New Writing from Andy Tu. Andy writes were life takes him.
You place it in me? I place it in you.
Hahaha. Pan and I laugh, we are so funny. But we cannot be funny. Because then we are something. Then we are. And Master that we aren’t.
But how can we not be? I see you. You have eyes, a mouth that speaks, a body. And don’t you see me?
Yes I see you, but that is not the point.
The point, he says, is that not even this conversation is real.
I’m sorry, but I don’t understand.
Don’t be sorry. Don’t… be. Do you understand?
Master looks at me but he’s not looking at me, his eyes like the lady without a home who sometimes comes by the pagoda for food.
I don’t get it Master. I’m sor— I’m not sorry.
Nono, you are neither sorry, nor are you not sorry. Now do you understand?
No, I do not.
It’s okay, Lin, you are very young. He laughs. I do not expect you to understand yet. But I pray to Buddha that one day you will.
I will also pray to Buddha to understand.
He bows, so we bow. He exits.
Pan keeps his eyes on the ground.
What are you thinking about, Pan?
I’m thinking about something I saw, but- I shouldn’t…
No, I may not be able to talk about it.
Please, Pan, tell me. We cannot keep secrets, remember? And if you are unsure that you cannot tell someone something, then you should tell it. That is what Master said.
I do not know how to explain it. What I saw. Because I don’t understand it. But maybe I can show you.
The New Year festival is soon. The village will come and we will say the blessings as they place delicious food in front of us. This is what Pan tells me. That we cannot eat all of it. I do not understand this, but I do not understand most things. Master says it’s okay, because it’s only my first year.
First, we must prepare by cleaning our minds. I don’t understand this, either. But I follow them into the pagoda, where we sit in front of the painting of Buddha and close our eyes.
There are 16 of us. The number is significant, because it can be divided into two separate entities until there is only one.
Listen to your breath, says Master. Breath is everything.
Listen to nothing else. But breathe.
I breathe. Listen to nothing else.
Open your eyes. We are finished.
I open my eyes. I see past the pillars that the day has darkened, the sun has set, leaving a teal glow that reminds me of the ocean.
You may go to the kitchen now for dinner.
We rise and pass through the trail toward the kitchen, the dirt colding our bare feet.
How long were we in there, I ask Pan.
I don’t know. I may have fallen asleep, actually.
Long, who has been there for 5 years, turns around as we assemble into a line to receive food.
11387 seconds, he says. Well, 11387 counts in my head.
You counted that time? But Master says we are supposed to think of nothing.
He laughs. Master says many things. It does not mean you must follow them all or accept them as truth.
But we are here to learn about our minds, how can we do this unless we follow his teachings?
Long smiles, his eyes like Buddha eyes.
Part of learning about your own mind is deciding what you should and should not follow.
That is not right, says Pan. Master would be angry with you if he heard this.
Long laughs again. Don’t you know that Master smokes every day?
Yes, says Pan. I’ve seen it sometimes.
And I’m sure you’ve smelled it before too, when Master does it at night when he thinks everyone is asleep.
But everyone is asleep, says Pan.
No, Pan. Not everyone. Now think about it. Do you think the people are happy about Master smoking sometimes? And late at night in secret? How many of them do you think have told Master to stop smoking?
We shrug my shoulders.
Everyone. They ask him, why does he have to smoke? And some even say that his mind must not be strong enough to lead us, because not only does he desire to smoke, but he gives in to this desire, which he himself knows is incorrect.
The caretaker holds out a plate of porridge to Long. He takes the food in both hands and bows.
I don’t understand, I say.
You’ll understand, one day.
I hope so.
I am in the river, floating through a group of silver fish. Below are rocks of many colors, bright and dark—pink, green, brown, yellow, and more. I see colors that I’ve never seen in my life, colors that I did not know exist. I want to swim down there and touch them, pick them up and bring them to my family to see. They will be worth a lot, and the money we will get can feed us for many days. But the current of the water keeps pulling me along, and my body is shaking.
Shaking until I feel myself emerge in my body. Pan is standing above me, shaking my shoulder.
Lin, he whispers, I can show you now. The thing I cannot explain.
I get up.
Follow me, he says.
We step carefully around the other boys on the floor. Our sleeping room only has a single window, and I can barely see, my eyes have not adjusted to the moonlight yet. But I follow Pan’s shadow and can sense where the others are on the floor.
We walk outside under a near full moon. Everything feels different at night, quiet, cold like the earth is asleep along with the village.
Master will be not be pleased if he catches us outside, I say.
Never mind that! Remember what Long said. There, whispers Pan, pointing to the tool shed, do you see that light coming from the crack?
I look but I do not see what he’s talking about. Everything is dark, the tool shed a block of shadow.
Come on, he says, heading for the shed. But do not make any sound. There is something in there.
I don’t know. That is why I want you to see.
We go to the shed. Pan points to the corner, and I see a small light, flashing from inside the crack.
Pan nods his head and tells me to look inside.
I approach slowly. I am afraid because it might be a ghost, or something I should not see, this is the feeling I get, that I should not look.
But I look. I see a light flickering. I see faces in the shadows, illuminating with the light and disappearing again. I shift around, try to see better. My toe bumps against the shed.
I hear a snap. The light disappears. The faces. I see only darkness.
I feel Pan’s hand on my shoulder.
What do you see?
Faces, I say. Like ghosts.
But you do not look scared.
I’m not. I don’t know. It was not scary. But we should go back now.
No. We should open the door and look inside.
No, Pan. If it is a spirit, we will release it.
We hear something moving in the shed, whispers.
We back away, turn around and run back inside.
The next morning, the New Year festival begins. They spread the prayer rug before the Buddha. We sit and the villagers come in with plates of food. Everyone is dressed in their best clothes, even the children are wearing shirts with buttons, and those who do not have nice clothes have borrowed, I can tell by the way they handle the food so carefully and far from their bodies that they are afraid to get the clothes dirty.
There is so much food, enough to feed the lady who asks for food a meal every day for a whole year. The caretaker and Master place small bits of each dish onto plates and place them in front of us.
Before we can eat, we chant the sutras, and everyone bows their heads and clasps their hands together at us. I think they are bowing to the Buddha but it looks like they are bowing to us.
I close my eyes and join the chant. I can only think about the light in the tool shed. The faces flickering in and out.
Pan and I wash in the evening. We dump buckets of water over ourselves and scrub our hands with soap until the bubbles foam. A large blanket hangs between us so we cannot see each other naked.
Will it be there tonight? I ask.
I don’t know. I’ve only seen it once before yesterday.
Why were you out there, how did you see it?
I will tell you, but you must swear to the Buddha that you will never tell anyone else.
I sometimes feel a desire, late at night. A desire of the body. Do you know what I’m talking about?
No, I say. But Master says we must ignore desires.
Master smokes, you don’t think that’s a desire? How can he tell us to do something when he’s not doing it himself?
I don’t know. But tell me about this desire.
I believe you are too young to understand, perhaps. It only began the last month, the same time the hair started growing on my chin.
But why do you go outside?
Like Master, he does not smoke around us. Or anyone. He does it alone in the back or after we go to bed.
It is the same. My desire wishes to be done alone.
I do not understand
It’s ok. I don’t either.
I stay awake at night, wait until the snores of those around me have become a rhythm, a song. I get up and shake Pan on the shoulder, but he does not respond.
Pan, I whisper, come on. Let’s go. Wake up.
But he does not respond.
I go outside alone. The moon is full tonight, and yellow. Not a cloud in the sky.
I see the light in the crack, flashing again. I do not peer inside this time. Instead I walk to the door of the toolshed and open it.
I see the square of light, the faces. Three of them. They look at me. They are Long, and two others, Mi and Dao. They are watching a screen. Mi is tall as he gets up and comes to me.
It is not chance that you have arrived here, he says. Close the door behind you, and we will show you the world.
I close the door and walk over. Long smiles at me under the glow of the screen and waves his hand to sit next to him. Dao shifts over to give me space. I sit. And I watch.
It is the second morning of the New Year festival. Those who are rich bring the same amount of food to offer as before. Some bring more than yesterday. Those who have less money bring less, and the poor bring nothing, but still wear borrowed clothes that make them walk stiffly.
I think about what I saw yesterday. The woman who takes off her clothes slowly. I see her in front of me, above everyone’s heads. First her shirt, then her pants, then what’s beneath. I feel the desire to see her again.
We begin the chant. And they bow before us, like we are gods.