the BEGINNING of the END of the GAME OF LIFE
I was riding a Tibetan Monk named Chodak, deep in meditation, when the Chinese intelligence agents broke through the sanctuary door. The first agent, who I’d later know as Zhang Wei, must have used his shoulder to snap the ancient bolt free from the worn teak door-fame, because he came tumbling through headfirst, stumbling, and plowed directly into my apprentice Rinchen who was meditating next to me. The two of them sprawled backwards on the floor as Wei’s partner Wang Xiuying stepped through the broken door and pointed an automatic in my face.
I heard this rather than saw it, because my eyes were still closed. I was having a wonderful fucking meditation session and I wasn’t going to let two PLA dimwits ruin it for me. I was reminded of the story of Tosotsu who was peacefully meditating under a Bodhi tree when the demon Daisuke came out of the Earth to torment him. Daisuke unleashed fire on Tosotsu, and the man was unmoved. He clawed at the master with his sharp poisonous talons and fangs, but Tosotsu did not stir. The demon Daisuke called up a legion of sub-demons from hell to bite and sting the sitting monk, but Tosotsu could not be disturbed. Finally, the demon Daisuke gave up, and retreated back to the netherworld.
Just then, leaf from the Bodhi tree fell from a branch, circling the Tosotsu’s head and gently landed in his cupped hands. Tosotsu instantly opened his eyes and looked at the leaf.
“Oh, there you are,” the wise master said.
I remembered this story and focused on my meditation. Be like the master under the Bodhi. Ignore the dark forces. Ignore Rinchen’s wretched squealing as Wie pinned him to the floor. Be like the lily at home in the muddy water.
Xiuying must have gotten tired of me ignoring his pointing the gun in my face and shouting in Lhasa, because he picked that moment to pistol whip me across the forehead. This opened a three inch gash on my bald, brown head and sent me sprawling.
Sorry Tosotsu, I’m apparently not as enlightened as you. I opened my eyes, but the blood from my head was pouring into them, blinding me. I raised my hands and said “don’t shoot” in my best Lhasa. It must have been good enough, because Wei didn’t shoot, but instead rolled me over and started to put plasti-cuffs on my wrists. This cleared the blood from my eyes, and I could see poor terrified Rinchen’s eyes peeking out from under his robes, which Wei had pulled over his head and was now using to pin him to the floor. I smiled at the apprentice, which must have startled him because he ceased his wailing and stared. I winked at the boy, then shifted over to Xiuying.
I felt the rush of disorientation as my mind reached out to Xiuying. His bare hands were fastening the cuffs around mine, and I felt his consciousness where flesh met flesh. All it took was the mental handshake and I was in. Xiuying was my new ride.
I blinked and saw my new hands had the old monk’s arms pinned behind him, my knee in his back. I gently set Chodak face down on the prayer rug, and settled his arms at his sides. I patted my pockets, finding a handkerchief, and used it to staunch the bleeding from Chodak’s forehead. The old monk was still unconscious and would probably take several hours to fully regain his senses. After all, I had been riding him for nearly two years, and the longer I ride, the longer it takes to snap back.
This turn of events alarmed Wei greatly and he barked sharp words at me from his perch on top of Rinchen. He was probably saying something like “what the fuck are you doing you idiot? Cuff him so we can get out of here before the Indian police show up!” But I didn’t speak Mandarin, so I had no idea. I just knew he was angry.
I did know a decent bit of Lhasa however. When I first started riding Chodak, I faked a stroke so my lack of speech wouldn’t be suspicious. But with Rinchen’s persistent Lhasa lessons, I ‘regained’ my powers of speech. I scanned Xiuying’s memory — both of the agents spoke passable Lhasa.
“We have to leave,” I told Wie in Lhasa. “This isn’t the one we’re looking for.”
He responded angrily in Mandarin. “Speak Lhasa,” I said.
“Have you lost your mind?” he said, shifting languages, “The police will be here any minute. “That” he said, pointing to the monk, “is the agitator Chodak. I recognize him from his picture.”
“This is not him. Release the boy. We must go.” I blotted the wound on Chodak’s head. He would need stitches. Poor old guy.
Wie resumed his ranting in Mandarin. I ignored him. “Speak Lhasa,” I said.
“Why do I have to speak Lhasa? What the hell is wrong with you?”
I ignored him and checked my ride’s kit. Xiuying had all the typical secret squirrel goodies — handgun, spare clips, plasti-cuffs, pocketknife, radio, mace, field dressing. I took the latter, unwrapped it and tied it around Chodak’s head. Unless he had a sub-dermal hematoma, he should be fine. I stood in front of Wei.
“We need to leave now, are you coming?”
“You moron,” he said, “you’re going to get us both crapper housed.” Well, I think he said crapper housed, or something like that. Like I said, my Lhasa wasn’t that good. Obviously he wasn’t going to come with me. I could have just shot him, but that would be really messy, and I don’t like killing people, even if they were totalitarian goons. Better to leave the Indian police a present.
I sat down cross legged directly in front of Wei took out one of the plasti-cuffs which I fastened tightly around my wrists. Xiuying would be disoriented for a few seconds, but it was better safe than sorry.
“Don’t worry Rinny,” I said to my apprentice, “everything is going to be all right.” The poor kid’s eyes went wide. Maybe someday he’d figure out what happened.
Wei was aghast as I cinched another pair of cuffs around my ankles. “Are you mad?!?” he said. “What are you doing?!?”
“This.” I reached out with my cuffed hands and grabbed Wei’s wrist. My consciousness flowed out of Xiuying’s body and into Wei’s. A second later, I was sitting on top of Rinchen, watching Wei grabbing my wrist. Wei’s eyes were fluttering, but he’d be back in control momentarily. It was a quick ride.
I leaped off Rinchen’s back and onto Xiuying. I pulled his weapon from the shoulder holster and tossed the gun aside, along with the pocket knife and mace. I used one of my cuffs to hogtie Xiuying’s ankles to his wrists. I could see Xiuying was back in control, terrified, obviously wondering why one second he was cuffing an old monk, and the next his parter was incapacitating him. I leaned in close and spoke in Lhasa.
“When they ask you what happened, tell them you realized your karma for pistol whipping a helpless old man.” Xiuying started chattering in Mandarin and struggling, but he was helpless against the cuffs. I leaned over him and drove my fist into his cheekbone, bouncing his head off the stone floor and knocking him senseless. That was payback for Chodak.
I stood to leave, turned and was face to face with Xiuying’s pistol. When I jumped off Rinchen and threw the gun in the corner, Rinchen must have scampered over and picked it up. And Xiuying had a round chambered and the safety off. My apprentice was going to kill me. I put my hands up.
“Easy Rinchen,” I said soothingly “I mean you no harm.”
“You don’t move,” he said, shuffling forward and shaking the gun for emphasis. I could probably take it away from him, but it might go off. I didn’t want any stray rounds hurting anyone outside. The sanctuary had thin walls. It was better to soothe Rinchen then to confront him.
“I wont move Rinny. We have no quarrel.” I put my hands on my head. “This was a mistake. My partner was wrong to hit Chodak. I will wait here with him until the police arrive.”
“You will?” Rinchen was baffled, but he managed to keep the gun pointed in my general direction. I needed time to sort through Wei’s memories anyway. I could escape, but I might as well scan his mind now. I could hear other monks and apprentices approaching to investigate the noise. Help was was on the way.
“I’m going to lay down flat on the ground,” I said. “You call for help and have them take my gun, knife and mace away, ok?” I kneeled down, then went flat on the floor next to Wei.
“What is happening here?” Another monk had arrived. It sounded like Tseten, but I couldn’t be sure since I was facing the other direction. Rinchen explained that Xiuying and Wei had broken in and assaulted them, and now Rinchen had them prisoner. A convenient and self-congratulatory version of events. I would normally counsel Rinchen about pride, but my time at the monastery was obviously coming to an end.
Tseten and his apprentice took my weapons and emptied my and Xiuying’s pockets . They figured out the plasti-cuffs, and after some guidance from me, hog-tied me next to Xiuying. I’m not sure what they thought about the Chinese agent who just broke in and assaulted two monks now instructing them on how to tie himself up.
I didn’t care. I needed to know why the agents were there. I closed my eyes and searched Wei’s mind for answers.
It seems my political agitation had become too much for the Chinese government to tolerate, so they decided to kidnap me. Wei and Xiuying had an accomplice in a vehicle outside the monastery, and the three of them were supposed to take me to a safe-house, where other agents would take custody of me and deliver me back to China. That wasn’t going to happen.
“Rinchen, our partner is in a black Land Cruiser in front of the monastery. You should tell the apprentices to lock the gates so he can’t get in.” More activity followed. There were over a dozen orange-robed men and boys in the room now, some treating Chodak, others examining Xiuying and I. Rinchen told and re-told his story. I tried to focus on digging through Wei’s thoughts. I needed answers.
Unfortunately, many of those answers were in Mandarin, which I didn’t speak. So I had to comb through Wei’s memories one by one, using his mind to translate them into Lhasa. If he spoke English the process would have gone faster.
The Dharamsala police arrived and tried to make sense of the bizarre situation. Xiuying had recovered from me punching him, and was maintaining his silence. I cut to the chase.
“I’m an official of the People’s Republic of China and I insist on speaking to the local Consul General. Please take me into custody.” This earned me a considerable amount of what I can only imagine was swearing, cursing and general hostility from Xiuying. After a police huddle and several good friskings, real handcuffs were applied, our plastic cuffs were cut and we were escorted across the compound towards waiting police vehicles. I took one last look around the monastery that had been my home for the better part of two years. I would miss it dearly.
“Rinny, walk with me,” I said to my apprentice. Instinctively, he first followed, as he did every morning, then hesitated. “Where is your mind Rinny?” I asked. “Come.” Hesitant, he fell in beside the officer escorting me.
“You have to look after Chodak. He is going to be very disoriented for a few days. He may not remember the last two years. Please fill him in.”
“Why,” the boy asked “will the blow to the head harm his memory?”
“Something like that,” I said. “He may be very different and not remember your relationship. Do not be concerned by this, but care for him compassionately”
The police opened the back door to their truck and moved me inside. My time with Rinchen was coming to a close.
“Rinny, you’ve been a good and loyal friend to Chodak these last two years. I know he values you as a person very much.”
“How do you know this?”
“Goodbye Rinny. Love yourself and be here now — today, tomorrow, always.” The police officer closed the door and through the window I saw my befuddled apprentice for the last time. He had just heard a Chinese intelligence agent bid him farewell with the same statement his master told him every night for the last two years. His mind was blown
When his master woke tomorrow and wouldn’t remember the last two years of their life together, Rinny’s heart would be broken. Perhaps these last few words of kindness would assuage some of the sorrow. And if Rinny ever figured it all out, his burdens would either ease or multiply. I never knew which way it would go.
The only permanence in life is change. Such is my life.