By J. Nguyen
I sat down in front of him, cross-legged. The marble tile floors were cool and egg-shell white. I leaned forward to take a peek into his little black book. Compared to my ten year old stature, he looked like a giant consumed in an enormous bonfire. This man had lived half a century yet retained a youthful and curious aura.
With his saffron robes draped around him and wooden beads in his hand, he looked up from his book and asked “And who are you, little one?”
I gulped audibly.
My dry mouth somehow spilled out “J-J-Jessica.”
He didn’t tell me that I had a funny name like everyone else had done. The harsh cluster of consonants undoubtedly grated the Vietnamese tongue.
He smiled and whispered, “Ah, you’re the cousin from America.”
I nodded sheepishly.
“Tell me, little one, are you a Buddhist too?”
Again, I nodded sheepishly. His warmth was contagious when he looked me in the eye and smiled gently.
Like a mother bird with her fledgling, he fed me Buddhist proverbs in perfect rhythm. Every word pirouetted and leaped from his mouth and into my ears. They pulled me into another world. Though I did not understand everything he told me then, he said not to worry because planting seeds with love and care means that one day something would sprout.
“What book are you reading, Teacher?” I asked. In the Mahayana branch of Buddhism I belong to, we are to call the monks a pronoun that roughly translates to “teacher” or “master.”
“I am reading more about the things I don’t know, little one,” he cooed. His smile crinkled his eyes on his face.
“I know I don’t know a lot, but I want to know too!”
“Well then, we can try to help each other!”
“Where should we start, Master?”
“Hmmm. Well, we can start with you teaching me.”
“Okay then! What do you want to know?”
“Tell me more about where you are from, little one. I would like to know more since I don’t know too much about living in America.”
I was relieved to hear that. This entire summer in Vietnam, everyone had been coming up to me with hardened views of what my life was like in America. “In America, you have special soap for your produce?” and “How are there no _______ in America?”
I don’t remember much anymore. This was all from 11 years ago. I no longer remember the stories or the sound of his voice or the surface of his wooden beads.
Every summer just feels like the last. But I know better than that.
J. Nguyen lives New York, wears red lipstick, prefers Papaya King to Nathan’s Famous, has a cat named Computer Blue, and wants the unattainable... Nguyen has been previously published in the Hemetera Journal, Crab Fat Magazine, The Sex Letters Project, The Tipton Poetry Journal, and Sisyphus Quarterly.