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Buffalo - A Spiritual Growth Story

Author: Meng Li

spiritual growth, spiritual growth stories

Ding -- The telephone rang.


“Bonjour. This is Pierre Boudet from the Award Committee of the Angoulême International Comic Festival. Am I speaking with Ms. Lu?”

“Hello, Mr. Boudet. This is she.”

“Ms. Lu, I am pleased to inform you that your comic series Buffalo has won the Silver Prize of the New Artist Competition. Congratulations!”

“Thank you. Great news!”

“Indeed. We would like to invite you to a reception on this Saturday at 7pm at the Grand Hotel Angoulême.”

“Alright. I will be there.”

“I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.”

“See you then.”

* * *

I am walking down the hallway, fast, light and confident. The corridor is long and well-lit with starlight. On both sides of the hallway, there are rooms with high ceilings and of various sizes, separated from each other by sound-proof walls made of transparent light beams. In some rooms, fellows are studying; in others, playing, having a meeting, or resting in solitude. Room 29 is at the end of the corridor, where I will meet Vincent.

I continue walking, passing by a huge room with rows and rows of giant book shelves. That is the library. Many fellows are there, some reading next to the book shelf, some sitting at a table, burying their heads among piles of books and writing.

27.. 28... and here it is, Room 29. I make a stop, take a deep breath and open the door. This is an oval-shaped room with glass walls, half of which is covered with screen, like an Imax cinema on the other side. Vincent is already there waiting for me. He is in his 50s, with healthy dark brown skin, large shining eyes and a gray beard. Vincent rises from the sofa upon seeing me and we kiss each other on the cheek.

“How are you, Kuma?”

“Fine. And you?”

“Good. Are you ready?”

“Yes!” “Good! Let’s start.” We sit down on two sofas next to each other, facing the screen.

“I go through your curriculum files carefully. Based on your learning objectives and progress made in the previous journeys, I select three scenarios for you to choose.”

“Okay?” I lean forward, looking at Vincent curiously.

“The first one is...” He motions in the air with his hand. A movie starts on the screen: a blue, clear seashore reveals itself; palm trees scatter casually on the bank... There is a city nearby... Lots of people of African origin wander around on a market, many of whom are bony. The picture then focuses on a little boy of about 6, 7 years old, sitting next to a basket of bananas. Passersby come to him every now and then, and he picks a bunch of bananas, in exchange for some money from them... From the picture, I cannot tell if the boy is enjoying it or suffering from it. Subtitle runs, “Haiti, 1980”.

“The main lesson is faith and the main challenge is identity issue.” Vincent continues. The picture shows the boy dragging a big suitcase, getting off a large ship with his parents. Subtitle says, “12 years old. Immigrating to Canada.”

“Emm. That’s a good setup.” I comment. “What about the parents?”

“They will be very helpful with your lessons. The father is an alcoholic; the mother works hard to support the family but she is spread too thin.” Picture shows five siblings around the dinner table.

“Got it. Any other issues?”

“Self-reliance, and, optimism.”

“I like this one. What is the difficulty degree of this option?”

“5 out of 7.”

“A tough ride.”

“It is. But isn’t that what you wish for?” I smile without answering. Vincent is right. “What’s the second option?”

Vincent waves his hand. Picture shows a different coastline with a building, whose roofs are like five white, open shells.

“That’s Sydney.”

“Yes, but not exactly there.” Camera moves down and shows skyline of high rises made of steel and glass.

“It’s Melbourne.” Vincent adds. Picture shows a woman in her late 20s or early 30s, wearing a tall, white chef’s hat, taking a juicy and tender steak off the grill and putting it on a plate.

“Oh...that’s the profession?” I gasp with mixed feelings. “Don’t worry.” Vincent assures me. The screen zooms out to show the sign of a restaurant: T-o-f-u-i-s-s-i-m-o. “You would be the star cook of a vegetarian restaurant, and make various dishes out of tofu that taste and look like meat.”

“Aha. Not bad. A real earthly pleasure.” My eyes glow as my visit to Lotus, a restaurant of this type in Beijing, at a previous journey flashes back. I quickly come back to here and now: “But what’s the catch? Planet Earth is not somewhere for vacation.”

Vincent nods and smiles. The screen shows the same woman, sitting in chair in a big, luxurious living room, all alone. Her gaze is empty. On the table next to her, there is a small box of medication. Subtitle runs “antidepressant”.

“The issue there is not with the external, but with the inside.” Vincent points at his heart while speaking. “The lesson is to find a true meaning of life beyond all the materialistic comfort, to transcend the pleasure of the five senses, and...” He pauses, “not to be lost in the illusion of reality. Otherwise, it would be just too...light.”

I sigh, “sometimes the seeming pain is actually a blessing, isn’t it?”

“Absolutely. That’s the wake-up call. But too often, people miss it.”

“I agree with you. What is the difficulty degree of this one?”

“Again 5 out of 7.”

“Any other drawbacks?”

“Well, Australian accent.” I burst into laughter. Vincent smiles with me. I like his little humor in the middle of this serious discussion.

“And the third option?”

“Oh yeah. The third one.” Picture changes to a field full of crops standing in water. Farmers wearing pointed straw hats stand in the water barefoot, bending deeply to put more crops into the mud. In the neighbor field, two buffalos are walking slowly, each dragging a plough. Two farmers walk behind them.

“That’s in South Asia?”

“South China.”

“Do people still use buffalos?”

“Some do, in remote areas.”

“I see. Another tough life.”

“At the beginning yes. Later... you will find out...” Vincent would not give more details. I refrain from digging further. I will have to find them out myself.

“What’s the lesson here?” This, I can ask.

“Trust.” Vincent answers short and crisp.

Picture shows first an infant little girl, then a toddler crawling around, then a schoolaged girl carrying a big schoolbag walking alone on the winding road along a hill. Parents are nowhere to be seen. A subtitle reads “challenge degree: 6 out of 7”.

The number is not about the trek on the hill, I am sure.

“Why does it always have to be so dramatic?” I know the answer but can’t help marveling.

“Dear Kuma, you choose to have a fast track, and here are your options. I can wind it down to 5 or even 4, but then it will take more journeys. Your choice.”

“I know. I know.” I look at Vincent. “You know me. I want to come back home.”

Vincent looks at me in the eye with a hearty smile, “have fun!”

* * *

Nine months later.

In an early spring morning, a baby was crying loud inside a house made of brown bricks. A young postman got off his bicycle at the door and greeted the male host, who came outside upon seeing him, “Lao Lu, congratulations! I heard you just got a baby girl.”

“Yes. Thank you. We name her Chunni, meaning a girl born in the spring.”

“Lu Chunni. That’s a nice name. All the best. And here are your letters.”

The postman rode further down, passing a water field full of young crops. Two buffalos lay on the mud nearby. Next to them, a dragonfly parked on a thin grass. On his forehead, there was a barely-visible black line, in the shape of a V.


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