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?"
without him being with us."
the normal course of events, would you cook him dinner tonight?"
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.
he drink at all?" he asked.
though sometimes he drinks rice wine."
stuff." She saw mischief in his eyes. "Okay, I might have a plan. Will you help
"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.
"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."
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
"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
"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
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."
understand. Just give me a sign or something when you're going to do it." The
empathy in her eyes made his water.
Hanna, could you make him some tea of whatever he drinks? That would give me
some time to ground these babies up."
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.
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.
Reverend Thu," he said, "a pleasure to meet you." When they shook hands Thomas
wondered if he felt his sweaty palms.
are you from? America?" His English laden with a heavy Burmese accent that was
still foreign to him.
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.
see." He looked tired.
maybe I can get some rice wine?"
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.
you. That's kind of you." Thomas took out his travel book from his backpack.
you been in town long?" asked Hanna, the kettle warming above the flame.
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."
colder here than Rangoon."
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?"
He almost said no. He could see it in his body language.
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?"
far," he said, glancing at the map. When Hanna places mugs on the table he
realized he had to ground the Valium into powder.
you have a washroom here?"
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.
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.
he asked, hoping to find a way to pull something off.
we have sugar," she replied, putting the sugar on the table with a twinkle in
you sir? Do you take sugar?"
sugar." Thomas frantically explored ways of how he could throw the Valium into
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.
you get him up away from his tea?" She put her hand on his briefly, and in a
moment she sprang into action.
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?"
is it?" he asked without looking up.
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
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
he took it with him," said Hanna in a casual drawl. He sat down to return to
the map, grumpier.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.