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Flowers Would Fall from the Sky Like Rain

The sun burns through the mist, vultures circling and then settling in the dead trees. The golden roofs of a monastery rise like a mirage against the snow-flocked Dharamsala mountains. Beyond, the Tibetan plateau stretches into eternity. Different things surface in his mind and make him unbearably sad: his sisters’ high-pitched voices as they chant skipping rhymes on a summer afternoon; the smell of his freshly-washed sheets as he lies waiting for sleep, his parents and grandmother talking downstairs; the blue light of winter as he glides on the skating pond, stars and planets glittering in the bare trees, his grandmother watching.

His mind settles on an afternoon when he was twelve, an afternoon like so many others, when he, his parents, his grandmother and his two sisters all lived together in a New Jersey town. He was lying at the foot of his grandmother’s bed as she again told him about how the 14th Dalai Lama was discovered at the age of three: ‘The search party approached the house, with all the goods belonging to the previous Dalai Lama, and His Holiness came to the door and said, “So you’ve found me at last.” ’ The prayer flags his grandmother had strung in the birch tree when she arrived from India fluttered outside the window; he heard the shush-shush of the neighbour raking his lawn. An idea began to form in his mind, growing until it possessed his waking hours and took over his dreams: he wanted to be found, wanted the lamas to appear and spirit him away to Tibet. His grandmother would come with him so she could finally go home to Lhasa. If only he did not live in a two-story American house but in a stone-and-mud house in Amdo as the Dalai Lama had, so that one day he might see the lamas coming for him, riding across the great plateau single file, their red robes flapping in the wind. Flowers would fall from the sky like rain, a crow would alight on the roof, a rainbow would appear over the surrounding mountains – all the auspicious signs his grandmother had told him about.

Night descends, swallowing the vultures and the dead trees. He hears the metallic ring of the stars as they pierce the sky. The suck and slip of the Ganges, the Mekong, the Salween, the Yangtze – the great bloodlines flowing down from the Tibetan plateau. All rivers flow to the sea. After people are cremated, his grandmother once told him . . .