They came in quick succession; first a pack of Sun Maid raisins, a bag of fig rolls and a tin of fruit shortcake, appearing slapdash on the mountain alter. There was no magical sound they just were suddenly there. Gifts from the Dharma Directorial Centre in Hull.
As always, like a child he poked at the items with a curiosity, eventually he would get around to peeling away the wrappers and perhaps figuring out how exactly to consume them, but for now only one thought appeared between his long ears:
‘I knew, I should have provided guidance on Jaffa Cakes!’
The Zen Garden was full of little mistakes of his disciples on earth, little trinkets and even a receipt left idly on the throne in Thailand. Little by little, though his soul was by default the cleanest a soul could be, his garden was beginning to resemble a Holy Jumble sale.
Buddha, who in seconds could levitate 20 feet off the ground, make the fish tap-dance and make time move forward, curiously found that like his many followers at Christmas, getting rid of unwanted gifts was a burden that even those who had reached Nirvana had to bear. His followers bestowed upon him great trays of Ferrero Roche, yet he had a nut allergy and had done so since 624 BC.
It had been so easy back then to tell the servants about his demands, okay there hadn’t been as many sugary confectionary to go with all the tea, but at least in the great mandala of the world, there had been a choice in what vegetables to eat. Now he was sometimes reduced to snacking on whatever some well meaning schoolgirl had brought him from the 7/11. Like the rest of us; he had a very specific biscuit itch which was beginning to gnaw at him. Something had to be done.
‘What if I tried to send something back through the alter?’
This thought had been planting it’s seed in his mind ever since he’d started receiving the dreaded pink wafers; between the long periods of meditation, a mantra which was always followed by a secondary chant as he rubbed his curly head; I’m not supposed to intervene.
But even if he could; how could he justify such earthy pleasures as the sweet amalgamation of orange jelly, spongey base and chocolate known on earth as the Jaffa Cake? He had lambasted his father from birth for dining in the palace on steaming pots of Moon Toad and other long-forgotten creatures;
Yet Buddha, the Buddha, who had shunned earthly pleasures and risen above them, found his stomach, his very Solar Plexus Chakra, pining to scrawl a list of demands to his loyal horde, who dutifully exhibited their socks during drop-in sessions between gruesome shifts at Aldi. Who sacrificed their very ability to grow a quiff in order to follow his teachings.
Yet automatically, he still found himself scrawling onto joss paper the following;
He placed it on the alter, and with a faint pop it vanished.
What Fresh Hull is this…
Finally things were starting to fall into place for Harold, this was his first lesson in front of his superiors and he’d managed to get most of his students to sign up for a wet weekend in the country. They would have to ship in more lentils to feed everyone at the retreat and it was all down to him. Just another 10 minutes and he’d be able to go home and celebrate in front of Come Dine With Me.
‘…and now we open the floor to questions’
Harold excitedly gathered speed concerning all things in the eternal law of the cosmos, how iPhones were distracting us with a panache that even awoke the heavy eyed of the contingent. It was all going to be bliss from now on;
Until he got to the elderly Ms.Peters, who always had to bellow on account of her hearing;
‘Harold!…Harold, I’d just like to know when did you start allowing letters for the Siddhartha? I think it’s so sweet so sentimental especially in the run up to CHRISTMAS!’
As she stood up to draw attention to the letter, nestled directly on the Golden statue, the rest of the class snapped out of their poises to crane their necks in mimicry of her pointed, jeweled hand, Harold was tasked with checking the offerings for posterity and now he could see that some prankster was about to jeopardize his possibilities of getting invited to the secret retreats. The ones that could practically turn you into a Karmic celebrity overnight.
‘A very good question Ms.Peters, let me just have a look…’
But reaching for the letter, he was beat to it by his mentor Babayev, a wrinkled tortoise of a man who had entered the room suddenly, Babayev was a quick reader despite his advanced age and it took a mere 20 seconds to finish the letter before he keeled over and expired from this confusing world without so much as a wriggle of the toe. Things were left up to Harold to explain what he could not.
As they gathered around like soldiers inspecting a trench, superstition was overcome by curiosity and one by one, the nice couple who had just gone vegan, the old man with the drink problem and prying, braying Ms.Peters in quick succession read out the letter, all the while wondering why they hadn’t fallen down dead upon it’s completion.
Babayev had looked weathered, but Harold had put that down in parts to the punishing diet of lentils and he expected; Whiskey.
Maybe it was those damn heart pills…
Part of the requirements of Harold’s post was to monitor Babayev’s taking of the little candy colored pills for a weak heart. there was only one thing to do; check the little pink box in which they were stored like less fun Smarties. Cocooned around him was the class that wouldn’t leave his side in the wake of the disruption, Going to storage they found that Mondays supply had been consumed. It was a Tuesday.
There was only a second thing to do; check the CCTV cameras that had been reluctantly installed in the wake of some burglaries of the offerings. They each gathered around the small televisions to observe a more curious event in progress; on the screens in one window stood Babayav, happily lapping up the pills (albeit Wednesday’s supply) and on the other, as Babayav shuffled towards the prayer room, a flash of light appeared behind Harold and the letter that had brought this misfortune appeared.
It’s a miracle, it’s a bloody miracle.
The old people were getting restless, led by Ms.Peters into a frenzy of speculation; It’s Jesus! Jesus did it! He has returned! I only come ere’ for a good stretch! The nice Vegan couple had to be talked out of calling the fire brigade and the rest of them thought it was a dirty trick, like he always did in times of peril, Harold consulted the most weathered copy of the Buddhist Review and turned to the page marked ALTERS. Suddenly observing a glued page where OFFERINGS had been singled out.
Playing the footage over and over, the hexagonal shapes that appeared before the letter, alluded to what was explained on the page and how, in a rather extraordinary way, they could receive offerings from the Buddha in times of great need. The page also went on to explain the importance of never offering the Buddha a Belgian Chocolate Sea Shell, along with a faint illustration of a cabbage.
Checking the CCTV from previous offerings later revealed that each and every single item, from a pack of raisins (who steals raisins anyway?) to a set of incense stick, had all disappeared in a flash of light when placed on the offering table. While each member of the group sat cross-legged and shut-eyed.
Immediately ushering out the class, Harold approached the alter as a hunter approaches a deer, there didn’t seem to be anything unusual, no hollow dent, no silly trick he’d seen on The Best of Magic.
It was real. It was all so real. And the only way to find out is to offer up myself.
And with a now familiar pop; Harold disappeared.