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by Sudha Balagopal

He walks into my yoga class with a black mat rolled up under his arm. My eyes are drawn to his toenails; they’re painted a deep, dark purple. A sleeveless tank reveals sculpted biceps, short shorts hug muscular thighs. His long hair is secured in a pony tail.

As if he wants to hide, he settles in a far corner by the wall.

A novice. And cute, I think, then tuck that thought away for later examination.

In a few minutes, Purple-Toenails removes his shirt and the thought is brought out for airing.

Guilt washes over me. I should be examining my recent broken relationship, analyzing how I chose so wrong.

“Inhale and exhale through the nostrils,” I instruct. “The mouth remains closed.”

The air comes gushing out of his nostrils like he’s been holding his breath. Already, I see beads of sweat on his forehead.

I’ve followed studio guidelines, setting the temperature at exactly 95 degrees.

Namaste is owned by the reclusive John Camp, legendary for opening three yoga studios across the city — on the same day. They hired me last month and handed me an instruction booklet: ten minutes to warm up, then into the Sun Salutations, picking up momentum through the middle of the class.

“Focus on the ujjayi breathing, the ocean breath, which sounds like the waves of the ocean,” I say. The twelve students in class today appear to be experienced yogis needing little guidance.

“Such mumbo-jumbo,” my non-yogi ex-fiancé would say in half-jest. I figured out later his jest included derision.

Purple-Toenails is in Downward Facing Dog, his almost-perfect, inverted “V” impressive. The tail bone reaches high, his tapered fingers press into the mat, strong heels hover just above the floor. I imagine my hands on his hips, a gentle push nudging his heels to rest on the mat.

“When making adjustments to a student’s pose, keep the touch firm, it cannot become a caress,” the booklet says.

“There’s a difference between a touch and the touch,” the studio manager said. “We help adjust students into poses, but be careful not to let it become anything more.”

“Good job,” I say when Purple-Toenails gets up into a headstand, his nail polish glowing against the mirrored wall.

This from someone who hides in the back of the class? I dismiss the tickling thought.

He descends into Child’s Pose.

My next relationship has to be with someone who practices yoga.

Lately, the media has been rife with allegations of inappropriate behavior by teachers. A few days ago, a male instructor was caught in flagrante delicto on the premises. He said he was teaching the student partner yoga.   We received a memo from the studio manager. “There will be periodic, unannounced checks starting next week.”

Purple-Toenails wobbles in Vrikshasana, Tree Pose.

It wouldn’t be inappropriate to help stabilize his shaky tree, would it?

When it’s time for rest in Savasana, a couple of students sigh as they feel the release.

At the end of the class, he lingers.

“Good class,” he says. He removes the tie from his pony tail, shakes his hair out.

His eyes are deep, dark pools. Must be the lighting in the room.

“Thanks for coming. Great job, today. By the way, I’m Uma.” I hold out my hand.

God, I hope I’m not gushing.

He takes my hand. “Nice to meet you. My name is John Camp.”

Sudha Balagopal’s short fiction appears in Whiskey Paper, Jellyfish Review, Dime Show Review and Peacock Journal among other publications. She is the author of a novel, A New Dawn, and two short story collections, There are Seven Notes and Missing and Other Stories. More at www.sudhabalagopal.com.