pretend that’s your life.” He pointed at the egg. “You’re now a threat to yourself.”
“That’s a double threat.”
He merely glared at me. “Go.”
I held out the spoon in front of me and aligned it with the light at the end of the tunnel like a pistol pointing to its target. From the corner of my eye, I saw Tony press a remote button on his hand. The colors spun like crazy.
“Now walk towards the light,” he whispered.
I took one step and gained confidence as my hands maintained its steadiness. Inch by inch, I neared the end of the tunnel with the egg swaying in minute movements on the spoon.
With my heart beating fast, I shuffled and lost sight of the tunnel in my vision. The whirling colors played its tricks, and I swerved on the right, through the array of colors and onto the sandy ground. The egg rolled and stopped on a rock as my sunglasses fell off.
Tony appeared beside me and sat on the rock. “Another theory proven and tested. Only an external stimulus can shake a person from his current stupor and make him realize the conditions around him have changed and he’s operating based on the old set up.”
I stared at the egg with a hairline crack beside the sunglasses.
“Tell me, Jeff, what have you discovered from the exercise based on my theory?”
“The egg is hard-boiled. And the sunglasses allowed me to pass through the tunnel.”
He picked up the sunglasses and put it on. “And what did I tell you to do?”
“Walk through the tunnel and make sure the egg does not break apart.”
“Which you could easily have done had you known that these sunglasses neutralizes the tunnel walls and you were carrying a different egg. But your brain was conditioned to believe otherwise based on what you learned a couple of minutes ago. Can you now imagine how hard it is to unwire a brain from formed habits?”
A throbbing headache started to develop on my temples. I pressed it with my thumbs.
“There’s so much more I wanted to tell you, but I’m afraid you can’t handle it now.”
“No, no. I can.”
“Are you sure? This meditation thing does not come easy. The most I can do is plant the seed and allow the water of time to germinate the idea in your head.”
“Look, I got it,” I said. “A threshold to the prayer of the quiet, meditation is something my mind can control. Contemplation is when I surrender my mind’s control.”
“At least you got the concept. Practice makes perfect and this will help.” He pulled out a scarf from his inner vest’s pocket and blindfolded me.
“Tony—” I gripped his arm. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s not seeing where I was going.
“Trust me, Jeff. I’m not pushing you over to the rim. Here,” he took my hand, curved it under his arm, and pulled me up. “Now I look like your escort.”
“And I look like a fool.”
“Lesson number two. Learn to ignore people’s opinions. Once you hurdle through the fear of criticism, persecution, and mockery you will gain freedom of the senses.”
I took off the handkerchief. “I’ll close my eyes, okay. No need for that.” I gave it back to him.
“You really have control issues, my friend. Alright. Close your eyes.”
I did and matched my stride with his. I still felt like a fool, but less unsafe.
“Lesson number three. Learn to trust the hand that leads you through the darkness.”
We walked arm in arm with my eyes closed. “Veer to your right. Now to your left. Slow down…mind the bump. Don’t open your eyes. Step up a bit.”
I fumbled and gripped his arm. Finally, after what seemed to be hours, we halted.