- Appointment on the Bhagsu Road
The nun wants to kill the dog. The dog has a cancer on its head the size and color of a testicle. It is growing daily. And the nun’s own days are inflected with grief—grief and also something more. At meditation she is not centered in the hara, two inches below her navel. Instead, she gravitates to that crass, red canker distorting the dog’s head, or the eye of the dog that pleads with her, and that is what she gives herself up to. Not the warm, slobbering tongue she used to allow to take chunks of oily potato from her hand when she cleaned up in the refectory, but the dog’s corrosive need.
She is a Buddhist. In the Indian village of McLeod Ganj, where exiled Tibetan monasteries scale the foothills of the Himalayas alongside tourist hotels, she has sat under the teaching of the Dalai Lama. She knows the way to escape suffering is to lose desire. She knows all sentient life is sacred. She will not find the way to inner peace through killing. But does a testicle glisten like that? She has never seen one—not that of a man. She hopes it does not.
She is a nun, and because her abbess has forbidden her to kill the dog, she has decided to enlist the help of mercenaries. The day she hurries up the long, rickety stairway to the room where the Canadian woman stays, the little flyers for language tuition and a Peace Corps party flutter in her wake, paying her more attention than she has attracted in a long time.
She has seen the Canadian woman around McLeod Ganj. They have spoken once. Or perhaps not spoken when, waiting for the bus to the lower village, they saw the dog, lying at the side of the road in the throes of a seizure, legs rigid, head bulged obscenely. Some Gujarati boys laughed at the dog, and a man in a pillbox hat—a Kashmiri man—tossed the butt of a cigarette at it. There was the smell of singed fur and then the backside of the dog was kindled, the oily light-brown coat blackening as the Canadian woman shouted in English at the man. The Canadian threw her own jacket at the dog, whose body had been released by its brain and was limp and too exhausted to lick its wounds.
Nothing more has passed between them. [End Page 45]
The nun knows where she is likely to find the Canadian woman and when she knocks at the door—the evening windy and bone-chilling, a few stars punching out their code between rapid bursts of cloud—the Canadian asks her in. She tells the nun eagerly that she came to Dharamsala, to India, for enlightenment. To learn the ways of compassion. She wants to be of use. The Canadian speaks a little Tibetan, the nun a little English, and they make a plan. The nun will enlist Jampa, a nonpracticing Buddhist she knows, a onetime monk, to hold the dog. The Canadian, who is familiar with horses and has given injections before, will get the drug. Though the nun is still tormented by her abbess’s prohibition and by the tumult of her own convictions, she will not be the one to kill the dog.
Jampa left the monastery when he was twenty-six and became a translator. Nearly thirty now, he is good-looking, his black hair drawn into a ponytail with streaks of silver in it. He and the nun met one summer while they sat under the Dalai Lama’s teaching on mindfulness and the body. Jampa impressed her—and frightened her some—with his probing questions. She has heard that he is also good at what he does now: carrying meaning across the craggy geographies of language, uncovering the intentions behind the words. But the way he looks at her when she asks for what she wants him to do—as if she were taking advantage of his lack of scruples—shames her. It is true that since he left the monastery she...