The crickets were the first ones to catch on to the yoga trend. They weren’t the first ones to know about it, of course; it certainly hadn’t escaped the rest of the insect kingdom that this was a rapidly growing facet of the human world. Some of the braver flies had even taken to posting up in a couple of the nearby studios – Bill, notably, had changed his name to Arudas and claimed to have reached enlightenment – but most of the bugs observed it as they did all human behavior; the proverbial “fly on the wall” was not a phrase without backing or reason.
When the first studio opened in the tall grasses (“Puddleside Yoga”), it was a surprise of sorts, but by no means a shock. The crickets, with their long legs and musical ways, were certainly the most bourgeois of the insect kingdom. At first, none of the other bugs ventured inside the studio, just watched it with a mixture of curiosity and envy. But it was hard to ignore the lower-pitched grounding “OM” chirps resonating from the space, and an industry of sustainable leaf yoga mats was fast developing – so it wasn’t long before the caterpillars decided to give it a shot, and then the beetles and ladybugs, too.
Within a matter of months, several other studios had popped up in areas around town, with a wide variety of class offerings. Puddleside opted for more fast-paced bug-yasa, catering to its lean-limbed clientele. But there was also the gentler snail yoga, the more airy butterfly and moth classes, and even sweaty swamp yoga (though the tadpoles weren’t technically insects, they lived in the area). All but the most courageous stayed far away from the praying mantis classes.
As with any trend, there was controversy that occurred, too. As the studios proliferated, so did other similar businesses, and neighborhoods were gentrified. Worker ants began demanding time off and breaks to balance their chakras, which did not go over well with any of the queens. Butterflies began renting out their old cocoons as intensive meditation retreats, prompting protests from more conservative members of the bug family, who called the practice “wrong” and “unnatural.” Through it all, the bogis (as the major teachers and practitioners were called) maintained that they were doing nothing wrong and simply were doing their part to bring higher thinking to the lowest animal kingdom.
The craze calmed down eventually, of course, and everyone went back to their normal lives, albeit with some changes here and there. The yogic teachings of peace and equality had spurred the ants to unionize, and more than a couple co-operative colonies had sprung up. There was now an entire stump-top retreat, complete with meditation cocoons and tantric web-spinning. And of course, the term boga had landed a definite and firm place in the local vernacular.
Overall, most of the community agreed that the changes brought on by the “boga” craze had been good ones, and the bogis were nothing if not friendly folk. There was talk of harmonizing and fostering dialogue and community with the other animal kingdoms, but everyone understood that that day was a long way off, and would take much effort. So, for the time being, the bogis continued doing their boga, the conservative critters continued disagreeing, and Puddleside yoga carried on and did just fine.
I never told anybody this, but Aziz was my best friend before the whole incident went down. We used to play in the stream behind my house, dressin' frogs in daisy necklaces and grass sarongs. She sang those old Persian tunes – she was a crooner, that one – and I'd eat my khormeh and tap my feet along. I wasn't much of a singer, but I sure loved her tone.
Anyway, we were about 10 or 12 when it occurred. It was one of those sticky-sweet summer days, when Mamanjoon had given us noon-va-paneer-va-hendooneh to eat and we'd abandoned our shoes on the bank, dipping toes in the crystal flowing by. There were minnows, of course, and a bird or two, maybe a parastoo. But nothin' seemed out of order.
Then it happened, seemingly without pretext, but knowing Aziz as I did, I bet she'd been plannin' something for a long time. “Hey Shirin,” she said, and I looked over to see her small frame straddling the water, a smirk on her face and a glint in her dark eyes. “Watch this.” Then she lifted her arms, grinned real big-like, and turned into a fish.
I swear to you on those summer scorchers that's what I saw. One minute, she was this lanky pile of olive flesh and sarcasm, and the next she was a shimmering rainbow fish – so like Aziz to choose some mystical aquatic creature and not a normal one – gliding through the bubbles coursin' by my feet.
I was aghast, of course – less over the fact that she was a fish than that she hadn't let me in on this plan at all – but before I could so much as yell out, sheytooni!, she was gone.
Grumblin' and glowerin', I returned home without my cousin, where the family descended on me in a frenzy. Where's Aziz? Not here. What do you mean, 'not here'? She turned into a fish. A fish?! A fish. Ay, joon!
Within a matter of minutes, authorities were alerted and search parties organized and people went out on the hunt in the hopes of finding my elusive, rainbow colored relative. Mamanjoon swore on Mashhad that Aziz had gotten away because of modern culture, this land, kids these days, but I knew it wasn't that. I knew what it was. I knew it was our house.
Mama and Baba may have said otherwise for days, but what did they know? They were never around. Our house, with its deep layers of carpets tunneled between cavernous, calligraphy-lined walls, where aunts and cousins and seconds and thirds passed through like foreign ghosts, bearing gifts of sweets and gold and strangely designed t-shirts in a distant tongue, and where stories of “home” implied somewhere so far, so distant, lord but we figured we'd never make it there. It was enough to make a young gal go crazy with longin'.
I'd thought of leaving too, plenty of times, but I wasn't like Aziz. I couldn't just turn into a mythical fish on a whim – that was her strength. Yes, Mama would say, but you're smart, and I was, all bookish and studious. Truth be told, though, I was jealous of Aziz, and that's why I clung to her like light on a lightnin' bug, tagging along on her every adventure. When we were princesses, we were princesses together; when we were sultans, the land was equally ours. Split right down the middle – that's how I liked it.
So it came as a mighty blow when Aziz went rogue and solo like this. I was upset and annoyed for sure, but more than anything, I was jealous. Jealous of her recklessness. Jealous of her courage. Jealous of her strength. And most of all, jealous of the land I was sure she'd returned to, where honey and pomegranates paraded down the street, and distant parents were replaced by Mamanjoons cooing
over every pillow and serving ghormeh sabzi in every room.
Aziz came back, boasting and so proud of her journey, and I kept quiet while Maman, Papa, and Mamanjoon oo-ed and aw-ed and cooed and fawned over her return. I kept quiet while they chastised her for leaving and while they gave her jat-khali after jat-khali. I kept quiet when she came into my room at night and sat silently for a while before gently saying, “I'm sorry. I had to,” then left. I kept quiet while we grew apart, went to separate states for college, and watched each others' triumphs and failures from a distance. I kept quiet, and I never fully spoke it, but that whole fish incident was the reason we started driftin', and the very issue that drove us apart.
Even now, years later and growin' as I've grown, I can't shake the feeling that she went there, to the land we'd never known but knew we came from, and I never could quite forgive her for it. Still can't. Don't think I ever will.
And what's more, I still can't turn into a fish.