And continuing ths introduction to the Dr Siri universe, though it is not so much about the good doctor, apart from the few tantalising hints. But for all that, it is a superb account of the absurdities…. well, dont want to play spoiler, but the title will come into its own from now on…..
~~ When he was gone, Houey took a deep breath and continued.
“I am delighted to announce that on this historic day, marked by the long overdue erasure of the vestiges of the illegal royal bourgeoisie, the so-called royal spirits are also to be disbanded.”
There was a shocked buzz of comments around the room. Some laughed.
“Quiet. I’ve called you here today because you are going to summon the spirits and give them an ultimatum.”
The murmur became a sea of bold comments and jokes. The audience laughed at each one-liner and order was lost. The men on the stage reached for their whistles but a much calmer sound quietened the rabble. Siri’s partner had begun to speak. His voice somehow threw a blanket of respectful silence over the others.
“If you please, Comrade Houey. It isn’t that easy.”
Houey looked for the source of the comment and saw the white-haired man and Siri for the first time. He became very angry.
“Is that you speaking, or are you a damned ventriloquist’s dummy as well?”
The man rose silently and far more elegantly than he had sat down. It was as if he were rising to full height in a lift.
“No, sir. It is I. I am Tik Kwunsawan. I was the official court spirit counsellor to the late King. Forgive me for speaking out of line, but requesting the spirits to attend isn’t like calling pupils into a classroom. The conditions….”
“Well, comrade Tik Kwunsawan, this is no request. If the spirits wish to be a part of the new democratic republican network they have to toe the line. This is a State directive.”
“The State may as well as order a rainbow, comrade.”
“Sit yourself back down, old man. You don’t have any exclusive rights on the spirit world. Look.”
He held up the stapled booklet that was on the table in front of him.
“This is the official manual, issued by the Department of Culture in Vientiane, for the summoning of spirits.”
No joke would have drawn a better laugh then that. Not even Tik, rejoining Siri on the floor, could hold back his laughter, Siri recalled his visit to the Ministry the day after the suicide. He imagined the officials in one of those bare offices poring over the texts to remove all the religious and royal references from the ceremony. He was surprised there was enough left to make a manual. But it was significant that they hadn’t seen fit to ban the practice altogether. Too many of the country’s three million people had come through life on the wings of spirits to banish them completely.
The whistlers brought the crowd back to order but before Houey could continue the glue-haired woman asked, “If you can do it all with that little book, why do you need us at all?”
“Right,” echoed the audience.
Houey shook his head and smiled. “This is the very essence of socialism, my sister. We work together as a team. You help me and I help you. Despite our differences, despite our resentments and doubts, cooperation turns us into a single body. We are all here ultimately for one purpose.”
“And what is today’s purpose, young brother?” Tik asked in his quiet voice that still carried to the rafters of the building.
Houey nodded to a sheet of paper in his colleague’s hand. “We shall be giving the spirits this ultimatum.”
Tik held back his smile.
“They will have three choices. Three choice are very fair, I believe, considering the State has no legal obligation to them. The first -“
“Wait,” Tik said. “If these are conditions for the spirits, they should be here to listen, don’t you think?”
Siri looked around. It was obvious that the shamans were confused. How could they bring the spirits to a place like this?
Houey consulted with his tablemates. “That won’t be necessary.”
“How else can we be sure to get the message to all of them?” Tik asked.
“We were thinking you could, sort of, pass it on to them once we’d left, or when you got home.” Houey seemed to be getting paler.
“Goodness me, no. Much easier if they hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Let’s bring them here.”
“That really isn’t….”
To be continued….