Abbot Yangxin was playing minesweeper on his new Hewlett Packard Pentium 3 desktop when I went to went to see him. It was a month before my eighteenth birthday, and I was there to manipulate him one final time. Seeing his bulky CRT monitor scuffing up the Shaolin Abbot’s five hundred year old carved oak desk reminded me why I was there. This was no longer a spiritual place.
He looked up for just a moment, then spoke to me in English. “John! Look at this. Only five squares left.”
After our meeting in the limousine two years ago, we’d begun having weekly chats to improve his language skills. I took my chair and wheeled it around his desk to view the screen. He was playing on Expert mode, clearing a field almost as big as his monitor’s screen.
“You need some new games,” I told him. “This is the least interesting thing I have ever seen you doing.”
He paused to analyze my grammar, then said, slowly, “Perhaps you can get me a new game when you next go to America.”
“I saw a new Star Wars game a magazine cover. Jedi Knight 2, I think it was called. Make sure there’s an extra $50 in my travel fund and I’ll get you a copy. Hey, when’s my next trip?”
The dial-up modem in his computer screeched its familiar pattern of tones as it struggled to connect him to the internet. He typed in a URL and looked up at me while the page loaded.
“You have an”—he switched to Mandarin here—“exhibition in Boston Garden two months from now. It’s the only venue open on the east coast.”
“What about the west coast? I haven’t been to Seattle in two years.”
He tapped a thoughtful finger to his lips, then typed in another URL. Agonizing minutes passed as we watched an image of the Seattle Center load, pixel by pixel.
“The Mercer center has an opening next month. I will send them an e-mail and get back to you.”
A month later, I found myself in the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, leading my troupe of orange-robed Shaolin fighting monks to the bus stop. The walk through the airport felt familiar; it was just like my first trip to Seattle, only this time, I was in charge.
Bao held back while the rest of our brothers boarded the bus to Seattle. “When should we go? After the… play?”
Like Abbot Yangxin, Bao had been practicing his English.
“Exhibition,” I corrected, speaking clearly and slowly so he could understand. “Just act normal. Like every other trip we have made. Only this time, when we bring our brothers back to the airport, we will not get on the plane.”
“OK,” he agreed.
After I checked my brothers into the hotel, I went down to the laundry room and stole a pair of blue jeans and a Metallica tee shirt from one of the dryers. The jeans were too big for me, and still a little wet, but I was running late for the scariest meeting of my life.
I slipped out a back entrance in the laundry room and caught a taxi to Pagliacci’s Pizza. It was 6:05 pm.
Anya was waiting for me in a booth in the back. She was fiddling with a pile of torn up paper plastic straw wrappers. There were four straws in her empty cup.
“Been here long?” I asked, sliding into the booth across from her.
She was a few inches taller and thinner than I remembered. Her hair was shorter, straightened for the occasion, and framed her face in the style of Rachel from Friends. There was a book on the table next to her: A Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin. The spine was creased all the way through.
“An hour,” she said with a playful smile. “I was afraid you would screw up the time zones again.”
She pushed the book across the table. Her smile widened when she noticed my shirt. “They have Metallica in China?”
“What? Oh. No. I’m borrowing it. From a friend.”
A waiter came to our table then, a tall, blonde haired man in a black shirt and a white apron. “Are you ready to order now?”
Anya studied me for a long moment before nodding to herself. “We’ll take two large pepperoni pizzas to go.”
“To go?” he said, sounding surprised. “Okay, that’ll be 10 minutes.” He eyed the empty cups on her table. “Can I get you another drink?”
“A two liter diet coke. Actually, make it two.”
When he was gone, I said, “To go?”
She smiled at me. “Yeah. I changed my mind. Let’s take them back to my place. My dad just bought me a DVD player and I have a copy of The Matrix and Fellowship of the Ring. You need to watch them like, right now.”
“Fellowship of the Ring?”
“Tolkien,” she said, as if that would explain everything. “The Two Towers is in theatres now, but we have to catch you up first. Come on, I have the extended director’s cut version. If we start now, we might finish by tomorrow morning.”
I had no idea what she was talking about, but I didn’t care. I was up for whatever she wanted to do, and my final show didn’t start until tomorrow afternoon.
The Matrix, it turned out, was the best Kung Fu movie I had ever seen. When it was over, Anya asked me if I could do any of the stunts Neo had done. I told her about my first cage fight, and my street performances with Bao.
“You could be him, you know,” she told me later that night.
“Keanu Reeves. You’re a white martial arts master,” she said, snuggling into my shoulder. “And you’re really pretty. You could be an actor. You should be an actor.”
“Like David Carradine and Bruce Lee,” I whispered. And I knew it was my destiny.