The Boy Who Lived on the Wind
by Kate Howe
Once upon a time there was a boy who lived on the wind.
“And what was his name?” interrupted Bodhi.
“Why, Bodhi, of course.”
Bodhi smiled, shyly, and pulled at the grass poking up in the crook of his knee.
“Bodhi what?” he asked.
“Just Bodhi.” I replied, teasing him a little.
“Just Bodhi? Are you sure?” he asked, looking carefully at me.
“Yes”, I said firmly, “Just Bodhi.”
Bodhi thought about this for a moment. “Okay.” He decided, and climbed up on top of my stomach, and stretched out in the sunshine like a great warm blanket over me. Because he was now six years old, Bodhi, with his head on my chest, could nearly reach my toes with his toes.
He gave a great sigh, and pulled at the grass by my arm.
I put my hand on Bodhi's head, his curls wrapping around my fingers. “May I tell the story now?”
“Yes”, he said, and grew still.
Once upon a time, there was a boy who lived on the wind. His home was a cloud, curling gently, its outline soft and rolling.
The people in the land below could feel it when Bodhi's cloud passed over them, because his heart was like sunlight, it touched the people of the land. For a moment, they would forget the heavy feeling in their own hearts, their troubles, the pain in their backs, their wishes and wants, and just feel...good.
And then Bodhi's cloud would pass, and though they'd remember how heavy the basket was on their back, or how angry they were at their neighbor, the basket felt just a little lighter, the quarrel seemed a little bit silly, and they would continue on their way.
One day, Bodhi was resting in his cloud, opening and closing his toes and feeling his breath go through them, when he felt an extraordinary feeling in his own heart.
Bodhi rolled over on his stomach in his cloud and looked down to see what could be making this feeling in his body. Sometimes, his Aunt Liat, who lived in the sunlight, came to visit him, and he felt just this way. But it was evening, and Liat's piece of sunlight was no where to be seen.
Bodhi poked his head through the layers of his curling cloud, making a thinning space with his breath, and looked at the grass below. He heard a great shout of laughter, and his chest swelled again. He saw them, two boys, running together along a narrow creek, their bare feet sinking into the muddy bank. Sunlight was kissing the tips of the long grass, and the boy's shoulders were ruddy brown, they'd been outside a long time.
Bodhi rolled over with a smile on his face. What a lovely feeling that was, to be filled completely with the boy's laughter.
Suddenly, Bodhi wondered why he did not have a friend to laugh with. He longed to feel the grass beneath his feet, the wet mud squelching beneath his toes.
He looked at his cloud, and felt that it was not fair that he rode on the wind, all alone, with no one to laugh with. He looked again at the boys below, and suddenly, his cloud did not feel like enough.
The next day, Bodhi's cloud came close to a mountain top, where there was a large tree. Bodhi pulled his courage up from his belly and let out a deep breath. His cloud sank close to the top of the tree, and long windy fingers lowered him gently into its branches.
Bodhi pulled from his pocket a pair of golden slippers that his Aunt had spun him out of pieces of her sunlight. They would keep him warm no matter the clothing he wore, and would protect his tender feet, which had never felt ground before, from injury or pain.
His Aunt Liat, being a wise and loving Aunt, had given them to Bodhi when his mother, the Moon, wasn't looking, because she had noticed Bodhi looking through his cloud with curiosity more and more often. Every so often in his very long life, his Auntie made him a pair of slippers like this, when she knew an adventure of this sort was coming. This was his eighth pair, to be exact.
Bodhi pulled the slippers onto his feet, and climbed nimbly down the great tree, relishing the feeling of his own windy cloud playing in its branches, which danced this way and that way in the breeze.
When Bodhi reached the bottom, and let go of the rough bark, just warming in the morning sun, he saw a pile of rocks near the great roots of the tree, and a boy, sitting in front of them, sitting very still, and smiling.
“Hello,” said Bodhi.
The boy smiled without opening his eyes. “Hello, Bodhi.” said the boy. Bodhi did not think it strange that the boy knew his name, or that the boy had not a single hair on his head, or that Bodhi himself was clad only in a pair of linen shorts and slippers made of spun sunlight.
“Hello.” said Bodhi. “What are you doing?”
“I'm watching my breath go in and out of my body.” said the boy.
“Why are you doing that?” asked Bodhi, although he himself had played that game, watching his cloud become thin, and then thick, and then wispy as he did it.
“Because it feels peaceful when I can do it.” said the boy.
“Can I do it with you?” asked Bodhi.
“Sure.” said the boy, opening his eyes and smiling. The boy had eyes as green as the grass and as orange as the rusty lichen growing on the rocks. Bodhi was shocked by his eyes, how friendly they were when they smiled at him. “Sit down and join me.”
Bodhi walked over to the smooth rock and sat down, feeling his body, warm on the front where the sun touched it, and cooler on the back where the sun did not touch it.
This is how his Aunt Liat played with him, it was their favorite game. Bodhi would blow his wind to chase her around his body, and she would warm him, tickling his skin. Wherever she wasn't was cool, and where she had just been, the feeling of her hug lingered and faded and where she was now was warm and growing warmer.
Bodhi sat down and felt his breath enter his body. And he felt the hardness of the ground under his bottom, and he felt his feet want to walk down the path, and he found himself wondering where the little boys were from the laughing field the other day, and how long he needed to sit here until it felt peaceful. Bodhi squirmed and opened one eye. The other boy was smiling, his eyes closed.
Bodhi closed his eye, and thought about his breath. He thought about his Aunt and his Mother and how they only got to visit in the very early morning and the very late afternoon or evening. He thought about the feeling of loneliness that he had discovered the other day, and he opened his other eye.
“How long do we have to sit here?” asked Bodhi of the boy.
“We don't have to sit here at all.” said the boy, not moving. “Are you tired of sitting already?” he asked.
“Well, its just that I have so many things I want to do, and so many things I came here to do, and I need to go find out how not to feel lonely.” Bodhi answered.
The boy opened his eyes and looked at him. He looked like a great jungle cat, only gentle. Powerful, and strange, and gentle. “You,” the boy smiled at him with his eyes, “have monkey mind.”
Bodhi looked shocked. “I do NOT.” he said. “I do not have a mind like a monkey.” he insisted.
“Yes, you do.” said the boy, laughing. “It runs here and there, jabbering and chattering and playing. It runs wild around in your head while you watch it play, yelling “Come back! Come back!”
Bodhi frowned at the boy. “That's not a very nice thing to say.”
The boy looked at him. “No, it is a true thing to say, which is alright. But I'm sorry if it hurts your feelings to hear.”
Bodhi regarded the boy for a moment. He cocked his head to the side. “That's alright.” he said, and stood up.
Bodhi walked away from the pile of stones, thinking about the boy's stillness and his smile. But adventure lay ahead for Bodhi, and maybe an answer to the feeling he wondered about.
Bodhi walked down the rocky path along the spine of the great mountain where the boy sat watching his breath, and came to a river, which led to a small town.
As he walked through the town, he came to a cart where a man was buying beautiful cloth.
Bodhi watched the man take one of the ten bags of gold he had tied around his waist, and pay the merchant for the cloth. Servants took the roll of cloth away on their shoulders and up to the man's house on the rise at the other end of the valley.
“What are you doing?” Bodhi asked the man. The man looked startled when he saw Bodhi. Slowly, he looked at the boy. Curling hair the color of sand, brown eyes the color of Turkish coffee, a golden brown body, warmed always by the sun, linen shorts and slippers spun of something that looked like golden.
“Hello, Bodhi.” said the man. Bodhi did not think it was strange that the man knew his name. Or that the man had a beard which parted into two thick plaits, each of which grew to his waist, and was tied at the end with golden beads.
“Hello” Bodhi said to the man. “What are you doing here today?” he asked again.
“I am buying cloth today to make some new draperies in my home.” he answered.
“Why are you doing that?” asked Bodhi.
“Because it pleases me to make my home a beautiful place.” said the man.
Bodhi thought about this.
“May I see your home?” asked Bodhi.
The man pondered this, and then nodded, and Bodhi fell happily into place beside him.
“Now, my love”, I interrupted the story.
Bodhi picked his head up off my chest and looked at me, curious.
“Yes?” he asked.
“You know that you could never do this, right?”
“Meet a stranger and go to his home. There are two reasons that the Bodhi of this story can do this. First, its because in this story, Bodhi, even though he lives in a six year old body, is in reality seven hundred and sixty five years old. And so he is safe. And the second reason is, that he asked his mama if he could go on a grand adventure, and she said yes, provided she could keep an eye out for him.”
“And is she keeping an eye out for him?” Bodhi asked me, a bit worried.
“Yes, honey, she is, she is watching where he is going while he is on his adventure.”
“Okay.” said Bodhi, and rolled off my stomach and onto the grass beside me, his head on my arm, looking up into the great old oak with me.
And so Bodhi walked along beside the man with two beards, each in a long plait with golden beads on the end.
“But how does she keep her eye on him?” he asked, worried.
I smiled at him, and he looked at me, his eyes as brown as Turkish coffee.
“She watches him in her reflection on the lake.”
Bodhi thought about this for a moment.
“In the moonlight.” he said, matter-of-factly.
“Yes, love, in the moonlight.”
“So if he gets into trouble, she can help him.” he said.
“That's right.” I answered, and waited to feel him relax, okay again.
“Okay.” he answered me, and settled in, watching the wind blow through our tree.
And so Bodhi walked along beside the man with two beards, and after a time, together, they entered the archway that led to the man's home.
It was a very pleasant home, and Bodhi felt some satisfaction as he walked with the man along carefully trimmed grass, next to a stream, running in a marble river bed. All kinds of fruit trees grew along its banks, Mango, and Lime, and Pomegranate.
Bodhi and the man with the two beards walked along the path, their slippers making a pleasant noise in the white stones which lined it.
A servant knelt in the grass trimming it carefully with a pair of golden scissors. The man and Bodhi walked by the servant. Bodhi looked over his shoulder, he had a great urge to kneel down and ask the servant what he was doing today, but the man with two beards eagerly cupped his hand under Bodhi's elbow, and steered him up the marble steps, just as Bodhi heard the servant say, “Hello, Bodhi.”
Hello, thought Bodhi in his heart, and as he passed into the shade of the giant, soft white columns, he felt the servant smile in his heart. What are you doing today? Asked Bodhi.
I am trimming the grass for Sahib. Said the servant.
Why are you doing this? Asked Bodhi in his heart, as he entered the inner courtyard of the home of the man with two beards. In front of Bodhi lay an azure pool with a gentle trickle of water winding its way down a single rust and ochre colored stalagtite, and dripping off its end. Each droplet sent a ripple across the surface of the pool, and the sun's rays lit the water.
Bodhi recognized the playful sunlight along the white walls of the courtyard, dancing and shimmering, bouncing off the surface of the rolling water.
Hello, Auntie. Said Bodhi with his heart.
Hello, Bodhi, said Aunt Liat and danced a beautiful dance for him, playing gently across Bodhi's face and heart, and laughing through the golden balls tied to the ends of the man's two beards.
I am trimming the grass to make it more pleasing for Sahib's feet, answered the servant, who did not find it at all strange that the Bodhi was talking to him with his heart.
And does this make you feel less lonely? Asked Bodhi of the servant.
The servant thought for a moment, while Bodhi and the man with two beards appreciated Aunt Liat's display. Then the man with two beards showed Bodhi to the room where he would be staying, a splendid room, with a large window, nearly the size of the wall, opening to a garden heavy with fragrant flowers.
Bodhi looked at the fine draperies, already made out of the cloth of silk which the man had purchased in the market that day, and at the fruit on the low table, and at the coverings of the bed, and listened to the songbirds outside his window, and laughed at the girl shooing the noisy peacocks away from Bodhi's window, her beautiful plum sari catching the sunlight.
Bodhi looked at the man with two beards. “And do you like your home, sir?” He asked, respectfully, as he sat at the low table, and examined with curiosity all the manner of fruits and nuts arranged there for his pleasure.
The man smiled, as though he knew that Bodhi would ask him this question. “Yes, my home pleases me greatly.” the man answered.
Bodhi looked at him, looked at him with his heart, carefully, and the man felt light and carefree and loved as Bodhi looked at him.
And Bodhi did not ask him if this made the man less lonely, for he already knew the answer. The man with two beards was sad in his heart, which had a space that had been left there when his child had died unexpectedly one afternoon.
The man with two beards stood very still as Bodhi touched his heart space with compassion, wishing he could ease the man's sorrow, and knowing he could not.
“Yes,” the man answered, even though he had not been asked the question, “My home makes me less lonely.”
Bodhi smiled at the man, who went out into the garden. Bodhi followed him with his eyes, and as he looked, he saw the grass trimming servant kneeling outside his window with his golden scissors.
Bodhi poured a glass of cold pomegranate juice, and floated a piece of precious ice, crackling and hissing into it, and brought it out to the servant.
Bodhi sat down in the grass beside him and smiled. The servant unfolded himself from his position of concentration on the blades of grass, his brown back darker than his brown chest. He took the cold juice, feeling the wetness of the outside of the glass on his grateful fingers, and feeling the sweet tart chill slip down his throat.
When he had finished his drink, the servant smiled, a dribble of dark red juice on his chin, a delicious grin on his face. “Thank you, Bodhi.” he said. Bodhi nodded and fished the ice out of the bottom of the glass with his fingers.
Bodhi sat bolt upright and looked at me.
“He should not do that.” he said, earnestly.
“Why not?” I asked, surprised that he had caught me using bad table manners in my story.
“Because Savta says that it is bad manners to put your fingers in your glass.”
“Well, Bodhi, you are right, it is bad manners, but this Bodhi is only six, so maybe he doesn't know its bad manners.”
“No, I am six, and I know its bad manners, so he must know because hes really seven hundred and fifty six, which is much much older than me.”
I thought about this for a moment.
“Maybe, he knows his mama is not watching, and he feels like he is friends with the servant, and so it is okay for him to put his fingers in his glass. Do you ever fish ice out of your glass when you think Savta isn't watching?” I asked.
Bodhi looked at me. “Yes.” he said. I'm sure he was wondering how I knew.
“And do you ever fish ice out of your brother's glass when you think Savta isn't watching?”
“Yes.” answered Bodhi, unsure if I was going to tell on him or not.
“And so maybe, its okay to break the rules sometimes as long as it doesn't hurt anyone.” I said, and Bodhi relaxed, and laid down on his belly with his cheek on his forearm.
“And if I'm playing with my brother at the creek, and we are thirsty, and I want to get some ice to suck on, its okay to get it with my fingers if we are outside, and it doesn't bother Savta.” he said.
“Exactly.” I answered.
We sat there for a few moments in silence.
“So?” Bodhi asked. “Finish the story!”
“Ah. Yes,” I answered, and looked in my mind for the girl in the plum sari chasing the turquoise feathered birds away from the servant with the brown back.
And so Bodhi reached into his glass and fished out two chunks of ice, considerably smaller than when he had floated them in the cup a few moments ago, and handed one to the servant, and put one, deliciously cold, into his own mouth. They crunched and sucked happily together for a moment.
“And so, will you answer my question?” asked Bodhi, forgetting that he hadn't actually asked the servant if cutting the grass made him feel less lonely or not with his words.
The servant didn't seem to remember this either, because he said to the Bodhi, “Yes, of course. Cutting the grass gives me great satisfaction. It is not something I would do if I lived on my own, outside the gates of this place, but because this is where I live, and this is the job that I have, I enjoy it very much.”
Bodhi looked surprised to hear this answer. “But this is very difficult work,” he said, “and it is not work you would choose to do, and it is not your grass, so it can't be for your own satisfaction. And I asked if it made you less lonely, not if it made you satisfied.”
The servant looked closely at the Bodhi. He smiled and rocked back on his heels, the knees of his turquoise breeches stained lightly the emerald of the soft, slender grass that he spent his life caring for.
“Would you like to try?” he asked Bodhi. Bodhi nodded his head eagerly and took the golden scissors from the servant. He could now see that the hole where he was meant to put his thumb through was beautifully carved to look like a swan, whose eyes were crusted with jewels, and whose beak formed the cutting blade.
“The trick,” said the servant, “is to cut each blade of grass exactly the same height as the one before it.” Bodhi knelt down and got his eyeball, the color of Turkish Coffee, trained right on the last blade of grass that the servant had trimmed, and looked an eighth of an inch forward to the next blade of grass. He carefully raised the scissors, and snip! Took off the top of the slender stalk.
“Too high” said Bodhi, and aimed a smidge lower. Snip! He trimmed it. Satisfied that it was nearly correct, he moved on to the next blade. This one he cut lower, and the next one he tried to make just right, perhaps just a titch higher, hoping that the mean of the two would give him level grass. After an hour of this work, Bodhi showed no signs of tiring, and the servant went inside to get another pair of scissors.
After three hours of this work, Bodhi's thumb was sore and his back was aching, and it was over warmed by the clamoring attention of his Aunties' sisters and cousins who liked to shine meticulously upon the backs of all who toiled at their labour.
Bodhi looked up, the servant was sitting in front of him with a glass of juice. Bodhi smiled, and the servant's chest swelled and filled, his hand trembling with the force of joy he felt at the love that Bodhi gave to him in gratitude for this simple glass of juice.
“There was, I regret to say, no more ice.” the servant reported. Bodhi drank the warm juice gratefully, and began to report what he had found.
“It is a very difficult job you have here, to get the grass to be the right length.” he pondered this with some joy. “I feel like I am working a puzzle of my mother's, it seems so complicated, but the answer is so simple, and yet, I can't quite get it right. I love puzzles like this, they keep me content for lifetimes.” The Bodhi said, laughing.
The servant blushed. “This is one of your mother's puzzles.” said the servant, pleased to have pleased Bodhi so well.
“OH! I should have known. So does trimming the grass make you less lonely?” he asked again, wondering if the servant had had the same experience that he had had.
“I don't know that trimming the grass makes me less lonely,” The servant answered, “but when I am content to trim the grass, I do not feel lonely, I feel peaceful and full, and when I wish I was not trimming the grass, I feel restless and sometimes lonely or longing for something other than the endless fields of grass.” The servant looked worried for a moment. “I'm sorry, I can't give you a clearer answer than that. I hope I've answered your question?”
Bodhi thought for a moment. This seemed to make sense, it had not occurred to Bodhi not to want to cut the grass, the challenge that the servant had given him had occupied him completely, and the task of making the blades the same height as some other blade that may not be the right height had been laborious, but engaging and oddly satisfying. He had not felt lonely while he was working.
“Thank you.” Bodhi said, and handed the servant back his scissors.
The servant bowed low to Bodhi, taking in carefully the beautiful work on the toes of his golden slippers. “Please give my regards to your mother and your Auntie” said the servant, and he turned and resumed his work.
The sun was slanting low over the wall of the garden, and the girl, tired of her work of shepherding the noisy birds, was laying in the shade of the lime tree and dozing.
Bodhi smiled at her beautiful countenance, and felt grateful for her silliness, and happy for the soft dream she was having, and walked inside. There, he found the man with two beards, regarding him.
“Hello, Bodhi.” the man said.
“Hello.” said Bodhi.
“Are you ready for some supper? I had thought to eat on the terrace where we can watch the light fade from the hills and the stars and moon come out.”
Bodhi liked that idea greatly, and scanned the sky quickly, realizing that his hands were dirty, and so were his nails, and his knees were stained, and probably his mouth from the juice he'd shared with the servant. His mother would be out soon, and he wanted her to see that even on his grand adventure, he comported himself with decorum.
“May I wash first, sir?” he asked the man with two beards.
“Of course” said the man, and a servant took Bodhi to a beautiful bathing room and assisted him with his evening toilet. The servant offered Bodhi a light robe for the evening, and took Bodhi's linen shorts and offered to take his golden slippers, motioning to a soft pair of evening sandals by the bath.
Bodhi smiled. “No thank you, I have very tender feet, and these slippers suit me fine. Besides, they were a present.” The servant bowed and left the room, and Bodhi, wearing a robe made of the finest silk, so light it barely kissed his shoulders, and a clean pair of linen breeches, and his golden slippers made of spun sunlight that his Aunt Liat had made, joined the man with two beards on the terrace for supper.
Platters heaped with spinach and chickpeas and paneer and cauliflower and fragrant sauces of spice and yogurt curled from the table, and there was sweet lassi and naan as well, and before long, the ghee was dripping from Bodhi's fingers and down his chin as he sopped up sauce and laughed, talking with the man with two beards about where the stars came from.
His mother, the Moon came out and visited with her sister, his Aunt Liat, high on the crest of the mountains, and at last, Liat said good night, and slipped over the other side of the ridge to tend to the children in that valley and tuck them in, and his mother rose high in the sky and shone brilliantly down on their feast. Her silver light caressed Bodhi, and he felt very good, indeed.
Bodhi had noticed that the man wore the same ten bags of money on his belt to the table in his home that he had worn at the market.
“Why do you carry your gold with you wherever you go?” asked Bodhi, with curiosity, to the man.
The man smiled at Bodhi. “It reminds me that should I need something, I can buy it.”
Bodhi thought about this for a moment.
“Have you found something that you longed for that you could not buy yet?” asked Bodhi.
The man shook his head. “No. If I need something, I have only to send my servant to the market for it, and they bring it back post haste. Tomorrow, I will show you my menagerie.”
As he spoke, Bodhi knew that this was true, the man could buy what he needed, but because he could not share it with his son, none of it eased the empty spot which the man wished was not there.
Bodhi's eyes widened. “You have more than just the peacocks here?” he asked. The man with two beards nodded his head, making his beards bobble in his lap. The little gold balls clinked and jingled together at his vigorous movement.
Bodhi smiled and yawned, his belly was full, and his back was warm from the heat of the afternoon, which was napping in his ruddy skin, still flushed from his work in the grass. He thanked the man for dinner, and headed into his room, dropping gratefully onto the large soft bed in the softest of pillows, the whisperiest sheets, the gentlest netting swaying softly around him, and he closed his eyes and felt that he was on his cloud, held in moonlight while he slept.
In truth, his mother did steal into his room, and roam across his wall and creep across his floor and up onto his bed where she examined him from the tips of his still slipper clad feet to each strand of sandy hair. She kissed his shoulder blades, still giving off the heat of the sun, and, scolding her sister for not watching their rambunctious relations more closely, soothed the aching skin with her silver kiss, and Bodhi sighed, and slept in his mother's arms for a time.
The next morning, Bodhi woke up to find that the draperies in his room had been opened to welcome the sun's rays, and in the corner of his room sat his Auntie, glimmering and shimmering in a shaft of early morning sunlight.
“Good morning, Auntie.” said Bodhi, smiling and stretching.
“Good morning, love.” said his Auntie, smiling back at him. “Are you doing well, dear?” she asked, with a twinkle in her eye.
“Oh, yes, Auntie. I have met a boy who smiles on a mountain, and a servant who trims the grass and a girl who chases peacocks, but I haven't found the laughing boys yet.”
Auntie reflected on this for a moment. “And who else have you met, dear?”
Bodhi looked confused for a moment, and the it struck him, “Oh, my! But how could I forget? The man with two beards, I have met a man with two beards, and an empty place in his heart which he wishes was not there, and this is his home, where we are now.”
Auntie nodded at him, and touched his sandy hair, making it sparkle and lighten just a little, and, kissing his skin golden, she rose and smiled at him. “And how are your tender feet, dear? Are they well?”
Bodhi nodded his head at her, bowing gratefully. “Auntie, they are well, I thank you.”
Auntie bowed her head back to the boy, and then rose, wafting apart like sparkles of sunlight do when they touch the sea. There was a touch of sadness in her voice, she never liked it when he got to this part of his journey.
But his mother, the moon, always soothed Auntie with the same words, which she'd spoken to Auntie just the night before on the ridge line. “He is right where he needs to be to learn the lesson that he needs to learn. And where we need to be is not always pleasant or agreeable.” Auntie had sighed as she slipped over the hill into the valley below.
“I know, but I wish he didn't have to learn it again and again.”
Mother moon smiled at her silly sister. “We all do, there you yourself go needing to learn it again.”
Auntie paused, looking surprised at the moon. “What do you mean? Oh! I did, didn't I? I wished.” she smiled gently to herself, letting go of her wish to change her nephew's path, letting go of her wish to keep him from feeling the loss of his slippers, which was soon to come, and knowing that it would all turn out the way it was supposed to in the end.
“Thank you, Alma.” she said to mother moon.
“Thank you, Liat, for loving him so well.” said Alma, the mother moon, and they'd parted ways as they did every morning and every evening since they'd been born.
Bodhi walked into the courtyard where he found his most gracious host sitting at a table laden with fruit and yogurts of all flavors, cardamom and pear, and he could smell the strong spice of the Sahib's chai curling into the morning sunlight, which was already burning down into the pool.
His Aunt Liat was no where to be found, and all her cousins and sisters played at their ferocious games, burning at the water with a will to make it fly back up to the sky, burning at the marble to foil its cooling soothing purpose.
“Ah, Bodhi! My friend. How was your night?” asked the man with two beards, cordially, with a wish in his eye that he could somehow keep the Bodhi and perhaps that would fill the space in his heart that ached.
“It was lovely, sir. I dreamt of my mother, and of your grass, which I spent the rest of my evening cutting in my dreams.”
The man with two beards, who today had them neatly parted and wound up tightly inside his turban, beamed a smile at Bodhi. “Then I should have the most manicured lawn in the entire province, I should think. Are you tired from your efforts?”
Bodhi smiled. “No, it was soothing work. I found it satisfying, and did not wish that I had to stop it.”
The man's smile became thoughtful.
Bodhi sat to his breakfast, and felt the sun on his back, which was warmer than the front of him, and felt the soles of his feet, inside his slippers, which were cooler than the rest of him, as he could feel the soft chill of the marble floor through them. He smelled the sweet spice of the yogurt and could taste the perfumed fruit in the air, he could hear the girl cursing at the noisy birds outside, and the gentle drip of the water fountain behind him, as it dropped one droplet of water into the pool at a time.
Bodhi looked at the undisciplined sunlight pouring onto the water, and reflecting madly on the walls of the courtyard, the little dots of focused light burning onto the leaves of the banana plants which shaded their table.
“Look at how many colors you can see in just that one ripple of sunlight, its amazing. I see blue, and green and yellow, blue white and white white, and a white that is even whiter than that.”
The man looked at Bodhi. “I am not lonely here.” he said, abruptly.
Bodhi turned his curious head to the man with two beards. “I did not ask you that.” he said.
“No, not today, but you asked me yesterday, and I wanted you to know that I am very happy here.”
The man lifted his chai cup to his lips, and as he did so, his dhoti shifted, revealing the belt of ten bags of gold that he wore, even to the breakfast table, over his white linen pants.
Bodhi's eyes fell on the bags of gold, even as the sunlight intensified, nearly blinding both occupants of the dining table.
“Maybe if I had money, I would not be lonely.” said Bodhi, wondering what the man might say to that.
“But you have none.” said the man, leaning back in his chair.
Bodhi shook his head. “No, I've no need for it where I am from.” he said, plainly.
The man looked at Bodhi. “You know, I could give you some money, but you'd have to give me something in exchange.”
Bodhi thought for a moment. “I did not bring anything with me on my journey.” he said, sadly.
It was not fair that he did not have anything to trade to the man with two beards for money, Bodhi thought, feeling the now familiar ache of restlessness come up inside him. He squirmed, knowing that he was feeling worse now for wishing, but not really wanting to stop wishing. What he wanted, was to try what it felt like to wear a bag of gold that was his.
And what made it even worse was that Bodhi knew that for all his ten bags of gold, the man with two beards, who was beautiful and aching, and kind and wise, was not eased in his heart, no matter how many bags he wore. But still, Bodhi suddenly wished he had something to trade for some money.
The man smiled at Bodhi.
“What about your slippers?” he asked.
Bodhi looked surprised. “My slippers?” he asked.
Bodhi considered. These slippers were a gift, they were very special, they were made of spun sunlight, and they kept him warm when it was cold and cool when it was warm. He felt the love of his Auntie whenever he wore them.
He wanted to know if this was the answer to his question. Maybe it would be different for him than for the man. Maybe the man's loneliness was different than the Bodhis.
Bodhi nodded his head, slowly. “But I do not know how much money to trade them to you for.”
The man stroked the part of his beard carefully, considering. “How about a hundred gold pieces?” he offered.
He did not realize it, but his slippers were worth hundreds of times more than that. Bodhi was ignorant of this, and therefore was happy to be getting what he wanted, money to assuage his loneliness.
Bodhi pulled the slippers from his feet, and as he did, the man's face lit up, for they kept their luminescence. Bodhi felt his heart tug, he was attached to his slippers and was sad to see them go. But the deal had been made, and the man counted out a hundred gold coins from two of the bags around his waist.
“But he gets his slippers back, right?” Bodhi sat up, concerned. “His Auntie made them for him, he should not sell them, they are made with love!”
I was surprised to see how worried he was, after all, it was just a story.
“I'm not sure, honey, I haven't finished the story yet, so I don't know if he gets them back or not.”
Bodhi's brow wrinkled. “He should not trade his slippers for money. Money doesn't matter, what matters is every single bit of life on earth and how long it lives. He should not trade his slippers or his feet will hurt. Why doesn't he know?”
I sat there, rather stunned to hear these words of concern, and wisdom come spilling out of Bodhi's mouth, his guts all twisted up that the boy in the story would ever give up something so precious for something that meant so little.
“Well, babe, maybe he has to learn that lesson. Maybe that's what the story is about.”
“And then he'll know, and he'll get his slippers back and be poor again?” he said, hopefully.
“If that's what you want, then yes. That's what will happen.”
“Do his feet hurt until then?”
“Maybe, you'll have to listen to the story and find out.”
Bodhi sat there, and then pulled away to lean against the tree and look at me, appraising. “Okay.” He said from a distance.
I got up on my elbows and smiled at him, taking his worried heart in my hands, and began again.
Bodhi walked across the marble floor of the man's house, feeling with his tender feet the sensations of both cold and smooth. He smiled to find himself connected to the earth in this new way, and walked down the marble steps and into the garden.
The emerald grass was being trimmed by the servant with the golden scissors, and it was cool and soft against the soles of Bodhi's feet, curling around the edges and tickling the sides. He could feel the chill of the earth as his foot pressed the soil with each footfall.
“Goodbye, Bodhi.” said the servant, looking up and smiling at him.
“Goodbye.” said Bodhi, smiling back with his heart. Bodhi walked out of the gate and stepped onto the searing heat of the road, feeling the shocking difference from the protection of the garden to the flame of the blonde dirt.
Bodhi felt this heat, and thought, “So that is how hot the ground is.” and continued on his way, feeling every pebble, every grain of sand, the cool patches of the shade and the hot patches of the road.
Eventually, Bodhi came to a path that led him into a shady forrest, full of jungly undergrowth. The path curled around a pond, clear to its depths, with beautiful blooms of deep green algae, and all the growth of the land bending right over its banks and dipping into the pond itself. Laying in a small patch of dappled sunlight was a Tortoise.
“Hello, Bodhi.” said the tortoise.
“Hello, Aldera.” said Bodhi, not thinking for a moment that it was strange that the tortoise knew his name, and that he knew the tortoise's. “What are you doing today?” asked Bodhi.
“I am laying in the grey mud and feeling the bottom of my body thick and hugged by the clay, and feeling my shell warm in patches as the sunlight moves across it. Later, I am going to eat that leaf over there.” said Aldera, nodding his head to a large green leaf unfurling in the sunlight a few feet away.
“And does this bring you pleasure?” asked Bodhi. “Do you not feel lonely when you do this?”
Aldera the tortoise looked at Bodhi with his clear eyes, the same color as the columns and flowers of algae decorating the depths of the pond. “I don't know if its pleasure or not, I do not wish I was doing anything other than what I am doing, though. I do not feel lonely, I am here with myself.” said Aldera. “And now, I am here with you.”
Bodhi considered this as he lay down in the squelchy mud next to his friend. He wriggled his belly down into the grey silt and felt the earth move around his knees and elbows, belly and chin, forming hollows, like a cool embrace. Bodhi smiled at Aldera.
Aldera closed his eyes, and the sunlight on his shell grew stronger. Bodhi felt his Auntie gently kiss the heels of his feet, and creep gently up his calves, eventually warming his whole body, his back, his shoulder blades reaching out and feeling hotter than the hollow between them, his hair catching her warmth and holding it.
Bodhi felt his breath go into and out of his body, and heard the sounds of the jungle around him, each thing going doing what it was in that moment. The ferns were uncoiling, the bugs were walking through the cracks, industriously moving their young, or their food, the tiny hairs on their own bare feet finding purchase easily along their path. And Bodhi in the mud, and Aldera in the mud, whose shell was turning the color of the cerulean sky, should they happen to see it through the canopy of green above them.
After a time, Aldera stood slowly up, the grey of the mud drier at the top and wetter under his belly, and moved his arms and legs, tail and neck, and began to walk toward the leaf he had in mind. He walked with purpose, feeling each footfall as it sank into the muddy bank, and finally, smelling the heady scent of the leaf which would be his dinner, took a bite, and began to chew.
Bodhi rolled over and lay on his back in the mud, so the front of him began to dry and crack in the sunlight, and turn light and chalky, and the back of him sank slowly down, making a new imprint.
When he stood to be on his way, he was glad to have spent some time with himself, feeling the earth and his body, and also glad to have shared that time with Aldera. He had been both alone and together, and felt happy at each.
“Thank you, Aldera.” he said, and the turtle smiled at Bodhi with his heart, as Bodhi; who looked like a muddy white ghost from head to toe on the front, and like a muddy black swamp man from toe to head on the back; stepped back onto the path, and continued on his journey.
After a time, the jungle ended, and opened onto a grassy meadow. When Bodhi reached that place where the jungle and meadow met, he looked up and saw that night had come, and his mother was full and round, and shining her heart on the land below. Bodhi sat at the edge of the jungle, his mud having dried completely and flaked off of his body, leaving him chalky and happy, and smiled up at Alma the moon.
Bodhi lay down and gazed at her. His mother was beautiful, to be sure, and he could see all the places where she was not quite round, in the shadows of the wounds on her surface, and in the moonglow that she gave anyway. Bodhi breathed in the scent of her, and felt her flow through his body from the crown of his head down his spine and into and out of the soles of his tender feet, and fell gently asleep in her embrace.
Bodhi, who had slowly crawled back over to me and was laying with his head on my belly, his legs crossed and one bare foot swinging in the air, said sleepily, “But he is safe in the jungle, because the animals all know his name.”
I smiled. “That is right, babe.”
“And his mama is with him, and all the animals know that she wouldn't shine any more if he got hurt or was missing.”
I thought about this. I wasn't sure if he was right or not, but it was Bodhi's story, and so I agreed.
“And after a time, Bodhi woke up.” Bodhi said. And I knew he was eager to meet the boys in the laughing field.
And after a time, Bodhi woke up. He walked into the field and watched the sunlight roll gently over the tops of the mountains at the end of the valley, turning their tips pink. He watched the mountains reach gently for the warming sun and pull it gratefully into their bellies, stretching and reaching and awakening as his Auntie and her sisters and cousins rolled and tripped and played, filling in every crevice they could touch.
Suddenly, there was a shout of laughter that seemed almost as big as the mountains eating the sunlight, and Bodhi looked across the narrowest edge of the meadow to see two boys running along the river bank. His face lit into a huge smile, these were the boys from the laughing field, he had found them at last.
Bodhi ran through the tall grass and the meadow flowers of early summer and the boys stopped and turned to him.
“Hello, Bodhi.” they said together.
“Hello.” said Bodhi. “What are you doing today?” he asked.
“We are playing in the creek. Would you like to play?” they asked, and the Bodhi nodded his head, and joined them.
They spent the afternoon doing what boys of six, and ten, and thirteen will do, roaming in the mud, catching frogs and chasing fish, breaking sticks off and slipping them through the loops on their linen shorts, shouting and hiding and finding. They played until the sun slipped over the other side of the valley and the tips of the grass no longer glowed Amber.
“Come and eat with us.” said the boys, breathless, and the three of them slogged home through the muddy water to the small home on the edge of the village nearby.
Bodhi went into this warm nest, and felt his heart grow full as he crossed the doorway. The boy's father smiled to see them, dirty, tired, and home.
“Hello, Bodhi.” said the father.
“Hello, Baba.” said Bodhi.
Bodhi and the boys brought the lentils to the table, and sat and feasted, talking late into the night. Bodhi took a place on the floor near the stove for his bed that evening, and when he woke early in the morning, he felt that he knew the answer to his question, and it was time to return home.
Bodhi walked quietly from the sleeping house, and as he did, he took the two bags of money out of the pocket of his linen shorts and left them by the door. After all, he did not need money where he was from.
“Good bye, boys.” he said to the nest that the father had made. “Thank you for teaching me to be playful.”
He walked across the meadow and back into the jungle, where he found the hollows that he and Aldera had left with their bodies.
“Good bye, Aldera, thank you for teaching me patience.” he said to the mud.
He walked through the jungly undergrowth and out onto the bright path, and by this time, his feet had become tough and strong with the miles he had walked.
He crested a dusty hill above the house of the man with two beards, and looked down into the courtyard, where he saw the man, sitting, longing and lonely by himself, by his magnificent fountain.
He smiled with his heart and walked down the hill and into the house. When the man with two beards saw Bodhi coming, his whole body lit up with happiness, and his troubles slid off his back and down into the earth below. He rushed up to Bodhi and welcomed him back.
“Hello, Bodhi!” the man said.
“Hello.” said Bodhi. “I have come to say thank you.” he said to the man.
The man looked surprised, and said, “You are welcome. Thank you for what?” he asked.
“Thank you for teaching me about generosity. And I have something for you, as well.” he said.
Bodhi took the man out onto the lawn and said to him, “I have a wonderful game for you to play, and you even have a friend to play it with.”
“I do?” the man asked.
“Yes!” Bodhi and the man with two beards stopped at the edge of the path where the servant was trimming the grass with his golden scissors.
“Hello, Bodhi.” said the servant.
“Hello Sukhen.” said Bodhi to the servant. The servant lifted his head from his work and looked at the man, his head crooked in question.
Bodhi turned to the man. “Sukhen has a wonderful game that he plays every day, which you can play together, if you have another pair of scissors.” The man smiled, and ran into the house, his long white dohti flapping behind him, and his slippers slapping on the marble.
“I do!” he called back over his shoulder.
A few minutes later, Sukhen and the man with two beards were on their knees next to each other, each of them trimming with skill, precision, and patience, while each trying to trim as large a patch as possible and do as neat a job as possible before the other could.
Bodhi walked through the gate and out onto the dusty path once more to the sound of their laughter.
“Goodbye Sukhen.” said Bodhi with his heart. “Thank you for teaching me perseverance.”
He walked through the town and along the river and up into the hills that led onto the spine of the mountain, where he began to climb. As he climbed, he saw all of the part of the world that he could see falling away beneath him, and each of the creatures in it doing whatever they were doing at that moment. People were carrying things from here to there, some were lonely, some were content. Some were arguing, some were loving. Some were washing clothes and some were mourning.
Bodhi walked along the rocky path until he got to the very top, where he found a pile of rocks and a very old man. There was a large tree growing a few feet away. The very old man had a long white beard, flowing freely, and not a single hair upon his head. His eyes were the color of a cat's eyes when he opened them, green as the grass and orange as the lichen on the rocks.
He smiled at Bodhi. “Hello, Bodhi.” he said.
“Hello, Guruji.” said Bodhi, sitting down next to him. “Thank you for teaching me humility.” he said.
Guruji laughed. “And so you admit that you have a monkey mind now, Samyak Sanbodhi?”
“Yes. But let us sit together again anyhow.” said Bodhi, smiling.
“I will tell you something, Bodhi. I have monkey mind, as well. My mind slips from me and runs wild and sometimes I wish it would not, and I feel the rocks in my bottom where I sit, and my foot falls asleep and I wish that I did not feel any of those things.”
“Tell me what you learned on your journey, Bodhi.” said Guruji, gently.
Bodhi looked thoughtful as he wound his long, sun-kissed legs under his body. They were much longer than they had been when he last sat at this spot.
“I learned that wishing that something was other than it is only makes me wish more. I feel longing and loneliness in my heart when I wish. I think every creature does.”
Guruji became very still and bowed his head, listening as Bodhi talked thoughtfully.
“I think that if you cut your hand, and it hurts and it is bleeding, and you wish so much that it had not been cut, it hurts much worse. And the worse it hurts, the more you wish it was not cut. And I think that if you breathe and realize that your hand is cut, and it hurts however much it is going to hurt, and that is that, that suddenly, all of the extra suffering you are adding to your painful wound vanishes.”
Guruji nodded, still listening.
“I think our hearts are like this, too.” said the boy. “I think that if we want and wish for something, like not to feel lonely, or to own something that we cannot, we are howling in pain, wishing it was not so. And as soon as we are content with whatever it is that we have, be it a lot or a little, our hearts are happier, and there is space in there to feel the sunlight on our skin and the wind on our face and the sweat behind our knees.”
And then the boy and the Guruji closed their eyes and sat together, and after a time, Bodhi opened his eyes. The Guruji was not sitting next to him anymore, but the piece of earth he had been sitting on had a little imprint, the mark of where his body had been.
“Goodbye, Guruji. Thank you for helping me to become.” said Bodhi. He stood up and walked to his tree, and climbed up it, and when he reached the top he breathed out softly and here came his cloud, gently curling. Bodhi felt its fingers wrapping around him, and he laid back into its soft downy heart and floated out above the land once more.
And when Bodhi's cloud drifted by the people of the land below, they felt his heart shining like theirs could, and for a moment, they forgot their anger at their neighbor or the weight of their basket, or the size of the task before them, and felt content.
I looked down at Bodhi, who had been very still next to me. Mother moon and Auntie were visiting in the tips of the great oak where we told our stories, and Bodhi's breath was coming slow and regular.
I lifted him into my arms and felt the front of my body, still warm from the sun, warmer still where his touched me, his lanky body, larger every day heavy in my arms.
We walked up the path in the growing twilight to the cabin where we lived and said goodbye to the day, not wishing it was longer or that it was not over or that we could have the same day again.
“You didn't give him back his slippers, mam.” said Bodhi.
“No. That's now how it came out after all, although I meant to. I'm sorry.” I answered him.
“Its okay. I think the man needed them more than I did.” he said. “Besides. Aunt Liat can make me another pair.” and he fell back asleep.