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The Happiness Retreat
by Martin David Edwards



Grimthorpe 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.

Grimthorpe tutted.

A yellow 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 wrong button.

Grimthorpe 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 savvy.

He removed 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.

“My friend, welcome to happiness. Time for a hug,” he beamed.

“I don't do hugs,” Grimthorpe replied.

The man waved his arms like tentacles in the air. “I'm Miracle-Om, the retreat host. We spoke on the phone.”

“I’ve never spoken to you in my life.”

“I was 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 Sunday.”

“The retreat has never given a refund yet.”

“There's a first time for everything. I'm beyond hope.”

“I love 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.

Grimthorpe followed Miracle-Om inside the house. He had only come for money and couldn’t care less about mealtimes and allusions to sex.



In the men’s 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.

“They 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 smile.

“I've always been Grimthorpe and looking forward to my refund,” Grimthorpe replied. He chose the bed furthest from the window and unpacked his bag.

A knock sounded on the door. An Indian man poked his head round the frame.

“Please forgive my impertinence but is this where the party is happening? I am being reminded of my best days at school,” he said.

“I've given up on parties. They’re too shallow to be meaningful,” Grimthorpe replied.

“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.

“I'm here because I bought too many geraniums. Please keep off my bed,” Grimthorpe answered, keeping his hands to himself.



A gong reverberated through the house and into the men’s dormitory.

“Dinner time. I am missing my cutey chickpea's cooking already,” Mr Mishra announced to the other men.

“Forced socializing is guaranteed not to make me happy,” Grimthorpe grumbled.

“Please forgive my impertinence but you are obviously unmarried. Meal times are the highlight of my day,” Mr Mishra said.

“Nobody would want to marry me. They would be too depressed by the wedding,” Grimthorpe replied.

“My 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.

The three 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.

“My 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.

“You're wasting your money on the retreat. Follow my example and you both might get a refund,” Grimthorpe said to the couple.

“Please 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.

An assistant with a smiley face on her t-shirt wheeled a trolley into the room. Miracle-Om followed behind.

“Organic cauliflower curry will bless your route to happiness,” he beamed at the group.

“I'm not going to get proper food either. You could have offered me a steak,” Grimthorpe replied.

“We’re vegan,” the assistant frowned. She filled bowls with the curry and handed them around the table.

 Grimthorpe watched her every move.

“You are having thoughts of romantic hanky panky,” Mr Mishra whispered to him.

“I’m thinking of mowing my lawn,” Grimthorpe replied.

“Eat your cauliflower and stop your man chats. You are not getting any of that,” Mrs Mishra said to her husband, handing him a spoon.

“My 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 begin.

“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.

“I 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 won’t disturb your rest,” Miracle-Om beamed and put his arm around the assistant's waist.

The 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 I’m lost,” Alex said, staring at his bowl.

“My friend, a soul passing away means nothing when happiness is immortal,” Miracle-Om beamed.

“Is there a dessert on offer?” Grimthorpe asked, holding up his empty bowl.

“Apple 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 beamed back.

“I’ll make a point to say the cinnamon should have been sugar,” Grimthorpe replied to a frown from the assistant.



On the following morning, the group sat cross-legged in a meeting room in front of Miracle-Om and the assistant.

“A 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.

“I am 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 added.

Alex 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.

Miracle-Om handed him a tissue and beamed at Grimthorpe to continue.

“You're not catching me out. I know exactly what you want me to say,” Grimthorpe declared.

“My friend, in time you will learn to love the world as much as me,” Miracle-Om beamed.

“I've never met anybody so complacent,” Grimthorpe replied under his breath.

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.

“My lawn mower will be petrol powered,” Grimthorpe announced.

The group 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.

“My 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.”

Grimthorpe 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.

“I am 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 husband.

The Mishras glanced at Grimthorpe and waved at him. He hurried past them, bored at their revelations.

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 lunch.

“My 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 t-shirt wrinkled.

The assistant stood silently at his side and scowled.

“Other people only cause problems. Look at the rest of the group. They're either pretending they are happy or are half mad,” Grimthorpe replied.

“Nice try. But don't think you're entitled to a refund on the grounds of being a humbug,” Miracle-Om beamed back.



After lunch, the group lay flat on mats in the meeting room.

“This afternoon's session is our last before the closing ceremony. We will now consider the ultimate secret of happiness itself,” Miracle-Om beamed from his mat.

“Prompt payment of refunds would be a start,” Grimthorpe said.

“We 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,” Miracle-Om beamed.

“My cutey chickpea will go first in her usual place. In my house she is always wearing the trousers,” Mr Mishra said.

“There 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.”

“Please forgive my impertinence but my cutey chickpea is mistaken. Without dreams, she would still be beautiful,” Mr Mishra sighed.

“Your souls are singing in cosmic harmony. May the rest of the group follow your example,” Miracle-Om beamed back.

“My friend reminds me of my son,” Alex said, nodding at Grimthorpe. Then he shrugged his shoulders. “But I only had a daughter.”

The group waited for Grimthorpe to speak. He rolled his eyes and picked at his mat.

“And what do you like about your friend?” Miracle-Om asked softly.

Grimthorpe hesitated. “He might be useful in sweeping up leaves,” he replied eventually.

The group contemplated his reply. Mr Mishra poked his wife in her ribs. “I believe we are having an awkward moment, my cutey chickpea,” he whispered.

“The 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.”

“I'm useless at music. More grounds for a refund,” Grimthorpe muttered.

“My wife used to play the clarinet. Or it might have been the oboe,” Alex said. Another tear fell from his eye.



In the 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.

“Any rhythm you can hear is entirely due to your imagination. I'll add a case of hopelessness to my refund file,” he said.

Alex carried on playing, his hands flying in a blur above his own drum. Grimthorpe shouted to repeat himself.

“I 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 there.”

Grimthorpe 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.

Only the 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.

“I'm observing a naturally unhappy spirit like me. We must both be at the last stage of desperation,” he replied.

The 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.”

Miracle-Om 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 wife’s ear.



During the 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.

The Indian’s bed was empty.

Grimthorpe 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.



 At breakfast, Mr and Mrs Mishra sat together at the dining room table, poking each other in their ribs.

“My cutey chickpea and I discovered another use for the beanbags,” Mr Mishra winked at Grimthorpe.

“I hope the covers are machine washable,” Grimthorpe replied.

Alex played his spoon on the table top, his white hair bobbing in rhythm. The assistant said nothing and studied her cornflakes.

Grimthorpe looked out of the window. In the light of the day the garden was an overgrown chaos. He stood up and coughed for attention.

“I hereby claim my refund. Looking for happiness is pointless when it’s forever out of reach. As a goodwill gesture for our host’s humiliation, I’ll sort out your gardening. The grounds are a national disgrace,” he said.

The group clapped in unison. Grimthorpe gave a triumphant bow and sat down.

Miracle-Om appeared at his shoulder and dropped a package wrapped in gift paper onto the table with a plop.

“My refund. I’m glad you've acknowledged your defeat so graciously,” Grimthorpe said. He unwrapped the package, layer by layer.

A folded 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.




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