Brig was pleasantly surprised when he arrived at his new home. It was a tiny apartment, but only he and the Buddha would be its occupants. The entryway, which was also the living room, which was also the dining room, accommodated a love seat and a small dining table that sat next to a window. The bedroom contained a bunk bed, a closet, a desk, and a chest of drawers. The kitchen was compact with plates, bowls and silverware in economical cupboards and drawers, a gas stove, a miniature Samsung refrigerator and a 2-in-1 washing machine/dryer stuffed strategically into the corner. The tiled washroom was one-fourth the size of Brig’s closet in his Utah home, with only a shower head that hung over a mirror, a toilet, and a metal shelf that supported a toothbrush, some toothpaste, and a razor.
The first week of their companionship was uneventful, as the Prophet followed the Buddha around from appointment to appointment. They did very little prospecting as the Buddha had a surprising (at least to Brig) number of people that were taking lessons and preparing for baptism. The teaching appointments were a lot less formal than the ones that Brig had participated in with his first two companions, and he questioned whether or not they were adequately covering the topics. Ultimately, he left the conversions to Danny.
Danny was impressed by Brig’s language skills. After only six months in Hong Kong, Brig was already able to carry on a conversation. Danny, on the other hand, only spoke English when it made someone laugh, and even then, it was just a word or a short phrase. Danny claimed he had never learned English, and didn’t want to, unlike many of the other native missionaries who seemed to treat their mission as a free English class. The Buddha was a proud Chinese man, often teasing Brig about being an “ugly American.” As Brig became more comfortable in their friendship, he would crack wise about Danny being born to serve. It was Brig’s burden, even his responsibility, to help the Buddha and his Chinese brethren achieve a higher degree of civility, intelligence, and all around awesomeness through him.
It wasn’t until week two of their companionship that red flags started going up and Brig became uncomfortable with some of the Buddha’s activities. One evening Danny explained that they needed to travel to Sha Tin to meet one of the members he had baptized a few months ago. Danny explained that the sister was now questioning her decision to become a member and needed the Buddha’s reassurance that she had done the right thing.
Unless approved by the President, missionaries were forbidden to leave their proselytizing area. Brig’s and Danny’s area was Yuen Long, and Sha Tin was well out of their territory. But Brig was a savvy and experienced enough missionary to realize that some of the rules didn’t apply to the native missionaries, especially those short-timers like Danny. Besides, he was the junior companion and could claim that he was following orders.
They took a bus and several transfers, finally disembarking at a public park called Ma On Shan. It was one of the hundreds of parks in the city that inexplicably grew out of the concrete like a weed. It was a comfortable evening, and young lovers, unable to find privacy in the small apartments that they shared with their parents, took refuge in the park. While not necessarily private, the chances of getting to first base were much higher in the park than in the living room with your family as they gathered around the television to watch the latest Korean soap opera.
They arrived at an area of the park where the designers had built a small “adventure maze” that looked like a crop circle. One amorous man was using photography as foreplay, and his “subject” was taking it very seriously. Brig wasn’t a photographer himself, but the lens on this guy’s camera seemed unnecessarily long. “Overcompensating for anything?” he joked, cracking Buddha up.
The photographer barked directions to the girl, “Move your shoulder back.” (click) “Tilt your head a little to the right.”(click) “good, good, now look right into the camera and purse your lips. No. No. Like a kiss.”(click) “Oh, these are going to turn out wonderful!”
Danny pointed to a bench and instructed Brig to take a seat and wait for him.
“Wait for you? Where are you going?”
“I’ll be right back. Give me fifteen minutes.”
“Seriously? You know as well as I do we’re not supposed to leave each other. If a member saw us and reported it back to the President, I’ll be sent home.”
“First, you’re not going to be sent home for being away from your companion for fifteen minutes. Second, I’m just going to be over there.” the Buddha tipped his head to an area of the park, that was dense with trees. Brig saw a young woman sitting on an identical bench thirty meters away. The girl waved her hand at them.
“Why don’t I just go with you?” Brig suggested.
“She has some things that she’s embarrassed to talk about with anyone but me. She doesn’t know you.”
“This isn’t right.”
“Relax and have a seat Elder. If you’re good, I’ll buy you an ice cream afterward.” The Buddha laughed, and Brig couldn’t help but laugh with him. He resigned himself to the bench as the Buddha wandered over to the girl.
Brig took out a stack of flashcards that had Chinese characters printed on the front and the meaning of the character written on the back. Most missionaries didn’t start studying Chinese characters until their second year, if they ever did, but Brig was picking up the language faster than most. It wasn’t mandatory for missionaries to learn how to write or recognize Chinese characters. In fact, President Woodley forbade it unless the missionary had displayed a high level of competence in understanding and speaking Cantonese. After six months, Brig was one the quickest to have been permitted to study characters and was determined to be the fastest ever to pass the 2000 character recognition test.
Brig shuffled through his set of fifty flashcards that he had carried with him. He looked up to make sure that the Buddha was still within line of sight. Danny sat down next to the girl laughing and smiling as she spoke. Brig rated the girl a conservative seven. But he was too far away to give a proper score. She had a friendly smile and was clearly at ease with Elder Wong. Then she did something that made Brig sit up and pay close attention. She placed her hand on the Buddha’s thigh. For a missionary, this was inappropriate behavior, and Elder Wong knew it. The Buddha looked over at Brig and smiled, and without taking his eyes off of Brig, placed his hand over the girl’s. The girl looked over at Brig as well, and together she and Buddha stood up. The girl was wearing a pair of shorts, which in certain circles might be considered a thong. While the shorts boosted the girl’s score to a solid eight, the Buddha was putting Brig in an incredibly awkward position.
Brig became flustered thinking that they were walking towards him. He wasn’t prepared to confront his senior companion and District Leader, let alone a new member! But Buddha and the girl were walking away from him, deeper into the garden.
Brig stood up as he lost sight of the two. He considered chasing after them, but his relatively new friendship with Danny overrode his sense of responsibility of protecting Buddha from himself. Brig sat back down and tried to concentrate on his flashcards, but his mind wandered. Was the Buddha doing what Brig thought he was doing? What was Brig supposed to do or say? How much trouble would he be in if President Woodley found out that Brig knew what Danny was doing? Why would Buddha risk his reputation and jeopardize his place in heaven for a roll in the dirt with a newly baptized sister? A sister that was an eight, maybe a nine, but an unacceptable bargain nonetheless.
Twenty minutes later, the Buddha emerged from the trees wearing his trademark smile. The girl was nowhere to be seen. Buddha tucked his shirt into his pants as he approached. “Ready to go Elder?”
Brig was dumbfounded, finding it impossible to comprehend the Buddha’s disregard.
“What?” Buddha chuckled.
“Are you kidding me? You’re a missionary! A representative of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints! What are you thinking?”
“What’s the problem? I just helped a new member of the church recommit to the promises she made to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I can’t share the details with you. I promised her I wouldn’t say anything, to anybody, but she’s in an abusive situation
Parents reprimanding their children, even their adult children, for being baptized into the Mormon Church was not uncommon. But an adult physically abusing a child was something more serious, and Brig tempered his righteous anger.
“Honestly?” Brig was skeptical, but this new information shook him.
“That’s what she told me, and I believe her. She has the bruises to back her story up.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“Good question. For now, nothing. I told her that we should go to the police, or at least find her somewhere else to live. But it’s complicated, and she probably won’t.”
“Why is your zipper down?”
The Buddha looked down to see that Brig was right; the fly to his pants was wide open and a small dark spot stained the front of his pants. Unembarrassed, the Buddha laughed and zipped himself back up. “Had to take a leak,” he explained.