Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Twenty-seven 


 

A Bitter Cuppa Tea

۞

Thomas was so close to finding the stone tablet that he felt Reverend Thu's presence could only be a threat. A hundred different options passed through his mind, like the screaming scraping of steel of railroad tracks. Sitting on a chair in the common room, he heard him put his bicycle down on the pavement outside. One idea stuck but it was a risk.

"So you think he won't let us in the church?"

"Not without him being with us."

"In the normal course of events, would you cook him dinner tonight?"

"Yes, depending on what he felt like having. But he may have eaten this afternoon at his friend's who he was visiting." He had visions of what would happen if he failed in his task. If Reverend Thu took a disliking to him and locked the church, or if he needed to work on a sermon and chose the refectory to work, what would he do? But when he pondered all the curious coincidences that have happened over the course of his trip he tried to hold on to that faith that it will all see itself through.

"Does he drink at all?" he asked.

"No, though sometimes he drinks rice wine."

"God-awful stuff." She saw mischief in his eyes. "Okay, I might have a plan. Will you help me? It-"

"Yes Thomas, I will." His reflex was to stand up and embrace her, but instead he rummaged through his bag. He found his six-pack of Valium. Regardless of the moral ramifications, there was an undeniable argument in favor of going with the valium-spiking option. Thomas could not have anyone or anything interfere with something that had the potential to cure countless millions of their spiritual ills.

"Do you know what these are?" She read the package.

"Sleeping pills?"

"I can ground up these tablets and mix them into his tea. He must have at least four of the tablets because they're not that strong. They will only put him asleep. Otherwise he'll be fine."

"Thomas-"

"Within twenty minutes he should fall asleep." She looked at the floor, which made him panic. For a brief moment he thoought of taking one of the Valiums himself. "I have to leave fly out tomorrow if I'm going to make my flight so tonight's the only night. I can't take the risk of him barring me from the church because he doesn't like foreigners. There's really no other way. I'm not killing him; I'm merely...I'm merely giving him encouragement to sleep." This made her laugh. The tension evaporated from his face. "I can't have the Reverend body-checking my holy purpose. It would be a tragedy beyond measure." She put her hand on his shoulder.

"Thomas I'll tell you the truth. I wouldn't do this, but for you I will." When he embraced her he felt her arms wrap around him, flooding his emotional body to overflow.

"Hanna," he said. "I wouldn't do this either but if we do we might change history." He pressed his head against her, not wanting the moment to end.

"It's okay Thomas. I trust you." Hanna had a scent that fortified his will.

"I...I can't tell you enough how-" He didn't finish because he felt she already knew. They heard his footsteps outside so they both sat down at the table in front of their mugs of tea, now cold.

"I can keep him busy and make him some dinner if you want."

"I don't want to scare you Hanna but the possible consequences of not getting the stone out of the church because of a stray reverend."

"I understand. Just give me a sign or something when you're going to do it." The empathy in her eyes made his water.

"Okay Hanna, could you make him some tea of whatever he drinks? That would give me some time to ground these babies up."

"Yes, I can make some tea." For a moment they were two little kids embarking on a Kokopelli foray, enlivened by the risk and loyal in their trust to one another.

When he walked in and saw Thomas, he spoke to Hanna in a quick, staccato outburst. He had an unfriendly face, blousy like an alcoholic, greasy skin reflecting the light from the ceiling. He hadn't given any thought to exactly how much he would let him know about himself. Being cryptic might be the best strategy.

"Hello Reverend Thu," he said, "a pleasure to meet you." When they shook hands Thomas wondered if he felt his sweaty palms.

"Where are you from? America?" His English laden with a heavy Burmese accent that was still foreign to him.

"Canada. I have come to see the church here." He didn't look interested in the slightest, only suspicious. "And to hopefully ask you a few questions about the history of the church and about Burma." Thomas could tell he was part of the wealthy class with his big stomach falling over his belt as if a trophy.

"I see." He looked tired.

"And maybe I can get some rice wine?"

"Would you like to stay for dinner?" Hanna asked, a natural partner in crime. She looked at Reverend Thu who nodded that it was all right. She busied herself with tea and dinner at the counter.

"Thank you. That's kind of you." Thomas took out his travel book from his backpack.

"Have you been in town long?" asked Hanna, the kettle warming above the flame.

"No, I just arrived from Katha last night. I couldn't believe how cold it was. Mind you it was in the middle of the night."

"It's colder here than Rangoon."

"But it's beautiful here in the north. Reminds me of Canada little bit." He was trying to generate a twinge of interest from him. "Would you like to see where I have been on my trip?"

"Okay." He almost said no. He could see it in his body language.

"Well, from Mandalay I went to Katha and then here, but it would be cool to make it up to Hertz's Fort." He pointed to the mountain fortress north of Myskyina. "Have you been there?"

"Too far," he said, glancing at the map. When Hanna places mugs on the table he realized he had to ground the Valium into powder.

"Do you have a washroom here?"

"Around the corner," said Hanna, pointing. Relieved to have his Swiss Army knife in his pocket, he closed the door. Realizing there was no counter or platform to ground the powder on he was forced to use the floor. Grinding the Valium into powder using the flat edge of the knife took only a minute but left a large white dusty patch that was conspicuous after he gathered the drug in his left hand. He does his best to get rid of the evidence by pouring some water on it.

When he returned from the bathroom, Reverend Thu's tea was already on the table in front of him. Major setback, especially now that his palms were so sweaty.

"Sugar?" he asked, hoping to find a way to pull something off.

"Yes, we have sugar," she replied, putting the sugar on the table with a twinkle in her eyes.

"And you sir? Do you take sugar?"

"No sugar." Thomas frantically explored ways of how he could throw the Valium into his mug.

"Are there any places in Burma you would recommend I visit?" Reverend Thu's finger followed the railway line until he saw Myskynia on the map. Finding his hometown on the map perked him up. He studied the map with his eyeglasses on while Thomas had reckless visions of dropping the offending powder in his tea without so much as a stir stick. He needed a teammate. With Reverend Thu enthralled with the map, he went over to Hanna and turned on the tap to let the water blur his whispers.

"Can you get him up away from his tea?" She put her hand on his briefly, and in a moment she sprang into action.

"There's something that came for you today Reverend," she said as casual as pie. "They left it by the door but it's too heavy for me. I think it was Vo Guo who came by and wanted to talk to you about it. Can you have a look before dinner?"

"What is it?" he asked without looking up.

"A package," she replied. "Perhaps it's for the wedding on the weekend?" Sure enough, Reverend Thu peeled himself away from the table and went into the other room.

As soon as he was past the threshold, Thomas dropped all the Valium into his mug of tea, using his finger to stir it in, and spilling some on the book and around the mug. He wiped it as best he could but it was obvious there had been some tampering. White powder floated around the rim, so he pushed the powder down with his finger horizontal, making even more of a mess. Hanna waved her hand at him to let him know Reverend Thu was returning to the common room. Thomas managed to get most of the obvious white film assimilated in the tea but tasted panic when it occurred to him he would taste it. He dropped a lump of sugar into his mug just as he returned, complaining he couldn't find the package.

"Maybe he took it with him," said Hanna in a casual drawl. He sat down to return to the map, grumpier.

"What about Lashio at the end of the Irrawaddy?" asked Thomas, feigning interest. The Reverend shook his head in a pouting manner and reached for his tea. To distract him from the shock of the bitter taste, Thomas pointed with a dramatic flourish to a place just outside Mandalay where there used to be a colonial fort and police stronghold. Just as the tea reached his lips, he stopped sharply and frowned at his mug.

"What about here in Pyin U Lwin?" he asked in a tone of earnestness just as he took another sip. He put down his mug rather crisply and wiped his lips with a curious look on his face. Despite the seriousness of it all, a wave of laughter welled up inside Thomas but he struggled to hold it in.

"What about you Hanna? Any places you would suggest me to visit?" Just as he was feeling doomed, Hanna placed biscuits beside the Reverend's tea, telling him it was a treat because they had a visitor. He dove into the biscuits, each one disappearing in two bites and washed down with the sugary tea spiked with five sleeping pills. Thomas could hardly contain himself at the genius of the biscuit move. He looked at the Métis beauty standing across from him, the lines around her mouth pronounced from the suppression of a grin.

Sporting some more confidence now and feeling flashes of premature daring, Thomas stood behind him as a guest should never do to a host, and pointed out places on the map to garner replies and keep him distracted. He hit the jackpot when he pointed to Bagan.

"Oh you must go to Bagan," said Reverend Thu, speech slightly slurred. "Bagan is where the temples are, where God is and where all tourists must go." When Thomas saw that he had stopped drinking his tea, he looked back at Hanna. She read his mind and placed more biscuits and added hot water to his mug.

"Just a few more before dinner because we have a handsome man from Canada visiting us today." To encourage him, Thomas greedily reached for one of the biscuits, which caused the Reverend to eat them before his guest finished them off.

"Are you sure the temples are worth seeing in Bagan?" The provacation spurred the Reverend into a diatribe about the merits of Bagan and the value of temples.

"Great tea Hanna," said Thomas, feeling a tremendous wave of dangerous recklessness come over himself. "Did you make it with sweetener? It tastes a bit...different." He noticed that a lot of the Valium was still sitting at the bottom of Reverend Thu's mug, so he took the kettle and poured in a bit of water.

"May I raise a toast to my fine host and hostess for your splendid hospitality," he said, winking at Hanna. He's good enough to oblige and they all finished the last of their tea.

"That's such a kind toast," said Hanna, coming over to the table. "Are you done your tea Reverend?" She pointed like a mother would at a child who was trying to get away with not finishing their brussel sprouts. But it was merely icing on the cake as they both saw him close his eyes and do his first head bob. The thought of actually discovering the sacred tablet from its temporary home and fulfilling the Hopi Prophecy made Thomas slightly manic. Sensing victory, he stood beside Hanna and they watched the Reverend's fight with gravity, a series of head bobs ending with  Reverend Thu comfortably asleep in his chair. He could hardly contain his excitement.

  

 
 
 
 
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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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