By the dock beside the river, the river waters flowed. As though time had been fixed in place, the surrounding city experienced tremendous changes. Towering buildings rose from flat lands, wooden boats became steel.
The thing that changed the most was the woman that stood by the dock without falter. She transformed from a young girl to a woman and from a woman to an elder.
The one thing that remained unchanged was her insistence to remain impeccable and beautiful. Every strand of her hair was clean and combed neatly. She wore the white qipao and stood by the side of the river, waiting. Only when the final boat docked late into the night would she return to work at the side of the dock.
She had been a waitress, a road sweeper, a nanny. She never resorted to begging no matter how tough her days. She her chin remained up, undaunted by the challenges of life. Even without a marriage certificate, she lived on as a soldier’s wife. She never lowered her head. It was an unshakable pride that stemmed from her love of her husband and their relationship.
Yet as the older citizens left, the city changed. No one knew her story. More people thought of her as mentally unstable. They stayed away and even ostracized her. She was chased out from her rental apartment. The hair saloon did not welcome her and her only job was a result of a kind hearted boss.
The only place she could call her temporary residence was a couch inside her boss’s shop. Even so, she could only sleep for the night after the shop closed for the day always it would be late into the night. Before daybreak, she had to leave, unseen by the customers.
Even so, she did not succumb to the hardships of life. She firmly believed that he was somewhere far off, unable to return for whatever reason.
The old woman stood by the side of the dock, her palms pressed together. She silently looked east and muttered, “If Buddha really exists in the world, is it possible to bless him with peace? Not for him to return, but just for him to lead a better life!”
Fangzheng did not realize that he was tearing up after seeing this far. He never expected that an elderly woman that appeared crazy and resembled a ghost would have such a touching back story. A soldier’s wife that was not officially married, one that would never lower her head and waited for her lover to return despite the onsetting years. Could such a person be called a ghost? Such a person was supposed to be respected!
Upon coming to this conclusion Fangzheng had a thought. He stepped in front of the old woman, pressed his palms together. “Amitabha. Patron, since you only wish for peace, why do you wait day in and day out?”
“You?!” Fangzheng was stunned. The instant she saw Fangzheng, she recalled things she ignored.Wasn’t she supposed to be inside the temple? Wasn’t this the young monk of One Finger Monastery? Why was she here?
Fangzheng smiled. “This Penniless Monk is One Finger Monastery’s abbot, with the Dharma name, Fangzheng.”
“Why are you here? It’s best you leave quickly. You don’t need to meddle in my affairs.” After Liu Fangfang asked the question, her eyes vigilantly swept the area before chasing Fangzheng away.
Fangzheng turned to look and there were quite a number of people on the dock. They were looking over curiously. Fangzheng smiled. “Patron, are you afraid that the nasty rumors will befall me once they see me with you?”
Fangzheng waved his hand, causing everyone to vanish. “What about now?”
“You… who exactly are you? !” Liu Fangfang jumped in fright. Everyone disappeared with a wave of the hand.It was just too… unbelievable!
Fangzheng smiled, “This Penniless Monk is One Finger Monastery’s abbot, Fangzheng. Patron, do you think the person you are waiting for will return?”
“How do you know about that?” Liu Fangfang was truly frightened.
“It was you who told This Penniless Monk.”
Liu Fangfang looked at Fangzheng as he looked back at her. The scene changed and as she rubbed her eyes, she was surprised to find herself sitting in the temple hall. Sitting not far from her was a white-robed monk who was none other than Fangzheng!
“This…” Liu Fangfang looked at Fangzheng incredulously.
Fangzheng slowly stood up. “Patron, This Penniless Monk knows that you are filled with questions but they are meaningless.”
As he spoke, he walked out the hall.
Liu Fangfang subconsciously followed. Fangzheng held one hand behind him as he looked up at the bodhi tree and said, “Patron, this tree was given to One Finger Monastery many years ago by a patron. Unfortunately, trees from the south perish in the north. It did not agree with the climate and froze to death when winter came.”
“But… it’s still alive.”
Fangzheng nodded. “True. Who would imagine that a doomed tree would stay alive?”
Liu Fangfang’s heart jolted. “Do you mean he is still alive?”
Fangzheng turned his head and looked at her. “Patron, what do you think?”
“He…” Liu Fangfang did not dare continue. In fact, she long had an answer in her heart but she refused to accept it. She was afraid. She hesitated, “Abbot Fangzheng, does this world have ghosts?”
“Yes. The world has hell as well as paradise,” said Fangzheng affirmatively.
Liu Fangfang’s heart palpitated as she asked, “Abbot, I know you are accomplished in the Buddhist Dharma and powerful. Can you let me meet him? Be it dead or alive… I wish to see him… one last time.”
“If you wish to see him, you can. For however long you wish.” Fangzheng turned to smile at Liu Fangfang.
Liu Fangfang looked at him before looking at the old tree. She slowly closed her eyes and thought of only him. When she opened her eyes once again, the monastery was gone. It was still the dock; however, there was one more person on the dock. He was tall and dressed in military garb. Amid his high spirits, he had a bashful, blushed face. He did not dare take a step forward.
“Are… you back?” Liu Fangfang did not rush forward nor did she cry. Instead, she stood there watching, smiling silently.
Yu Guanghua nodded. “I am.”
Liu Fangfang smiled gently. “Although I know you aren’t him, I’m still happy.”
A white-robed monk walked out from behind Yu Guanghua. He pressed his palms together. “Amitabha. Patron, you are wrong. This is him.”
“Impossible. He never returned after heading for the front lines,” said Liu Fangfang.
“He never left you. He was always in your heart. This Penniless Monk found him inside your heart. He has always been there, always protecting you and smiling at you. However, you did not turn to look at him.” When Fangzheng said that, he turned to look into the distance. “The bodhi tree should have died but the wishes of the people kept it alive. Perhaps Yu Guanghua sacrificed his life but he continues living in your heart because of your fond memories of him. His life and death does not depend on This Penniless Monk but on you.”
Fangzheng waved his hand as they returned to the monastery.
This time, Fangzheng did not say anything. He flicked his sleeves and returned to the backyard. He spoke as he left. “Patron, what This Penniless Monk should say has been said. You have seen the person you wished to see. Life is unpredictable, but memories are etched in forever. Everything changes except the heart. Hell is in the heart, but so is Mount Numinous. Where one heads, depends only on the heart.”