Chapter One II
School is out, permanently for Janah and me. We decided it was our last year, no more high school. I was graduated as Janah had been two years earlier, by getting a diploma and a handshake from Lacy. There is no ceremony at Chapmans, girls pass their exit exams and move to whatever is next. Many graduate so young they stay at Chapmans, pursue independent study and tutor the other girls. At Chapmans, if you want to study something, you study it, not take required courses the college thinks you need. Which sounds suspiciously like making you stretch out the time it takes to get a degree in whatever you went there to study. And you don’t have to sit in a college classroom packed to the rafters with kids trying to vaccinate their resumes.
I take in the breakfast tray. We sit across from it on the bed, eat and mental.
“Nothing has flashed that you intend to go to college. I suppose my lifelong dream of lugging around a backpack full of outrageously expensive textbooks, peering into a laptop at the coffee shop in raggedy jeans and flip flops, or raising my hand in class every thirty seconds asking, ‘Is this going to be on the test?’ will have to wait?”
Janah, Only until hell freezes over.
Dang, I was hoping to watch you hit on some leggy psych grad student.
Janah, It’s tempting. I can do that by hanging out at NYU. Besides, I’ve already got a leggy psycho martial arts student. No, there’s no college on the horizon. I’m staying existentialist.
So it’s see what comes next and go with it? You don’t feel compelled to attach meaning to every minute of your life?
Janah giggles, What for?
I take the tray off the bed, I think it would be good for you to start the day with an orgasm.
Janah does her part.
I raise my head after doing mine, “I see what you mean, being content to see what comes next. In this case it was you.”
Janah stretches contentedly, she grins, “Do me again.”
When we emerge from our room, Susan looks up from her laptop, “You guys are stirring a bit later than usual.”
“Janah was studying existentialism.”
Susan, “Uh huh. Chris has already left, she said she’s got a roll going on her book.”
Susan, “She’s pretty much done with the second martial arts training book, I think that’s it for that subject. I’m sure she meant the novel.”
Chris’ book on martial arts training was originally meant to give to the students at her taekwondo school. Then it sold decently through various online martial arts outlets, then moderately well in major chains and Amazon. Nobody gets rich off training books, it was her publisher who asked for a volume two. They wanted to flesh out the catalog, so Chris wrote a book on Hapkido, and self defense techniques for women. She also had another book published about a lesbian private eye, just for fun. She sold about fifty thousand copies, it started as a paperback and fortunately got put in the mystery section, not gay and lesbian. Then she Kindled it and sold a few thousand more. Her publisher asked her to do road shows and book signings. He had about as much luck as if he’d asked her to give up Susan and go hetero.
“We’re off to MOMA, mama,” kiss Susan and head out the door.
I’ve spent hours at the Museum of Modern Art, not all at one time, but a couple every two or three weeks. Janah goes the café, sometimes chatting with a local or a tourist. I study the exhibits, my extraordinary visual sense and meticulous nature helps me appreciate the skills involved.
Janah, “I like sitting in the café enjoying tea and seeing the art through your eyes. You see so vividly, my brain sparkles.”
Afternoons we have workouts, then my classes at Master Kim’s or Chris’ dojang three evenings. We wait to see what life will bring. It waits about five weeks.
Master Kim asked Chris if he might visit when everyone was at home. Chris checked with the family, Saturday afternoon would work, no classes, no hospital.
The family speculates about his visit, I venture a perfectly logical explanation, “He wants me to star in a movie about a gorgeous martial artist, who seeks out and defeats villains all over the world. She’s startlingly intelligent, very sexy and has a hot blond lover who meditates and instills the beautiful heroine with mystical powers. They want me to play myself.”
Susan, “I’m thinking more like the story of a self absorbed young lady with an inflated ego who gets brought down to earth by brilliantly insightful mothers.”
I am undeterred, “I’ll make them put you in the movie Sis, you can be my stunt double since you look just like me. C-mom can play my mom, who taught me everything I know about clocking punks. She can have scenes where she’s driving me like a deranged drill sergeant. Maybe beat up a few bad guys.”
Chris, “Now you’re talking.”
Sis, “Chris? Chris doesn’t drive anyone like a deranged drill sergeant.”
“That’s why they call it acting, Sis. She can do it, she makes up stuff about her characters all the time. All she has to do is adopt one of their personalities.”
Susan, “Maybe I’ll have her practice deranged drill sergeant on me. I’m warming up to this project.”
Saturday afternoon shows up right on time along with Master Kim. After a short round of pleasantries, very short, Kim doesn’t like to screw around, he gets to the point.
“Sabum Daphne has been both my greatest delight and most difficult challenge. She has exceeded every test and is both an exemplary student and instructor. The simple fact is, she knows everything I know. I have nothing left to teach her. She isn’t a 5th degree yet, that doesn’t mean anything. She knows the material and can demonstrate the requirements as well as our most talented Masters. The rank will come in time.”
Susan, “Surely Master Kim…”
He raises his hand, “Not having more to teach her doesn’t make me sad. She has been unquestionably my proudest success as well. Sabum Daphne is the most highly regarded martial artist in the city, not just my school. In the last year we have had Masters visit our school just to see her practice. That has never happened before.”
I, for once, sit silently stunned. Janah, sitting next to me at the family table, takes my hand.
Chris, “You’ve kept this to yourself. I knew you respected Daphne’s skill. All this time I thought visitors were old friends and acquaintances.”
“Some were, some were unknown to me, they heard of Daphne through the martial arts world. She had no interest in competitions, so we never entered her in any. She would have won them all anyway.”
Susan, “I don’t know, there must be many talented martial artists in the area and across the country and...”
Kim, “She would have beaten all of them.”
Chris, “I’ve been to a few of the tournaments, Susan. You’re right, the participants are excellent, but they can’t deal with Daphne’s speed.”
I look at Kim, then to my other. Janah has a gentle smile, her expression otherwise neutral. We know this calls for seriousness, not any giddy celebration of compliments, Kim isn’t here for that. I understand it isn’t the time for snappy offhand comments, something else is coming. Janah is in my mind, I am calm, like I get before matches or rank tests. The stunned part had passed, now waiting for Kim to say what he has come to say. I lightly squeeze Janah’s warm hand.
Kim, “For years I have been going as a guest to a special place here in Manhattan. A place for intensive training. We have shared much over those years, and they have often asked if I would ever suggest a student for consideration. I never have, none was right, many had skill, but lacked proper temperament. The training is hard, the days long, conditions spare. Students are expected to serve for years. The attitude of the student must be service, study and meditation. Students are expected to learn other disciplines, actual academic study, not only martial arts.”
Chris, “What place? Another martial art, and academics? What kind of martial arts?”
Kim, “Outside of Chinatown, it is almost unknown. There is a Shaolin monastery. If Sabum Daphne will permit, I would like to approach the Abbott about her entering the Temple.”
I mental, “What do you want to do?”
“Be with you,” replies Janah
“Let’s do it.”
I stand and bow to Master Kim, “Thank you for this honor, I accept.”
There is dead silence, then Chris says, almost whispering, “She’s going to be a Shaolin priest.”
She looks at Susan, “Our baby is going to be a Shaolin priest.” Then she looks at everyone else, “Our baby is going to be a Shaolin priest.”
I lightly touch the side of Chris’ head, “You’re starting to skip.”
C-mom picks me up and swings me around, “My baby is going to be a Shaolin priest.” She puts me down and kneels by Susan, “Our baby is going to be a Shaolin priest.”
Susan kisses Chris and reaches for my hand. “What about Janah?”
Master Kim, “Master Janah knows what to do. A visiting Master will be welcomed.”
It is Kara’s turn, “A Master? Of what? She’s fifteen, she’s not a Shaolin, I mean, how….what....?”
Janah goes to her mother, “Daphne needs me to take care of her, and I need to be with her. I’ll just have to charm the Shaolin into letting me stay.”
Kara, “But Master Kim said you are a Master. What does he mean?”
“He’s talking about qi. It’s something Shaolin actively practice. Perhaps I can learn from them.”
Susan, “Don’t kids start much younger than Daphne? And do they even want a student with years in another discipline?”
Master Kim, “If the student is particularly talented and temperamentally suited, there is no difficulty. I will talk to the Abbott soon, then let you know what needs to be done.”
I bow slowly, “Kamsahamnida.”
Chapter Two II
Admission is Free, Pay at the Door
Pull Up a Chair and Sit on the Floor
Poem for rope jumping, author unknown*
The next day, Kim walks to Chinatown, then deep inside the winding streets to the Temple. It isn’t styled in the traditional way, it doesn’t look like anything but a warehouse on the outside. The walls are concrete blocks painted white. There is a huge wooden door and a standard doorbell. The building isn’t marked in any way, no pagoda roof, not even a hànzi, a Chinese character, of any kind. It is the most and the least Chinese thing in Chinatown.
Master Kim sits with Master Sung, Abbott of the temple. They take tea and talk of China and Korea. Then Sung sets down his cup and waits, Kim has obviously come for a reason.
Kim, “You are no doubt aware that two American girls have been regular visitors in Chinatown. They spend most of their time at Mai’s herb shop.”
Sung nods. Kim knows the Abbott hears every whisper in Chinatown.
Kim, “The white haired girl has the gift of healing qi. You also know this by now. Her companion is one of my students. They need a place where their unusual skills aren’t considered unusual. Your temple is perfect for their continued training.”
Sung, “We have two monks with the gift of healing qi. Master Zhang is very old, Master Chu is younger, only eighty.”
He does not mention the third, the old hermit who lives in the back corner of the monastery, behind the gardens. Even many of the monks have almost forgotten his presence. He never leaves his hut, most have never seen him.
Master Kim, “The girl is not yet sixteen. She taught herself healing qi. She is not a martial artist.”
Sung, “And your student?”
Kim, “Is her companion…and her guardian. As a martial artist she is unique. I have taught her all I have to teach.”
Sung, “They appear to be in no danger. What is your concern?”
Kim, “They have work to do, but not now. My student can further develop her skill with your monks’ guidance. The white haired one will too soon come to the notice of the wrong people. She has a unique mind, remembers anything she chooses to, they call it photographic. But she is more than a parrot, she comprehends the material, whatever it is. As her qi develops, she will be very powerful. Sooner or later…”
Sung, “One of those wrong people will try to use her.”
Kim, “Of course. Corporate criminals, government criminals, or other, more honest criminals, the ones who freely admit they are criminals, Tong, Yakuza, Mafia. She can read a document off a computer screen in seconds recite every word and formula. She can recall the contents of a room, every person in it, what they were wearing and the titles of the books on the shelf with only a glance. She speaks and reads several languages. I have seen her heal her companion’s badly bruised foot in one day.”
Sung, “Ah. Any clandestine agency of any government, or, as you say, any more honest criminals would love to have her.”
Kim, “Yes, with her cooperation or not. There is family, she has friends. People would use whatever it takes to insure cooperation. She will not serve any corrupt government, or corporation. Which means any government or corporation.”
Sung is silent for a time, then, “It would be best if they came to us the normal way. It arouses no suspicions.”
Kim, “I haven’t told them my concerns. They are undoubtedly aware the problem exists. They are fifteen in years only, not children. I have known my student since she was five. Daphne was disciplined, mature, even then.”
Sung, “They have demonstrated their maturity in service to others. Your student and the white haired one are household names in Chinatown. Let them do their time waiting with the others. I won’t have to explain anything to the other monks that way. We have avoided exceptions, it will be easier to keep the old tradition.”
Kim nods, “Sabum Daphne has no desire for special treatment. You will soon discover two things. One, she serves the white haired girl first, then others, she takes nothing for herself. Two, she absorbs instruction instantly. She will baffle your gung fu masters. I mean no insult, she has baffled me for ten years.”
Sung smiles, “You know how to get an old monk’s attention, Master Kim.”
*"Ladies and jellybeans, hoboes and tramps,
Cockeyed mosquitoes and bowlegged ants
Admission is free so pay at the door
Pull up a chair and sit on the floor
I am about to tell you a story I know nothing about
Early one morning and late one night
2 dead boys got up to fight
back to back they faced the other
drew their swords and shot each other
A deaf policeman heard this noise
he came and shot those two dead boys
If you do not believe my lie is true....
Ask the blind man, he saw it too!!!"
Chapter Three II
Don't be afraid of missing opportunities.
Behind every failure is an opportunity
somebody wishes they had missed.
In our regular haunts, the diners and cafes around our Village neighborhood, it would be a stupendously bad idea for a stranger to give us any grief. Like kicking over a biker’s hog at a Hell’s Angels beach party, it would not end well. It happened once, in the park. Now, a week before we are going to seek admittance to the temple, a couple of late model teenage boys follow us into the Village Diner, testosterone flowing.
“Come on baby, come see a movie, we can go up to the park, you know, have some fun. Never miss the chance to have fun, know what I mean?”
“No thanks guys, things to do, no time to play.”
The second one puts his hand on Janah’s shoulder, “You’re a fine little thing, I bet you like to play?” Sliding his hand down her arm, Janah moves away.
“You shy baby? I like that, shy girl and all. I’ll be sweet to you baby, real sweet.” He lays his hand behind her neck.
“Give it up,” I am suddenly in front of Janah, staring him in the face.
He tries to push me aside, “What you gonna do about it, bi...”
Four stiff knuckles poke his throat hard. He gags, tries to speak, only gurgles.
I smile brightly, “I’m going to do whatever I need to do.”
The bigger one gets a second bad idea, “Sucker punch a dude don’t make you tough. Think you tough? Shee-yit, I show your skinny ass tough,” he reaches for my arm, before he makes contact, I have his hand twisted over, his arm stretched, my palm pressing his elbow painfully. I sweep my foot backwards through his ankles and drive him face down hard before he even grasps why his elbow hurts so bad. He tries to straighten up, I pressure the sensitive joint, he stays down.
“Boys need to go home. You ready to leave now, while you still got use of this arm?”
All this took less time to happen than it takes to tell it. Several regulars surround the boys, a couple suggest they leave the back way, through an alley where anything could happen to them, and likely would.
“No man, no, look we was just goofing, we didn’t mean nothing. Sorry ladies, all right? Sorry, my bad, miss. Can we just go? We’re history. I’m sorry, ok can we go man?” the boy’s macho pretense has become his sniveling nightmare.
Mini, the six three, three hundred fifty pound cook comes around from the kitchen, “Pat them down, make sure there’s no weapons, get their identification. I’ll make sure they evaporate when they leave. You gonna hit the subway out of here, you unnerstand?”
Mini reaches over and grabs the first punk by the neck, his huge hand completely circles the kid’s skinny throat. Then he pulls the second one up. If he squeezes, they won’t be breathing.
“Never mind, I’ll take them out back and we won’t have to worry about ‘em until they get outta the hospital. That is, if they wake up in time to get out of the dumpster before the truck comes and compacts them with the rest of the garbage.”
The bigger one manages to croak, “Oh man, look dude, just let us walk man, soon as we’re out the door, you never see us again.”
“If I do, there’s always the dumpster. Listen real close, shithook. If either of these girls has any future problem, like breaks a nail, or gets caught in the rain, I’m gonna blame it on you. Then I’m coming.”
He squeezes both necks, “Do you get it, or do I have to explain harder?”
One croaks, “Yeah dude…I mean, sir, we gone, you never see us no more, ok man, really, please?”
Mini follows then down the subway until they get on a train. Janah and I are surrounded by the regulars when Mini returns.
“Geez Daph, you got some quick hands girl. That guy you clocked in the throat had no idea what happened to him. I got to tell you I never saw your hands move when you arm-locked that punk. Like, I blinked and he was face down on the floor.”
“He wouldn’t keep his hands to himself; that doesn’t cut it. The second one didn’t get the hint. We have no problem with polite flirtation, it’s how things are. These dopes got too cocky. I decided to help them see the world differently, give them a fresh perspective.”
Mini rumbles with laughter, “I love that. Can I steal that, Daph? I love that. You gotta love these girls, a fresh perspective. Daphne just gave two guys a fresh perspective.”
The crowd applauds, I curtsey.
“I’d say they got a fresh perspective all right. They might need to go to the hospital if their perspective got any fresher.”
The place is noisy with laughter. When we leave, two of the regulars walk with us to the condo. They’d seen what I could do, but they want to be able to tell the others we’d gotten home and the two bozos were nowhere to be seen.
Susan and Chris were sitting around the big table with Kara.
Susan, “What have you guys been up to?”
Janah, “Hanging at the Village Diner. Daphne helped two boys get a fresh perspective.”
Susan looks at the other moms. “Do we want to explore this?”
Chris and Kara both shake their heads no, the conversation moves on to other things.
Chapter Four II
Being aware of the truth and falseness of seeking,
the mind is no longer caught in the machinery of seeking.
There’s a feeling of being unburdened, a sense of relief.
The mind is still; it’s no longer making an effort, striving after something;
but it’s not asleep, nor is it waiting, expecting.
It’s simply quiet, awake. The awakened mind is the state of search.
We hug the parents and walk the familiar two miles to Chinatown. We take nothing, just ourselves. There is an applicant waiting, a young boy of no more than eight or nine. It is late August, the waiting wouldn’t be too uncomfortable, but the concrete is hard and the rain, if it comes, will still be wet. Seven more applicants appear over the next few hours. It is now eight p.m. and we sit quietly outside the door of the temple.
In Manhattan, there is activity all day and much of the night, less here, deep inside Chinatown. We sit in meditation, a little mental chatter. It will be a while, no point in getting into a frenzy.
The other applicants mostly just sit, younger ones occasionally stroll around or play. From time to time, one of the monks opens the door and peers out expressionless. The applicants range in age from eight or nine to fifteen. Janah and I are the oldest.
When I look at these kids I feel ancient.
Janah, Well, you’re the oldest one here, Granny Sylk.
Maybe we should have gone to the Tai Chi Temple.
Janah, The Shaolin will do what they think is right for the Order. If we fit, we’re in, if we don’t, we don’t. If we’re not right for them, then they do us a favor to discourage us. Kim wouldn’t have brought it up if he thought you wouldn’t get in.
What about Kim?
Janah, Kim will think the Shaolin have lost their touch and welcome us home, but I don’t think that’s a possibility.
You think he’s already covered us with them. This waiting is just so we are seen by the others as no different than any applicant.
Janah shrugs, I don’t want to assume anything. It would be arrogant to see ourselves as shoo-ins. Kim didn’t do this lightly. If he wasn’t sure, he wouldn’t have brought it up. I also don’t think he talked to the Shaolin about this before talking to us. That would have been out of sequence. No doubt the Shaolin are well interwoven in the community. We aren’t unknown to them.
They would know about the herb shop?
Janah, Yes. All that aside, we have to be brought in the traditional way. It avoids the inevitable speculation that we are something special. We don’t want that, they don’t need it. This is the appropriate way to go about it.
Ah…..well, that explains the lack of a red carpet and paparazzi.
One of the younger applicants approaches cautiously. There are no other females. He looks about eight, seeking some comfort in the long night. Janah smiles at him, pats the ground beside her, he sits next to her knee, looks up at her. She asks him his story and about his parents. He is a Chinese boy, of first generation immigrants. He is here as much to relieve the family as to enter the temple. He will not be admitted. He’s fidgety sitting outside, two or three times the door opened and he was running up and down the stairs. The last time he was fast asleep, his head in Janah’s lap. We remain in lotus, facing the door. It is clear where our focus lies, not with the activities of the street.
Two other boys approach Janah the next day. They are tired, holding their own, barely, trying hard to be brave. One looks about eight, the other ten, not anxious at first to approach, not wanting to be seen as little boys, finally succumbing to the gentle stillness of the white haired girl. One talks about their fears and concerns should they be rejected. Then their fears and concerns if they were accepted. The younger one is silent. He has only a partial mother, either gone at night, or strange men coming, then leaving. He tried to ignore the reason why; he doesn’t know his father.
The older one’s parents are addicts. He heard about the temple from the street and wants a way out of his parent’s drugged delirium descent. The two have become friends and came together. They had seen in their parent’s lives things they could do nothing about and instinctively knew they wanted to avoid. Their family is lost to them. They will have to make their own way.
Janah mentals me to instruct the two boys on how to behave inside. I explain about being quiet and polite, to wait until they are invited to sit, drink or eat. They must address the monks as sir or ma’am. I show them how to bow, tell them to keep their heads down to show respect, to answer questions honestly and politely. I explain that it isn’t important what they know or don’t, about Shaolin or about martial arts. If they are accepted, they will be taught. The boys are attentive, yet keep an eye on Janah who listens and observes. They want to please her without knowing why. Why didn’t seem to matter. She accepts them, they feel warmth.
The younger boy is Chan Li, the older, David. They live near each other in a Brooklyn tenement. Living in a clean, even if Spartan, room in the temple would be a step up in their world. They are both skinny, drawn even, typical of their age and environs. The Chinese boy has dark black hair and eyes. He is thin, but we can see thick wrists and ankles, hands outsized for his age.
He will not be skinny for long, Janah thinks.
She also sees his distance. His mother had either chosen or been stuck with a life of late nights and many men. Unlike many of his peers, the boy has no extended Chinese family. Until he met David, he was alone. Even with David he is alone.
David has only brain addled non-parents who spend their time in a chemical fog. He was able to connect to Chan. Apart from David, Chan Li trusts no one. Janah made the distance disappear, he was instantly drawn to her. When she looks at him, he is certain she can peer directly into his soul. She is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen.
David, “That kid doesn’t talk or listen to anyone. He talks to you though. It feels good to talk to you.”
Janah looks at him smiling. Her eyes say, ‘I’m listening.’
The boy sits for a while, then, “I didn’t know they accepted girls here. But I really don’t know much about it. Chan says they teach gung fu and can do miracles.”
Janah’s eyes crinkle and her smile broadens.
David shakes his head, “I know they can’t do miracles, I think the Chinese sometimes believe they can. I came because of Chan; I got nothing at home anyway. He says if we get in here, we’ll learn a lot of stuff that the outside world doesn’t know and we’ll learn how to take care of ourselves. I hope so.”
The boy is clearly exhausted. He’d stayed up all night keeping an eye on his friend who only slept a little himself. I play scissors, paper, rock with Chan. It’s a good game for him, he doesn’t have to talk. I move next to Janah with the boys on either side of us. Chan is sitting next to Janah, she tells him to lay his head in her lap, David is next to me. The Shaolin brought some water during the night. I suggested David could lay down just for a minute, to be relaxed and alert in case the Shaolin come and want anyone to go inside. He puts his head my lap, the two boys instantly asleep.
Two priests observe the scene, silently opening the door, the applicants do not see them. Only Janah and I look up. The door closes again.
Janah, I hope they bring some more water for these kids.
I could use some myself. Not to mention a real toilet and a shower.
During the long night, shops closed, we'd gone to the park across the street to use the restroom. There isn’t a restroom there, it’s just where we went to climb into the bushes.
Now I know how the Indian women felt.
Janah, I never pee’d in the bushes before, I may go in the bushes from now on.
I’ve got a vision of you squatting in Washington Square park.
We giggle silently, completely in each other’s mind now, thought moving faster than light. How the next year might be. If possible, even more interesting and challenging than the last few. I look forward to learning gung fu. The physical exertion of long hours of work, practice and meditation. All this flashes through our thoughts, neither with anxiety, nor anticipation. It is a premonition, how it would bind us even closer. If there is anything to anticipate, it is that.
Day and night pass once again, uneventfully. Two applicants disappear, walk off and never return. That left the two very young boys, plus Chan and David and one other. He appears to be around thirteen, his eyes are older. He hadn’t approached until early in the second evening. His said his name is Black, just Black. He is too. We don’t press questions. As always with Janah, even this stoic boy can’t resist being drawn out. She turns and smiles when he sits on the step near her, saying nothing, tilting her head to the side, silently inviting him to speak.
“Getting tired just sitting here. I was warned about the process, so I can’t say it’s a surprise. Thinking about the wait and waiting are different.”
“It’s a little tedious, they have their way and this is part of it. They’ve been watching out for us and we haven’t been bothered. The local people are aware of why we’re here.”
Black, “Yeah, I think the Shaolin are good for the neighborhood, the people here appreciate them. They see this every so often. I came a couple of years ago, I wasn’t ready to go for it then. What are you guys doing here?”
“What do you mean?”
Black, “Well, I know they take women, I never heard of any applying. I guess people think of monks and think of men. You have a lot of guts to make the attempt. I mean, well, out here just going to take a leak is a problem. Guys can just stand next to a tree.”
“We do what people all over the world have to do. Lots of people have to find a private, even not so private spot. I guess the process is designed to see if we let their ego get in the way. It tells the priests something.”
Black, “Yeah. I let it get to me last time. What I meant by my question was why are you interested in this? You don’t look like the kind of girls that need a place to stay. You’re healthy, well cared for. You got family problems? Guess it’s none of my business.”
“It’s okay, nope, no problems, greatest parents in the world. We have much more than we need.”
Black, “I’ve watched you both. You’re not here to satisfy some thing. You’re not slumming or looking for a thrill you can’t get uptown. You really want to do this.”
“It’s part of what we are.”
Black, “Your friend don’t say much does she?’
He looks at Janah. “She don’t need much either. Hasn’t hardly moved since we got here. If they take her, she’ll be good at the meditation part.”
I smile, “She’s already good at the meditation part.”
Black, “And you, what are you good at? Both of you look like uptown private school, not Shaolin monks.”
“Close, we’re West Village private school.”
Black laughs, “I didn’t hang with that crowd.”
“That’s why I didn’t see you at the Spring Cotillion.”
Black laughs again, “Couldn’t make it. Must have been hip hopping.”
“Neither did we. Our school is private, but it doesn’t have society junk. None of the girls would have gone to anything so preposterous as being paraded around for the sons of Wall Street bankers and lawyers. We were taught etiquette, to be gracious, not snotty.”
Black, “You carry yourself like a dancer. I don’t think that’s it. You’re a black belt aren’t you?”
Black nods, “Mine was judo. Got pretty good for a kid, then my sensei left and the school went down after that. The guys that took over were into street fighting stuff. Ground fight all the time. The art went out of the martial art, so I left.”
“Wise decision. I don’t think that will fly here.”
We lapse into silence. Four kids, Black, and two girls. We wait.
The following evening a monk appears. He indicates with a gesture that we should enter. We are escorted to a room with a long table and a priest at the head. The monk bows and leaves. We bow to the seated one. He is older, not elderly, maybe sixty. Tea and bowls of rice are at the table. The two youngest sit down, grab for the tea and begin on the rice. Chan, David, Black, Janah and I stand silently. The seated boys empty their bowls.
The priest says to the two young ones, “You may leave.”
The monk who let us in appears and walks them out of the room. They would be cleaned up then sent on their way with someone from social services. This is America, not China 200 years ago, the Shaolin don’t return runaways to the street.
The priest at the table says, “Please, sit.”
We take seats, hands folded in our laps. The old priest takes his teacup and drinks. We pick up our cups, drank. Then he says, “Please, eat.”
We thank him in unison.
When we’re done, the priest rises, “Please go with Disciple John. He will show you where you will stay. The five of us stand, bow, follow John down a long corridor. After passing an open courtyard, a kitchen and a number of rooms, we turn right, down another corridor, passing several monks along the way. The boys are shown to a room on the left, Janah and I are given a room on the right. There are no windows. There is a shower, a washstand and a toilet; a folding screen divides those from the two sleeping mats on the floor, there is a shelf with clothes and gi’s, two towels, a bar of soap, two toothbrushes and toothpaste. No hairbrushes.
We shower gratefully, brush our teeth even more gratefully, lay on the mats holding hands.
Janah, “You’re going to look interesting without hair.”
“It’ll be different. What I’m really going to miss is you drying and brushing it.”
Janah, “I’ll miss doing it. You’ll need your feet and legs cared for even more though.”
Janah lays her head on my shoulder, I stroke her hair.
“Are you going to cut yours, I don’t think you’ll have to once they find out.”
Janah, “I want to do it with you, it’ll grow back.”
“Do you think they’ll find out about us, you know, sexually?”
“I don’t think they care about that. They’re interested in going beyond mind. They also live in the physical universe. As long as we don’t get obvious, they won’t care. Probably can’t hold hands during meditation.”
“Just try not to distract me while I’m practicing. If they knew what a sensualist you are, they might throw us both out.”
“It’s part of my discipline. We’re supposed to seek perfection. Your body is perfect, so I seek it. It’s totally Ch’an.”
Janah senses my exhaustion. She, too, is wiped. My hands on her head always relaxes her. She begins to enter my mind more deeply. My hand falls to Janah’s neck, I am still. Janah scoots down to her spot on my tummy. In seconds, sleep.