349. Master Basho’s Dojo (1)

What! You haven’t downloaded Cyan yet? It’s been available for weeks.

OK, I understand. You want one last tease. Since you insist, here is Keir, on Earth, looking for his friend and crew mate Uke Tomiki after he has disappeared.

Keir took the jumper to the San Jose airport, and the Rapitrans to within ten blocks of Uke’s dojo. It was not actually in San Francisco, but south fifty kilometers in the hills overlooking Santa Cruz. Until fifty years ago, the hills had been covered with redwoods, but not even the most stringent conservation measures could stand against the urban guerrillas who slipped in at night to chop away at their half meter thick bark. In twenty years of nightly battering, the trees had died one by one, and as each one fell, shacks took its place. Now the forest of giants had given way to a forest of slum housing, growing like mushrooms on the bones of the ancient trees.

Keir found his way through the roadless maze of polyfoam, packing crates, cardboard, and stucco, with starving children staring like beasts from the darkened holes that passed for doorways.

The dojo was built of grey wood, laboriously split and sawed from the bodies of the downed giants. Three living redwoods remained, towering above the rubble, protecting the dojo from the sun, and in turn being protected by the ones who lived there. The dojo was a low, open building. Some of the inner parts were protected from sight by moveable screens. A stern young woman with a staff stood in the doorway, and made him wait while she sent word of his coming to those inside.

A young boy led him inside. Keir wondered if he was there to seek enlightenment, or food.

He was met by a wizened old man with sparse black hair and a wispy goatee, who was not quite the cliché Keir had expected, but close. They bowed slightly to each other, and Keir said, “I have come to see Uke Tomiki.”

“I have been expecting you.”

Keir raised an eyebrow and the old man’s face broke into a smile. “No,” he said, “it is not mysticism. I had not been expecting you, personally, but it was clear that eventually one of Uke’s friends would come for him. He is not the kind of man the world leaves in peace for long. A dojo such as this could never be his home; only a brief resting place. I will take you to him.”

The little man led Keir beyond the screens. There, a dozen men and women of various ages sat zazen, in two rows, facing an altar covered with flowers. Uke was third from the left in the back row, and he did not notice them when they came in. Keir looked at the old man, but got no help. He was simply waiting to see what Keir would do.

Uke had taught them all the pose of zen meditation, so Keir knelt quietly at the side of the room, mimicking their stance, but he did not attempt to meditate. He simply waited, watching the ones who were meditating. The old man considered him for a moment longer, then left quietly.

An hour passed. These people did not chant, so the only sound was the buzzing of flies and the distant, indecipherable sound of voices in the slum beyond the dojo. At first Keir considered Uke in his new surroundings, then he reviewed the work he had to do for the remainder of the week. It would take months of perseverance to achieve the no-mind state these people were searching for. You couldn’t just step in off the street and meditate successfully, so Keir did not attempt it.

Eventually, the old man came back and struck a gong. The meditators opened their eyes, shook their heads and began to swim back up to the world they had temporarily left. Keir was watching Uke when he stood and became aware of Keir. At first he seemed still off in that dreamy place, but suddenly his eyes cleared and a smile came to his face. He crossed the room, hand outstretched, and at the last moment, changed his mind and embraced Keir, saying, “My God, how I have missed you.”

To be completed in tomorrow’s post.

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