squeaked to a stop in the car park. A country house loomed in front of him, its
light brick walls patterned by overgrown ivy. In its garden beanbags circled
the grey remains of a fire. Unkempt grass waved with the wind.
smiley face grinned back at him from the letter propped on his empty passenger
seat. The Happiness Retreat would last from Friday evening to Sunday morning,
with accommodation and meals included. He had only been invited by mistake
because of a mix-up at the gardening centre. As an incentive for ordering
geraniums in bulk, he had wanted a complimentary rake. But their computer had
sent him away for the free weekend instead. Somebody must have pressed the
scowled at the letter. The retreat promised him a personal discovery of
happiness. If he failed, he would get his money back. He had phoned its host in
a false voice to check the small print. The host had assured him that the
refund still applied if the retreat was a gift. If he remained unhappy, he
could buy a new lawn mower instead of getting a rake. Hippies were not very
his bag from the boot and crunched over gravel to the house. A man wearing red
shorts, flip flops and a white t-shirt held out his arms at the entrance. The
smiley face of the booking sheet was printed on his chest.
friend, welcome to happiness. Time for a hug, he beamed.
don't do hugs, Grimthorpe replied.
waved his arms like tentacles in the air. I'm Miracle-Om, the retreat
host. We spoke on the phone.
Ive never spoken to you in
a drama teacher before I discovered the secret of happiness. Voice projections
were my forte, Miracle-Om beamed. We can forget all that talk about
refunds. This weekend I promise to light up your karma.
I'll take cash on
retreat has never given a refund yet.
There's a first time for
everything. I'm beyond hope.
an extra challenge. Miracle-Om patted Grimthorpe's back. The
dormitories for men are up the staircase to the left. Women are to the right.
We don't mix our sleeping to ensure our mindfulness. But the workshops and
mealtimes are a free-for-all. Sharing is caring, mostly, he added,
squeezing Grimthorpe's shoulder for emphasis.
followed Miracle-Om inside the house. He had only come for money and
couldnt care less about mealtimes and allusions to sex.
mens dormitory, four beds were ranked against the walls. A solitary bed
had been placed under a bay window and a man with white hair was lying on the
duvet reading his booking slip.
call me Alex. Maybe I was an Alexander once but I can't remember. At least I'll
be happy when the weekend is over, the man said with a faltering
always been Grimthorpe and looking forward to my refund, Grimthorpe
replied. He chose the bed furthest from the window and unpacked his
sounded on the door. An Indian man poked his head round the frame.
forgive my impertinence but is this where the party is happening? I am being
reminded of my best days at school, he said.
given up on parties. Theyre too shallow to be meaningful,
Nonsense. We are all being here
for the same reason. My wife and I say that happiness is the fruit of the soul.
I am Mr Mishra, the man said, holding out his hand.
here because I bought too many geraniums. Please keep off my bed,
Grimthorpe answered, keeping his hands to himself.
reverberated through the house and into the mens dormitory.
time. I am missing my cutey chickpea's cooking already, Mr Mishra
announced to the other men.
socializing is guaranteed not to make me happy, Grimthorpe
forgive my impertinence but you are obviously unmarried. Meal times are the
highlight of my day, Mr Mishra said.
would want to marry me. They would be too depressed by the wedding,
wedding and my wife's funeral were at the same church. Or perhaps I am getting
confused with Christmas, Alex added from the bay window.
men traipsed down the staircase into the dining room at the bottom of the
house. A table had been prepared with places for six. An Indian woman entered
the dining room in pin-striped trousers. Mr Mishra rushed towards her and gave
her a kiss on the cheek.
cutey chickpea has arrived to be reunited with her dearest, he said to
the other men.
Absence elevates the art of
suffering, Mrs Mishra replied.
wasting your money on the retreat. Follow my example and you both might get a
refund, Grimthorpe said to the couple.
forgive my impertinence but you are rushing to conclusions. We are attending
because we want to be even happier together than we already are, Mr
Mishra replied with a squeeze of his wife's hand.
with a smiley face on her t-shirt wheeled a trolley into the room. Miracle-Om
Organic cauliflower curry will
bless your route to happiness, he beamed at the group.
not going to get proper food either. You could have offered me a steak,
Were vegan, the
assistant frowned. She filled bowls with the curry and handed them around the
Grimthorpe watched her every
are having thoughts of romantic hanky panky, Mr Mishra whispered to
Im thinking of mowing my
lawn, Grimthorpe replied.
your cauliflower and stop your man chats. You are not getting any of
that, Mrs Mishra said to her husband, handing him a spoon.
friends, we will begin the retreat by discussing the nature of happiness
itself, Miracle-Om said to the group. He nodded at the Mishras to
Happiness is the art of being
together. On the retreat we will learn to appreciate the beauty of our company
more fully than a wholesome curry, Mr Mishra said with a swirl of his
spoon at his wife.
congratulate your insight. But I would like to remind my friends about the
sleeping arrangements. Separation will be required from dusk to dawn for the
guests. The staff wont disturb your rest, Miracle-Om beamed and put
his arm around the assistant's waist.
assistant dipped her spoon into her bowl and said nothing.
I got married when I was 25. I thought I knew
what happiness was. But my wife died and now Im lost, Alex said,
staring at his bowl.
friend, a soul passing away means nothing when happiness is immortal,
there a dessert on offer? Grimthorpe asked, holding up his empty
crumble from the orchard. But don't smile at the deliciousness of the cinnamon
flavouring. You might rule yourself out for your refund, Miracle-Om
Ill make a point to say the
cinnamon should have been sugar, Grimthorpe replied to a frown from the
following morning, the group sat cross-legged in a meeting room in front of
Miracle-Om and the assistant.
beautiful morning to my friends. We are going to start the first day of our
retreat by visualizing being happy, he beamed at the group.
already visualizing a state of happiness. I only have to look at the cutey
chickpea sitting next to me, Mr Mishra said.
Flattery is the oldest trick in
the book. But you are still not raiding my dormitory tonight, Mrs Mishra
scratched at his hair. I will see happiness when I can remember
everything, he said. Then he dropped his hand to his lap. But I
don't think that's such a good idea. A tear ran down his face and onto
his neck unchecked.
handed him a tissue and beamed at Grimthorpe to continue.
not catching me out. I know exactly what you want me to say, Grimthorpe
friend, in time you will learn to love the world as much as me,
never met anybody so complacent, Grimthorpe replied under his
Miracle-Om clapped his hands and stood up. We will nourish
our blossoming wellbeing
with a meditative walk in the garden. Imagine happiness as being in the sun
among the trees, he beamed.
lawn mower will be petrol powered, Grimthorpe announced.
followed Miracle-Om and the assistant into the garden. The Mishras walked by
themselves, quietly talking to each other. Grimthorpe quickened his pace and
picked up an apple so that he could listen to them undetected.
cutey chickpea should kindly listen to what I am saying, Mr Mishra said
to his wife in hushed tones. A divorce will cause a scandal for our
families. I only agreed to come to this ridiculous retreat so that we could be
giving our marriage a second chance.
bit into the apple and a sourness filled his mouth. But he kept listening to
the Mishras out of habit. Marital arguments he overheard from his neighbours
made his gardening less lonely.
only happy because I can see the end in sight. When we finish, I am driving
straight to my mother's for lunch and you can take a train home. Our solicitors
can exchange notes on Monday, Mrs Mishra continued to her
glanced at Grimthorpe and waved at him. He hurried past them, bored at their
A shock of
white hair bobbed among the green at the end of garden. Grimthorpe cupped his
eyes and squinted in the sunlight. Alex was hugging a tree. Grimthorpe returned
to the house in a hurry. Then he sat in the dining room alone to wait for
friend, there is no need to pretend that you dislike company so much,
Miracle-Om said. He had appeared from the garden, the smiley face on his
assistant stood silently at his side and scowled.
people only cause problems. Look at the rest of the group. They're either
pretending they are happy or are half mad, Grimthorpe replied.
try. But don't think you're entitled to a refund on the grounds of being a
humbug, Miracle-Om beamed back.
the group lay flat on mats in the meeting room.
afternoon's session is our last before the closing ceremony. We will now
consider the ultimate secret of happiness itself, Miracle-Om beamed from
payment of refunds would be a start, Grimthorpe said.
must learn to love ourselves equally without conditions. The group will share
an aspect of each other which they appreciate in particular. Staff members are
excluded out of modesty. We will start with the other adorable couple,
cutey chickpea will go first in her usual place. In my house she is always
wearing the trousers, Mr Mishra said.
is one point of appreciation about my husband which always intrigues me,
Mrs Mishra replied. He is a dreamer, forever trying to achieve the
impossible. If I was him, I would have jumped over a cliff.
forgive my impertinence but my cutey chickpea is mistaken. Without dreams, she
would still be beautiful, Mr Mishra sighed.
souls are singing in cosmic harmony. May the rest of the group follow your
example, Miracle-Om beamed back.
friend reminds me of my son, Alex said, nodding at Grimthorpe. Then he
shrugged his shoulders. But I only had a daughter.
waited for Grimthorpe to speak. He rolled his eyes and picked at his mat.
what do you like about your friend? Miracle-Om asked softly.
hesitated. He might be useful in sweeping up leaves, he replied
contemplated his reply. Mr Mishra poked his wife in her ribs. I believe
we are having an awkward moment, my cutey chickpea, he
route to happiness is paved with rough encounters, Miracle-Om said and
clapped his hands. This evening, we will find happiness by drumming to
the sound of our heart beats. There is no skill required except for the ability
to embrace your consciousness.
useless at music. More grounds for a refund, Grimthorpe
wife used to play the clarinet. Or it might have been the oboe, Alex
said. Another tear fell from his eye.
evening, the group sat on the beanbags in the garden with drums propped between
their knees. A fire crackled in the middle of the circle, throwing
spark-coloured shadows onto the group. Grimthorpe flayed his hands randomly on
his drum and lent to his side to speak to Alex.
rhythm you can hear is entirely due to your imagination. I'll add a case of
hopelessness to my refund file, he said.
on playing, his hands flying in a blur above his own drum. Grimthorpe shouted
to repeat himself.
might have lost my memory but I'm not deaf, Alex replied. In the
morning I'm going on holiday to Jamaica. I remembered we went on our honeymoon
shook his head and evaluated the rest of the circle. Mrs Mishra was showing her
husband how to play his drum, their hands laced together.
assistant was quiet, her drum hidden unused in the shadows while she sat
immobile at Miracle-Om's side.
You've spent the whole
weekend watching me, she suddenly said to Grimthorpe.
observing a naturally unhappy spirit like me. We must both be at the last stage
of desperation, he replied.
assistant glared at him, her eyes sparkling in the firelight like diamonds.
For someone who watches everything, you understand nothing. Some of us
are born miserable and like ourselves just as we are.
beamed at Grimthorpe and gave him a drum roll.
Refunds all round,
Grimthorpe replied. But he frowned as the drumming continued unabated. Mr and
Mrs Mishra were giggling at each other. In the shadows from the fire, he was
sure that Mr Mishra was nibbling his wifes ear.
night in the men's dormitory, Grimthorpe woke up and groaned. Alex was drumming
his fingers on the window sill, the frame rattling and keeping them awake.
Grimthorpe shifted his weight on the mattress to complain to Mr Mishra.
Indians bed was empty.
huddled himself into a ball underneath his duvet. He imagined he was asking
each member of the group to congratulate him on his flower beds. But everyone
said they were too busy meditating. After an hour of repeating himself he gave
up and went to sleep.
breakfast, Mr and Mrs Mishra sat together at the dining room table, poking each
other in their ribs.
cutey chickpea and I discovered another use for the beanbags, Mr Mishra
winked at Grimthorpe.
the covers are machine washable, Grimthorpe replied.
his spoon on the table top, his white hair bobbing in rhythm. The assistant
said nothing and studied her cornflakes.
looked out of the window. In the light of the day the garden was an overgrown
chaos. He stood up and coughed for attention.
hereby claim my refund. Looking for happiness is pointless when its
forever out of reach. As a goodwill gesture for our hosts humiliation,
Ill sort out your gardening. The grounds are a national disgrace,
clapped in unison. Grimthorpe gave a triumphant bow and sat down.
appeared at his shoulder and dropped a package wrapped in gift paper onto the
table with a plop.
refund. Im glad you've acknowledged your defeat so graciously,
Grimthorpe said. He unwrapped the package, layer by layer.
white t-shirt lay in the middle of the discarded gift paper. He picked it up
and let the t-shirt unravel. In the middle of the chest a yellow smiley face
beamed at him.