The first pilgrimage in mainland China in decades – but he wouldn’t go. It was too far, his bones creaked, he hadn’t left in ages, and didn’t he feel a little sick? He could learn nothing from a Lama that he didn’t already know from the grottoes and flags and prayer wheels of his home.
They escorted him by the elbows, lifted him aboard the open flatbed truck. Knee to knee, forty-two red robes huddled in the light blue box – he counted them often, and grinned when tight turns mashed them all together. Down from the mountains, where the air warmed, it rained in pounding fists; his brothers could not keep him dry. They felt guilty at the ritual grounds when, wracked by chills, he stayed behind in the tent.
They would feel even guiltier later, discovering his vacant remains. But that was because they didn’t understand what he’d seen: valleys sweeping beneath hairpin roads; tents strewn like prayer sheets tousling in the wind; a fair-skinned Western woman that made him bemoan a life of celibacy; a ruddy toddler hawking newspapers with a resonant, reaching call; where the driver tinkered with the engine, a fallen eagle, its wings collapsed; and forty-one brothers beaming to see one so old escape a cloistered life.