Ma Huang had just started sipping her tea when Xing Ren arrived in the kitchen, his forehead wrinkled in alarm. “They’re gone.”
Ma Huang breathed in the transporting green tea steam. Watched in the long light of the late afternoon, it swirled, dove, wrapped and unfolded; reminding her of the one time she had seen Xing Ren practice Ba Gua. Mustering up more calmness than she felt, trying to balance Xing Ren’s agitation, she spoke “We really oughtn’t to be surprised, after all we knew it was highly likely. We knew.”
“I know, I know” Xing Ren started pacing the kitchen, but he stopped as he came to the scuffle marks the children had left on the floor. Ma Huang watched him carefully, unsure what to expect. “I know, we knew. I had hoped it would turn out all right. I hoped so much that I believed hoping would help. I hoped so much I thought my heart would break. Nothing was this complicated on my mountain.”
Ma Huang filled and pushed a teacup across the table toward him, he turned, sat and cradled the cup in his hands. “And so” she said matter of factly “now that they are gone, what is the correct way to respond?”
“We should see the Master.”
“Surely he already knows.”
“An official report should be made.”
“And what if he says to leave them?”
Xing Ren seemed to be settling back into himself again and answered with more of his usual pedantic tone “We respond to that when it comes.”
“We?” questioned Ma Huang.
“You were fond of them too, I assumed you would want to get them back.”
“However, I don’t know if I’d be willing to jeopardize my position here in the Temple. You can always go back to your mountain. I have nowhere to go, nowhere I’d want to be.”
Xing Ren was silent, realizing that the effect the children had on him was uniquely powerful. He had been sure that they were very special children, what if, in fact, they weren’t special in themselves. What if only the effect they had on the crusty hermit was unique and powerful? In which case wasn’t it just Xing Ren himself who was special? And in the chaos of the great Dao were they really that different from each other?
Kicking aside his long robes, the hermit appeared to float over to the place were Little Fish and Second Sister had last touched the earth. He sniffed the air as Ma Huang had done, bent and put a pinch of the dust on his tongue then lay face down on the floor. Ma Huang had finished her tea twice when he erupted from the floor like a giant bat, robes swirling.
“Are you coming?” he asked lifting one eyebrow.
Ma Huang nodded, she wouldn’t miss this for the world and together they sped through the monastery. Xing Ren paused briefly before the heavy, wood, dragon doors of the Master’s chambers to knock and entered before an answer could come.