On a crisp October evening, Ngabo was sitting on a bench near Lennon’s memorial in Central Park.
He was reflecting on an old, faded memory. One from over twenty years ago, when he and his father had sat on this very same bench. It was their first time in New York City and Ngabo’s father had brought his worn Panasonic Discman with him.
Ngabo remembered his father jamming an earbud into his six-year-old right ear, and the other earbud into his own. He cued up his Discman and the thick muddy piano chords of “Imagine” began.
Being six though, and somewhat socially maladjusted (not unlike his father), Ngabo didn’t pick up on the importance of this small, modest moment his father was trying to create for the two of them.
When his father asked if he liked the song, Ngabo simply said, “I don’t like it.”
His reminiscence was interrupted when an older Eastern European man in a woolen pea coat sat next to him.
“It’s a cold day, isn’t it,” he said, through the dense gristle of his salt-and-pepper beard. His accent, a thick Ukrainian.
“Yes,” Ngabo replied. “I suppose it is.”
“Are you a fan of the John Lennon?” the Ukrainian asked.
“No, unfortunately, I’m not. Someone once forced it on me. It didn’t take.”
“Ah. Nothing unfortunate about that. We all must choose sides one way or another in the end, don’t we?”
He paused, and considered something. “You are Paul McCartney fan, then?”
“Yes, I suppose I am.”
“Ach! Very well!” the Ukrainian said gleefully. “Then I have something you will like very much so.”
He reached inside his coat and pulled out a manila bubble envelop and handed it to Ngabo. Ngabo stared at it.
“It’s a collection,” the Ukrainian explained. “Of his rare bootlegs, demos, sessions. Many unissued and unofficial. Very hard to find… including the 1969 recording of the song he wrote for Mary Hopkin, ‘Goodbye’.
“It’s funny. McCartney doesn’t even remember making this demo for Mary. To a genius like his, it was just business.
“Go on, take it.” He thrust the envelop at Ngabo again. Ngabo relented and accepted.
The Ukrainian then leaned in, inches from Ngabo’s face and whispered reverently, “Muni muni mahamuni.”
“Sabbe satta sukhi hontu.” Ngabo quietly replied.
The Ukrainian kissed Ngabo solemnly on his left cheek, got up, and left.
A short while later, Ngabo arose and walked away too.
Ngabo returned to his empty two-bedroom apartment on 108th street. He rummaged through his meager worldly possessions. Everything kept inside one nondescript black carry-on luggage.
He found his father’s Discman. It was all he had left of him. Ngabo was taken away to the monastery shortly after that trip to New York City. He also retrieved his burnished gold Mani wheel (worn from decades of use), a beat-up yellow legal pad and a cheap ballpoint pen.
Ngabo carried all these items to the center of his living room where his bamboo meditation mat anchored the otherwise empty, unfurnished void.
He opened the manila envelop. Inside was a gold-and-black rewritable CD in a clear case. It was unmarked. No sharpie writing. No label.
Ngabo gently lifted the platter and placed it into the Discman. With his earphones on, he then folded his legs as Sitatara would, closed his eyes and pressed “play”.
It streamed silence for several seconds.
And then, a chorus of Tibetan throat chanting swelled.
Oṃ Tāre Tuttāre Ture Mama Ayuḥ Punya Jñānā Puṣtiṃ Kuru Svāhā
Oṃ Tāre Tuttāre Ture Mama Ayuḥ Punya Jñānā Puṣtiṃ Kuru Svāhā
It was the White Tara mantra.
As the deep voices lapped over Ngabo, he spun his Mani wheel counter-clockwise vigorously, calling upon wrathful protective energy. He envisioned a streak of Bengal tigers surrounding him, lying by his side, guarding him. Stalwart, loyal, vigilant.
The mantra droned on.
And then, almost imperceptibly, unless Ngabo strained his ears, was a second mantra. Weaving in-and-out of the first one. The chanting had been electronically altered to a bass frequency only Ngabo and two other monks in the entire world can hear unaided.
Ngabo listened intently now. Consciously. He transcribed the words feverishly, filling pages of yellow paper. Lines and lines of Tibetan headless umê script. It was not a mantra however. In fact, what Ngabo wrote down was pure nonsense. Jumbled mixed-up words in strange non-sentences. A mad man’s scrawling on a wall after years of isolation.
The recording stopped abruptly on the word “konchuk”. It was barely audible. Like a sand mandala being swept away by the wind. But that was all Ngabo required of it.
He spun the Mani wheel again. This time clockwise, counter-clockwise, clockwise in deliberate measured turns. It clicked and a secret compartment opened. Ngabo removed a small piece of paper from inside and unrolled it, revealing miniscule Tibetan uchen script.
With this cipher, Ngabo began to decode what he’d written down. And within five minutes, it all became clear. Ngabo knew where he needed to be.
Ngabo also knew RAW agents have already booked plane tickets for him to nine different cities. Each booking from a different TOR browser, on a different laptop, using multiple masked-IPs routed through at least five servers.
And in each of the nine cities, a team of RAW field agents would also be waiting. Ready for his arrival. A new safe house carefully chosen and prepped. Not a single one of these teams knowing whether they were decoys or not until Ngabo arrived at his true destination.
This is the security reserved for Ngabo when he must flee. Once again, like so many times before, since he was secretly appointed the 16th Dalai Lama despite the existence of one already… chosen by China.
Ngabo was the unrecognized and unofficial Dalai Lama to the PRC.
Ngabo had no doubts. While he was (and is) infinitely grateful to the endless onion layers of security the Indian government provided him…
He knew the Jinyiwei, Li’s brocade-clad guards, were already on the move as well. ☣
This week’s Garage Fiction prompt was provided by Dogwood Daniels…
The Battle of Chamdo by Gorguts
These weekly scenes & stories are part of an ongoing project codenamed “Garage Fiction”. Since January 2015, three writers (Nicholas Brack, Dogwood Daniels and Jinn Zhong) have committed to writing a flash fiction or scene each and every week. We post on Fridays and dissect on Mondays via podcast. Listen to the episode here:
Listen to the podcast in the player above, or subscribe via iTunes, GooglePlay or Stitcher. What the heck is “Garage Fiction”? Since January 2015, a small group of storytellers committed to writing a piece of fiction every week… and then getting on a podcast to talk about it.