Novel Excerpt from The Walking Boy by Lydia Kwa

Read new fiction by the Vancouver author of Oracle Bone

Guyu 榖雨 Jieqi, Grain Rain
Third Lunar Month
Full Moon

MOUNT HUA

“Step into the light so that the monk can see you,” Baoshi’s father instructs him.

The chill bites into Baoshi’s skin. His naked thighs shiver with cold. He steps reluctantly into the light.

Dissatisfied, Baoshi’s father pushes him onto the table and pries open his legs. Harelip draws close to Baoshi and stares down at his private parts.

“Miracle of Heaven!” he exclaims. “Another uncommon one.”

“Will you take him?” asks the father, his whole body trembling. He fishes out a pouch of silver coins from the inside pocket of his well-padded winter coat and drops it onto the table next to Baoshi.

Harelip lifts up the pouch from the table and places it back into the man’s hand. He moves to the far corner and gestures to Baoshi. “Boy, come over here.”

Baoshi slips off the table and wipes away the tears with the back of his hand. He pulls up his pants, ties the drawstrings securely at the waist before he walks toward Harelip, his eyes downcast.

Harelip bends slightly forward and touches Baoshi’s chin, tilting his face up. He addresses the distraught boy in a barely audible whisper. “Do you understand what is being asked of me?”

“My father wants you to take me in as your burden, and relieve my family of their shame.”

“I have been alone on this mountain twenty-eight years now. It seems that fate would have me change that.”

Baoshi is remembering that day eight years ago as if it has just happened. The chill of shame, the burning glare of his father’s eyes. He is nearly seventeen sui yet he sometimes feels as if he is no older than that confused boy he had been. You don’t know how hard it is for your mother and me now that we must give you up, our only child so far. But we have hopes for another son, as your mother is with child again. Shame once again washes over him. Perhaps the lunar eclipse is causing him to feel more agitated tonight. The light of the full moon has diminished gradually over the hours until it is now completely gone, eaten up by the darkness.

He lies down on the straw mat wide awake while Harelip sleeps. Here he is, faced with his Master’s conviction that he is to set off alone on a pilgrimage to the Western Capital. What choice does he have? If he wants to make his Master happy and to eventually return to him, he must not break that vow. Six weeks have passed since the day Harelip first told him about the imminent pilgrimage. How much longer before he has to leave?

I have to remember what he said to me that first day, Baoshi reflects. How had Harelip put it?

“Remember this: You are truly a manifestation of the Buddha! Two and yet Not-Two! How apt your parents named you Precious Stone.”

“It was my mother who gave me the name.” Baoshi’s lips quivered with anguish, thinking of how he had been taken away in the night while she slept.

“When I came here, I discovered it was my destiny to leave the world behind, to live peacefully with mountain spirits and magical creatures. Yet this mountain, this place I call home now, frightened me terribly in the beginning. One cannot merely rely on the five senses to survive here. I’ll teach you. You have nothing to fear. What makes one man flee in fright or go mad is the very elixir for another’s soul.”

“What kind of magic? What do you mean?”

“Answers arrive through experience, or through intuition.”

“What is intuition?”

“You’ll know the meaning of that in time, Baoshi. The same goes for your questions about magic. Your destiny is to learn Two and Yet Not Two-ness, to embrace the marvellous contradictions of your whole person—your body, your essence, and your soul.”

Baoshi turns his body toward Harelip’s slumbering presence. He wonders if the pilgrimage will sharpen his intuition. What if he meets others who won’t accept him the way Harelip does? When Harelip said to him that he was a miracle of Heaven, he retorted, “If I am such a miracle, why did my father give me away?”

“Why? Because your father is a lesser being than you!” Harelip banged the table with a tightly closed fist, startling Baoshi. When he calmed down, he said, “He fails to appreciate the wonder that you are. He cares too much for what others might think. I know this cannot make any sense to you now, but years from today you’ll remember these words, and their meaning will penetrate your mind.”

*

The Walking Boy by Lydia Kwa (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2018) is now available at your local bookstore. The Vancouver launch is on Friday, March 22, 2019, 7-8:30 pm at Massy Books (229 East Georgia Street). Here is the Facebook invite.

Read Kwa’s short story “The Wife.”

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