Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Eighteen


 

The Pigeon Left & the Crow Took His Place

۞

Feeling 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.

In 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 control.

On 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.

"Excuse 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.

"These 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.

A 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.

Looking 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.

"With 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.

The 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, 1881-1965

The ochre red stone contrasted against the white ground around the church.

When 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.

He 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

On 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.

Looking 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 a coincidence.

Sitting 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 read:

THE PIGEON LEFT AND THE CROW TOOK HIS PLACE

The words An old Kachin Proverb were written below it.

Exhausted 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, 1881-1965

FOUNDER OF THE METHODIST CHURCH, MYSKYINA

Providence 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.

  
  

 
 
 
 
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Part One - Canada
1.      The Twin From the East Returns  
2.      The Sundancer  
3.      Waxing Gibbous 
4.      The Second Coming of the Messiah 
5.      The Sacred Twin Story 
6.      The Sign of the Pahana 
7.      Palongawhoya and Poqanghoya 
8.      Rainbow Thunderbird and Red Phoenix 
9.      The True White Brother 
10.    The Lost Louis Riel Notebooks 
 
Part Two - Hong Kong
11.    A Mixture of Revulsion and Pity 
12.    A Classroom of Scallywags 
13.    Illegitimati non Carborundum 
14.    The Distant Fire of Empyrean
 
Part Three - Burma
15.    The Monastery of Sacred Tablets 
16.    The Outpost of Tyranny 
17.    When the 12th Moon Comes 
18.    The Pigeon Left & the Crow Took His Place 
19.    Go North and Find Your People 
20.    Finding Orwell 
21.    Though the Monkey is in a Hurry, the Tree Branch is Not 
22.    The Castle at God's Toes 
23.    The General and Sergeant Betel Nut 
24.    The Tattooed Station Master 
25.    Reverend Crow's Life's Work 
26.    Yield Not to Adversity, But Press on More Bravely 
27.    A Bitter Cuppa Tea 
28.    The Thirteenth Tribe 
29.    When a Lamp is Lit You Must Expect Insects 
30.    John the Christian 
31.    A Guardian Angel Named Hanna 
32.    The Bar Car & Betel Nut 
33.    The Son of Light 
34.    Slipping the Karmic Knot
 
Part Four - Hong Kong
35.    The Tonsure Warning 
36.    The Phoenix Reborn 
37.    Touching the Empyrean 
38.    Joshua the Gatekeeper 
 
Part Five - Canada
39.    Lapsit Exillis 
40.    Thunderstones 
41.    The Time of Great Purification  
         
 
 
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