THE NEXT STEP (4)

‘Are you serious? Aren’t you scared of what to do when you come back from Taiwan?’ Elianor looked at Laura under her arm while they were both stretching on their yoga mats after a hot power yoga class. Elianor’s long blonde hair fell on her purple yoga mat making pretty shapes.
‘This is a brave move, Laura! Particularly in these awful economic times.’
Laura pulled herself up to sitting.
‘I know. But I also know that I have to do it. Now. If I don’t do it now, I will forever be stuck in this awful system that is draining me and making me unwilling to live.’
Elianor smiled at her and started rolling up her yoga mat. ‘It is brave, Laura. I admire you for that.’
Laura had found it surprisingly easy to get her life sorted out. After deciding on which yoga retreat to attend, she had found a new tenant for her flat, packed up all her belongings and put them in a storage, learnt and read about Taiwan and the location of the yoga retreat, smiled and smiled, and smiled some more.
The hardest part had been having to talk to people and tell them what she was planning on doing. It seemed that everyone was in disbelief that she actually dared to do this. Everyone seemed to think that she was out of her mind to make such a big decision and change in her life.
How would she manage? What would she do after? Would she come back?
Talking to people had indeed been the hardest part; trying to convince people that she needed to do this. Why were people so concerned for her? After all, she had travelled extensively throughout her life; she had even moved to a new country on her own at the tender age of 18 and studied at a university in a foreign language.
If she felt that she could do this, she could take this leap of faith, why did she need to prove anything to anyone? Deep down, she had a feeling that most people would have loved to do it themselves, but they were too scared to do anything new with their lives.
Everyone seemed so stuck in their ways and thinking that they needed everything that they had in their lives in order to survive. But if you never tried anything else, how could you be sure? Laura felt that this was her chance to show others that anything was possible; you just needed to believe in yourself.
‘I’m sure going to miss this place’, Laura said as the girls sat down on some cushions and sipped the herbal tea that was on offer for all yoga students after their class. ‘This yoga studio feels like a second home to me. It’s been my sanctuary in this busy city for the past two years.’
‘We will also miss you’, Elianor sipped her tea. ‘Please send us a postcard or two.’
Laura had stumbled across the studio by chance once when she was on her way to a dance class. She had fallen in love with its calm atmosphere immediately and had come in regularly, at least once a week, for a relaxing class. She had made some wonderful friends here and, although in the end of the day it was a business to run a yoga studio, she felt a glowing warmth each time she entered the place.
Laura raised her tea mug. ‘I will be sending you many cards and, as soon as I am back, I will tell you all about it.‘

THE NEXT STEP (3)

Hello, my dear friend’, Laura shrieked as she sat down on her desk.
‘Hello, hello, ‘ Annie’s voice echoed from the laptop. ‘How is my favourite friend doing?’
‘Your favourite friend just left her job’, Laura sighed and waited for Annie’s response.
‘You did? I can’t believe it, but it was about the time!” Annie laughed. ‘You never fitted in in the academic environment. It was far too competitive for you and I always felt that it wasn’t your true passion.‘
‘Really?‘ Laura was surprised. ‘You never said anything.‘
‘You needed to figure that one out yourself, ‘ Annie explained. ‘If I had said something before you were ready to hear it, you wouldn’t have liked what I was saying.‘
‘I see what you mean‘ Laura nodded. ‘But now the trouble is, I am not sure what I can do instead…. I have ideas, but I am not sure how and which ones to put into practice.‘
‘Oh honey, you’ll figure that one out,‘ Annie said reassuringly. ‘Just take a bit of time out and listen to your instinct. It will tell you what your passion is and what you would like to focus on.’
‘You are right’, Laura admitted. ‘ I have listened to other people too much my whole life and never truly followed my heart on what I would like to do with my life. It is time that I am honest with myself and do what I really want to do.’
‘That’s my girl talking’, Annie laughed. ‘Since you love your yoga, how about you go on a retreat? They are great places for having space for yourself and you haven’t been on one despite having practice yoga for so many years.’
As Annie was saying the words, Laura knew that that was exactly what she needed to do. She had been dying to go on a retreat for so long, but something had always come up. A few years ago, her grandfather had unexpectedly died just before she was about to go on a retreat in Spain and so she had travelled instead to be with her family in Sweden. The year after, she has decided to go and do some volunteering in Africa. That had proved to be an amazing and eye-opening experience that Laura wouldn’t change for the world, but it had also meant that she didn’t have money for the retreat that year.
‘That would be so brilliant’, she screamed at Annie and stood up, already giddy with excitement. ‘I just need to look for a suitable one! As soon as the job ends after the notice period in two weeks‘ time, I will go on one!
Annie laughed heartily. ‘How about you come and do it in Taiwan so I can join you there? You must be getting some redundancy money from the university, so why not invest it in flying to Taiwan?’
Now Laura was jumping with excitement. ‘Annie, you are the best of the best! You always have the most wonderful ideas! And you are the most amazing person to take this leap with!’
Now both of the girls were laughing out loud. Annie herself had trained to be a marketing expert, but after having worked flat-out fourteen-hour days for big cosmetic companies, she had reached her limit, quit her job and, after some soul searching, become a masseuse who wrote the monthly horoscope for the Taiwanese Vogue. She, out of all the people, knew what it was like to be searching for what one was meant to be doing during one’s lifetime.
‘And how are things with Hakim?’ Annie asked cautiously after they had both calmed down.
‘Well, they no longer are, but that is fine,’ Laura sat back down on her chair. ‘It is also a relief to be away from his controlling behaviour. Apparently his family found a wife for him in Pakistan and so he is getting married soon.‘
Annie was silent for a while. ‘I know that you both did love and care about one another. But the traditional way of handing things in his family is just too much. It is too different to your modern lifestyle. He would have been too old-fashioned and religious for you, no matter what. I know that four years is a very long time to spend with someone, but do you think that it would ever have worked on a longer term?’
Laura knew that Annie was absolutely right. And she knew that she had known deep down herself that it wouldn’t last with Hakim, no matter what. They had shared fun times and special moments together, and she knew that she had meant a great deal to Hakim. But when it came down to it, he didn’t have the backbone to stand against his parents who were arranging a marriage for him back in their homeland in Pakistan. Deep down, he wasn’t man enough to stand on his two feet.
‘What about you? Any exciting news?’ Laura wanted to change the subject. She didn’t even want to talk about Hakim any more.
‘Nothing much. Massage business is going well and I am enjoying writing for the Vogue. Otherwise, I have made some nice new friends at a meditation session that I attend each Friday. I am content and love living with my cat.’
Annie sounded blissfully happy as she said it, Laura thought. She could definitely achieve the same level of happiness that Annie was radiating.
‘Oh, I can’t wait to see you!’ Laura smiled.
‘I can’t wait to see you either,’ Annie said. ‘But a client will be waiting for me soon, so I must go. Look forward to hearing about the retreat plans soon!’
As they rang off, Laura had the biggest smile on her face in ages. Everything was going to be just fine. Even the moon and the stars are shining down on me, she thought as she looked out of the window at the big, bright full moon, laughing down on her.

THE NEXT STEP (2)

Laura’s step was light as she walked across the narrow concrete streets of Central London towards her small studio flat in Marylebone. It felt like a relief to be free of the hierarchical hold of the academic environment. She had tried her best to be the researcher and lecturer that the system required, but, to her, it felt like they expected too high demands from people. After all, everyone was human. How were they supposed to teach and research and write and present their work in return for a minimal wage?
And then they were expected to be fighting for higher positions and for more authority within the Department, while the people who advanced on the ladder were the ones who sucked up to the Professors.
Laura took a little jump of delight as she walked past her beloved yoga studio. It was such a relief to be out of other people’s power grip, eve if she did have the title Doctor impeded on her for the rest of her life.
More so, now she was free to do what she wanted; free to make her own decisions and dive into something completely new. She found the thought both comforting and frightening. It was a great opportunity for something new, but in this bad economy, what could she do to make a living? She took a few quick steps and her slender frame went flying into the thin air. She let out a little laugh and noticed that the man walking ahead of her gave her a strange look.
He must think that I am a weirdo, Laura mused to herself.
As Laura opened the door to her tiny home, she felt that she needed to talk to her all-time best friend Annie in Taiwan. They had been housemates at university and formed a strong friendship that had lasted for over ten years. Now, at the age of thirty-one, Laura always spoke to Annie when she was not sure about something important in her life. She checked the time. Six in the evening. It would be early morning in Taiwan. Probably Annie would be getting ready to go to work. She could probably Skype for a few minutes before heading out, Laura thought.
Laura switched on her laptop and typed a message to Annie. ‘Are you free to talk? xx’
As she waited for Annie’s response, Laura sat down by the French windows and looked deeply at her Buddha statues arranged neatly around her bonsai tree. She closed her eyes and took three deep breaths. Laura knew that she had many skills and much to offer to others; it was just a matter of deciding what she wanted to focus on in her life.
Her Skype made a beeping sound. Annie was online.

The Next Step (1)

‘In that case, I quit’, Laura was glaring at her manager. Was this really how they would treat her, after so many years of working here? Her bright blue eyes were fixed on the Professor’s face that was starting to turn into an awkward expression. He coughed and looked Laura in the eye, but his cheeks were starting to turn read. His greying hair was sticking out from behind his brown glasses, as he fumbled with his blue shirt.
‘I am very sorry, but we have no funding coming in….’, his voice trailed off. Suddenly he looked even smaller and shorter than his 5 foot 6 height. ‘It is extremely hard to get funding for educational research in this God awful economy. Everyone is suffering. I know that you have been a great asset to our research team over the past five years, and I was confident that we could keep you on on a full-time basis, but I don’t know…’
But Laura knew.
She knew that the other two researchers who were always trying to please the Professor by taking his dog out, making him endless cups of tea, and who knows what, were the ones who would be kept on. She understood that the university was short of funding since the Government was no longer as able to support its research activities, but really? They would just chuck people out just like that, while the Director and the Professors continue to have their luxurious conference trips to the Barbados, staying in five star luxury hotels? Was this really how they treated their loyal employees?
‘Don’t worry about’, Laura said as she flicked her long and curly brown hair behind her shoulder. ‘I have other options.’
Although she didn’t. Not yet, anyway. But she was confident that she could have other options; she just needed to start looking for them.
The Professor looked even more uncomfortable. Laura knew that he was a control freak of sorts and that this situation must be very hard for him to deal with.
‘Do keep in touch’, he attempted before drifting off and starting to gaze at his computer.
He must be eager to get on his email and check through the hundreds that he got every single day, Laura thought.
‘Yes, of course’, Laura said as she smiled and got up, ready to go, ready to leave this place. Deep down she knew that she would never come into this office, ever, again.