New Writing

The Child

Freya Cox

A man lay dying. The room had a low roof, white walls, and a mat on the floor. He lay on a low block of a bed, a colorful woven blanket beneath him. His breathing was slow, his eyes drifted open and shut. Square-framed glasses sat on the bedside table.

The deep haunting drones of Tibetan horns and monks chanting echoed around the whole city of Dharamsala, bouncing off the mountain sides, following him out of this world.

A procession of monks had been coming in and out of the small room all day, praying for him, bowing down to touch their foreheads to his hand, murmuring soft farewells, their tears falling in dark spots on the wooden floorboards.

Now only two of the oldest monks crouched by his bedside, those who had been with him the longest. One lifted a cloth to gently wet his lips.

“Find the child,” the dying man murmured. His voice croaked, and his hand fluttered as if he wished to raise it to his throat but didn’t have the strength. “I will come back.”

“We will find him.” Rinpoche, a monk with a small amount of grey bristle on his head and fluffy white eyebrows, reached out to squeeze the dying man’s hand.

“You will not have much time.” His voice grew fainter. “It took four years to find me. China will not wait that long. You must hurry.”

The monks bowed their heads as his final breath left his body. Rinpoche stood, rearranging his red robes. His shoulders hunched under the weight of his grief.

He walked to the window, looking out over the snowy mountains, the flat-roofed buildings that clung to the hillside, the colorful prayer flags flapping in the wind.

He ached at the thought of the devastation that was about to descend on his community when news of the events inside this room spread.

Passang, a monk with a long nose and crow’s-feet, stayed kneeling by the bedside, tears running down the crinkles beside his eyes.

“We must tell the others,” he said.

“And then we must start searching,” Rinpoche replied. “China will not wait to appoint a successor, and neither can we.”

The news of the Dalai Lama’s death broke upon the world like a tidal wave.

The Tibetan government-in-exile released a statement saying the Dalai Lama had said he would be reincarnated, and they were searching for the child. The Chinese government released a similar statement, with a few key differences. They informed the world that religious law meant the successor must be born in the Chinese province of Tibet. There were assurances provided that Tibetan monks would chose the child themselves, although there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Chinese-controlled monks would select a child from an ‘appropriate’ family.

While the world wept, China got to work.

In Dharamsala a funeral was held.

Ordinary people and world leaders sat crowded next to each other on planes heading to northern India. Hotels in the area reached peak capacity and people started camping in the streets, determined to be allowed one last moment with the man who had affected the lives of so many.

In the Dalai Lama’s residence in McLeod Ganj, Rinpoche packed up the Dalai Lama’s old robes. He stood looking over his town come alive with thousands of people.

“The strength of that man held our community together. What child will be able to emulate that?” he asked the mountains. He didn’t want to believe this was the end of the road. But the Dalai Lama was more than just the face of the campaign to free Tibet, he was its soul.

His body was washed, dressed in clean robes, and set alight in front of tens of thousands of mourners.

As the cremation continued, the low drone of Tibetan horns rose high into the sky, rivaling the smoke that drifted upwards. A gust of wind blew through the crowd, blowing the smoke column sideways, towards the rest of India.

“A sign!” one of the monks watching cried. “The child will be born in the direction of the smoke.”

“Our first Dalai Lama born outside of Tibet,” another monk replied.

Within hours the 14th Dalai Lama was reduced to a pile of ashes and a few bones. These were buried within a stupa in Dharamsala, a place of pilgrimage for years to come.

A committee of high lamas went to seek guidance from the Nechung Oracle, asking for signs to help find the child.

Nechung was an elderly man, although the brown skin stretching over his wide cheeks and large forehead was still smooth. For such an important occasion he donned his most ornate outfit; a stiff golden robe with red, blue, green, and yellow designs picked out on it in thread.

Cymbals and drums were beaten, and monks chanted prayers over the cacophony as the ceremony began and Nechung descended into a trance.

As the second round of prayers began three monks ran forward bearing a huge headdress, half as tall as a man and heavy with gold. They placed the headdress on Nechung as his trance intensified. Leaping and hissing the Oracle danced with fierce energy that defied his heavy costume, finally stopping in front of the lamas who came to speak to him.

When he had answered their questions, the Oracle collapsed on the floor, and monks rushed to remove his massive headdress and carry him away. The lamas were left pondering his answers, and their next step.

A year later China declared that monks within Tibet had found the Dalai Lama’s successor. A baby, Getse Sangpo, born not long after the Dalai Lama’s passing had been identified as his reincarnation.

Government members had been discussing Getse and his family in great detail for months.

“Are both parents members of the Communist party?” was the first thing Xi Jinping had wanted to know.

“They are.” The official who had been in charge of evaluating the family nodded.

“And the family background is suitable?”

“No family members have been involved in protests or anti-Chinese activities. The oldest daughter is at school in Beijing and we have vetted her; all her activities and friends have been approved of.”

“Good. The family will agree to move to Lhasa, so Getse can train for the role?”

“They will.”

In Dharamsala the senior monks were in discussion.

“We believe we have found the child,” Passang said. “After His Holiness passed, a baby was born to a Tibetan family in exile in India not far from here. All our signs and the Oracle point to that child.”

Rinpoche nodded. “We will go and see the child. Only Passang and I will visit. China kidnaped the reincarnated Panchen Lama, we do not wish to tell them where the Dalai Lama has been reborn until we can offer the child protection.”

The two monks looked like exotic birds walking up the grey concrete apartment steps in their bright red and yellow robes. Four flights up, and three doors down was the apartment they were looking for. Passang raised a hand to knock on the door.

It was opened by a Tibetan woman. Her long black hair was braided down her back, and she had a round face with ruddy cheeks. She wore a long blue skirt and a red shirt with small white and yellow flowers on it.

“Tah-shi de-leh,” she greeted them respectfully. “What can I do for you?”

“I am Rinpoche, and this is Passang,” Rinpoche introduced them. “We have travelled from Dharamsala to speak with you. What is your name?”

“I am Dohna.”

“Mama!” a high voice wailed. There was a small patter and a toddler stumbled into view, latching onto the back of the woman’s skirt.

Dohna placed a hand on her child’s head. “This is my son, Metok.”

The monks smiled at the little figure. Metok blinked up at them with uncertain eyes, wrinkling his tiny round nose.

“It is Metok we would like to talk to you about.”

“Yes?” Dohna looked slightly puzzled. “Come in.” She scooped up the toddler and led the monks into her apartment. “My husband is at work.” Inside there was a couch and TV with a child’s cartoon blaring.

“Please sit.” She turned off the TV and gestured to the couch. “Would you like some butter tea?”

The monks nodded. “Thank you.”

She returned with the yak butter tea in small round teacups painted with colorful designs.

After they had sipped their tea Rinpoche said, “We believe that Metok was born not long after His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama passed?”

Dohna nodded. “That is correct. It was a time of great sadness.”

“We’ve been searching for his reincarnation, and many signs have lead us to your home. We believe Metok is the child we have been searching for.”

Dohna fell to her knees with a gasp, her hands covering her mouth. “Oh!” she cried. Tears formed in her eyes.

Metok tottered over, patting Dohna’s cheek with a comforting hand. Dohna swept her son into an embrace.

“We have brought some tests, to see whether Metok is His Holiness reincarnated. May we try them?”

Dohna nodded, her face split by a smile, tears making her cheeks shiny. “Of course.”

Following the centuries old tradition, Passang unrolled a piece of cloth on the floor to reveal two rosaries, a few small books, and two clay teacups. The adults turned to look at Metok, seeing what he would do.

He stared back, looking at all the expectant faces in confusion. Then he sat down next to the pile of things lying on the floor, deciding these new toys were more interesting than the people staring at him.

Grabbing a rosary in his small fist, he waved it around, seeming pleased by the clacking of the beads. He sorted through the books, then dropped them back to the floor in disinterest. Finally, he selected one of the tea cups and held it in the air. “Tea!” he declared.

“Did he choose right?” Dohna asked softly, looking up at the monks.

Rinpoche bowed his head. The disappointment was crushing. “He did not. I am sorry. We seem to have made a mistake. Metok is not the child.”

Dohna’s tears started up again. “I see. I am sorry too. I hope you find His Holiness soon.”

From the next room came the sound of a fretful child, then with a few sniffs and a little whimper, another toddler wandered into the room. The little body was swallowed up by a bulky sweater and red overalls, but beneath dark hair were bright eyes and a mouth that split into a grin at the sight of the interesting objects on the floor.

“Who is that?” Rinpoche asked.

“Tsomo. Metok’s twin.”

Dohna stretched out her arms to her child, but Tsomo ignored her, and went straight for the collection of new toys, sitting down with a bump beside the pile.

The child curiously sifted through the objects, draping both rosaries around a plump little neck, then removing one and dumping it on the floor. The chosen rosary was held up for Dohna to admire. “Mine, Mama, Mine!”

Passang’s eyes widened. He and Rinpoche waited to see what Tsomo would do next.

Tsomo picked up a teacup, stroking its smooth edge. Then the toddler selected one of the books and clutched the chosen objects in small arms, looking pleased.

The monks were shocked into reverential silence. Rinpoche stared at Tsomo, his eyes glistening. “It is so wonderful to see you again, Your Holiness.”

Dohna gasped. “Tsomo chose right?”

Rinpoche nodded, wiping his eyes. His whole face shone with happiness. “Yes.”

Passang extended a hand and smiled when Tsomo’s small hand was placed in his. He touched his forehead to Tsomo’s hand.

“We did not realize you had two sons,” Rinpoche said.

Dohna shook her head, staring at Tsomo with awe and joy. “I do not. Tsomo is my daughter.”