Image Source: Roelli, P. (2005) The Thanka Wall overlooking Tasilhunpo. Retrieved online
June 9, 2018 at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tashi_Lhunpo_Monastery
Hamburg, British Zone of Occupation.
Thursday 20 May, 1948.
She is seventy-one: thin, quietly drained; a pale feat of a woman. Her expression is sour. Time has pressed her cheeks inward, clamped her mouth shut. She might have been happy, but that time has passed. They all knew he would meet a bitter destiny. Margarethe pours the pan’s boiling water into the teapot and replaces the cover. Margarethe Lincoln: always faithful to him.
Sun light fades and then bursts through the windows in the kitchen and the lounge. Indifferent, it pushes through the blind onto the brown chairs and carpet. Margarethe’s home is a simple two-up, two-down; her brother-in-law in the guest bedroom. Her youngest, Clifford, stokes the fire. His Uncle Simon’s face is in the paper. Simon is sixty-eight. He resembles his brother with balding thin black hair. The pot is wrapped in an oven glove and set on the table. Margarethe is glad Simon will spend another few days here.
Deep black coal smokes in the lounge. Clifford pours the tea, and they talk about his Uncle Lajos, now Louis. Still living in Cleveland, reading his socialist papers, but too ill to travel. Simon’s step-brother, Julius, at fifty-five is still serving in the army. There is an unspoken agreement between the men to avoid talking about ‘their famous one’.
The Abbot Chaokung was reported to have died in Shanghai on October 6th, 1943. They said it was an intestinal virus. In death there are as many stories of him: that he spent his remaining days with drug dealers and white slavers; that the FBI knew he was operating as a Nazi spy; that he was interred in Shanghai’s Hongkou Ghetto. There were reports that he had been poisoned. That he had written a letter to Hitler full of demands and threats. A friend saw him in hospital, but the next day she found a different man in his bed. In her search for him, she was repeatedly turned away until she learned he was in a private suite and private meant private. There was a funeral but no one saw a body. The German National Observer claimed he died in Vienna. American troops allegedly found his grave but the coffin was empty. Since then he has been sighted at his home-town Paks, in New York, and in Argentina. Simon wanted to write a book about his brother fifteen years ago. The British consulate in New York were cold to him and it put an end to the idea. Ignacz and he quarrelled but Simon thought he could put the hate behind him. Coal crackles and splashes cinders over the hearth which disappear in the mesh fireguard.
When Margarethe returns they are talking about Sandor. He never left the Budapest family home, and so Clifford never met him. The sun glares through the living room blind and subsides again. Margarethe recalls Sandor. They met once or twice. He appeared shy, but likeable. Then she thinks of his fate: taken to Auschwitz, never to return. She is shaking. The good son helps her to her seat. Simon bows his head. The fire provides some heat now and his eyes are watering too. He knows his sister-in-law’s tears are not over Sandor. He is here because news reached them a week ago that John is dead. His mother, who left him on Java, struggles to work past the fault line, and to grieve properly. When the Japanese occupied Indonesia, John was interred in Lapas Sukamiskin prison. After years of torture, he moved to Western Australia. He struggled to adapt. His restaurant crashed and John took his own life. opened up a restaurant. Sorrow drips from Margarethe’s chin as she goes for fresh bedding.
Simon listens for her reaching the top of the stairs before picking up his paper. He removes a sheet, stands and pulls out the fireguard. Clifford takes the paper out of his hands. Simon shakes his head but the nephew is already reading. The sun light expands, from the kitchen and the lounge, coalescing in the doorway between them. It is faded, like a spectre of something here long ago. A void: an outward expression of an inward fear. Clifford is reading that his father, Trebitsch Lincoln, has been sighted at a monastery in Darjeeling. The journalist suggests perhaps it is a stop-off on his journey toward Tibet. The off-white light creeps towards the dimpled edges of the tabloid. It is a near humanoid shape, a no-detail silhouette, fluctuating. Trebitsch Lincoln has passed on. He is no longer alive: on this earth, this plane; certainly, not in this room.
“Lies! Lies!” the void shouts. “Do not listen to them, son. They will print everything and anything about me if it serves their own devilish ways!”
The rest of the column is the usual potted biography: Canadian preacher; British MP; double agent; military advisor and Buddhist monk.
“Don’t bother reading that,” says Simon.
“Simon?” says the void, “What is he doing? Here in my home? This is not your family, robber!”
“Your father treated me appallingly,” said Simon. “He took money from me. When the FBI were looking for him, they arrested me.”
“He compromised my security! Scoundrel! How dare you???” asks the void, throwing it’s hand in the air, holding its head with the other.
“But, Clifford, I forgave him long ago,” said Simon.
He takes the news-sheet back. The fireplace gives out a coughing fit sending white coal dust into the ray of light. Simon tears the newspaper into strips while the void stamps: fury without sound.
“I was a Christian minister and a Buddhist monk. I am completely sure I practised forgiveness before you knew the meaning of the word!”
“He tried his best with you, and your brothers. The notion of him in Tibet,” says Simon, “Well, it is just newspaper lies. You don’t want your mother to see that.” He scrunches the paper into balls.
“Tibet, yes! That is the place I will go to now. I will guide it, help it build railways to other realms, and reclaim my status ushering in a future universe of equal rights for all people!!”
In the stomach of the fireplace, the newspaper flickers slowly into flakes of rising ash which fall at the big feet of the void creature.
“T o T i b e t!!” it exclaims.
The void disperses into silver grey molecules, floating between sun-ray and dust, and then settling on the carpet.
Four thousand, two hundred and fifty two miles away above the city of Shigatse, monks walk the walls of Tashi Lhunpo. The gilded turrets and canopies are charged by the sun. The delicately painted Thanka wall stands on a hill over the temple, in blue sky. A moment later, there is a black dot in the heavens, a lone aeroplane shaped dot.
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