Another couple of weeks passed without incident. In the month that Brig had worked with the Buddha, he had more than doubled his number of baptisms. The Buddha was setting a torrid pace and breaking the mission’s long-standing baptismal record seemed likely. Brig questioned the sincerity of some supplicants, but nobody else seemed concerned. He enjoyed being able to tell his father of his success, leaving out that most of his success was because of his companion.
Buddha now had less than two months left on his mission, and his behavior began to reflect that. Most days he and Brig slept until 9 a.m. Although Buddha had provided no one-on-one counseling to any young girls recently, he and Brig often traveled out of their territory to visit past baptisms, members, and an assortment of old friends on “The Laughing Buddha Goodbye Tour.” Brig questioned the need for a “goodbye tour” for a missionary that wasn’t leaving Hong Kong, and in classic Buddhist simplicity Danny responded, “because it’s fun!” Brig had to admit the Buddha made missionary work fun, but there was another side of Brig that still wanted to do his mission right. He wanted to be a great missionary, a great leader, like his father, grandfather, and all the Brigham Youngs that had served before him. One evening, as they returned to their apartment after a long day of visits, Brig confronted Buddha and advised him that he wouldn’t leave their district again without the explicit permission of the President.
“No problem!” Buddha replied.
The next morning Brig awoke to find that Danny had left the apartment without him. He couldn’t call or message Buddha as President Woodley didn’t allow missionaries to carry cell phones. Unlike other areas of the world, Hong Kong was considered a safe place to serve a mission, and cell phones would only be a distraction. Brig’s conscience told him to call the mission home and inform the President, or one of his assistants, that Elder Wong was missing. But Brig’s loyalty to Buddha had become strong. He felt terrible for giving Danny an ultimatum, forcing him to go out on his own. Brig spent an uncomfortable day in the apartment, worried about his friend, but made good progress on his character recognition.
The Buddha returned to the apartment just before 6 p.m, dinner time, and was surprised to find an apologetic Brig.
“Dude, it’s all right. Don’t worry about it. I understand. You don’t want to get in trouble, and I don’t want to get you in trouble, but I have things I need to do. I have fewer weeks than you have months! I need to prepare for real life.”
Brig wanted to ask Danny why he couldn’t wait until after his mission but thought that might taint the sincerity of his apology. Brig bit his tongue and swore to Buddha that for the rest of their time together, he would do whatever the Buddha wanted. “Ride or die, Brother!” Brig yelled.
“Ride or die?” the Buddha repeated, not understanding the American colloquialism. Brig tried to explain by directly translating the phrase into Chinese, but that only made things more confusing. Then he paraphrased, “It’s simple…it means that I’m with you no matter what happens, even if it means that we are going to die.”
“Why would we die Elder?” the Buddha asked slowly, with a frightened, nervous look on his face.
“No, no, no. We don’t actually, die…” Brig stammered, trying harder to make himself understood.
“I’m kidding. I understand what you’re saying, and it means a lot. You’re a good missionary, but you’re an even better friend. That’s more important.”
“Stop it Elder! You’ll make me cry,” Brig said sarcastically, in a high-pitched, effeminate voice.
The Buddha smiled and walked towards the bedroom.
“Where are you going now?” Brig inquired.
“I’ll be right back. Grab two glasses from the kitchen.”
Brig did as asked, retrieving a pair of plastic cups from the cupboard. The apartment didn’t have any actual glasses in the apartment, only plastic cups as they were cheaper, safer, and harder to break. He also pulled a large bottle of Sprite from the refrigerator, assuming that the Buddha was thirsty and wanted something to drink.
Placing the bottle of Sprite and the two cups on the table, Brig sat down. He was getting hungry, and it was the Buddha’s turn to fix dinner. “What’s for dinner? I’m getting hungry.” It was always the Buddha’s turn to fix dinner. He was an excellent cook, and he enjoyed it. Brig, on the other hand, despised cooking and was only too happy to accept the Buddha’s offer to cook all of their meals. It was Brig’s job to wash the dishes and clean up.
“I thought we would go out for dinner tonight. My treat!” the Buddha emerged from the bedroom, carrying a small brightly colored box.
“A present for me? You shouldn’t have!” Brig exclaimed, but still, the Buddha didn’t laugh. He smiled. That same contemplative, controlled smile he had been wearing since returning from wherever he had been today. Danny walked to the table and placed the box down.
“Why so serious?” Brig asked.
“Did you mean what you said?”
“Yeah! I’m really hungry!” Brig joked. He knew what the Buddha was asking but was apprehensive at the change in Buddha’s demeanor and was trying to lighten the mood. The Buddha sighed and remained silent. The smile left his face as he looked away from Brig and stared out the window.
“Elder? What’s up? You’re making me nervous. I’ve never seen you like this. Did something happen today?”
“Prophet, I take friendship…real friendship, very seriously. I honor and respect loyalty above all else,” the Buddha said solemnly. Brig sat back in his chair, wary, waiting for the punchline. “I was born in China, just across the Hong Kong border in Shenzhen. As you know, China has a one-child policy, and my birth mother and father already had a son. They couldn’t afford another child, so they did what many Chinese parents had to do, and sold me on the black market.” The Buddha reached across the table for the box he had brought into the room, pulling it and the cups closer to him. Brig didn’t recognize many of the Chinese characters on the box, but two jumped out at him. The characters “White,” and “Wine.”
“They sold me to a man who brought me here to Hong Kong. I was fortunate. The man that bought me turned out to be more like an uncle than an owner. This isn’t always the case. Many children are killed or forced to do things no child should experience. He wasn’t always kind. In fact, sometimes he was brutal and I hated him. But he was always fair, and he taught me the importance of loyalty.”
As he was talking, the Buddha pulled a red, white, and blue porcelain bottle out of the box. It reminded Brig of the Pepsi brand, and the American flag, something seen on America’s fourth of July, not something from China. From his pocket, the Buddha withdrew a corkscrew and inserted it into the cork of the bottle.
“When you arrived, I hoped that we would become friends, but I wasn’t sure I could trust you…until today. When I went out by myself this morning, I expected you to call the mission home, to tell them that I was breaking the rules and that I had disappeared. But you didn’t.”
The cork came out with a pop, and the Buddha poured a clear liquid that looked more like water than wine into the plastic cups. Setting the bottle to the side, the Buddha continued.
“I thought for sure you would tell them about my meeting with that sister in the park the other day. You were pretty mad and my explanation didn’t fully convince you. But you didn’t.”
The Buddha placed one of the cups in front of himself, and the other in front of Brig.“There is a lot you could’ve told them about me. Some of my other companions did. But not you.” Buddha paused and seemed to choose his next words carefully. “So, when you say ‘Ride or die,’ I think I understand. Or perhaps I am taking what you said too seriously. After all, it is your saying.” Buddha then picked his cup up, and motioned for Brig to do the same. “We can joke, and laugh, and be friends for another month…and then go our separate ways. Or… we can be brothers, for life.” The Buddha raised his glass and looked directly into Brig’s eyes. “Ride or Die?”