The Dragons from the Shore of Nirvana By Piriya Jumnongprasatporn

Short Story ID- 8/2015

Her little shoes were bright red in the warm sunlight. They were the only part of her clothing which looked clean and new. Her green and white dress was ragged, and some of the jade beads of her wedding bracelet were cracked. The boy just stared at her shoes. They were so small and in the perfect shape of a circle, making her legs and feet look almost like those of a horse. He wondered how long her feet had been forced and twisted in that way to the point that the bone structure itself had become something totally different from the original shape. They somehow horrified him. “Heavens… Aren’t those terribly painful? Can you walk?” It was an awkward thing to ask, for they were passing by each other in a rocky road on a green hill in Mae Hong Son. The air was cool and smelled of rain. The young woman in red shoes, holding a basket full of chili peppers in her tanned arms, obviously had walked for miles back from the city, heading for her home before it really rained since she carried no umbrella or anything to cover herself. She eyed the boy curiously. His strong and sharp gaze seemed far too old for a twelve-year-old boy, his manner too calm. He had pale yellow skin and black long hair weaved into a single big braid. His delicate features were strangely feminine. Somehow he looked foreign and unreal in his modest brown robe, with a red mark on his forehead. She had seen this type of robe before; the young boys in training before entering the monkhood wore it this way according to their faith, a new religion from the South. She thought she had seen one walking on the side of the small hill below only two days ago. That shade of reddish brown had caught her eye. Maybe it had been this same child. She asked from which village he came, and he simply said he had wandered here from Chumphon. He did not live in any village. “You still haven’t answered me, poor lady, if your feet are in pain.” She scoffed and then turned around, dancing in incredibly fast steps like a crane stepping in a march in the hot season. Of course, she could walk and dance and run and do everything with her feet all right. She did not feel the pain and did not ask for his pity. He laughed then, and bowed for he realized he had insulted her. She was a bit startled by his laughter because, unlike his low voice, it was indeed the merry laughter of a child. “Where are your parents?” Her voice was full of concern, “and it is now past noon. Have you eaten yet?” “Don’t worry. I don’t really wish to eat,” he answered with a smile. “Oh, those I have none. Parents, I mean. I have a very close brother, though… He moved to this area not so long ago, so I came to look for him.” Upon hearing that, the woman made the strange boy follow her to her home. He laughed again but did not refuse the invitation. The house was small but clean. All the wooden furniture was handmade and painted in black and white traditional patterns. A small mirror and a stone bird hung above the large piece of paper on the wall. An ancient character was written on it in red ink: life. It was believed when one spoke or wrote down something, one was calling it, summoning it into existence. She had wanted the house to be alive and energetic; therefore, she paid the best calligrapher in the town handsomely to write it for her house. The boy was very impressed when he examined the strong red lines and dots of ink closely. He was about to praise the power and beauty of it with equally beautiful words, but, before he could say anything, she dragged him to the low table and offered him the best food she had. In fact, she almost force fed him; the boy looked too thin in her opinion. Her husband, like most men in the village, had gone to war, she told him as he was eating. Their king was ambitious to conquer the South. It had been and was going to be a very long war. She was quite sure, however, she had not heard of a man who had moved around here from Chumphon before in her life, so she told the boy carefully in case he came to the wrong part of the country. He surprised her by saying that his brother might not have come from Chumphon; actually, it was not their homeland. He was from an island far away across the sea and came ashore in Chumphon. “You must have heard of it, the silver shore of Nirvana. Some yearn to live there,” his smile faltered a bit, “while some don’t. Many of my brothers have moved here before, one by one. I couldn’t care less but I never imagined my closest brother would also come here, without even telling me. I need to know what is wrong. I want him back home. This place is just…” He could not find an accurate yet polite enough description for it. “Really, I thought the island was just a myth. You know, it is rumoured your homeland is full of dragons which can turn themselves into many other creatures; sometimes the dragons don’t know what they are anymore. They also live outside our timeline, people say, so they can choose to come in and out of the timeline at whichever point they please. Funny, isn’t it? I don’t know where such a story came from.” she stopped and frowned. “Wait… If he didn’t tell you, how do you know your brother is here?” she asked curiously. He slightly shrugged. “I can sense it. I feel him around here, or else I wouldn’t have come.” She just stared at him, incredulous, but decided to say nothing hurtful. There was something supernatural about the boy and she did not want to criticize. She never cared to argue over these kinds of things. “Fine. What is your brother’s name, then?” “Prabhassorn.” She had never heard of it. He did not seem so surprised. That evening the boy thanked her and bade her farewell, although she wanted him to stay for the night. He said he had to go to find his brother as fast as he could. The sky had become dark and rain clouds were gathering. Lightning flashed. Then the rain started to pour down. The young woman sat at her doorstep for a while. Then, she decided to grab an oil-paper umbrella and went after him. At least the boy should have an umbrella with him during this season. The narrow path on the hill was very dark. Her bright red shoes were stained with mud while running on the slippery and rocky road. He had been right: she was in a little pain now. Her horse-like feet were not suited to run anymore for they could not support her weight well. Many women with these beautiful twisted feet lost the ability to stand all together when they grew old. One day she might regret being proud of these feet. However, now it was a voluntary inconvenience. As she reached the lower part of the hill, she accidently stepped on unstable ground and screamed. The umbrella fell from her hand as she barely saved herself from falling into a large hole. It was bigger than a normal hunter’s trap and it was in a ridiculous place. Who would build a trap so near to the road like this? She panted and looked around. Somewhere in the hill below, she had a glimpse of orange flames among the trees. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw someone moving behind the trees. It was not the boy or anyone she knew. She tried to run back the way she had come and two or three shadows behind her moved. Surprisingly, they fell into the other traps around before they could catch her, howling like beasts. They were definitely pillagers. In the times of war every village was at risk. She shouted while running back, “Help! Pillagers!” Then, pain erupted in her back and chest. An arrow shot through her from behind. She did not have the voice to scream this time. *** The boy in reddish brown was sitting beside her limp body on the soft grass and silver sand. The wound on her chest looked strange and fake since there was no blood gushing out anymore. The air here was completely still. No sea breezes caressed her face. No voice woke her. The thick trees along the shore also stood tall and still, devoid of any living thing. The only thing that continually moved was the water around the island, the ever-changing sea. One of his brothers who were still here came near to examine the woman and then walked away. It was interesting to have someone new on the shore, yet it was nothing worthy of interest. The boy did not really know if he could say that his brother came near them, or that he actually did anything at all. He could not say she was someone new on the shore either. The languages of the universe could hardly describe things on this island which stood outside of space and time. Why he had brought her here when she was dying he himself did not know. Maybe he cared for her a little bit. Maybe he was grateful she had offered him food in her lovely home. Maybe it was painful running to her scream to find her grasping and twitching in her pool of blood on the muddy ground. The spontaneity of it all shocked him. He was unfamiliar with anything unexpected or unstable, and the fragility of the universe was the most horrifying. He planned never to touch the water again. He would stay on this stable island forever, especially when, surprisingly, he felt Prabhassorn on the shore with him. He realized it was her. She was Prabhassorn, there was no doubt about it. It was just that this Prabhassorn could not remember him or the time in Nirvana anymore after being reborn many times in the Cycle of Life. Still, he wanted Prabhassorn safe with him here. From the very first second he stepped on the shore of Chumphon he knew the world was dangerous and falling apart. Only a place like Nirvana could be safe enough. Floating above the sea surface like a lotus which rose above the muddy water, the island was untouched by the power of time. Empty, yet eternal. The woman woke up some time later. It was not accurate to say it like that, though, for time did not exist. Anyway, she sat up and touched the wound on her chest, feeling very confused because she could not feel the pain. Her senses were all numbed and, when she looked up and found the boy’s eyes on her, she was not sure if everything was really happening. “Where am I, little one? What happened? I thought I was dead. You saved me, huh?” Confused, she asked in a tired voice. Then, her eyes widened at the soft silver sand and the jade green blade of grass and she whispered, “You are kidding me! Nirvana? Is this the island of dragons?” “I’m afraid, yes,” the boy said softly, “and speaking of the dragons, you are talking to one.” It took a long time until everything fully registered in her mind. She remembered all the stories she had heard of the dragons of Nirvana and she shivered. It was widely known that dragons were the spirits in the original form. They were so powerful they could create many marvelous things and could turn themselves into whatever they wished. The only problem was they lived in Nirvana, a place outside of space and time. Since it did not exist in the timeline, nothing could really happen on the island. When time did not flow, no matter what the dragons did was in vain. Nothing could be ever done. There was no death here, obviously, but no life either; Nirvana stood outside of the Cycle of Life. The island was just a stable state of eternal nothingness. As the boy had said, some dreamed of being here. She knew many wise people always searched for it. However, the idea of being in such a state somehow horrified her, especially when she looked around the quiet silver shore herself, while talking to the boy who claimed to be a dragon. He seemed even more unreal now. She touched the end of his braid to see if he was really there. Nevertheless, the feeling of his hair did not help prove anything to be reality at all. Each strand felt like sharp blades of grass. Soft needles. Eventually she asked him to bring her home, but he convinced her otherwise. “You stopped bleeding just because you are in Nirvana, so you are unchanged by the influence of space and time,” he explained. “I brought you here as quickly as I could in order to save you. If you leave the shore, or even touch the water which is a part of the universe outside, you will surely die.” “But I don’t like it here,” she said. “I should not be here.” “You are not afraid of death, then?” he asked. She laughed. “Why, I do, as everyone does, but it is not so bad, is it? I will be reborn and begin a new life anyway. Vast possibilities lie before me. Besides, since I love my husband and my village, I feel I’ll be born there or somewhere near Mae Hong Son again. We don’t really part from the ones our heart is connected with.” “Oh, really? But you can’t remember anyone and anything you love or hate once you are reborn, can you? You will just have to start over again, and love or hate someone and something else instead. Then, you are further stuck in the invisible net of emotional connections collected from millions of your past lives. You will most likely never get out.” “That’s the fun of it, at least for me. Life is a never-ending adventure this way. You can discover so many things with it again and again… I know some are seeking Nirvana in order to forever rest, to never die or feel any pain of life. Well, I’m not like them. I’m not such a coward to escape, you know.” she smiled, being proud in some twisted way that he did not understand. “But aren’t you tired, going on and on endlessly? Isn’t it terribly painful?” His eyes were sad. “You’ll regret it. One day you will be so tired you desperately want to come here, but find that it is hard to do so when you’ve forgotten your original form… Many men draw pictures of dragons somewhere they can easily see so as to remind them of what they once were.” “So they are your brothers who moved to the world before?” “They are everyone. The universe was not there in the first place.” Shocked, the woman looked closely at the boy and herself. His eyes were sad and now she realized why. This great island must have been full of dragons once, before most of them became bored and wanted to make marvelous things, such as building up a new world, the universe, amidst the sea of time and space. All beings in the world were the dragons from Nirvana. The boy did not care much for any of his thousands of dragon brothers, except his closest one, Prabhassorn. He would not ask anyone else to stay, so it was clear to her she was Prabhassorn himself or at least had been him in the past. “I… I am sorry,” she said, not knowing what exactly she was feeling sorry for. Maybe it was because she knew how much it hurt seeing that she had no memory of him as a brother. The boy laughed bitterly and shook his head. “Don’t be. Perhaps you have thought about it this way from the beginning. That was why you left. You always wanted to see what you could do, testing your ability and all.” “Are you sure I was once your Prabhassorn?” “I am. You still are, for it is the same soul. All this time I have been able to sense you. However, it’s a pity most of the time we weren’t in a proper state to talk when I entered the timeline at some specific age and place. At first, you stepped in the age where you could easily rule over men in the East as their emperor. I followed you there but they said I was not someone important enough to see the emperor. Some time later you were born as a bird and a tree, and therefore unable to reason… Oh, I have been a fool to follow you, getting in and out of the timeline as if that fierce sea were something nice! Even as we’re talking now I can’t change your mind,” His sharp black eyes turned back to look directly at her while he slowly said, “I see in your eyes now what you will ask of me. You want to save the village you live in this life; you want me to go into the timeline before the men came and save the villagers’ lives.” “You can do that?” She asked with a hopeful voice. The pillagers shot her, an unarmed woman, without a second thought. She could imagine what would happen to the village. The sick, the old, the women and children there needed to be protected. If dragons can choose to step into the space and time at whichever point they want for they are outside of it, they might be able to alter the consequences of the events in the universe. The thought excited her. If she had been a dragon, she would have stepped into some interesting places without delay. She knew she would have. She had done it. “They took the provisions and then burnt the village down as usual, did they?” She asked as she recalled she had smelled fire while lying painfully on the ground, trying to stop the blood. “Won’t it be cruel enough for my husband alone to learn I was killed? Do all the men in our village have to learn their wives died, too? If you can change that, of course I will ask you to.” “I have never tried.” he grumbled as he looked away again. “You are weird. Why don’t you ask me to prevent the pillage all together, so you would not have died?” “What, you can do that? Really? Even though I am already here?” “I told you: I have never tried. If you want me to, I will,” the boy said simply with a strange determination in his face. It reminded her that no matter how much he seemed to love the still shore of Nirvana, he was a dragon. He had latent abilities he had never tried using, but he was indeed confident in them. “Thank you,” she said. “You are also weird. I can’t remember you as a brother anymore. You won’t get anything out of helping me. It’s not like my memory of you when I was Prabhassorn will return anyway.” A smile crossed his lips. “Oh, in case you missed it, I saved you even before I knew you were Prabhassorn… I guess I have become a bit attached to you, your house and your force feeding tactics.” “Ah, then you’re stuck in the net, too, little one?” She teased. The boy laughed. It was that merry laughter which made him sound very young again. It was a silent promise he gave then: he agreed to help her village, for which he himself had somehow grew to care during that day. He thought of that red character in her house and saw the details of those lines and dots in his mind. She was right. He felt the net had already formed itself around him, although it was still very thin and weak… It was the start of what had pulled countless dragons towards the universe. *** She was walking on the green hill with a basket of chili peppers in her arm higher above. He lifted his head a bit and found that he could not see her bright red shoes from this angle. She did not seem to notice him, or maybe she did see him clearly but paid no attention. He made his way quickly through the bushes and trees. The ground was soft, covered with rotten leaves. The boy began digging the soil up. He wanted really large holes in the ground, large and deep enough for some pillagers to fall down and never climbed up again. That would stop many pillagers from entering the village. It was a really traditional method, an old dirty trick, but it was practical when he alone was to stop all the pillagers. There were only the old, the sick, women and children in the village. The boy worked for two days. His traps were set near the narrowest path of the hill. He thought of going to the Southern Gate of Mae Hong Son in order to stop the pillagers there even before they could reach the nearest town, since the pillagers were clearly driven here from the war in the South. Yet, in the end, he did not feel like leaving this green hill or to be far from the existence of Prabhassorn. Therefore, he walked down to the foothill and hid behind the trees. The sky turned darker and darker. Then, the pillagers came. They were too many for just one man, and definitely far too many for a twelve-year-old boy. However, they were not too many for a dragon. Fire suddenly erupted in his chest and he breathed it out his mouth. His tail hit the ground and everything shook as if there were an earthquake. He had not known he could do it before. He had never let out this much energy in Nirvana. The pillagers shouted and run in terror. Lightning flashed. Their arrows could not pierce through his black scales. Excited, he growled like the sound of thunder. A storm was coming. Suddenly, an arrow pierced his right eye, into his skull. Blood and other fluids were gushing out. He was a fool. Why did he decide to come here? He guessed he was a bit too fond of the woman, of Prabhassorn. The pain was too much to bear and he let out a sharp cry. His murderer was in reddish brown. *** The young woman waited for a long time on the silver shore. It was hard to know if she had waited for ages or just for a second. The boy said he would come back. He had something to ask of her in return for going to protect her village. It was really not his business at all and she wondered how much he cared for Prabhassorn. It did not look like they could have done many fun things together here in Nirvana, though. The affection and care also could not, by logic, exist outside of time and space. She found that quite sad. It was as if the boy’s feelings and connection to his brother here could not ever be real, no matter how deep they were. The dragons were born free of any invisible net; yet, caged in emptiness. For a very long time she sat there, playing with the silver sand which looked similar to ashes, oddly immaterial in her hands. She eyed some people who appeared on the shore. They all came near but walked away before they reached her. Maybe they were scared to see her open wound and her bloody dress. Maybe they were scared with the idea of connecting to someone, of being stuck in the net. Then, a while later it appeared to her the boy would not come back. By logic, he could leave the shore and came back the very next second, for the island was not under the power of time. It stood still and nothing flowed. The fact that his existence was not there was the explanation in itself: he would not or could not return. She wanted to laugh but found that she could not. Instead, tears welled up in her eyes. It was strange a boy she had just met earlier that afternoon could make her feel so painful. The fragility and spontaneity of life in the universe were indeed painful. On the other hand, by logic it meant they can be delightful as well. They can create some feelings. For that, she was grateful. She stood up and began walking towards the fierce sea. She did not care to spend more, or actually none, of her time in Nirvana. Her small red shoes touched the water and she began to violently shake while her wound bled. The Cycle of Life was just at her feet. She was ready for an adventure. *** Happy and full from the young woman’s house, the boy walked down the hill in quick cheerful steps to find his brother. He could sense him around the hills of Mae Hong Son. It would be great if he could introduce him to the woman. He enjoyed her hospitality and her smile. He knew Prabhassorn would be fascinated by the red character on the wall in her house as well. All dragons were always fascinated by that fiery shade of energy. The colour seemed exciting and dangerous at the same time. The sky turned dark now but he saw light nearby. He noticed it was actually a great fire. Many terrified men shouted while running past him to the woman’s village as if they had faced some terrible demons. It was strange. He thought all the men went to war. “Wait! There’s a fire? Why don’t you help put it out?” No one answered him. They disappeared in the trees. The boy rushed to the foothill. The women there were crying that a beast had ascended from hell. He did not see clearly at first what it really was. The giant beast was moving around too fast, breathing out orange flames everywhere. All the trees around it were lit up like torches. He saw it was a huge snake but with four legs, looking a bit like a lizard. Its strong body perfectly shielded by black metal-like scales. The arrows could not harm it. A dragon, totally out of its mind. The boy had never seen anything like it and he was afraid it would go up the hill to the woman’s village; it seemed very angry at the howling men. He asked someone for a bow and an arrow. He noticed some places on a dragon’s body which was not covered by scales. He had to stop the dragon here, or else it would really go up the hill. As he was aiming one of the dragon’s eyes through the rain, he was suddenly terrified of this world and everything it had done to this dragon, to all dragons. He would never be like this. He would return to the shore of Nirvana and stay there forever. He thought nothing could ever change his mind. Suddenly, he heard a scream from up the hill faraway. He released the arrow.   Author’s Bio: Piriya JumnongprasatpornPiriya Jumnongprasatporn, 23, is an arts graduate from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand. She is a columnist of the Faculty of Engineering magazine, Small But Matter, writing mostly about basic philosophy. She loves Thai poetry and she has been selling her Thai fiction e-books on Rarely does she write a work in English for she does not have a good command of the language, but she decided to give it a try and is happy that she did.   Summary: The Dragons from the Shore of Nirvana explores the concept of nirvana in Theravada Buddhism, or the state of nothingness, in the physical sense in addition to the spiritual one. A mysterious boy from the island named Nirvana comes to the hills of Mae Hong Son to find his brother, Prabhassorn. He meets a young woman who invites him to her house and offers him food, and he is impressed and fond of her. She tells him the men in the village went to war, and she asks about his brother and his island. Legend has it that Nirvana is full of powerful dragons that can create many things and turn themselves in various shapes. Right after he leaves her house in the evening, it rains. The woman becomes worried so she follows the boy in order to give him an umbrella. As she is passing a narrow road she almost falls into a strange trap and is attacked by the pillagers. She is shot in the back through the chest. The boy hears her scream, and he comes to rescue her by taking her out of the space and time into the island of Nirvana, so that she stops bleeding. They talk, and the woman discovers that she was Prabhassorn in her past life, and that everyone was once a dragon in Nirvana. She does not like the island and wants him to save the village from the pillagers since there are no men to fight them off. The boy agrees and he goes into the timeline two days before he first met her, so that he can build traps near the village entrance. When the pillagers come, he turns himself into a dragon to stop them, but the fire he breathes out destroys the trees and scares everyone. Therefore, he is shot in the eye through the head; it kills him. The one who shots the dragon is the boy himself who has just left the woman’s house that day. He wants to stop the dangerous dragon before it reaches the woman’s village. Meanwhile, waiting at the shore of Nirvana, the woman realizes that the boy cannot return and cannot change the series of events. She cries and walks into the ocean to get out of Nirvana and to die, so that she will be reborn in the world again.

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