Manoa 12.2 (2000) 1-6
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Chimi, the Free Man
This time, as Chimi walked the dirt road into town, the pebbles branded his feet. As he walked, he kept turning backwards to admire the crooked footprints he'd left behind. His head slammed into a tree limb, he bumped into people coming toward him, he almost slid into a ditch.
The people of Lhodrak Village believed in a goddess called Boka. They would piously vow, "In the name of Boka." The main street of Lhodrak was lined with shops, little taverns, the tailor's, and the blacksmith's. Chimi stopped in front of a shop. People kept their distance from him, but he wasn't bothered. He nodded and called to folks he knew. Passersby started whispering to each other. Chimi's escaped again . . . The seventh time? . . . No, the eighth!
In Lhodrak Village, you would usually see a policeman appear at the corner of the square, casually walking down the street, hands behind his back.
Chimi knew he shouldn't come back to Lhodrak every time he escaped. He knew he should run somewhere else, but he couldn't imagine where to go. There was no place like Lhodrak, where he could talk freely and hear cordial voices call his name.
Lhamo, the food shopkeeper, folded her arms and said, "So, Chimi, back again!"
"Back again. Not bad, eh?"
"Well . . ." She hardly knew what to say next. "They didn't let you out, did they?"
"No--the same as always." He sat down on Lhamo's front step, took the snuff pot she handed him, and shook a pinch onto his thumbnail. Other shopkeepers began to call their greetings.
"If that's how it is," Lhamo said in a low voice, "they'll catch you and take you back before you can finish that pinch of snuff!"
Chimi paid no attention. "Who's boiling mutton?" He could smell it.
"Melong--across the way there. I saw him come back this morning with a side of fresh mutton. If he knew you were back, he'd invite you."
"Hmm . . . ," Chimi said, wiping his lips.
Suddenly all the heads on the street turned north. [End Page 1]
Then all the heads turned back to Chimi.
Along came the policeman, hands behind his back. Chimi inched his way out, craned his neck, and peered . . . The policeman spotted him. Chimi shifted nervously, ready to bolt. But the policeman just walked past, nodding to Chimi as if to say hello, and carried on straight down the street, looking as if he were pondering some mystery.
Everybody breathed a sigh of relief.
"Did they really release you this time, Chimi?" someone asked him.
"I got out just like before," he replied.
And so they all returned to their own affairs.
Chimi didn't trouble himself with wondering why the policeman hadn't rearrested him. He said good-bye to Lhamo and walked into a tea shop near the square. There was nobody inside. He rapped an empty cup. A girl came out and poured him some tea.
A young man sat down opposite him and looked out the window. It was Jin Waji, a younger son of the Jin clan. He rarely appeared in town because, people said, his health was bad. His family kept him deep inside the walls of the Jin family mansion. A lonely figure, he had attractive melancholy eyes.
"Young master." Chimi nodded to him.
"How's it going?"
"Everything's good. Boka blesses me."
Jin Waji gave a pleased nod and looked back out the window, all the way down the street to the very end of town, where the old walnut tree clung to its last few, dried leaves. The people on the street were all from Lhodrak, and knew each other.
"Now that you're back, what are you going to do?" Jin Waji asked.
"Time will tell."
"Why not go back to your old job?"
"I can't. They won't let me. You know, these two hands of mine were just made to...