Communism and the spirits….. IV

I had left this account of the encounter between the spirits and officials of communism at the point where it is building to a tense showdown. So if course, I will not waste your time in anymore background (which you anyway read in the previous posts of this particular series – which you will have to if you intend to understand this).

~~ But Tik had already begun a peculiar dance. He chanted in a tongue that neither Siri nor the others present had ever heard. If anything it bore a close resemblance to a North American Indian rain dance.

Tik moved slowly towards the throng, raising his hands to call down the spirits and stamping his feet in time with his chant. First the shaman looked on as if senility had taken him. But then one Hmong zero stood and followed him, copying his rhythm and gestures. She chanted counter-point to his bass.

The men on the stage looked sideways at one another, not knowing how to react or what to say. One by one the shamans stood and joined the line. One child dragged her hooded father by the hand. A toothless gash appeared on one ancient woman’s face and she leapt to her feet twirling and yelling like a young girl.

Siri had never attended a mass seance before and he was unsure of protocol. But there was one point of which he had no doubt. There wasn’t a hope in heaven or hell that this fiasco would bring any spirits into the Luang Prabang Town Hall. He laughed to himself, got to his feet and joined the conga.

The rhythm was strong now and all the guests were riding the giant eel around the room. Those with instruments played them. Those without screamed and whooped and looked upward to the invisible heavenly ropes down which the imaginary ghosts would descend. Without warning, Tik stopped and turned his head so suddenly towards the top table the four men held their heartbeats. The room shushed.

“They’re coming,” Tik said in a whisper. He looked up, reached his hands to the ceiling and seemed to swell up. “Welcome.”

The others all followed suit. Some twitched as if the fit of arriving spirits didn’t match their bodies. Some gulped them in like air. Some took handfulls of them and forced them into their ears.

And, like a sudden audience of zombies, Tik and the shamans turned towards the stage as slowly as melting ice, as silent as the graves from which the spirits had supposedly come. With eyes large and unblinking they stared at Houey with their teeth bared.

The cadres on the stage were apparently in some kind of trance too. They looked down on the sea of drooling staring people possessed by God knows how many angry spirits. It was a situation the manifesto hadn’t prepared them for. The crotch of the security officer was already a noticeably darker green than the rest of his uniform. Siri could just see the parchment white face of Comrade Houey. He had to give the governor credit. He didn’t run. In fact, although his voice trembled, he attempted to continue his speech.

“Comrade spirits. It …. it has been vested in me, as a … a representative of…” He had forgotten to breathe and the words stopped. He smuggled in one or two deep breaths to calm himself. “As a representative of the LPRP, to make the following announcement.”

He held out his hand to the head of security for the document. But the man had turned into some kind of granite bust. Only his eyes moved, scanning back and forth across the faces of the shamans. So Houey wrenched the paper from his hand and read. His own hands shook so badly it was amazing he could catch up with the typed words.

“You will be given three….. and this wasn’t my idea. You shall be given three alternatives.”

He looked up for a response but received none.

“Firstly, you may go to the north-east to join the ex-royals.”

A thought occurred to him.

“Of course you’ll have to make your own arrangements for…. well, your own arrangements.” He was going to add “for transportation” but thought better of it.

“Secondly, if you intend to stay in Luang Prabang, you will have to work in the services of the temples. A specific…”

He noticed that some of the shamans had started to vibrate, not unlike spin dryers. It unnerved him.

“A specific temple will be assigned to you and you will be ordained as temple spirits. Naturally you’ll have to share the workload.”

The vibrations increased and one of the whistle-blowers began to back away across the stage.

“Thirdly, if you select neither one nor two, you will be…”

He looked up, wondering if he dared read on. The vibrations were more pronounced as if the audience were one large jelly. He took another breath. The second whistler was on his way out.

“You will be banished from Laos. Naturally we don’t want to resort to that so it’s better you take the other alternatives. I suggest you all go away and think about this. I won’t expect your decision right away. We’re all fair here. Is that clear?”

Silence. The security chief’s chair crashed to the floor as he ran for all he was worth to the back door. Houey stood alone and vulnerable.

“Good. Th… then that concluded our business for th…. this evening. So I…”

Forgoing the usual farewell speech, Houey turned, walked at first, and the jogged to the exit. The sheet with the three conditions leafed back and forth down to the wooden stage.

There was a polite pause to give the officials time to get away from the building. But when all was clear, Tik turned, smiled, and nodded to the crowd. The shamans fell into a fit of mirth and merriment unseen in Luang Prabang since the days of the old regime.

And here we end….


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