One day the boy found himself outside
what appeared to be a prison except that each cage contained
different animals. ‘Why have they put you in these cages?” he asked,
looking for a way to set them free. “Have you all done something
“No, no,” they assured him.
“We are here for our own
“So that people
can come and admire us.”
“But you are all in a prison,” said
“You see.” explained a pink flamingo,
We are the very last of our race. If we escape and die, who will
The boy immediately wanted to tell
them about the Garden, but he thought it might only make them
“People come to see me roar and
growl” said the caged tiger. “And when I roar and growl it makes
‘The children draw pictures of me,”
said the elephant, a heavy iron chain wrapped round his leg, “and
climb on my back for rides.”
“They all say how human I look” said
the orangutan, “And want to have their photos taken beside me.”
Just like us
“Do you know our names?” they asked
the boy. “They gave us each a name,’ roared the lion. “My name,”
added the orangutan. “means ‘people of the forest’ what is a
forest?” he asked the boy. through the bars of his cage.
“A forest is trees,” the boy started
The animals nodded thoughtfully.
“What is a tree?” asked a monkey cheekily.
So the more the boy tried to tell
them about the forest the harder it became, They listened politely
but it soon became obvious they disbelieved him.
have dreams like that,” a very large fish told him, mouthing the
words through a glass tank, “but my memory is so poor I can never
Not far from the zoo, near where an
old wooden ferry chugged across the river, crowded with women
carrying vegetables to sell in the market, there rose a steep
isolated hill. An ancient temple capped this hill and people came to
light candles and make offerings and pray to the spirits of their
ancestors. Beggars and the maimed and crippled lined the steps
rising to the temple and they were invariably rewarded.
The boy and his friends often passed
this way and they also benefited from the impulsive generosity of
those who hoped their prayers would be answered.
“What do they pray for?” asked the
Why, for good luck and good beam. A
winning lottery ticket and unexpected wealth,” said the boys. “Don’t
you have anyone to pray to?”
“Yes, of course,” the boy answered
but he did not want to tell them of the Black Swan. Sometimes the
Garden seemed so remote and far away he wondered if he had just
imagined it, and it had existed only in his dreams and the City was
the only reality.
As the boy struggled back, weighed
down with his thoughts as much as his heavy sack, he recognised a
familiar figure coming towards him. It was the foreign lady, but
this time she was walking. The woman grinned, You were right. I do
not need a bicycle.” And the smile they shared stayed with him all
the way down the long and dusty road.
So far the
weather had been very hot but now dark clouds blotted out the sky.
Rain fell in a daily deluge that
turned the streets into rivers and the rivers into raging torrents
that finally burst their banks, flooding all the low-lying land and
making many families homeless.
Using bamboo aid banana stems they
lashed together makeshift rafts to float off household possessions
aid livestock to temporary shelters on higher land. Bet even the
homilies accepted their plight quite
cheerfully As far the City -
the whole population locked to the riverside to swim and gambol in
Usually the downpours cane in mid-afternoon and towards evening the
sides cleared and the food sellers arrived in cyclos and spread out
mats and small charcoal stoves. One of the moat popular snacks was
duck eggs ready-to-hatch. This delicacy was swallowed at a gulp –
feathers and all. Children dived into the flooded river from trees
and of the steps of the Royal Pavilion. Once in the water a total
equality reigned. Once striped off it made no difference who you
were or what yaw background
All the children, rich and poor
alike, enjoyed themselves together. The City was sited where two
rivers met. The bigger river flowed onwards to the sea but the
smaller river came out of a shallow inland lake a hundred miles
upstream. At this season the surge of water in the big river pushed
upstream into the smaller tributary and re-filled the inland lake.
The boy didn’t know the reason for
it. He just watched in amazement one day as the river started
flowing backwards. It flowed very fast and when he swam, as he was
carried along, he remembered the monk’s story of the Guru. “If I may
find enlightenment let this bowl flow upstream.”
“Will I ever find enlightenment?” he
wondered. “And what will that be like?”