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This Too Shall Pass
Originally published in Eastlit June 2014
The first group will be crossing the bridge. Hiking boots and backpacks, water bottles and cameras. A tourist left his camera once. Photos of himself in front of museums, hotels, beaches. Picture after picture of food. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Street snacks. A flush of salt remembered on my tongue. Images rustled through my memory like wind over chimes. The world had changed.
I took a photo of myself. Didn’t recognise the face.
After the bridge they see the stairs for the first time. 378. I’ve never counted them. I’ve only climbed them once. People tell me, hands on thighs, breath escaping. 378. Some, the earnest ones, ask me why that number. Is it special? Does it have significance? I tell them it’s the distance from the bridge to the temple. But why, they demand. I should know the answer. It’s what they expect. I’m the temple monk, the guide says so. I heard something about mountains growing once, growing up and then wearing down, but I’m not sure so I don’t answer. After fifty years, I have no idea what to say. I thought I’d have figured it out by now.
I’m no monk but if that’s what they want to call me, that’s up to them.