“There he is,” shouted disciple Ah Lian, as Abba Ah Beng walked wearily through the Sow-lin Monastery gate. “Abba, how was your journey?” Abba Ah Beng smiled lovingly as his excited disciples clustered around him, shouting and dancing with joy at his return. “You have been away for six whole months!” exclaimed disciple Ah Kow who was jumping energetically. “Yes, tell us what you saw,” inquired exchange disciple Iskandar. “What did you bring me?” asked disciple Ah Lek eagerly.
Abba Ah Beng lowered himself onto his favourite stool underneath the Frangipani tree. The tree was in bloom and the fragrance of the flowers embraced them like a warm comforter on a cold winter’s night. The Abba looked frail and exhausted. His winkles seem to have deepened with age in the past six months he had been away and his eyes have a haunted look which his disciples had not seen before.
“Thank you,” Abba Ah Beng said as he accepted a cup of cool water from the spring in the back gardens. “It is good to see you again, my beloved disciples.” Abba Ah Beng has a distinctive way of speaking that comes from reading too much of the King James Bible in its first edition.
“As you know I have been on a long quest to seek the famous City of the Word. I have tracked the foothills of the Himalayas and braved the jungles of Sarawak to track down this elusive city. After many adventures, hardships and dangers, I finally found the fabled city. It lay in the East from which much wisdom has been arisen.
“It was a bright cool morning when I finally entered the city gates. There was a cool breeze and the sky was bright blue. In the background, I can hear the beautiful singing of the thorn birds. The people of the city came out to greet me. They are extremely friendly and gracious. I was welcomed with food and drinks and a place of rest. The people are happy and they have a peaceful look on their faces. However I noticed that all the adults have only their left eyes and their left hands. I also noticed that they all discretely gazed at my right eye and right hand.
“ ‘Is this the City of the Word where the people are blessed by their obedience to the Scriptures?’ I asked them. ‘Oh, yes,’ they replied happily, ‘we are that city and in our obedience to Scripture, we are not longer cursed by evil. We are happy and God has blessed us abundantly.’ ‘Then what happened to your right eyes and right hands?’ I asked the Chief Priest who was among the first to welcome me. ‘Don’t you know, Abba?’ answered the man in surprised.
The Chief Priest then led me to their temple which was built in the exact centre of the city over a river which flowed through the city. The people were following us and soon it became a big procession. There was a hush as we entered the temple. Ahead at the front of the temple on the altar was an opened Scripture. The Chief Priest led me to the open book and asked me to read. I read, ‘And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.’
Then I understood. ‘You plucked out your right eyes and cut off your right hands yourself!’ ‘Yes,’ answered the Chief Priest proudly, ‘All of us are now safe from evil except for the children who are too young to know better. What about you, Abba? Will you like to save your soul from hell by the way the Scripture taught?’
“I told them that I would like to pray and meditate before my commitment to that course of action as the sky was darkening towards evening. After a simple meal, they directed me to a simple cell which is to be my lodging for the night. I waited for them to fall asleep, then crept out of the cell through the window, climbed over the city wall and ran as fast and as far as I can from this City of the Word. I am so happy to finally see the walls of the monastery and your faces,” concluded Abba Ah Beng. There was silence after that as the young disciples tried to understand the horror of what they have heard.
“I thought that the City of the Word is a holy city and the people who lived there are blessed,” mused disciple Ah Kow.
“Yes,” said Abba Ah Beng wearily, “the City of the Word is a holy and blessed city. But you see, I went to the wrong city!”
“I went to the City of the Literal Word.”