Art (c) 2005 Silvia Verweij
The Banker and the Buddhist
Jennifer Prado
Twila knocks on the door of the monastery and prepares her face for when it will open. The woman is all in white and has the serene gaze that yoga practitioners have that makes them look like space aliens. They exist at a few levels above the rest of us. They are on the fast track to Nirvana while we are still looking for the ticket booth.

Twila imagines how a local starts a conversation here.

"I'm from Katmandu. And you?"

"Yes?" the woman at the door says. She has yellow eyes with the crescent pupils of a cat.

"I'm broken. Can you fix me?"

"What is broken?"

"Everything." Twila sways her body from side to side until she can hear her parts crashing against each other.

"Which manual did you learn?"

"The Masters of the Universe."

"Don't tell me. Another banker?"

"I was one of the last ones out, before it all burned down. I was in the sky when the airports were shut down."

"Bankers take time to reprogram. Their skills don't work here."

"I want to learn."

"You know we don't accept your currency."

"What can I give you?"

"Your commitment. That you will adopt our training and help others."

"That's all you want? That's easy."

"I'm not asking for your slippery words. It has to be true."

"Done deal."

"Wrong language."

"You're closed."

"That's trader slang. Speak like a human. Think hard."

"You won't be sorry."

"You're spouting sales scum. Talk cleanly and in an unadulterated way."

"I appreciate the opportunity to work together on this project."

The woman in white clasps her hands to her chest.

"Why another banker this week? They wear me down. Their programming is so ingrained."

The woman in white leads Twila on snowshoes to her hut. The waffle-marks pierce the purity of the snow.

"Here you are. You must care for him until you love him." He is standing in the doorway with his head cocked sideways. His orange robe ripples in the breeze.

"Ha," he says. "You've arrived."

"You were expecting me?"

"You're overdue." He pulls out a book and runs his fingers down a roster of names. "You were scheduled for three years ago. What happened?"

"I got distracted."

"By what?"

"Money and pretty things." He winces.

"Don't say that. You can't say that here."

"But it's the truth."

"It's the wrong truth. Make tea for me."

"Me?" He points to the fireplace, a copper kettle, and a small cabinet of leaves. "Shouldn't that be someone else's job?"

"It's your job. You must care for me."

"I don't serve men. I didn't get my parchments for that."

"Parchments? They're worthless. You memorized manuals that are useless now."

"I will not make your tea."

"You will. Until you find the way I like it."

Twila sits in front of the fire and turns her back to the monk. She thinks that if she can't see him that eventually he will disappear. The embers from the fire
burn like melting steel and the sparks jump and snap. The monk drinks the tea that Twila pours into his cup. He makes a face and spits it out.

"Horrible. It's full of anger and bitterness."

"I followed the recipe like you told me."

"You made it while resenting me." Twila opens her mouth to complain, but can't disagree. "It's no good. Try again."

"It has all the ingredients. You should just drink it."

"It's lacking. Like this, it's a poison, because it has no love." Twila laughs.

"That's too much to expect." He rubs at his eyes and opens them wider to stare. He looks her up and down and walks around her. She turns to watch as he circles. The monk returns to his mat in the corner, sits down, and begins to pray.

That night, the monk stretches out on his mat and pulls a small blanket over him that only covers his torso.

"Where am I going to sleep?" Twila asks.

"This is the only mat, but you're welcome to share it with me."

"I will not. I don't even know you. I need a blanket."

"You don't need anything." Twila turns on her side on the bare, wooden floor and hugs herself with her arms. Silently, she curses the monk. "I heard that," he says and rolls towards the wall.

Twila awakes in the darkness and forgets where she is. She flails her arms in front of her and shudders in the cold. The wind sneaking beneath the door makes the inside of the hut whistle and creak. She crawls towards the monk's mat and leans her back against his. She folds her arms across her chest. He shifts so that a corner of the blanket covers her shoulder. The frigid air pushes the tears back into her eyes.

The monk watches Twila's face as she pours the tea into his cup. She presses her lips into a frown. He swallows and holds his neck as if the liquid contains nails.

"It burns."

"What's wrong with it now?"

"It has an aftertaste of haste and indifference."

"You're impossible and ungrateful."

"There's nothing wrong with me," he says smiling. "But your tea is a crime against humanity." Twila drinks from her cup.

"It tastes fine."

"The fire wood is low. Go chop wood and then wash my clothes."

"I will not."

"You will. It's your job."

"You're the ugliest man I have ever seen. You look like a bat." He laughs.

"Does it make you feel better to insult me?"

"You make me angry."

"You're directing the wrong energy. I don't make you angry."

"I know what you're doing. This is a trick. You believe you can tell me what to think. I can change, but you'll always be ugly."

The fire dies out as the last of the wood burns to ashes. Twila crosses her arms against the cold. The monk slides to his mat, folds his legs, and prays.

Twila stumbles in her snowshoes and breaks her fall with her chin. The wood she has chopped sinks in the wet snow.

"Hatred!" She screams until it echoes back to her ears.

"Wrong language," the monk says from the doorway with the blanket draped across his shoulders.

Inside the hut, Twila lowers one of the monk's robes into the water that she has heated in the fire. The water turns orange and the garment fades to white.

"You didn't tell me. It's not my fault," Twila says.

"You're not thinking the right thoughts. They drew the life from my robe."

"You're making me nuts."

"You're resisting," the monk says.

Twila knocks on the door and the woman dressed in white opens it. Her expression says she is not surprised that Twila seeks her.

"I want out," Twila says.

"You gave your commitment," she says.

"We had a verbal contract. I'm breaking it."

"You're refusing the training. You're still speaking like them."

"It's my way or the highway."

"You're worse than a cliché. You are a ditto mark."

"I'm in New Age hell!"

"You can't say that here. We don't allow that concept. You're in training."

"I'm quitting."

"Our terms are irrevocable. Besides, your way has no place to work anymore."

That night, Twila rests her shoulders against the monk's back as they lie on the mat.

"I'm still cold," Twila says.

"Then hold onto me."

"I don't want to. You disgust me." The monk rubs his hand in a circle on his stomach.

"Touch here." Twila puts her hand on his stomach. It emanates heat.

"I didn't know monks asked women to touch them."

"You've misunderstood. I'm sharing my warmth."

"I'll take it."

"I have given it to you. You're taking nothing." They huddle together and Twila drifts into a soothing sleep.

The next day, Twila watches the monk as he drinks her tea. He slams the cup onto the floor and widens his eyes like he is frightened.

"You went the wrong direction. It's seeped in lust." Twila's face reddens.

"You can taste that?"

"It's so obvious," he wipes his mouth with his hand and backs away from her. "I've taken a vow." Twila slinks towards him, opens her mouth, and flickers her tongue at him.

"I can't explain it," she says. "But I want you."

"You don't want me. You're after the warmth." Twila reaches for him and he pushes her away. "Stop it. You need to refocus."

"I'm very focused. I always get what I want." Twila curls up next to him on the mat and places her legs over his.

"You'll not get this from me," the monk says. He rubs his hand over his stomach again and it gives off the chill of wind blowing over ice.

"Where did the heat go?"

"Refocus."

Twila rises while the monk is still sleeping. She smiles as she pours his tea. He nods at her as he drinks it.

"It's full of tingle. You got it right," he says.

Twila puts the white robe into the warm water and stirs it until it turns orange.

"I fixed it," she says and hangs it from a hook on the wall.

"What did you add?"

"I added what I feel about you."

"Tell me what that is."

"I did everything with love and good intentions." The monk sheds his robe like a snake. Underneath, he is wearing clothes that are the color of sand.

"Success at last. I'm leaving for my next assignment."

"You're leaving me?"

"You have been reprogrammed. You're repaired."

"But shouldn't you help the next one?"

"I'm not really a monk. I'm a placeholder. It's your turn now." He folds himself into a paper airplane and slides beneath the door. His good-bye hangs in the silence for a moment.

Twila answers the door in the orange robe. The woman in white stands next to a disoriented young man. He scratches his head wildly.

"This one will require patience."

"Another banker?"

"Can't you tell by the uniform?" The man is wearing a belt and suspenders. He clutches a calculator with a tape that unfurls behind him for miles.

"We can file for an extension," he tells me, with his eyes glazed with hope.

"You're an accountant." He nods. "There's nothing left to file," Twila says.

"We can depreciate the fixed assets and take the discount." Twila takes his hand in hers.

"That's all gone now. But I can help you."

"What's it gonna cost me?"

"Wrong language. Think harder. Go way back."

"What do you want me to do?" He shuffles his feet and smiles. If he had a tail, it would be wagging.

"You can start by making my tea."

Music by Steve Kane
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