Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Pagoda

The boy walked down the dirt path with his eyes tilted down towards the dark brown soil. His older male cousin walked beside him on the left side and his older female cousin walked beside him on his right. They walked on a path that surrounded a small mountain which sat in the middle of a small lake. It was a sunny afternoon caressed by the gentle loving touch of a soft breeze and the sound of pigeons flying in great flocks of sudden enthusiasm. The water of the lake was calm and shiny like a giant green mirror that softly vibrated and subtly shifted with the sound of footsteps and lost words and sighs.
The boy was ten years old. He was very skinny and somewhat frail. His skin was white and soft and his eyes seemed bigger than they really were behind a pair of thick eyeglasses. He wore a short sleeved yellow shirt and blue jeans and dirty white sneakers. The older male cousin was fourteen. His skin was much darker and he was more than a foot taller. His arms were thicker and stronger than the boy’s and his black eyes were steady and somehow dismissive. He wore a white T-shirt and blue jeans. The older female cousin was thirteen. She had light brown hair and very white skin. Her body was as skinny as the boy’s but it seemed somewhat stronger. Her light brown eyes flew in all directions, never resting on any one place for too long. She wore a flowery long sleeved shirt and soft cotton white pants.
As they walked, they pointed out the sights to each other and commented on their significance like explorers on a long trip into undiscovered continents. The boy talked most of all, with a voice that grew louder and surer with each step, as if his knowledge grew stronger as they made their way around the mountain.
The trio came to where a pagoda stood on the edge of the water. It was an open circular structure with a dirty white floor, about fifteen feet in diameter. The railing was white and showed the marks of many visitors in scratches and symbols and promises of love. The pillars were thick and dark red and the roof was light green and pointed in its pyramidal way towards the sky. At the very peak there was a green ball, and, even from where the boy was standing, he could see that the paint on the ball was very faded and showed the gray that was underneath. The three of them stood at the edge of the white railing looking in, a few steps away from the entrance.
"It’s a pagoda… a place of ancient Chinese kings…a place of martial arts and great loyalty and… and wonderful achievements!" the boy said it loudly and proudly, hoping to impress both his cousins, specially the female cousin who had shiny little golden hairs on the side of her neck.
"Why would they have that here?" the girl asked and the boy felt a pang of fear, realizing that he had no answer.
"Probably… somebody… someone came here a long time ago… maybe they wanted a place to look over their kingdom… maybe they needed a place to practice their ancient arts…"
The girl looked at the older cousin with a slight smile on her face and the older boy responded with a similar gesture. Then he turned to the boy and said: "You should go inside… maybe then it will become clearer what it’s for."
The boy hesitated for a brief moment. It was only a little pagoda on the side of a lake. Little boats passed by, just beyond the railing, slowly sliding along the surface of the water. Another flock of pigeons rose from the opposite edge of the lake and flew up directly towards the peak of the mountain. A car honked in the distance. The boy stepped inside. The floor was dusty and marked and cracked and dirty. Leaves were strewn all over it and there was a faint smell of urine in the air. He walked all the way to the edge of the railing and looked out onto the water. A little boy cried out in the distance, as yet another flock of pigeons rose up towards the sky.
From the path, the older cousin called out to him: "Do you want to know what this place is really for?"
The boy turned around to look at his cousin with a sense of apprehension. Both cousins were looking at him now and smiling knowingly, as if they were in on a secret that the boy couldn’t even begin to unravel.
"I told you about the Chinese Kings and…"
"Sure," the older cousin said," but do you want to know what it’s really for?"
The boy hesitated, feeling the breeze against his cheeks and his naked arms.
"Sure, tell me what you think it’s for…"
"It’s not what I think… it’s what I know. And I know because I’ve seen it!", the older cousin said and the girl giggled with his words.
"Then tell me… what is it? What is it for?"
"Men and women come here… they hug tight against the railing… leaning over the water… and they kiss, very hard and for a very long time. And as they kiss they keep on hugging, tighter and tighter… and they stay like that for a long time!" the older cousin said it without shame and laughed loudly after he was finished, but the girl blushed a little even as she also laughed.
The young boy, who was leaning back against the rail, the same rail where maybe men and women kissed, was then filled with a sense of shame and longing. He heard the words and was embarrassed by the laughter that followed so he had to look away from his two cousins. He looked up towards the slanted roof and then around towards the railing as it extended away from him and he imagined a couple kissing there, their lips pressed tightly against each other, their arms pulling the other’s body onto themselves. He imagined himself as a man, pushing a woman against the railing, doing it so hard that she almost fell over into the water. Then he imagined himself kissing her deeply, and he could only faintly imagine what the lips would feel like against his own and what she would do as he pressed himself against her and what they would both do once they were so close that they couldn’t get any closer and how would they know when it was time to stop. His eyes almost closed when he tried to imagine his hand against her shoulder, running down her arm, feeling her skin and her warmth and her aliveness.
"What is he doing?" the girl asked the older cousin.
"I think he’s dreaming… he wants to be kissing in there… he wants to have a girl to kiss!"
And they both laughed once again. Then the boy opened his eyes and he was blushing so hard that it almost hurt and he almost ran out of the little pagoda. But as he stepped across the entrance his right foot stumbled on a crack between the wood and the dirt and he almost fell over. He managed to balance himself without falling all the way to the ground, but his knees buckled and the two cousins laughed harder than ever.
"He wants a girl to kiss! He wants a girl to kiss!"
He looked up at them and specially at his girl cousin whose hair was shining with the sunlight streaming through the trees and he was left without an answer, helpless, embarrassed, blushing and alone.
Then the girl said: "It looked like the pagoda didn’t want to let you go!"
He nodded and nodded at her, desperately trying to reclaim a sense of honor. "Yes, it did feel that way. Maybe it’s haunted…"
The male cousin let out a sigh of disgust. Then he picked up a very small stone and threw it ahead of them down the path. "Sure… haunted…"
"Well, you never know… it really didn’t want to let me go."
The girl looked back at the pagoda as they walked away and then looked towards the lake and the boats that were slowly passing by, only a few feet away. The boy looked back as well, and he thought that maybe it was him. Maybe he didn’t want to leave the pagoda. Maybe someday he would come back and then the haunted pagoda would be waiting for him, fresh and clean and empty, as if he had never left. Maybe then there would be no laughter. Maybe then he would not be in the pagoda alone. Maybe then he would be haunted too, as haunted as this strange little place on the side of a mountain. He turned back towards the path and his cousins were already a few feet ahead of him. He then rushed a little to catch up. A car honked in the distance. A man laughed in a rough hoarse voice. A few dead brown leaves slowly danced in midair as they fell onto the gentle surface of the water.

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