The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2013

All Issues
MAR 2013 Issue

from the story collection
The Man Who Walked on Air & other tales of innocence

The Lotus with Eight Petals

T. T.  was travelling East when it happened—not merely the Katmandu of CNN news but the Katmandu of dream… It is true however that he had first been prompted by an urgent if cryptic letter he had received from his old Chinese friend, Tcheng Li-Kin, who had a silk shop in the Nepalese capital… Something about very little time being left. Since he had of course been following the dramatic spiral of events there on the news, with the former rebels, the Maoists, picking up a majority of seats in the kingdom’s elections, he decided to set out immediately to sniff out whatever was in the wind with his journalist’s flair.    

And so we find him in a third class coach on the train on his way to Katmandu, one of those wooden seaters with a mixed bag of Indians and Chinese and Tibetans and one other Westerner on the other side of the car from him, a fresh and virginal, probably English girl in a flowing silken dress, looking hot and bothered and trying desperately to preserve some small space for her slim body between a hugely fat, buddha-like “ small” businessman (from the look of his tattered briefcase), who smiled and smiled upon her while sweating profusely, the drops trickling  along the creases of fat about the soiled collar of what once might have passed for a white shirt, and a colorfully-dressed peasant woman with a basket of hysterical chickens. Many people carried their possessions in little bundles wrapped in old silk; next to him, an elderly, bony gentleman with a haughty profile and sneering aquiline nose above a great moustache, kept one gnarled hand on an odd little black case with air holes in the sides—probably, thought T.T. nervously, containing a snake. T.T. had a window on his other side so that he was able to isolate himself from the crowd mentally (with an occasional distracted thought—desire? anxious emotion?) for the girl across the way, and he gazed out onto the spectacular landscape (as his Guide Book called it) of the Himalaya foothills and, in the distance, the Grand Himalaya. As he gazed in something approaching rapture or the feelings one has when listening to Mozart’s Requiem for instance, he scratched absent-mindedly near his arm-pit at a slight obstruction. At least at first he attributed no other substance to it than that, something bunched up under his shirt and jacket, but it felt peculiarly—attached—and a sudden cold thrill of terror shot down the back of his head and spine at the thought that he might have some growth or parasite or something extraneous there. He slipped his hand under his jacket, quickly glancing sideways at the girl who was obviously oblivious of him--why wouldn’t she be!—and felt about more carefully now at the lump under his shirt. It rolled under his fingers and, horrified, he realized it was somehow a part of his body for when he squeezed it he had a most peculiar sensation—not painful, he thought with relief, but peculiar. He decided to investigate more closely, and began to unbutton the top of his shirt. The elderly and somewhat sinister snake-charmer glanced at him indignantly as T. T.’s elbow poked into his bony rib-cage and pushed back, and he murmured an excuse, but was still determined to slip his hand inside onto his chest. His hot hand came in contact with the cool, hairless skin of his chest and his fingers folded about the soft, spongy–thing—and  at the same time he felt a deep twinge, whether of pain or pleasure he could not tell!  He twisted his face around and peered down under his shirt. The sight of the large, amorphous protuberance—clearly growing out of his chest just below his left nipple, about three inches long and somewhat tubular and floppy, between his fingers—brought beads of cold sweat out on his forehead and face and down his neck. My god, he thought, I have a giant tumor, a cancerous growth! It seemed a nightmare, and he had the impulse to burst into tears but restrained himself.  His face must have been altered, because not only his neighbor the snake-charmer was looking at him with alarm, but the pretty girl across the way also glanced over for the first time, with a slight frown—was it with disapproval? perplexity? She had the sweetest wide lips and a dimple on her chin and light arched brows—my god, he thought, choking down the impulse to cry again, life is just beginning, opening about me like a—a lotus!—and have I come to Katmandu to die? He glanced inside his neckline again—with dread—and noticed another smaller protuberance beneath the first and close to the belly button. It was just poking out its little pink head. Shocked and doomed  by this doubling of the ill, the evil, was what he called it, now wholly oblivious and uncaring of the coach-full of travelers, on the point of letting out a long wail, he did just notice something most odd: this little pink nubble looked like a glans! The glans penis, that is, with its acorn shape and the fine dividing line down the center! T.T.’s eyes switched over to the other, longer protuberance next to his nipple, and saw that it too possessed just such a divided head—in fact as a whole it had an uncanny resemblance to a penis! His fingers returned to the latter organ and he held it delicately in the middle and pulled downwards and the skin slid down and exposed more completely its own glans! At the same time it undeniably grew longer and straighter! My god! thought T.T., whose thoughts were tumbling pell mell over one another like acrobatic clowns, it’s a penis! It was also strangely pleasurable and gave him a little thrill, and he looked out abruptly at the faces turned in his direction, the fakir, the peasant woman with the chicken basket—and especially the young woman whose eyebrows were arched in astonishment—and blushed a deep crimson red—at least he could feel his face go hot! He pulled his hand out and buttoned his shirt up quickly, avoiding to look around. Still, what did he have to feel embarrassed about? He felt it go limp under his shirt. He got up, pushing past the knobby-knees of the fiercely frowning fakir and, without looking at anybody and especially not at the girl, he walked unsteadily down to the platform connecting the coach to the next one to have a smoke and think about this situation. Once there, he extracted his large once-monthly Havana, since this was a dramatic occasion which required serious meditation, and lit it. He needed to consider closely this unheard-of discovery. He still would not have been quite able to credit his senses, if he had not felt the small member warm and tucked comfortably under his arm pit. This must be, he thought, it must be a known—if rare—ailment, and he would just have to have it operated on when the time comes! He took a puff on the cigar. What madness was this! he thought. The train jerked to a halt with much screeching of brakes and whining of steel on steel. They still had not reached Katmandu. He was feeling somewhat easier about the unusual affair, especially as there was no pain—and is not pain the first and most reliable diagnostician of an ill!---but rather an enjoyable sense of well-being. The car lurched back into movement, the platform door flew open and the English girl hurtled through and stumbled against him, all a flurry of flowery skirts and fluttery yellow curls, and she was only just able to keep from falling by catching his lapels with both hands—actually one hand fell a little lower and in fact lay flat on his left breast and in particular against the—member! He flushed in surprise and held her about the waist with both hands—a surprisingly slim and supple waist—and to his profound embarrassment felt the member stiffen and rise under her small delicate hand. She pulled away hastily.

 “I’m so terribly sorry,” he exclaimed, his hands hastily withdrawn from her waist, and she stood there just looking at him with open-mouthed astonishment. His jacket was unbuttoned and the left side of his shirt poked oddly out. He pulled the jacket to in a hurry and smoothed it down.                         

“What on earth do you have in there?!” she exclaimed with a silvery laugh, “A pet mongoose? I saw you caressing it inside!”

“Oh, no, no!” he protested, “I wasn’t caressing it at all, I was just...” and he couldn’t think of what else to say. 

“Oh, come on!” she cried with girlish impulsiveness, and reached out and playfully pulled at his jacket , and just then the train gave another lurch, and she unintentionally pulled open the collar of his shirt as well toward the left. Her eyes opened wide with disbelief and were fixed, as if mesmerized by a cobra, on the small penis now extending a good six inches, which pointed up and out of the opening.

“No, no, wait, I can explain,” he said, reaching for his shirt.

“No,” she said, “no, please, let me see!” and she took it in that lily-white hand and stroked it as if were indeed a pet, and he suddenly went weak in the knees. She stepped up more closely and peered at it and how it came out from under his nipple, and meanwhile his other member, the usual one, was also stirring uncontrollably, and he reached down to unzip his pants and—she bounced backwards, it was the only way the elastic recoil could be described, and she glared at him with flashing eyes,

“What do you think you are doing!” she exclaimed with contained fury, “I’ll tell the conductor!” T.T. was in a state of extreme confusion both mental and emotional, let alone physical---

“No!” he cried, “please, I didn’t mean it, you must understand!” But she had already yanked the door open and strode back inside the car. T.T. was horribly distressed and embarrassed, how could he not be, such a charming and—and fresh young woman as he had dreamed to meet while in college! As he straightened himself up, buttoned and zipped up pants and jacket and shirt, he noticed something in his pocket. It was a piece of paper and on it was written in thick, black  pencil strokes, in block letters—MISTER TINTIN, THIS IS A WARNING! STAY AWAY FROM KATMANDU! DO NOT MEET WITH MISTER TCHENG! THIS IS NOT YOUR BUSINESS!—His first thought was, ‘It must have been the snake-charmer when he pushed against me! No one else has been near me…” and his second thought, “How on earth could he have known I was Tintin1! For that matter,” he mused on, “who knows who Tintin is? Who knows who am I except for me who I am? I have this BD2 image which everybody knows—prim, generous, chaste, heroic, pure… I don’t think even Hergé3 really knew who I was! Alright, I may still be a virgin, but I have lusts just like any real boy—young man!” So, heavy-hearted, he pushed through the door to the passenger area and noticed right away that the fakir had left, no doubt having got off at the last stop. The coach was no longer crowded, but that enticing English gal was still in her seat. She averted her eyes from his face as soon as he stepped through the doorway. His heart was broken. So much misfortune, so much “malheur”4 and in addition this lovely girl abhorred him! Since the Buddha-fatso and the chicken-lady were both gone, he made a bee-line for her, unthinking, irrefutable. When he reached her side on the bench, he half-sat, half-kneeled near her—

“Darling, please!” he said, “forgive me! I don’t even know your name but I never meant to offend you, I swear it! I am a very shy person and I know nothing of how to deal with the other gender, but I assure you! I never--!” And undeniably a tear oozed from his left eye and dripped slowly, agonizingly, down his left cheek. It must have been his impetuosity that moved her, yes, that and his obvious shyness, and sincerity. So she told him her name was Sarah, and said to sit down, and they embarked upon one of those far ranging conversations of the very young, covering all things under their sun, but in fact concerned only with getting to know one another. The voyage was to last for many more hours into the night, and when their conductor came by for the last time even he, irascible old turbaned Sikh that he was, could not help but be touched to see the young Western couple, obviously exhausted and half asleep, she with her face resting on his left breast, turned away from the conductor, her lips parted, and he, the model boy-reporter, with what could only be termed a beatific smile on his lips.

 Tintin and the young English girl, Sarah, took leave of one other much later that night, exhausted and satiated, repairing to their respective hotels, and after a good night’s sleep at his hotel, the historical, mountaineers’ Yak and Yeti, Tintin arose the next morning reinvigorated and refreshed, and after a breakfast of chia and momo5s, hurried off to look for Dr. Tcheng, undeterred by the “anonymous” warning. Upon performing his ablutions he had been more than a little taken aback to notice that the second protuberance at the belly-button had pushed out a couple of inches more and that there were signs of a third nubble on his inner right thigh, but he was not shocked as he had been by the original discovery, after the unprecedented—paroxysms—of the night before on the train! He followed Hergé’s agile pen as nimbly as he could—along the stony street bustling with porters, outsized bundles strapped to their foreheads,  red carpets of hot peppers spread to dry, eaves overhanging with mossy growths,  and stopped for a moment to take a look at the “big temple” or Boudha Stupa—a “must-see” site according to his guide-book. But tourism was not his aim, and he soon came to the “Chinese shop”, remembering it from his last visit6. The venerable Tcheng Li-Kin met him at the threshold with hands pressed together in prayerful greeting.

“Hao nin,” said Tintin in his best Mandarin, “Wo neng shuo tchong-wen zhei-yi ci!”7  (I can speak Chinese this time”, wanting to demonstrate his progress to the old man.  The old man smiled, invited him in and proceeded to explain matters to him in BBC English as follows: the Maoists were leading in most areas where the votes were still being tallied. People had been killed in a gunfight between supporters of rival political parties in a village in the south. The wounded had been taken to a nearby town for treatment and additional police officers had been sent to the village. The situation remained tense there. On Saturday, returns showed that the Maoists’ leader, Prachanda, whose rebel nom de guerre means ”the fierce one”, had won a seat representing Katmandu. This sort of terse, professional news item can be found frequently in Tintin’s adventures. After all, he was a reporter and it lent authenticity to the account. He would have to take advantage of the lull in the fighting and of the flux of the affairs of the kingdom, said Li-Keng, to head immediately for the “lost lamasery”of Khor-Biyang8 if he still desired to discover the “Lotus-flower”. Tintin looked in surprise at the old grey-beard--how did he know that he had been searching for this mythical entity most of his life? The Chinaman merely smiled.

“I have always known it,” he replied. 

 If Tintin wanted to find the Sacred Lotus, he continued, he would have to press through the snowy passes before the government clamped down. A window had opened for him to go through which might soon be slammed shut again.

“Go! Monsieur Tintin, go and seek out your sacred Lotus! You must speak to the Grand Precious Lama himself!”

Any lingering thoughts of Sarah faded now before this urgent mission. The first score or so of “windows” of the album9 were uneventful: hiring the sherpa, Tharkey, and the porters, the same as last time, and the trek across the foothills and through the semi-tropical micro-climate of the deep valleys.  Once they passed the chorten however, the sacred burial mound of a lama, the arduous climb started in earnest. The jagged peaks of Tibet stretched away above their heads covered in snow, and underfoot was only snow!  The white surface of the page merged with the snow: to climb a snowy slope in a window was to climb the page! Only an occasional black rock cut through the surface; only his boots crunched through the all-blanketing snow. Whether it was a close-up or whether a long-distance perspective, all was snowy whiteness. Indeed, window tended to blend with window in the endless blankness as he crossed from one to the other with only the white of the page separating them. When a snow storm blew up across at least a dozen windows and nothing except white was left on the entire page, the full awareness of being a cartoon character was brought home to Tintin as never before. For there were no distractions, no illusory representations of other figures, no fictitious scenes constituting themselves out of the blank page and thus distracting one from its surface, no, all was whiteness, a flocculation of whiteness, the page disintegrating into a thousand tiny white flakes… Tintin was so layered in mountain survival gear that he could not verify what the source of the wriggling and friction of his skin smothered by parkas and sweaters was, but he suspected more little members to be proliferating over his body—and it was only the near-absolute, the nada of the snow-pages, the interminable blank of the landscape that cancelled out any anxiety he might otherwise have felt. Soon he and Tharkey were deserted by the coolies, terrified by the excessive climb, the snowfall and, yes, the threat of the yeti (the abominable snowman) whose occasional roars could be heard over the bleak snowscape, yet he pushed on for the lure of the Lotus, culmination and resolution of all his passions and anxieties. He knew that the terror of the yeti like the sinister insinuations of the Fakir10 were only monstrous fabrications intended to deter him from his sacred undertaking. Soon his fingers were frozen, his nose was frozen, his limbs were freezing and finally all the little members he suspected within became insensible with the cold—Tintin was near extenuation. Tharkey cried out,

“Tintin Sahib! Tintin Sahib! Come, you see!” Tintin hurried over, Tharkey was standing near the edge of a jutting ice and snow shelf with binoculars to his eyes; Tintin stared through them and yes!--he distinguished far below on a rocky ledge the lamasery of Khor-Biyang at last! They yelped and cheered and hurried down but it was at that moment that the entire shelf gave way beneath their feet with a stuttering roar and now he himself was engulfed in white, was nothing more than white.11>

He awoke to consciousness, days later no doubt, in that very monastery, comfortably wrapped in a long white gown in a mattress-bed and, looking about at the friendly faces of saffron-gowned monks, realized they must have rescued him from the avalanche. Following the gestures and smiles and nods of the monks, for they could speak no English or French, he performed the ritual ablutions and had a breakfast of porridge and tea, and was led to the throne room. Tharkey was already seated on a stool before the Lama who sat in the lotus position on a raised dais, several monks in attendance.

“Ah, Pure-Heart! Welcome once again12 to Khor-Biyang,” said the kindly faced Lama in flawless Oxford-educated English, “How good of you to drop in! We have been waiting for you for years.” Astonished, no, embarrassed to hear himself addressed in this fashion, suddenly remembering the numerous penises clinging to him, Tintin blushed beet-red:

“Grand Precious, I am deeply grateful for your rescuing us, but I do not deserve to be so addressed...” And he drew his gown more tightly about him.

“Have you not undertaken this perilous journey in search of the Sacred Lotus-flower?”

“Yes, but…”

“Then your heart is pure for it is the Tantrayana you are embarked upon. Your imagination is the essential method, and your passions are the means of liberation. It is in the anuttaratantra that you will realize it, the sublimation of the delight of orgasm in copulation. Listen to the mantra: ham kshah ma la va ra ya .” Two monks approached Tintin and bound a silk band about his eyes. He was drawn to his feet. The chanting tone of the Grand Precious Lama continued as if floating in his head. He spoke of Vairochana which teaches the proper use of the body and the sensorial faculties, the fivefold nature of the flesh and the five ambrosias which stimulate the body and are the basis of the joy, and Tintin felt himself drawn out of the guiltiness and shame of the desires of his poor, two-dimensional, cartoon body, and so losing all sense of the passage of time, he was led through the city of the Body and the city of the Word and the temple of the Mind and the pristine Consciousness toward the tribune of the sublime joy of Kalachakra. His mind was bathed in lustrous waters, and the hands of the monks turned him about gently to face in the opposite direction. The band was drawn from his eyes and simultaneously the gown stripped from his body, and he saw his nakedness, he, Tintin, who had never seemed to have a body like any real boy, and he looked down at the eight erect penises standing out invicti from the inside of his arms and his thighs and next to his nipples and umbilical and as always at his groin, and he looked up and saw—Kalachakra!--the naked goddess of inexpressible beauty at the center of a great green eight-petalled lotus standing with uplifted leg upon four super-imposed discs, a yellow kalagni disc on a black rahu disc on an earth-red disc on a moon-white disc, and then he saw that she bore on the inside of her arms and her thighs and next to her nipples and umbilical and as always at her groin eight vaginas pink and glistening and he mounted the ramp toward her and melted into her body, copulating, all of his members slipping into all of hers, his mind blossoming lightly in the rushing perfumed air with the most orgasmic joy one could ever imagine in the annihilating purity of mind!

1 Tintin, for those non-French speakers who might not yet know it (for all French-speakers do), Tintin is the most famous comic-book (BD in French) character of Europe, boy-reprter and hero, created by the Belgian Herge’in the 1930’s, translated into scores of languages including English. He is doubtless the most famous character and institution of Belgian history. It should also be noted here that his adventure in “Tintin au Tibet” actually took place in large part in Nepal…

2 BD =”bande dessinée” in French or comic book as Americans call it. With the difference that “bande dessinée”desn’t signify anything funny (like the “funnies”, another American expression), simply “drawn strips”. In fact if anything, Tintin is never really funny, although his companions “le Capitaine Haddock” and the Detective Dupont(d) twin brothers (?) frequently are. Tintin was a sort of model Belgian boy, a boy scout.

3 The author of Tintin, remember !

4 The same, but in French

5 Tibetan specialties, a spicy tea and fritters.

6 When he travelled there in search of his friend Chang in “Tintin au Tibet”.

7 “How are you? I can speak Chinese this time!

8 Authenticated in “Tintin au Tibe”.Herge’.

9 “Tintin au Tibet”, the BD or “comic book” album which has served as the principle reference of this journey.

10 It is true that the Fakir appears to have been “left hanging”, to have disappeared that is, but it must be understood, once again, that based on the Tintin albums this is a typical figure and one could not do without him here either; to “develop” his malevolent involvement would imply a much longer narrative than we have available here…

11 I have wished to be entirely faithful to the original. This is exactly how it occurs in the Tintin album, “Tintin au Tibet”, however “dues ex machina” it might appear!

12 Several years ago , in Tintin au Tibet, upon which this episode has been partially traced, he had come in much the same way upon the monastery in search of his beloved young Chinese friend, Chang.


Alain Arias-Misson

Alain Arias-Misson was born in Brussels; educated mostly in U.S., becoming a real fake-American, a fake real-Belgian--a life-time duality: American Writer by vocation, European artist by accident, one of the initiators of visual poetry in the early sixties in Spain - Belgium; and has published stories and 6 novels in the U.S. since 1963. Alain Arias-Misson will be reading at the Ukrainian Institute of America--2 East 79th street--on March 15.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2013

All Issues