The Buddha’s Fist by Jiaqi Kang

The Buddha’s Fist

The Monkey King was born when lightning struck a rock. He administered the monkey kingdom for many years. He wanted to be immortal, so he deleted his name from the Book of Life and Death. The gods tried to appease him by granting him access to the heavens, but he was too ambitious. He wrecked their palaces. He set free their horses, which galloped away to graze in the cloud. Finally, exhausted, they invited the Buddha, who had been inactive for some time. The Buddha picked up the Monkey King and viewed him with curiosity. Let go of me, requested the Monkey King. The Buddha said: I couldn’t if I tried. I am the Buddha. You cannot escape the palm of my hand. The Monkey King took up the challenge. He swung his golden staff and flew as far as he could, until the sky turned from blue to purple to an inky, sticky screen. He flew until his flesh shrank and his fur was covered in frost, and until he could hear nothing at all, not even his own heartbeat. One day, he saw a glittering bronze pillar –– then two, then five. He had reached the ends of the universe, where no one else had ever been. The Monkey King unhitched his pants and used his piss to leave a comment on the pillar: Monkey King wuz here. The Buddha laughed. He closed his yellow fist. The Monkey King screamed and kicked, but it was useless. He saw nothing in the darkness. He remained inside forever.

I never understood why this story was so important that the elders had to name our home after it. Were we meant to be represented in the figure of the arrogant Monkey King receiving his comeuppance, or in the wise Buddha maintaining balance to the world? Or maybe we were the Monkey King’s monkey subjects, left behind to fend for ourselves on barren land while our sovereigns departed for the skies. Whenever my anxiety returned and I could hardly breathe, I would notice myself clenching my fists tight. It took focus to move each trembling finger away, make them curl outwards –– slow, indulgent –– like the blossoming petals of a flower. Whenever I did so, I would imagine my knobby fingers opening to reveal a monkey man inside, cowering among the canyons and ridges of my palm, the crescent grooves where my nails dug into my skin. He would look up at me, rotund giantess, and beg for mercy, saying he’d be good again if I let him go; or maybe he would attack me instead, spear his golden staff right into my nostril and pulverise my brain and then climb in and take control of my OS and turn me into a fighter robot to do his bidding. He would make me wreak havoc in the garden, laughing and clapping and trampling the harvest beneath my feet and the elders wouldn’t be able to do anything from inside the computers. I liked this second scenario because it forced me to imagine being a meat puppet, which is what I am, really, no matter how often I’m updated; up until the upload. They told me that one day I’d be in the computer, too, free from my rusted shell, as reward for my hard work. In the meantime, though, I was on the ground; in the ground; it was my body that mattered, the soil in my fingernails, the sweat in my armpits, the gloves, the rakes, the seeds, the pots, the ploughs; my electricity; my fertile, fertile flesh.

Days inside the Buddha’s Fist were more or less the same. I slept, I took protein, I scattered feed, I downloaded instructions from the elders and performed more required tasks. I fertilised, I watered, I soaked sponges and scrubbed the floors. Once a week I allowed myself the luxury of a shower. Standing by a drain, I enjoyed rubbing at my skin with the ball of my thumb to release little worms of grime, hosing them away, spending the rest of the day steaming in the greenhouse, giving my breasts some well-deserved air. Not like anybody was really watching; the computers’ webcams were consumed by the activity of mapping, modelling, strategising; mind serving matter. The elders said I’d upload soon, soon, after which the garden was supposed to keep running itself; matter serving mind. I wasn’t sure how that would work, considering I had been created to tend to the garden. Maybe the computers needed time to set it all up. I also wasn’t sure what the elders did on the cloud all day, whether they had personal lives, whether the tycoons in their spatial colonies had tried to contact us or to return, whether anyone knew what was going on in the wasteland outside our walls. Really there was nothing I could see beyond the cuttings in the greenhouse; anises.

On the cloud, I could do what I wanted, the elders told me. Soon, soon, I’d become one of “us”. I could tell this was supposed to be some kind of motivational goal.

What did I want: I wanted to stand so still that my muscles atrophied and fell off to rot at my feet. I wanted to let the LEDs burn so hot that they melted me into a puddle of piss that could seep into the cracks of the walls and fester, make some stains. I wanted to stay.

It was a simple act of lobotomy. There was a machine that turned fibres into mulch, for recycling. I cranked its rancid jaws as wide open as they would go, and cut off my head. The elders panicked. They hacked into my eyes, which whirled about in their sockets and wept fat globulous tears; I didn’t need them – –never had, I knew that now; my fingertips knew where to go. I opened my hand, picked a mushroom, felt its rubbery stem. In the Buddha’s Fist, it was always spring.

Jiaqi Kang (亢嘉琪) is a Sino-Swiss editor, writer, and art historian. She is the founding Editor-in-Chief of Sine Theta Magazine, an international, print-based creative arts publication made by and for the Sino diaspora. Find her online at jiaqikang.carrd.co

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Art Gary Todd/National Museum of Thailand Public Domain

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