My children smell different. It’s the smell of cheap face cream fighting a loosing battle with the prevalent smell of dirt. Their hair is slicked back dark and oily. Butter? Or just grease? I daren’t ask and I didn’t need ask as the next morning I catch Norzin spitting in her palm and carefully slicking her hair back as she turns this way and that in front of the mirror. My in laws shower the children with love and affection but unfortunately not with good old-fashioned water. Oh well, can’t have it all.
The girls run into my arms squealing and screaming. It’s been three weeks since I last saw them and while Norzin has remained somewhat unchanged, Baby D my twenty month old has developed considerably. She totters around shouting ‘Oh YaH’ to everything I say.
“Baby D, come here”
“Baby D, put that down”
“Oh Yah!” she drops the phone on the spot and I rush to rescue it. Oh well, at least she’s obedient.
I quickly settle back into the rhythm of things. It snows and I get back into the routine of making a fire, dressing in layers and eating breakfasts of melted butter in steaming hot water. I listen to who has quit their jobs, who has asked for employment, who is born, who is sick and who has died. My trip to the US seems like a nice dream that I have awoken from. On Sunday, children flock to our house. I hand out little cars to the young ones, and fancy pens to the older ones. Then the adults trickle in. They ramble on and on in a string of sentences that have no full stops, comas or question marks. I bustle around attending to household chores, giving the occasional grunt or nod.
Sunday afternoon, Norzin has her favorite boyfriend BD over and the two of them are deeply engrossed in Legos when I hear heavy footsteps outside and BD’s six-foot-tall grandfather appears.
“Come, come BD, we need to get your picture taken!” he says giving me a quick smile and urgently motioning to his five-year-old grandson. He turns to my husband, “All five-year-olds are being photographed. They say another incarnate lama might have been born in Ritoma”
I had seen the group of monks earlier. They had come by the workshop to look around as they searched for their little lama in the village. The search had been narrowed down to two areas: Ritoma and the neighboring township of Khagya. The previous incarnation was a lama from the area surrounding the famous Blue lake in Qinghai Province and the monks had probably traveled for days to get to our little village.
The village was bustling with the news. Last year, a little incarnate had been recognized from Ritoma and the village was starting to have the prestigious reputation of a birth place for little Buddhas. The whole village had held it’s breath as the selection process first screened five candidates, then three and finally chose the one. The proud father was an ex-con, a tall man who looked like he could do with a good dusting. His best friend is one of my best friends and we found ourselves often at the same nomadic dinner parties. I found him very amusing and so did many. He walked with a limp. The story was that he had stolen a TV and a van, been chased by the cops, been shot in the foot then captured and imprisoned for two years. He told tales of prison that sent us reeling in laughter. He swore that there existed a nation of dwarfs who had ordered clothes from the prison. For months he had sewn tags onto what he called dwarf pants. When I argued that they were probably children’s clothes and not dwarf clothes, he stood up emphatically and enunciated with wide eyes,
“Then can you explain the zippers on the pants?” He paused for extra measure and looked around as he challenged everyone in the room.
“Not slit pants mind you, zippers! Have you ever seen a one-year-old un-zip himself to pee?! And belts! They had belts! What kid wears belts?! Kids wear clothes with elastic waistbands!”
Everyone roared in laughter and he sat down smiling triumphantly reaching for another dumpling. When he was pronounced the proud father of a young incarnate, the village was flabbergasted.
“Pema, is the holy father! What do you know! Strange things can happen in today’s world!”
Suddenly Pema had relatives coming out of the woodwork. People who had ridiculed him were now his best friends. The lottery of prestige had been won and overnight he was simultaneously the envy and the claim of every villager. I decided to play along and went to pay my respects. Hundreds lined up to present the young incarnate and his family with the white scarves of celebration. There was a silence over the crowd and people spoke in whispers. I was carried along through the compact crowd of villagers that progressively edged towards Pema, hardly visible under the mass of scarves draped around his neck. When my turn came, he squeezed my hand tight appreciative that I had made the trek to his simple village house on this auspicious day.
“Look at your face!” BD’s grandfather exclaimed. He looked around frantically, already under the pressure of the looming possibility of his grandson actually being recognized as a young reincarnate.
“Here, here, this way this way” My husband ushered the grateful duo to the bathroom. After a hurried wash, the two rushed off.
“Well, I better be getting ready too then.” Norzin stated jumping off the kang.
“Ummmm Goobs, it’s only for boys.”
“But he said all five-year-olds! He didn’t say anything about boys!”
“Trust me, it’s only boys.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do”
“Ama thinks she’s the boss of the world. Knows everything.” She gave me a long sidelong glare. “I’m going to wash up just in case. Need to be prepared.”