Memoirs from the foothills of Nepal to the streets of America.
Trade Secrets by J.P. Tamang
No Rest for the Wicked
The morning Doctor Pingleton arrived at the monastery, the monks were talking about the caterpillar infestation in the next town over. I was 12 at the time, living in a cold, stone room beneath the courtyard. Through the wrought iron bars in my window, beyond the thicket, there was a view of the lake valley, and beyond that the opposite hillside. The town was wedged in a forested part of northern India between Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan. That morning the disciplinarian gave me an old book, a smack on the ass, and instructions to memorize the first chapter in solitude. “Whatever you do,” he cautioned, “Don’t lose this book. If you do, you’ll get a beating. When you’re done, you can rejoin the group.”
The old metal latch on my door rustled at the top of my staircase. I heard two sets of feet coming down the stairs. I rushed to my table in the kitchen and looked down at the pages of the dusty book, muttering incoherently as if in recitation. The disciplinarian pushed aside the curtain hanging in the doorway to reveal his stout body and high, bulbous cheekbones. “Sit up,” he said. Behind him, standing in the threshold, was a tall, waifish, white man wearing a powder blue tunic. He examined my accommodations with a jolly smirk, twiddling his thumbs. “This is your guest,” the disciplinarian said, “He’s a scientist from the USA.”
“Anthropologist.” Doctor Pingleton corrected. He wore round, coke bottle glasses that sat on top of his angular nose. His hair was a fawn mop, unkempt though freshly washed.
“If he’s from the USA, then why is he wearing a kurta shalwar?” I asked. The disciplinarian smacked me on the back of my head. He explained that I had to walk the doctor to a tea merchant in the bazaar at the bottom of the hill, that I’d been chosen for this task by the abbot (because I spoke English), and that I should be polite. I wondered if the doctor had made a large donation to the monastery in order to garner a personal escort. Once I was finished, the disciplinarian explained, I would be able to rejoin the other monks in calligraphy class. I wondered if he knew how much I enjoyed calligraphy class, or how much I despised memorizing nonsense in a basement.