Even if I had wanted to talk, I couldn't. My mouth, my nose, my eyes were swollen shut. I soon learned it was better to be kicked than hit, but the times they hoisted me into the air were the worst. My wrists and shoulders hurt so badly that I wished they would kill me instead of continuing the torture. But I knew if they did I would be reborn with the same sins in front of me. It was better to suffer and hope for a higher rebirth.
After a while I no longer felt anxiety when I heard the steps on the walk, no longer cared what they did. At times I saw my body lying on the floor, but my spirit was somewhere else.
In the moments I was able to think, I thought of the terrible karma I must have had in a previous life to be beaten like that, and prayed that the pain I was feeling would eliminate all sins that had been built up. I prayed to the Three Jewels. Guide me. Om Mani Peme Hum. After a month, the Chinese released all the women, children, and old people. "You are free to go where you want," the soldiers said. Each person was given a permit to return to their home town if they wished. The others of us who were "guilty of crimes" were detained.
Two days later, those remaining were summoned to a meeting, several hundred o fus, but I was the only woman. Once again, the four star officer stood on a platform I front of us. He told us were were being taken to Chamdo and must do what the soldiers told us to do.
"Sit when we say sit. Walk when you're told to walk. Eat when we give you food. If you try to escape you'll be shot."
We were tied hand to hand like a flock of sheep and made to line up into a straight line, one behind the other. Soldiers behind, soldiers in front, and soldiers on each side. I was somewhere near the end. We began to walk.
"Face front," we were ordered. "Stand still!" But the ropes between us threw us off balance. Our shuffling angered the soldiers. They prodded us wit the ends of their rifles. "Move!"
As we began to walk through the gate, I saw my mother standing on the side of the road. Ani Rigzin and Granny were standing a few feet behind her. Seeing them, I felt saddened, for the last few months had taken a toll. They looked like three beggars wanting food. Their hair was disheveled, their chupas torn. Mama's face was lined with dirt. Granny leaned on Ani Rigzin, barely able to stand.
"Mama." The word rose in my throat, but disappeared before I spoke it out loud. Why are you still here? I wondered. Why haven't you started for home?
When she saw me, Mama ran toward me. "Stay away!" I whispered frantically. But she kept coming. She reached a soldier in front, and he put up his rifle to stop her. "Please," she begged, grasping at the soldier's arm. "Please don't take my daughter away.if you take her away we will die of starvation."
Ani Rigzin and Granny came after her. They were also crying. "If you take her, take us too," Ani Rigzin cried. Take us to prison with her, we're no good if she leaves." The solder shoved them back with his rifle.
I tried to reach for a soldier who was walking at my side. "Please, please, let me speak to them. I will tell them to leave. They are old, they don't understand." But the soldier walked ahead as if he hadn't heard me, perhaps because I couldn't speak Chinese.
Once more Mama reached for the soldier's arm. He turned and struck her down. As we started walking away up the road, I heard her calling, "Ashe, Ashe." I turned to look. The soldier struck, then kicked her. Ani Rigzin fell on his back trying to pull him off.
When we were almost out of sight, I looked one last time. Mama and Ani Rigzin were standing. Granny had fallen in the road. As we rounded a bend in the road, I could still hear them calling to me.
It took us three days to walk to Lhodzong. They were the only thing on my mind, all through the walk. Wherever I looked, they were in front of me.
Reprinted with permission from Kodansha America.