The Pigeon Left & the Crow Took His Place
crisp of will armed with his new Winter Solstice plan, and feeling fleet of
foot on his motorcycle, Thomas left the café down the road along the Irrawaddy
River past looted boats with rusted hulls and old swaths of classic yellow
colonial homes falling apart or inhabited by squatters. He splashed through
open garbage pits and over half-burnt plastic bags under mature palm trees, and
thought of Diogenes who did what he did to show unabashedly the natural squalor
of mankind. In one of the back alleys near the river, Thomas saw a young woman
with yellow powder on her face riding her bike past open untreated pits of
garbage. Her posture upright and proud, it occurred to him that she was doing
the opposite of what Diogenes did: she fought upwards against gravity of
man's base nature. In her freshly pressed flower dress, she was trying to raise
herself above the decay around her while Diogenes was trying to level to
the natural state of mankind's slovenly ways. But there was a chance that her
ramrod posture was because of the wafting stench of human feces around her.
the summer heat, sharp particles dug into his eyes and nose, cracking open his
lips and nostrils, but one thing that made motorcycling endurable here was
chewing betel nut. By trial and error he learned the art of chewing betel nut
was more than sticking it in the side of your mouth, chewing a little and
letting the juice seep in your gums. Instead one must aim to first squish up
the nut by smashing the hard chunks within the protection of the leaf, and
then, using severe tongue dexterity, keep all the squashed bits within
the leaf. Nurturing the squashed nut within the leaf unleashed the goodies that
caused the betel juice buzz. Keeping the chewed-up wad there without
spitting was a seasoned skill requiring tolerance and patience. One had to
resist the urge to swallow or expel the crushed nuggets because by keeping the
betel juice in your mouth was to let the lime strip the gum of its membrane,
which encouraged rapid osmosis into the bloodstream. Once permeation began, one
could sit back and enjoy a warm hue on the cheek and a feeling of mild
intoxication, which enhanced ones courage and magnified ones sense of power and
the way back to the monastery, Thomas bought a number of meat-on-a-stick pieces
for the puppies. When he arrived he popped another betel nut and walked towards
the main pagoda where the twin puppies were panting in the heat. Giving them
both the meat from the stick and watching them eat, they were so weak they hardly
had enough strength to wag their tails. Then the fat monks came out again to
stare at him for showing compassion to starving puppies. He tried to expunge
the frost in his heart but couldn't, so he went to the monks with his stiff
upper lip camouflaged by his moustache.
me," he said, knowing they wouldn't understand his language but hoping they
would understand what he meant. "Do you see these puppies here?" He pointed at
the dogs still chewing the food. One of the monks smiled back but the other three
looked at him with a startling expression of contempt.
dogs are starving to death. Are you not Buddhist monks? If so, then you
should know that all living beings are equal in the eyes of the Buddha and
should be treated with equal respect. Is this how your treat your friends and
family?" He stopped, not because he wanted to, but because he didn't want to
generate any more antagonism before he checked out tablet number 33. Aware that
fighting negative energy with negative energy was not a winning method, Thomas
knew better than to generate a reaction, or what the Buddhists called a sankara.
The whole point of meditation in Buddhist teaching was to keep an even keel and
not react to any stimuli - good or bad. To react was to generate suffering within
your heart, which was an endless loop of negative turbulence.
few of the chubby monks looked down at his stocking feet without acknowledging
that he was showing them respect by obeying the rules of the monastery. Thomas
knew it was a lost cause so he warmly shook each minks hand and smiled and
nodded before going back to the puppies to make sure they had eaten all the
meat. Caring for starving puppies was pretty basic for Buddhists. It was only
then that he went looking for the 33rd tablet from among the 730
that surrounded the central pagoda that towered up toward the empyrean.
behind to ensure the monks weren't following him, he employed stealth to find
the tablet and entered the mini zedi covering it. Hunched over the
tablet and scrunched under the mini roof, he hunted for an engraving or marking
of some kind to indicate that there might be a clue. It didn't take long to
find a mark that looked like a Native Indian arrowhead. Taking out his Swiss
Army knife, he ran the blade along the length of the arrow that pointed to the
corner of the tablet, chiselling a slit along the edge near the base where he
found a lip.
respect," he said, at his act of desecrating something with scriptures. He
leveraged the opening with his blade and gave it a good yank causing a large
piece of material to fall onto the marble base, including what sounded like a
coin. With his heart beating fast, he saw a coin and a small piece of folded
paper held together by a string. Stunned, and with a great sense of excitement
pummelling his innards, it sent his imagination into overdrive. Slipping the
coin and the stringed paper into his pocket, he brushed the debris off the zedi
floor and slowly walked back to the main pagoda.
Both puppies greeted him
with ears back, almost losing their balance from the wagging of their tails. In
all his years he had never seen such an overt expression of happiness in any
living creature. The food had taken hold and their stomachs were distended
probably for the first time in their short lives. He spoke to the twin puppies
in a soft voice, they returning the favor by licking his face in a frenzy. They
mirrored how he felt within his heart.
sun was beginning to fall in the western sky behind Mandalay Fort so he rode
his motorcycle to the Methodist Church and parked in front of the gate. A
church sign read: YOU ARE WELCOME under a red cross. He couldn't open
the front gate so he slipped through a big hole in the church wall. Not seeing
anyone around he went to the church entrance across the courtyard, feeling the
two items in his pocket with his hand. The cornerstone indicated the church was
built in 1887. There was an outdoor crypt in the courtyard with a gravestone of
an American missionary. The epitaph read:
HERE LIES THE SACRED REV. WILLIAM LEWIS CROW,
ochre red stone contrasted against the white ground around the church.
he went into the church and quietly sat on a pew, the damp air in the church
sent a chill through him, and reminded him of how old it was. Thomas calmed his
breathing before taking out the clues from his pocket. As he sat there he
noticed the original symbol of the Christians: a fish, drawn simply, like a
Pisces astrological symbol. There were two fish: one knitted into each curtain,
which covered the door of the entrance.
shivered when he pulled out the coin from his pocket. To his astonishment it
was an American silver dollar from 1804. On one side there was an old styled
eagle looking west with 13 arrows in its right talon and 13 olive branches in
its left talon. There were 13 stars above the eagle's head, and just above the
stars there were exactly 13 clouds. Both eagle wings had 13 feathers and there
were 13 tail feathers. There was a long banner spreading across the width of
the coin that the eagle held in its fierce-looking beak. Despite the fact that
the coin was so worn, Thomas could read the writing on the banner:
E PLURI UNUM
the chest of the eagle was a shield with 6 vertical stripes and 13 thin
horizontal stripes along the top of the crest. Around the perimeter are the
words: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. On the other side of the coin was the word
LIBERTY along the top, sided with 6 stars along the right or east side of the
coin and 7 stars along the left or west side of the coin. In the center was an
engraving of a woman with long flowing hair and an exceptionally large bust
complete with propped up cleavage. She was looking east.
at the coin in his hand, he knew there was a message somewhere waiting to be
figured out. Thomas knew the number 13 was an exceptionally important religious
number, but there was one more thing: the date of the coin was 1804. And when
these numbers were added up (1 + 8 + 0 + 4), it came to 13. It couldn't all be
on the wooden pew, he took out the piece of folded paper from his pocket.
Yellowed and thick parchment, he gently pulled the string and pried it open.
When fully unfolded he saw it was a small map with the word KATHA
written along the top. There were eight or so buildings marked on the map that
surrounded a large pagoda in a compound beside a river. Nothing was labeled and
there were no arrows pointing in any direction, but there was one building
marked with a Christian cross. When he turned the paper over and first saw
handwritten words on the crumbling paper, Thomas experienced a profound
connection as if a long-awaited message had finally been received. The message
THE PIGEON LEFT AND THE CROW TOOK HIS PLACE
The words An old Kachin
Proverb were written below it.
and excited, shoulders hunched as if praying with eyes closed, he only opened
his eyes when a bird flew from a stained-glass windows towards the alter.
Noticing it was a crow, it suddenly occurred to him that the tombstone outside
bearing the name Rev. William Lewis Crow couldn't be a coincidence. Back
outside he read the epitaph again, except this time he read it all:
HERE LIES THE SACRED REV. WILLIAM LEWIS CROW,
FOUNDER OF THE METHODIST CHURCH, MYSKYINA
was in play because the trail left behind by those who knew where the sacred
tablet was had been found. To play into the hand of fate he needed to go north
to Katha and then the Methodist Church in Myskynia. In the morning he would
take the train to Katha.