Eyes of Karma

The first drops that hit the corrugated iron roof sounded like fat, lazy splashes, but soon they were pelting down as furious as bullets. Phra Sumon sat cross-legged on the floor of the little hut with eyes closed – a picture of monastic stillness that contrasted with the watery onslaught. But his mind was far from still, and the beads of sweat forming on his forehead slid down the contours of his angular features and dropped from his chin onto the orange robe that cloaked his brown, athletic body. In the insistent beat of the downpour he kept hearing a mantra that dragged him back, yet again, into the wreckage of his past.

An hour earlier, before the storm clouds had begun to release their heavy load, Phra Sumon had made his way in the blue light of dawn down the narrow path to the main hall of the temple. There was no need to go on the alms round that morning as an important lady from Bangkok was coming to make merit at the temple, and the abbot had chosen Phra Sumon to be one of the monks to whom she would offer food and gifts.

When he entered by the side door he saw that the benefactor was already seated in front of the altar with several companions: two females and one male. They had their backs to him and he barely glanced at them, but just before climbing onto the teak dais where the monks sat he noticed that the man in the group had turned to look at him.

Phra Sumon, being the most junior monk, took a position furthest from the statue of Buddha. It was the first time the abbot had asked him to attend such a ceremony and he was pleased to be included. They rarely had visitors from the outside, certainly not from as far away as Bangkok. Why would anyone think of coming to such a remote temple when there were all the other fancy ones near the capital?

During the chanting Phra Sumon held the ceremonial fan in front of his face to screen the guests from his vision while he intoned the familiar stanzas. It was when he put it down beside him that he felt her eyes: a physical sensation, like a hot stab against his cheek. He stopped himself from looking up. The abbot had joked that with his good looks he was bound to attract attention and therefore it was even more important for him to adhere to the precepts. Phra Sumon was determined to maintain his discipline. But when, after serving the others, the lady was sliding the tray of food towards him he could no longer control himself. His gaze drifted up to meet that of the merit maker from Bangkok, and in that instant he almost gasped out loud.

She raised her palms together in reverence before moving back soundlessly to her seat. He kept his eyes firmly down as he ate. After the meal she had knelt in front of him once more to make the offerings and before he could check himself he looked up again. This time there was an intense exchange between them. Her dark eyes widened and the corners softened into an expression of utter sadness.

Minutes later he slipped off the dais and went out through the side door. As he took the path up the slope, he caught sight of a large white van parked by the outer wall of the temple compound, and next to it a blue Mercedes limousine. Three men were standing around chatting and smoking.

By the time he was back in his hut he was so agitated he could hardly sit down. A couple of exchanged glances with a beautiful woman was all it had taken to shatter the peace he had known in recent months. It was not just her beauty. There was no doubt in his mind that this was she, the very person who had been the cause of his becoming a monk in this ghost-forsaken temple near the Burmese border.

Throughout the morning, as the rain drummed down, the memories came rushing back as they had done in the first months, like a torrent breaking through a fragile sluice gate, and the images floated up like detritus freed from the slimy bottom of a dark canal.


So few young people are ordained these days. Either you’ve the makings of a saint or you’ve done something bad. Or both. Anyway, karma has brought you here . . .’ These were the abbot’s words of admonition to Sumon and the others who had been ordained with him that afternoon. In his talk the abbot kept emphasizing that karma meant action and its consequences. It was not, as was popularly believed, fate or destiny preordained by some external force. He said that karma from their former lives would return to them in their meditations, in dreams, in hallucinations, and that the proper way to cleanse their past was through prayer, meditation and study.

Phra Sumon, as he was now called after his ordination, did not catch the finer points but he could not deny that the abbot was correct in pointing out that these visitations were there as a result of their own actions, no one else’s. At least this was true in his case.


You stupid fucker! You may be lucky. But I’m a dead man.’ These were Pi Pok’s last words to him, crackling over the mobile as he and Ai Kay, Pi Pok’s brother, raced through Pattaya, looking for a way out of the mess that he, Sumon, had created for the three of them. Four days later he had arrived at the temple and asked to be ordained. Going there had been a snap decision. He had heard of the place from a fellow soldier and somehow it had stuck in his mind. He could think of nowhere else to hide.


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