Shannon O’Connor

Buddha in the Basement

I sat in my room in the locked ward on the second floor, and peered at the Asian man with the belly outside the door. I was convinced he was Buddha, and he was sent there to explain to me the secrets of the Universe. I didn’t think I could talk to him, because he didn’t speak much English, but I tried to listen to what he said when he talked on the phone in his language. He yelled into the phone, and I stood near him, trying to comprehend what he was telling the person on the other end about the right way to live.

I didn’t know how I got to this place. I appeared here, and I knew that something terrible was going to happen to the world if I didn’t help stop it. It was up to me.

I followed Buddha from the pay phone to the day hall, and sat near him as he stared at the TV. I touched my elbow to his because I knew that was how aliens had babies. I thought we might both be aliens, and we needed to start the world again.

I wanted him to tell me things.

“What do you know?” I said to him.

“What you mean?” he said.

“What do you know about the Universe?”

“I know we have to be good to get to heaven,” he said.

“Do you mean Nirvana? Like Kurt Cobain?”

“I don’t know him,” he said. “Please leave.”

I thought he didn’t want to tell me because people were around. We couldn’t let anyone hear him tell me what the destiny of humanity was going to be.

I sat in my room the next night talking to one of the workers.

“I know everyone here,” I said. “That woman is my mother because she smokes the same cigarettes. The Asian man is Buddha, and he is going to tell me how to save the world.”

“That man is South Korean,” she said. “He’s not Buddha.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

I knew she was lying. I was going to find out the secrets of Nirvana from Buddha in the hospital. And she couldn’t stop me.

Buddha left, and I had my yin and yang necklace to remember him. I didn’t know where he went. I didn’t think he went to South Korea or Tibet. I heard he lived in Watertown, but I knew he had magic in his head.

The string broke on my necklace, and I gave the charm to one of the other patients as an offering. He was a young boy, with red hair, and he had the same name as a devil I went to high school with. He put the charm on a string around his neck.

I saw him kissing a girl with braces behind the trees. Nobody was supposed to do that; it was called PC, physical contact. We weren’t supposed to touch each other. I asked the boy if he was a carpenter, but he said he made bongs. I didn’t want to run away with a boy who made bongs, so it was okay he was kissing the girl with braces. I didn’t want to be involved with a dangerous boy. Buddha would tell me the truth.

Buddha would be in the basement when I got home, and he would take me somewhere everyone was good and at peace with the world, and did not do drugs, and did not break rules, even though rules are meant to be broken, I didn’t think rules that are meant to help us should be broken. I didn’t want to be in the hospital anymore, I wanted quiet and silence and fresh food in my belly. I would get what I wanted soon.

Years passed. I did not think of Buddha in the hospital, or the strange things that happened there for a long time. I found myself working at a coffee shop, and I made lattes, and hot chocolates, and I pretended that I was a person who had never thought she was in touch with God, or that she would save the world.

A woman came up to me while I stood at the espresso bar making drinks.

“Do you have a drink called the Baby Buddha?” she said.

“No, we don’t,” I said.

“I thought I heard one of you call out Baby Buddha.”

“That’s strange,” I said. “We do have a sandwich called Bacon Gouda. Maybe that’s what you heard.”

She laughed. “Maybe Buddha is calling me.”

I laughed, too. “Maybe we should have a drink called Baby Buddha, and you could drink it with the Bacon Gouda and become enlightened.”

“That’s a great idea!” she said.

When she left the store, I told my coworker what happened.

“That’s the strangest thing I’ve ever heard,” she said. “Bacon Gouda is not Baby Buddha.”

“Maybe she’s just crazy,” I said.

“Maybe we’re all crazy,” she said, continuing to wipe the counter.

I thought about the fact that we might all be crazy. I never told anyone about my past, and Buddha in the basement. I decided I would eat a Bacon Gouda sandwich on my break and see how I felt. Buddha might come to me again, and tell me the truth.

I didn’t think that would happen, but I was going to eat the sandwich because I was hungry, and I wanted something disgusting and fattening in my stomach to make me think of the mistakes I made, and have yet to make. Buddha could help, but he’s busy doing other things, like gardening, and putting his bottles in the recycling bin. I should do those things, too, but I don’t have time for a normal life. I am searching for the Baby Buddha eating the Bacon Gouda.

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About the Author

Shannon O’Connor holds an MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. She has been published previously in Wordgathering, as well as Oddball Magazine, The Wilderness House Literary Review, 365 Tomorrows, and others. She lives in the Boston area, and has done time behind an espresso bar at a coffee shop. She can be found at her blog: