Monitoring: Chailai Chaidee [null]
Bangkok, Bangkok Metropolitan Region, Thailand
4:15 p.m. Indochina Time
Saturday, March 15th, 2014
9:15 Coordinated Universal Time
Saturday, March 15th, 2014
Chailai watches the boy from a distance, pretending to mind her own business at the side of the canal as he hands over a small box of food. The homeless man who receives it swings out of his makeshift hammock and settles on the ground to eat. They exchange words, which Chailai is too far away to hear. The man makes some sort of supplication, and the boy touches his head before moving on. There is another beggar not too far away.
She turns back across the canal. It was a living thing once, flush with good green plants and all that survived on them, but someone went ahead and killed it by laying down a concrete bottom. Water still flows through and algae covers the surface of it, but there is nowhere for a rooted plant to go and the water is touched by poisons, so the algae seems more like an infection than anything else. It is rampant, in the absence of those life forms that it relied on to keep it in check.
When she looks back to find out where the boy has gone, he turns out to be at her side. Startled, she jumps, and finds herself grateful for the canal has a railing. Without it, she might have found herself soaked and covered in algae.
“Can I sit here?” he asks. She only nods.
He sits down, legs dangling over the edge of the canal, and hands her a ceramic spoon and one of the little boxes that he has been distributing. His fingers brush hers as he passes it to her, but she feels no different than she did before. Inside is a healthy amount of what appears to be red curry. Chailee pauses, old habits causing her to question how and whether the spoon was cleaned. A moment later, her eyes are closed in response to the simple pleasure of the coconut milk in the sauce.
“Do you help to make this, or do you just distribute it?” As she talks, some younger children sit down on the other side of the canal and commence with making hats out of dark blue construction paper.
“I make it, and a few other things, whatever can be made from whatever ingredients are cheapest at the time. Why are you here?” He opens another carton. There is something of an edge to his features. He has been hungry before, she notes, even if he is able to find food now.
“I’m a sociologist from Thammasat University. My interest is in the rise in the number of foreign beggars, and if they intersect with organized crime in the same ways that native beggars do.”
“I’ve heard about you. The Westerners have been talking about you.” The boy pauses to eat from his own carton. “Some of the others as well. They say that you ask them questions.” Another pause. On the opposite side of the canal are two fine-dressed foreigners, one in yellow and the other in somber gray. Business colleagues, perhaps, or a rich expat couple, though Chailee would expect them to be dressed less formally in that case. In any case Chailai is sure that they are new here, by the way that they seem to stare at everything. “They say that you ask them questions about me.”
Chailee nods, turning her attention away from the farang across the river. “I have been told that you are a boddhisatva.” The salt in her curry has more of a bite to it than she is accustomed to. Perhaps it is the boy’s taste, or because he is worried about salt deficiencies in the homeless, or simply due to a lack of skill. It would probably be rude to ask. “They say that you bless the sick and make them whole.”
“Hm.” There is another lull in their conversation. Chailee does not push against it. “There are still amputees.”
“And if there were not, then you might say instead that there is still war.”
“That is true. We should be thankful for whatever good fortune comes our way, I suppose. Forget what the beggars are saying. What do you think I am?”
This time the pause belongs to Chailee. The boy seems a good deal more mature than others his age. She had expected his earnestness, but not his gravity. “I do not know. On the one hand, I am reluctant to call this a miracle. Our lives can be blessed in magnificent ways, but more often they are not and when we think that they are, it usually turns out to be something else. Judging by probability alone, I would say that there is nothing noteworthy here. Except insofar as any act of altruism is noteworthy,” she quickly adds. “On the other hand…I tracked the numbers, and in the past few months sickness has dropped, there are no deaths that can be attributed to sickness alone, and these things are true only of the neighborhoods that you frequent. I can’t say how, but you are connected to it in some way.”
“It’s easy for people to think that you are a bodhisattva or even a buddha: act benevolently, act wisely, and above all act mysteriously so that observers are free to fill in the gaps,” the boy says. “It is harder to believe it yourself. One of the Westerners said that crazy people don’t know they’re crazy, so if you’re wondering about it then you can’t be crazy. Maybe there’s something similar here, and anyone sure of being a bodhisattva doesn’t have the humility to really be one.” He shrugs. “I know the vows, anyway. Sentient beings are without number.”
“I vow to save them all,” Chailee completes, and he nods. “What are you doing, really? How are you connected to this?”
“When I touched you, I reminded your body how it was supposed to be. If there was disease, then it has been flushed out. If there was cancer, then those cells that were rebelling are now listening. But I can’t fix broken bones, restore limbs, or even return sight to the blind. I haven’t had the conditions that I need to really experiment.”
Chailee frowns. There are half a million Thais with HIV, hundreds of thousands more suffering from tuberculosis, many dying from tuberculosis… “You could heal them all. Why are you not doing more?” she asks. She looks at him. “Is this where you tell me that the flesh is a distraction, and the healings are just an aside?”
He shakes his head. “My time hasn’t come yet,” he says. “I don’t want to be killed, but if I reveal myself to the world too quickly then that may happen. The rulers of the world do not like what they cannot control, and…I will be disruptive. They will welcome my power to heal, but not what I have to say.”
She pauses to consider this. “What do you have to say?”
“Sentient beings are without number,” he repeats. “I vow to save them all.”