nigu - buddhist nun
miao - buddhist temple
The hills glistened under the slanted golden sun. Her hand-tucked canvas shoes and long wide sleeves, sweeping along grasses scented with dewy drops, were wet. She brushed her long hair aside along with the sweat on her forehead and drew in deeply the cold mountain air.
She had collected enough fire woods for the day and filled the giant urn in the kitchen with spring water. Shifu told her to fetch one more thing for the ceremony tonight, and she was told to do this chore by herself.
Others had described the shape and scent to her before. It’s pure white in color, they said, and they bloom in summer with dancing petals. She missed the season when she came to the miao to stay last year. She was broken then, lost her sight for life.
Shifu and other nigus nursed her back to health in their quiet and gentle ways. She gradually understood from shifu’s wise eyes that life could be simple; that heartaches could be buried.
She realized she wanted to be one of them when she was healed. The tip of her hair danced in the gentle breeze and tickled her face, her neck. Waye used to do that. She pushed the thought out of her mind.
Not today, she thought, today I need to be pure and empty. The bothersome hair will be gone forever, much like her thoughts of earthly connection. Her fingers wrapped the hair around but she was concentrating on purging her thoughts and didn’t notice.
You will know when you find it, they said. The scent is divine, there’s nothing like it! That’s why we offer it to Buddha.
She followed the turn of the road and there it was: behind the big tree in the shade, some white flowers swayed in the air. The blade shaped green leaves bounced under filtered sun light. Her hands reached out to touch the petals and the aroma seized her.
Waye’s head was buried in her hair and he whispered: “You smell like heaven.. ” She felt Waye’s arms around her and she caressed her arms achingly. Her memories were battered with horrible fragments. There was blood all over her. She remembered screaming his name, his head draped lifelessly on the steering wheel. People were shouting and pulling her away from the car, from him. She couldn't stop screaming.
They told her she was lucky to have survived, but she didn’t know how to live without Waye. Her mother took her to this miao as a last attempt to pull her back to life. Almost a year later she decided to join the women. Her head would be shaved clean, a symbol of cutting tie with the rest of the world, and her scalp would be burned with incense for spiritual cleansing. All pains would be gone for good.
Her face was wet with tears and her arms full with white wild ginger flowers. She had lost the sense of time sitting under the tree. Fresh tears kept flowing down and she let them come out freely. She was no longer lost. Her heart hurt for the first time in a year.
Shifu saw her face when she walked into the miao and knew--the broken child was repaired. She carefully put the flowers in the vase in front of Buddha’s statue and turned to face shifu.
“They smelled so...” she began to say, but words failed her and her voice cracked.
“I know.” shifu said, her eyes calm with foreboding wisdom. “ Your bag is packed and ready in your room.” she said, gently and lovingly, “Go now. Go and have a wonderful life.”