Year of the Rabbit

He blinked and saw Dr. Li sitting on a rattan chair next to the nun. Wang Ping’s hands gripped the sides of a simple cot.

“Relax,” said Dr. Li. “You are fine, Wang Ping, but you did pass out.” The professor looked at his watch. “Briefly. Five hours ago. You soon awoke, and the Mother and I brought you here to her room. Mother had a doctor friend attend you, and he was confident enough to leave you in the care of this wonderful woman who is not only the Temple’s longest-serving docent, but a registered nurse as well.”

The nun assured Wang Ping he suffered from “no concussion, no breaks, no bruises. But maybe some nightmares?”


“Nightmares terrify, Wang Ping,” said the Professor. “The past terrifies. But reality and the future . . . can be grand.”

“Is it true, Professor: what the nun told me: that I am—No, it is too ridiculous to say.”

“That you are a god? Not so ridiculous to those of us who believe in you.” Dr. Li smiled.

“You are a follower of Tu’Er Shan? You are . . . “

“I am homosexual, yes. And I have followed you ever since I spotted your birthmark.” Dr. Li moved his finger in a circle.

“I think you led me,” Wang Ping replied, “more than followed.”

Dr. Li laughed. “It is the job of a teacher to lead students to find out who they are—although you are, I admit, a very special case. I have had a long career in education, but you are my first god.”

Wang Ping struggled to sit up and extend his bare feet to the floor. His clothes were disheveled and soaked in sweat. “I don’t feel like a god,” he said.

“May you never! Feel like a man . . . a man who cares for people like us. Feel human! And you will be the god we need.”

“Who are ‘we’? And what do you need of a god as human as I?”

The nun answered. “We are the homosexuals and lesbians and transvestites and transgenders and hermaphrodites who have gathered to build a community in this temple since your statue was destroyed.”

“Mother, you cannot be homosexual!” Wang Ping sat up on the cot. “Nuns are celibate.”

“I am both, my dear.”

Wang Ping tilted his head quizzically.

The nun avoided further explaining her own identity to focus on his. “When word of the return of Tu’Er Shan—your return—spreads among us, we will be empowered.”

“To do what?”

“Only time will tell,” said the nun.

“And will I live forever?”

“The story of Hu Tianbao argues against immortality, I think,” the Professor mused.

“And so I may be decapitated and emasculated again? That is what the story of Hu Tianbao argues, doesn’t it? Is that what you and your ‘we’ offer me?” Wang stood and wobbled so unsteadily, the Professor and nun rose to steady him before carefully siting him on the rattan sofa.

“We did not bring you back, Tu’Er Shan,” said the Professor. “You arrived. The reasons and the future are yours. We shall honor you; we shall worship you; we shall protect you as best we can.”

“I want to go to the tree. Help me to the tree.” Dr. Li called for the nun to help him embrace Wang with their arms and walk him outside the temple to the cryptomeria tree under which Hu Tianbao was buried. “Leave me alone here,” Wang Ping said. Dr. Li and the nun retreated some meters away.

Wang Ping knelt before the tree. He leaned his forehead against its bark. He wondered if the remains of Hu Tianbao still supported the cryptomeria, and if they supported him. Or had they disintegrated—vanished—in order to be reassembled and reincarnated into Wang Ping? Was he ever really Wang Ping?

After an hour, he leaned back in the grass and called for Dr. Li and the nun to join him. “There must be an artist, a sculptor, amongst our community who can build here, in front of the cryptomeria, a huge carving of the Rabbit God, according to my specifications.” The nun whispered a name to the Professor who nodded. “We shall not desecrate the Temple itself, but neither shall we hide who we are or that Tu’er Shan . . . is here.”



James Penha

Expat New Yorker James Penha (he/him) has lived for the past three decades in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his work is widely published in journals and anthologies. His newest chapbook of poems, American Daguerreotypes, is available for Kindle. His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Twitter: @JamesPenha. James recommends the Ali Forney Center.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Thursday, June 18, 2020 - 21:33