Below the white dome of the Peace Pagoda, on the pebbled walk, I will burn myself. I am walking there: hitchhiking, in point of fact. One thumb out, I walk backwards down the road. I must look like a traveler whose car ran out of gas; in my other hand, a red jug of gasoline. Buzzing towards me: a red VW Beetle. It swerves suddenly and stops.
Where you headed?
Down the road a piece.
MA Route 2 is one lane here. I figure if I can hitch from Greenfield to Turner’s Falls then I can get another ride down Route 63 towards Leverett and then walk to the pagoda, that white stupa in the woods. In the blink of an eye I could be there if I could fly like the other monks. But I can’t fly. I can only levitate, and only a few inches from my sitting position. Once there, I hover, but no force of will or imagination enables me to move horizontally. I think that if I rub my nose in a certain way I can cast a spell on me, but in meditation I’m not meant to move. It’s like wearing a corset to go only so far and then to be bound by limitations of time and space.
You traveling incognito? Says the driver. She’s a young woman, maybe 18, probably a student at one of the colleges around here. I like the little lotus flower she has stuck in the cup holder. It’s an automatic Beetle and I keep expecting her to downshift to go up the little hills, but the transmission takes all the guesswork out of the driving. It’s like the car’s meditating, steadily breathing. And so I shrug a little, wondering what this young blonde woman means, and what she’s like in bed. Incognito? I say. Because of the sunglasses and shaved head?
More because of your robe, she laughs. You don’t see many handsome white guys in orange robes out here. Halloween is still a week away.
I’m a monk, I say. My car ran out of gas. I gesture with the can, pointing ahead of us, the gasoline sloshing. She thinks I’m handsome, despite everything. I burn inwardly with the warmth of her unexpected comment. But tell me, are not all comments unexpected, coming as they do from the roof of the world and out the mouth?
Should I frisk you? She says. I mean, you could be carrying anything under that robe. It would be a citizen’s arrest, she says. What do you mean, I wonder, without speaking. She is playing music, the Cranberries, and bouncing to the beat in her seat. It’s a sunny October day, beautiful; a gust of wind springs leaves loose from an oak tree and the car is showered in them and she giggles again, slowing down.
Aren’t monk meals made of mush and grease? She laughs. And don’t you love my alliteration?
I do love your alliteration, I say. I will pipe up to you now: I plan to picket the pagoda on this pleasant day. She giggles again.
Perhaps, she says, perhaps. On the ridge up there you can just see the top of the stupa, she says, and it looks like a big old flame.
Somehow we have driven down Route 2 and Route 63 and North Leverett Road and Cave Hill Road in a matter of seconds. What did I miss? How? Have I been asleep?
She says, It’s like it’s burning, a golden fire on top of the white dome of that thing. What’s that thing for, anyway? Why do people walk around it in a circle? Who goes there, anyway? Can we?
Now she is holding my hand and we are circling the pagoda and she is reciting the Lotus Sutra in a low murmur as I answer.
Folks like me, I say, Folks like us. Folks who can no longer stand being folded into themselves in this world, and who unwind by walking around the pagoda, which is meant for peace. You can always solve things by walking, I say. I look at my can of red gasoline and know that I will, in the end, just fill up my tank. Where is my car?