His heart was pounding against his chest and he panted heavily. Sweat dripped down his wrinkled cheeks. With his shoulders hunched forwards, he gripped a handful of grass and pulled himself up over one of the steepest parts of Mount Meru. He turned around to look down the valley; he could see the river below shimmering in the late afternoon light.
Hu Dong opened his bag and took out the map his brother-in-law had given him and surveyed the surroundings. He had been told that this spot was somewhere close to the cave he was looking for. If he were to climb up farther, he would venture into the snow line. The sun was going down in the distance, and the clouds on the horizon were glowing like embers with many colours. The shadows of the surrounding mountains were creeping towards him.
He looked around and walked through the rough grass in the twilight. After some time, he came across what appeared to be a small cave. Hu stood some distance away and, straining his eyes, shone a torch on the map flapping in the wind. He flashed the torch towards the cave entrance, it appeared deep and dark. When he felt sure that it was the right cave, he started to gather dry twigs and dry shrubs and piled them into a heap before starting a fire. He wanted to make sure that the cave was free of any wild inhabitants. He felt the warmth of the bonfire as the twigs started to burn; for a while, he watched the fire and then looked up at the sky. It was empty of clouds and the millions of stars were beginning to shine bright.
After a while, he heard a rustling and scratching noise coming from inside the cave. He took a few steps backwards, keeping his eyes on the entrance; he knew this mountainous region of Tibet had a lot of black bears. Then he saw some animals emerging out of the cave, one after another, three in all, they leapt high over the fire and escaped into the darkening surroundings. Hu Dong sighed in relief; it was a family of rabbits. He laughed.
He decided to take a closer look inside the cave and knelt holding his torch in his mouth. Crawling into the cave on all fours it was eerily quiet so that he could hear himself breathing. The ground was well-trodden by rabbits or other small animals and littered with their droppings. Inside, the ceiling suddenly opened up allowing Hu Dong to stand up properly. The space was wide enough for four people to stand side by side. He surveyed the walls with his flashlight; they were covered in spider webs.
When he felt comfortable, he opened his rucksack and took out a big candle and a matchbox. Striking a match, he lit the wax candle and placed it in a niche in the wall. He laid down a mat. After rummaging in his bag some more, he pulled out a pouch and dropped it on the mat. He took off his shoes and sat cross-legged on the mat. He brought the pouch closer and undid the knots.
First, he took out a round leather cushion and put it in front of himself, then a set of dice and a small wooden bowl. He tipped out the remaining contents of the sack, a handful of small seashells. With a swift movement of his hand, he placed them around the cushion.
As he reached inside his jacket pocket and took out some coins, there was a sudden gust of wind and the candle in the niche flickered. He felt a chill running down his body and looked around himself but there was nothing there. So, he carried on, he held some of the coins in his hand and put the remaining coins on the opposite side as if he was starting a game of sho with a friend who was sitting right opposite him.
When everything was set, he picked up the wooden bowl and put the dice into it. Cupping the bottom of the bowl with the palm of his hand he shook it dramatically in the air and then brought it down on the leather cushion with a thud. He lifted the bowl to reveal the dice, showing the numbers two and five. But he lied, and in a loud voice he said,
‘Pa ra, hra thic thic… I am telling you; I will win this game!’
He was acting as though someone was there with him. He then took one of his coins and put it among the circle of shells before picking up the bowl and the dice again. Once again, he shook it up and down this time over his shoulder and again slammed it on the leather cushion. This time it was double six.
‘Yes, yes, yes!’
He shouted even louder this time and swiftly moved his coin forwards among the shells. He quickly grabbed hold of the bowl again, while remembering the words of his Tibetan brother-in-law, who had told him sternly; ‘If you want to catch Thebrang, the genie who lives in caves, then you have to keep playing as long as possible.’
So, he continued the game, his hands starting to ache and sweat dripping down his forehead. The light from the bonfire had faded and the outside world has plunged into complete darkness. But the candle was still bright despite having burnt down much of its original length and the melting wax dripping down the wall of the cave. Then there was another gust of wind this time the flame spluttered, disappearing for a moment and coming back to life a second later.
Hu Dong slammed the wooden bowl on the leather cushion once more, but this time as he was about to lift it to reveal the dice, there was a strange crackling noise from the wall and then a huge hairy hand appeared from the shadows of the cave and gripped the bowl.
‘It’s my turn now,’ a voice bellowed out of the darkness before the rest of its body appeared. It was a massive figure, covered in hair with an enormous head on its furry shoulders. Its fiery eyes looked straight at Hu Dong, who had scrambled back in his seat with fright. The giant moved clumsily as it lifted its hand to rattle the dice, the wooden bowl completely disappeared in its hand until the creature brought it down on the cushion with a loud smack and nodded towards his opponent. Hu Dong took his seat once again and, trembling, he lifted the bowl to reveal the dice, it was a one and a one.
‘Ha, ha, ha…’
The giant’s laughter boomed around the cave, revealing great fangs and a dark void inside its mouth…
Hu Dong knew there wasn’t much time before this creature would lose its disguise and sensing threat, it would vanish. He waited for the right moment and then he lurched forward to grip its hand. The creature’s hand felt soft and fluffy; it let out a shriek and started to shake violently while Hu held on tight. Then, with one strong movement, the giant threw his opponent across the floor of the cave. Hu landed heavily in the corner but stood up quickly and limped back towards the giant. He could see in the dim light that it was trying to escape through the same crack where it had first appeared. So, gathering his strength he leapt, grabbing the creature by the legs.
With all his might Hu pulled, while the creature struggled and kicked its massive legs against Hu’s face. He could hear it shrieking and howling in distress and mumbling incomprehensibly. Sweat was dripping down his face, but he managed to keep pulling.
Suddenly there was a huge gust of wind that blew all around the cave filling the air with dust and extinguishing the dying candle flame. Everything descended into darkness. But, to Hu Dong’s surprise, the creature had turned into a bright mass of white light and he was pulling at a soft glowing form, his hands appearing in silhouette against its brightness. The wind subsided as suddenly as it arrived, and with that, the glowing figure transformed into smoke sucking itself into one of Hu Dong’s fists. Once again, the cave fell into complete darkness.
Sitting with his legs wide on the floor of the cave, Hu Dong stared intensely through the darkness at his hands closed around one another. Something inside was shining and made his fingers glow like embers. So, he gradually opened them, one finger at a time, and there it was in his hands — Thebrang, the tiny glowing figure. The light he emitted was bright enough to light the whole cave and reflected off Hu’s dark eyes. Almost immediately the creature started to speak.
‘Give me your order; I am at your service.’
The genie fidgeted in its captor’s palm. And continued,
‘I can grant your wishes but remember we don’t have much time. We have to be quick; this place is not safe.’ Hu Dong stared at the genie for some time not believing what he was witnessing. He realised Lama Sangpo’s instructions were proved right. He composed himself trying to keep his hands steady and asked,
‘Show me the way to Shambala.’
There was a brief moment of silence; the little man in his hands was contemplating when there was the faint sound of footsteps coming from outside the entrance of the cave.
‘You are not alone; you have company.’
‘No, I am by myself. There isn’t anyone else with me.’
Hu Dong reassured the genie. He looked around the cave, but he couldn’t see anything else moving apart from his own shadow on the rough wall, which made a spider in the corner retreat to safety, the empty web moving in the light breeze.
‘Your past is following you.’ The genie informed his captor.
Hu Dong glanced at the entrance once again, but he couldn’t hear a sound, again he requested,
‘Show me the way to Shambala.’
‘Keep your eyes on me, focus on my forehead and concentrate, without letting your mind be the subject of your emotions.’
The miniature figure kept moving, this was the only clue that it was alive. Hu Dong gazed at its glowing head and focused his mind. As his attention became firmer, things gradually started to appear; there within the body of this tiny creature was a whirlpool of stars moving slowly in a circle on an axis that appeared to be a black dot, like the whole universe was hidden inside him. He was mesmerized; meanwhile, the sound of footsteps had returned and it was getting louder and louder. Hu Dong felt that they were entering the cave. The wall of the cave started to shake and tremble.
‘Don’t lose your focus, continue your meditation,’ Thebrang commanded Hu Dong as dust filled the confined air and pieces of rocks started to fall around them. He struggled to maintain his focus in the chaos.
Finally, he felt that his body was being lifted into the air and the revolving stars were coming towards him. With a sudden vibration, he felt he was being sucked into the void, as though the molecular structure of his body had shifted from solid to liquid. The sound of footsteps and the trembling of the earth gradually faded. With a last flash of light, they disappeared completely leaving the cave behind them in darkness. The trembling subsided and only an eerie silence remained.
Go to Part 2 of “Thebrang — The Tibetan Genie”.