‘On waking from a dream of the eating the last banana.’ A live feed from a security camera in a supermarket somewhere in the northern hemisphere. Helicopter wreckage discovered in the desert. An advert for a DNA temple: ‘We Speak Your Code!’
Over the next weeks, Morgan threw himself into the retreat. He tended to sheep and chickens. He mucked out, washed up and washed down. He rescued eggs from straw. He gathered vegetables from the garden. He popped beans from a shell. He mingled with the other residents. He discussed the present and the prospects for the future. He listened to theories and ideas. He offered some of his own. He meditated. He took MDMA, and an opium derivative which made him throw up on the floor of his room. He explored the corridors of the hotel, the aged furniture, the signs emblazoned with the brand of what had once been a globally successful chain. Upon the fourth floor, he discovered a set of tables and chairs looking out over the grounds. He took to spending his afternoons looking out over the gardens: the glass building of an old health spa adapted as a greenhouse; the small maze planted out of box shrubs; the residents tending to the gardens, or working in the vineyard. Inspired by these scenes, Morgan wrote poems about the waves and the sun, about the stars and the first woman he’d seen naked. He felt satisfied, vindicated. This was the reason I came.
Only during the next week did his mind turn to the outside world. It was his daughter’s birthday. Ever since they’d been reunited, he’d tried to mark the occasion with a little gift or a message. Not this year. Before he’d entered the retreat he’d called her. The conversation was halting, the signal terrible. She was heading out for a meal with her latest partner, who turned out to be her manager, a man in his fifties.
‘Perhaps, you really are going to miss me,’ Morgan had said.
But the joke had been too intimate, misjudged. His daughter had clicked her tongue. ‘Very Freudian. Your new friends aren’t going to like that at all.’
When Morgan had first told her about his move to the retreat, she’d laughed, accusing him of losing his mind and joining one of the DNA cults. He’d felt affronted, ridiculous. Even when he’d tried to explain that the retreat only aimed to allow residents time for a little self-examination, she’d mocked him.
”Inner space not outer space,” she laughed. ‘Yeah, I’ve seen the adverts.’
She worked for the Chinese in Lagos. Whenever she mentioned her job, it was to anticipate the big deal that would finally establish a career, which, Morgan guessed, was drifting badly. When they’d first got in touch he’d felt a kind of hope, a faith in the future which until that point had been missing. But somehow it had never been expressed.
That evening he took pills with a young Bangladeshi woman who refused to tell him her name. ‘I want to remain a stranger to everyone for as long as she was here,’ she’d explained. She had the kind of spooky, addled seriousness that Morgan had found attractive when he was a student; he’d enjoyed every minute of her company. The significance also wasn’t lost on him: on his daughter’s birthday he’d gone to bed with a woman almost half his age. I’m making new discoveries, he told himself, exploring the limits of my subjectivity.
They lay together naked in Morgan’s bed. The woman explained how she had advanced her meditation to the point where she felt she had moved beyond her own life.
‘I see a woman wiping her neck with a white rag,’ she told him. ‘It is very hot. I can smell dust from corn. My eyes sting. I think I am… it’s hard, but I think I am allergic to the pollen.’
Morgan rested his head against her shoulder. Her skin smelled bitter and sweet, like some kind of resin. A chemical wave swelled inside of him.
‘It’s these sensations that you have to focus upon,’ the woman went on. ‘The heat, the dust. I’m really lucky to have the hayfever, which, incidentally, I don’t suffer from normally. It’s something special.’
‘So this is what? A past life?’
‘I don’t really like that term. It carries a lot of baggage. I prefer to think… Have you read Schuller?’
Morgan shook his head. The drugs had filled his blood, his blood surging down into his groin.
‘Schuller is fantastic. His theory is that consciousness is only the dream that our DNA has itself.’ She rolled onto her side and began brushing her fingers lightly over Morgan’s penis. ‘Our brains are like the sea. That’s what Schuller says. Ancient and unknown, with depths we will probably never understand, you can see both as metaphors for our survival. Of course, this survival shouldn’t be seen in purely subjective terms…’
‘The eggs…’ The question slipped out of him, troubling Morgan’s high. Static fuzzed at the periphery of his vision. ‘Did you…?’
‘I could never afford it.’ She pulled her hand away. To punish me, Morgan thought. ‘I enter the lottery now and then, but… What about you?’
The static had increased, teeming diamond patterns refracting aspects of the room. ‘I don’t play…’ he said. ‘I’m not…’
‘Don’t worry.’ As the woman moved her fingers back down to his penis, she placed her lips precisely upon his shoulder, as though the matching their shape to a tattoo upon his skin. ‘Like I always say, in some ways, all of us will be there. Like I always say…’