The most galling of Yuri Andropov’s problems throughout his life came from the fact that he was a re-incarnated woman. Of course, gender switching during transmigration is as common as dirt, but in Yuri’s case, his predecessor had long determined to remain in female form and had clung over lifetimes to this resolve.
This woman, known later as Lady Ha, had been the child of an opium farmer who had been shot to death by an invading warlord’s soldiers. Little Ha witnessed this violent event with mute satisfaction since her father had not been a pleasant man and had ostentatiously favored his oafish sneaky sons. Little Ha was almost openly pleased when these two swaggering loudmouths were also gunned down. Then she had watched with detached curiosity from her hiding place in the woods as her selfish sisters, aged thirteen and fourteen and her mother were gang-raped. The family was then destitute, and Ha’s mother and two sisters decided amongst themselves that Ha, as the only remaining virgin in the family and a singularly unfriendly if pretty child, would, if sold to itinerant slave traders, save the day. So little Ha was sold and taken to Singapore to serve as a maid and future bread-winner in a high class house of prostitution. Though all wept at parting, the mother and sisters were pleased to have gained ready cash and reduced the number of mouths to feed. Ha was pleased to be shed of this coven of jealous, unimaginative bumpkins and move forward to the illustrious fate that she knew in her heart was her due.
Little Ha was, of course, herself the incarnation of an innumerable succession of beings. She had lived as a number of low ranking deities, the most distinguished of which was a river goddess near Nanjing whose shrine was ground to powder by the Red guards. She had lived in the Realm of Jealous Gods as a female warrior and a government minister. And because of her severe disappointments in those realms, she had done a lot of time tortured in hell and starving as a hungry ghost. Thus she found the human and animal realms less risky and came to have a kind of weak-minded fondness for planet earth, though many others properly regarded this place as a third rate cosmic backwater.
Here however she had lived as a mayfly, a low ranking member of the last Shah of Persia’s secret police, a small fish, a big fish, innumerable peasants of either sex, a few soldiers, a huge assortment of spiders, earthworms and gnats, some bar girls, many unhappily married middle-class women of many cultures, a variety of birds, two unhappily married middle class men, one German, and the other Mexican. She had been a number of house pets ranging from dogs and cats to finches and koi. She had been a very successful female Russian spy, and soon after a water buffalo. She had taken a brief flyer as a Lebanese suicide bomber, and had put in a longer stint as an English Nanny. She achieved a brief eminence as the Regent in a small Balkan kingdom and temporary renown as a rabbi in Lvov.
All of these beings had seemed to achieve and enjoy relative success only to have their happiness stripped suddenly away by some random quirk of fate. So Ha well knew the world to be a cruel and frustrating venue, and she decided somewhere along the line that being female provided significant advantages in the human realm. First she would henceforth be free of the across the board performance anxiety involved in being male. Secondly, she could act from behind the scenes and secretly direct the lives of posturing males who would never know what she was up to and who would take the heat when the audience began to throw things at the stage. For Ha knew that only a woman could achieve the kind of happiness she had in mind without attracting the overweening envy of a covetous destiny.
This was all before television made the world of dreams a globally uniform and highly lucrative form of mind-control. At that time, most people dreamed of eating a truly large meal, getting another ox, having a one time sexual encounter in the bushes with a cousin or they had nightmares of starvation, beatings or being randomly slaughtered. For, dear reader, it must not be forgotten that in its entire history, ninety nine point nine percent of the human race have, at best, been endlessly re-incarnated peasant farmers, and until television came along, they dreamed only of circumstances known to them. But even in that long night of bleak dreams, there were some whose dream visions arose from the unresolved momentum of restless past lives, drawn onward through space and time by the vast unformed expanse of future possibilities. Such a person was little Ha.
Thus little Ha, unlike the others in her village who dreamt of food and cattle and a quickie in the dirt with the cousin who was so handsome except for his slew-eye and habit of frequent farting, dreamed of having beautiful clothes, perfume, jewelry, a splendid house, adoring servants, admiring rich friends, a star-caliber lover or husband and money to burn. Today, obviously these are stone clichés. Because the entirety of sub-celestial space is clogged with such glossy images, everyone who has a TV, regardless of race, creed, color or place of national origin has these same exact dreams. But then, ah, they were unique and marked out little Ha for a special fate.
And, in her heart of hearts, Ha knew it. Thus she had always been standoffish to her boring rustic family who accordingly disliked her. And thus she was pleased when rough hands slung her across the steaming back of a water buffalo to take her to the kind place where her dreams could be realized.
The Pavilion of Fragrant Bliss, which was little Ha’s new home and launching pad to opulence, had originally been built by a self-taught Vietnamese architect for a French teak magnate, long dead of syphilis. This imposing structure was made in a woozy rendition of Louis the fifteenth style and loomed amid formal European gardens tenanted by strange tropical Asian plants. The pink exterior, gilded public rooms and mirrored bedrooms retained a slightly moldy rococo grandeur and concealed the rat-infested squalor of the servants’ quarters, back stairs, secret passages, pantries and kitchens. In her first years there, Ha lived in a moldy closet and moved through the grand house only by means of its dark and dirty passageways. As the price of emergence into the world of brightness, she was slapped and beaten a lot while she learned how to dress, serve, behave and speak in civilized society. Though still a virgin, she had been encouraged to observe the sexual activities of the clientele through the peepholes hidden in every room. The proprietress, Madam Louey hissed at Ha’s shoulder, commenting on the performance of the participants and giving advice on how she, Ha, could provide superior service when the time came. Ha found the sight of these many couplings sometimes titillating but always laborious, awkward and strange.
And the time did come, but not in the way Madame Louey intended or little Ha expected. One day, Ha was wandering along Boon Tat Street returning from her bi-weekly visit to an elderly Chinese pharmacist in Lau Pa Sat where she collected the packets of medicinal herbs which allowed the girls to ply their trade without fear of pregnancy. As she walked home, Ha was entranced by yards of silk brocade displayed in the open stalls and deafened by the cat-like sounds of Peking opera recordings they played to entice customers. She was enjoying being on her own and thinking of absolutely nothing except fine clothing.
At that same instant, a renowned Buddhist teacher, the Reverend Lo Min Wei, returning from blessing a newly opened Chinese seafood restaurant, and, escorted by a dozen brown-robed monks, was ambling towards her. Wearing a red and gold crown, adorned with his second best red and gold abbot’s robes, and carrying a tall golden staff, the Reverend Lo was hard to miss. And indeed he was also the real thing. Reverend Lo was the incarnation of a long stream Buddhist practitioners who had worked to purify their minds over many many centuries and he had been recognized at an early age to be the head of one of Singapore’s largest monastic establishments. There he practiced and studied the Buddhist way of selfless compassion, leaving those quiet leafy precincts only to perform the ceremonies which were the main source of support for his monastery. Reverend Lo’s blessings were much sought after since all could see that he gave off the authentic glow of a sincere holy man. When little Ha laid eyes on him, she stopped in her tracks. Her heart opened, and she burst into a cold sweat. Since Ha was standing directly in front of the Reverend, he too stopped. He was somewhat used to being confronted by awe-struck devotees, but found himself strangely disturbed. The girl also stood stock still, and it was as if time stopped.
Read our interview about Douglas J. Penick here.
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