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The apartment door opened and a small Asian woman in her thirties with a big smile appeared in the gap from which the strange smell of incense oozed.

You looking Master?” she asked and, without waiting for an answer, shoved the boy inside and disappeared behind a curtain into a room to the right.

He stared into the darkness, filled with the fragmented mist of many incense sticks glooming like red dwarf stars in the blackness. The long, narrow corridor extended ahead of him towards the gap in the door. A white, glistening light shone from the gap, partially illuminating the passageway. The narrow corridor was crammed with piles of magazines, books, canvasses; both painted and virgin; and old movie posters on both sides, reaching almost to the top of the room. Cloth in vibrant colors with mysterious, inscrutable embroidered patterns hung like an ethereal baldachin from the ceiling.

Summoning all his courage, he took a few cautious, small steps into the hallway, suddenly tripping over a bowl of cat food on the ground. He tried to catch his fall by holding onto a column of magazines which began to sway dangerously, spewing out numerous copies of the Tattoo Artist Magazine. They came cascading down onto his head like a swarm of vicious bats attacking prey in the middle of the dark night. He covered his head with his arms, crouched down and waited for the assault to be over. When he opened his eyes again he was inside a gigantic living vortex that stretched towards an infinite point of bright white light. Suddenly a cat appeared from behind, running hastily between his legs along the mystical tunnel, dissolving in the radiant gleam of another world. Carefully, so as not to cause another destabilization in the vortex, he made his way to the door at the end of the corridor and pushed it open.

The bright light from the kitchen blinded him. When his eyes finally acclimated, he discovered, sitting on a chair, the bare-chested back of a over and over tattooed, sturdy man with the head of a jaguar. The man turned towards him, holding a two-coil tattoo gun in his gloved right hand while his left pointed to an empty chair at the end of the table.

Sit down, kid,” the said in a deep gnarling voice.

Almost in a state of shock, the boy sat down. At the same time, he discovered the plump shirtless body of a rough looking man with a doughy, unshaven and ashen face slumped on a kitchen chair whose massive ass seemed to be in the process of slowly devouring it like a gargantuan blob. The master was applying the finishing shading touches on one of two big skulls which were tattooed on the wobbly white hairless chest of the man who had spent his last twelve years for the armed robbery of a post office in the State Correctional Institution in Mahanoy, the same prison where Mumia Abu Jamal will be jailed for the rest of his life after in 2011 the prosecutors agreed to no longer seek the death penalty for him. The right skull, inked in crude thick lines, faced a very intricate, almost holographic looking one, which resembled one of the famous pre-Columbian crystal skulls emanating an eerie reddish glow of freshly irritated skin like a halo. The boy watched silently, staring at the Jaguar who, despite his pumped up muscular body and crude paw like hands, moved the ink gun like a surgeon would guide his scalpels and tools.

Life! Now we got life!” the Jaguar exclaimed, throwing up his arms in the air, jumping from his chair and dancing around the fat bald guy in the chair who put on a satisfied grin. “Magic is bestowed upon thou!” he shouted. “Now rise! Rise and embrace immortality. Reborn son thou shalt now return to life!”

With considerable effort the man stood up from his chair, aided by the master, and stood like a mountain in the center of the kitchen. He sent a silent nod of thanks to the Jaguar before slowly dragging his massive body towards the door and disappearing into the vortex. Silence befell the kitchen. The only sound the boy could make out was the loud beating of his heart pounding in his ears. He watched for an eternity the Jaguar with his mighty head moving slowly and gently from left to right and back with his eyes closed like he was staring into an absurd vision of infinity. Finally the master’s eyes opened and he turned towards the boy.

What is it you have come to look for?” his voice roared in a dark growl.

The boy hesitated, lost for words. Finally he mumbled, “I have come here to get a tattoo.”

The master did not reply. He was taking apart the tattoo gun, cleaning it, throwing away the used needles, finally taking off the white plastic surgeon gloves he had been wearing, stained with dark ink splatters, and dumping them in a bin on the ground.

Who sent you?” he asked the boy without facing him.

Nobody,” the boy said and added, “I have heard in school that you are somebody who does tattoos and asked around for your address.”

“…does tattoos?” the master repeated in a slightly mocking way.

After a long silence the master turned the bright desktop lamp, which usually shone on the skin of his clients, directly towards the boy so that his face lit up like during a police investigation.

How old are you?” he asked the boy.

19.”

Get out!!!” roared the Jaguar,“Get out now!”

I am sorry, I am sorry,” the boy replied, raising his hands in a protective gesture in front of him then admitting in an almost inaudible voice, “I am 14.”

The Jaguar looked for a while at the boy, considering his answer, satisfied it was the truth.

Now that we have established that lying is certainly not the way you get a tattoo, how about some tea? I could really use one now.”

Ping!” he called out in a voice which couldn’t be sweeter. “Darling? Where are you?”

A few seconds later, the Thai woman who had opened the door for the boy came into the kitchen with a big smile on her face, seemingly relieved that the master had finished his work. She walked directly to the stove, turned it on and began heating up water.

You like tea, good mate, good, good,” she asked the boy who nodded in reply.

Ping took out of some cloth bags, which were hanging on a string in the kitchen, an assortment of dried leaves, put them in a wooden bowl and crushed them with a rounded wooden stick into a rough mixture. She transferred the contents into a strange looking gourd decorated with a sort of tribal pattern. Then she covered the opening with her palm, turned it upside-down and shook it first vigorously then more and more gently. She turned the filled gourd in which the yerba mate had settled skilfully around again to a near sideways angle and continued to move it with a gentle side to side motion. Then she added a bit of cold water to soak the tea and herb mixture before carefully placing a long, slightly bent silver straw with gilded ornaments into the gourd. She took the teapot off the stove and carried it to the table where she poured hot water into the gourd, filling it to the brim, waited until the disturbed mixture had settled down before drinking it in gentle sips through the straw.

I like!” she exclaimed, refilling the gourd with hot water and passing it on to the boy on her right who, unsure if to accept or refuse what looked to him like a witches brew, hesitated.

It’s mate´tea with her special mixture of all kind of herbs. It comes from South America,” explained the master. “Try it, you might like it.”

Encouraged by the explanation, the boy reached out for the gourd, received it with his two outstretched hands and brought it to his face where his mouth received its first taste of this indigenous brew which dated back centuries.

Wow, it’s nice!” he called out, passing back the empty gourd to the “cebador” who refilled it with hot water and offered it to the master, who emptied it with one big sip.

I am Alex,” the Jaguar said.

I am Ping,” the Thai woman added with a big smile, grabbing his massive tattooed arms and cuddling them like they were puppies, adding, “He my strong husband,” and both smiled and laughed.

The boy started to feel comfortable and relaxed in the odd atmosphere of this kitchen which was crammed with strange and mysterious objects. Old wooden shelves bent under the weight of numerous glasses and pots with unidentifiable ingredients. Garlic and onion plaits hung from the ceiling, and bags stuffed with exotic herbs emitted a pleasing scent, inundating the whole kitchen with an aura of mysticism and far away cultures.

Amidst all the strangeness, the boy spotted a cork pin board overloaded with pictures, some showing Alex and Ping holding hands on exotic beaches or sitting on a motorbike, always smiling and happy, clearly enjoying the company of each other. Paintings hung on every wall showing naked women in all positions, some of them were very taunting and sexually charged, composed with dynamic brush strokes and vibrant colours.

I am a painter,” Alex said, “but years ago I took up tattooing as I love to use the human body as a living canvas.”

That’s wonderful!” the boy exclaimed, his face lighting up. “That’s why I came to see you. I want you to make a tattoo for me, something you have designed, in many colours, I….”

Not so quick,” the master interrupted him, laughing out loud and forceful making the whole kitchen feel like it was being shaken by an earthquake

The law requires that you are 18 years old to get a tattoo, otherwise it might be considered assault on a minor and getting the cops on my ass again is definitely not something I am keen on.”

But…I really want one,” the boy begged. “I’ve wanted one for a very long time. It means so much to me. I can take the pain, I am not afraid of it.”

I can see that you are honest,” the Jaguar gave back, “but the only legal way is if your parents sign the consent form which is required by law from every client I work on.”

Immediately the boy wanted to tell him that he could bring the signed consent form the next day, but then remembered the Jaguar’s reaction when he was caught lying and his momentary enthusiasm died down and then gave in to resignation.

They will never sign something like that,” he replied with a sad face, staring in front of him at the kitchen floor.

I can’t make you a tattoo now, not until you are 18 years old, but you are always welcome to come by after school and watch when I work on my visitors.”

Not having gotten what he wanted, but knowing that it was impossible to convince Alex otherwise, the boy happily agreed and promised to come by again next week.

Steadfast, like a young tree whose roots have finally dug into fresh nourishing soil, leaping into an outburst of vitality, just about to break open the first virgin blossoms greeting the spring of his youth, the boy visited the master and his wife almost every day after and often also instead of school.

Ping introduced him to her world of culinary sorcery, unveiled for him the secrets of carefully chosen ingredients, taught him about their correct texture, composition, and the right amount, creating in front of his eyes dishes of extravagant consistency, each one a chef-d’oeuvre of its own. Dishes magically appeared in front of his eyes with smells of the orient, the Far East, or taunted his taste buds with an exotic spiciness forcing tears in his eyes and sweat on his nose. Some of her creations confused his senses, leaving them struggling to decide if a dish was sweet, sour or hot.

A big wooden spoon, aged by dousing it in countless sauces made of curry, coconuts and chilies, in nam phriks, pestos or guacamoles, in spicy fish, chicken or hot bean soups, reddened by a hearty goulash and glazed by gelatines was her magic wand, which she used now on the boy to have him taste her delicious brews and potions in all states of their creation. An explosion of flavor sent the boy’s taste buds into a jubilant euphoric state of ecstasy, something which he never dreamed of being able to experience simply with food. Whether it was through baking, boiling, braising or blanching, coddling, simmering or steaming, stewing, grilling, frying, roasting or searing or even letting the ingredients ferment by themselves in big old ceramic jars, her food was always like a hymn or blessing sung by angels sitting in the shape of small fragile porcelain figurines on the top of her kitchen shelf. Ping’s joyfulness lived in every bite. Her life force was deeply instilled in the food she loved to create, her love caressed the indescribable flavors which emanated from her dishes, permeating the kitchen, casting her magic upon everyone who was present, be it Alex, the boy or a client who had come to get a tattoo, but ended up being invited for a captivating meal.

The boy adopted the habit of rushing to the door the moment he heard the doorbell chime, opening it to the most interesting assortment of characters he had ever seen, individuals who usually vanish under a uniform mass of dimwit faces proclaiming normalcy, while pretending to embody the entire nation, but are nothing more than the vulgar death masks of a rotten society in its last phase of decomposition.

It’s about a society in free fall. On the way down, it keeps telling itself, ‘So far so good, so far so good.’ But it’s not how you fall that matters. It’s the landing.” Those few words which he had picked up in a French movie he had watched one evening with Alex and Ping became his mantra, swirling constantly around inside his head. “So far so good, so far so good,” he reassured himself, trying to keep calm. Often he opened the door to men, rarely women, who voluntarily or not, had dropped off the cliff of society, who no longer showed any interest in being part of the rat race, chasing after dead presidents on paper, accumulating in their bank accounts large numbers with a lot of zeros or trying to buy sumptuous houses featuring more bedrooms than occupants. There were those who avoided the law like vampires who are shy of the day, those who depended on their daily drug stimulation to be able to cope and those who were just released from months, sometimes years in prisons where they received the most astonishing body inks, often made by themselves or other inmates. Prostitutes, writers, artists, lovers in pairs, requesting heart motifs with the name of their beloved one woven into it, and even occasionally a sailor from a faraway harbor washed up in front of the tiny apartment and added another piece to their inked body suit.

Soon it became routine for the boy to welcome even the strangest visitors into the master’s lair, guiding them to the kitchen, where silence was essential to avoid taunting the dragon whose calm breathing was accompanied by an eerie, highly addictive piercing tone of swift precisely moving needles betrothing beauty to pain. A small table had been set aside for humble admirers, new devotees or already hard core addicts of body art to receive basic instructions in a muffled voice by the boy who did a much better job than Ping, whose command of language, was at the most, a bizarre uncommunicable form of Thai intermingled with a few English-sounding words that seemed almost torn out randomly of an encyclopaedia.

After establishing the basics with the clients, informing them about general rules, hourly rates, and the waiting time which was never less than a few months, he passed them a big binder with hundreds of photographs of tattoo art work of the master which Ping had arranged. It was sorted by motifs and decorated with tiny colorful stickers, something which Alex only commented on by raising his eyebrows, forcing a pressed smile and wiggling his head from side to side. The boy wrote down all the details of the clients’ wishes into a small notebook, marked the desired spot and size of the design on a photocopied silhouette of a human figure before calling Ping to arrange a date for paid consultation with the master, usually set an hour before Alex started his daily tattoo work. Every design the master made was unique. While he spoke with the aspirant, learned about their life story, and asked them about their reasons to get a tattoo, he took out his scratch book and began to throw a few pencil strokes on the white paper, only glancing up briefly to catch a look in the eyes of the clients, piercing deep into their souls. During all that time, the boy sat aside motionless, his eyes transfixed, following the quick movements of the pencil whose lines began to form into shapes of dragons, skulls, roses or sometimes surreal compositions which arose directly from the depths of the combined consciousness of master and apprentice.

The most intrinsic and delicate patterns, immobile fixed on paper, yet sodden with a dynamic energy that every instant they felt like they would jump off the page and dance to the their own rhythms, formed in the masters notebook. More and more parts were added, blanks became shaded, outlines drawn over and over in countless layers of creativity…no line was ever was erased and suddenly it all came together. A design had emerged, conceived on paper when genius had paired with unbound creativity. Not once had a customer disliked the design Alex had jotted down nor asked for modifications except to beg the master to add more and more details, extend it so that it covered a wider part of their skin. After that, Ping was called in, who arranged the date for the tattoo session. The only time the boy saw Alex and Ping quarrelling was when she wanted to spend more time with her husband. The master was obsessed and would have tattooed even on weekends, had Ping not prevented it by crossing out those days with big red X’s on her calendar.

Months passed by and the boy grew very fond of Ping and Alex, becoming part of their small family and taking over household duties. He often accompanied Ping to the fruit and vegetable market with its small exotic Asia shops tucked away in side streets where they hunted for the most unusual ingredients, from yum roots to ginseng, sniffing pungent herbs and savouring their peculiar aromas, sometimes tasting a dried mushroom or taking up the challenge of a shopkeeper that her chilies are the strongest in the whole market, by biting into one and letting its vigorous spiciness overpower all senses.

The boy’s mother never reserved time to cook food, she just saw it as one of her duties which she tried to get over with as quickly and with as little effort as possible. Most meals she prepared were either microwaved or were some easy-to-fix traditional dishes like pasta, breaded pork or sometimes beef, which she cooked in boiling water until it had the consistency of an old shoe. Apart from a salt shaker and an old pepper mill, which gathered dust on the kitchen table, no spices existed in the whole house—a sharp contrast to Ping’s kitchen which was overloaded with exotic spices and herbs, bathing it in a cloud of complementary fragrances.

Weeks passed until the master asked the boy to pass him some disinfectant pads or to assist him with shaving the chest or arm of a client in preparation for the tattoo work. One day during a food shopping trip, Ping told him that Alex had asked her to buy a big piece of pork belly, which was unusual as he never made any requests concerning food and was always delighted with every dish she produced. But today he wanted her to buy a big piece of pork belly, not chopped up, but in one piece. They bought the meat at the butchers and Ping handed it to the boy, crinkling her nose in disgust. “You carry yuck pig belly,” she said and handed him the bag. Back at the apartment just as the boy was about to put away their shopping Alex, who was tattooing a client, told the boy not to put the pork in the fridge, but leave it out on the table. Ping commented, “Now he ding dong,” before disappearing into her room.

After the client had left, the boy started to clean up, a daily routine he was happy to do. He disassembled the tattoo gun, disinfected all of its parts, safely discarded the used needles and was just about to store away the electric foot pedal when Alex intervened and told him to sit down. With a splashing wobbly sound, the heavy piece of pork belly landed in front of the boy.

Take out the old tattoo gun and load it up,” he instructed. The boy hesitated, not believing his ears.

What are you waiting for?” Alex grunted. The boy jumped up, ran over to the cupboard where, after some searching, he found Alex’s first tattoo gun, carried it over to the table and assembled it. He hooked up the two electricity clamps, double checking they were poled correctly, and adjusted the foot pedal. When he held the tattoo machine for the first time in his hands he was surprised at how heavy and clumsy it felt. It took some effort to position it correctly in his small hands to allow a firm grip while still remaining flexible enough to move the needles precisely. Alex rubbed Vaseline on the pork belly and pressed a paper onto which he had drawn some easy patterns against it, carefully rubbing it so that the design was blueprinted onto the meat surface.

There you go, kid,” he said. “Start with drawing the outlines, the shading I will show you later.”

Every day from then on the boy took classes in tattooing and visited the butcher so often that he began to wonder about the strange boy who always bought a big piece of pork belly, not cut but in one piece. Even Ping began to complain, starting to run out of recipes for pork belly and often pointing to Alex’s growing belly, she sarcastically stated that he resembled more and more a “Moo”. Alex gave the boy a notepad as a gift which became his most prized possession, carrying it around with him constantly, filling it up with ideas, scraps and designs for always more and more intricate patterns and tattoo designs. The master was a very critical and harsh teacher, often scolding his work, finding even the slightest mistakes, but always supplementing his harsh comments with a lot of information so that the boy’s abilities improved significantly in just a few weeks. Impatiently the boy began to nag Alex more and more often, always asking when he finally would be allowed to tattoo a simple design into his arm, something which Alex categorically denied. “It’s not the time, kid. Not yet,” he reminded him.

It was during a boring mathematic class which dragged on and on, when the boy took out a pair of his dividers and poked it through a round ink cartridge filled with blue ink, which he had removed from his pen. His hands held the dividers like a light-weight tattoo gun. As if in a trance he pressed his forearm against the desk so that the skin lightly stretched, and sank the needle deep into his skin. He dipped the needle into the ink often and soon a small thin line began to become visible. Knowing that using these primitive tools he could only make very simple designs, he continued to poke the needle into his flesh until the number “23” became clearly visible on his forearm. As he was about to set the finishing touches, improving the upper curve on the “2”, the dividers were suddenly snatched forcefully from his hand.

Suddenly Miss Bartl, the mathematics teacher, towered over him like a death swat cyborg. She clasped the seized evidence of the alleged criminal act with one hand while her other arm extended axiomatically towards him, securing a tight wrist lock pinning his arm firmly to the desk to prevent the boy from fleeing the crime scene.

For crying out loud, what do you think you are doing, boy?” her shrill robotic voice sounding like the screeching, excruciating steel cries of brakes and wheels on an overloaded mountain freight train forced to make an emergency stop.

This will have severe consequences,” she added. She pulled him up from his chair and dragged him by his wrist like captured bounty, as she steamrolled, at high velocity, out of the classroom and towards the headmaster’s office.

The dark brown oak desk of the headmaster filled almost the entire office and was breathing heavily under its own might and weight. It had four small wooden stubs on the bottom which were the only feature which distinguished it from a plain wooden box. A rounded face, fat and bold with tiny dark dots like eyes and a nose shaped like a gavel was barely discernible from the dark surface of the desk. One arm ended in a cross held at a strange angle so that it would be appear upright, almost appearing to stand on the desk while the other arm, which pointed towards the boy, was surprisingly thin and flexible and was constantly in nervous motion.

Miss Bartl presented the pair of seized dividers and a half empty cartridge riddled with holes as evidence to the mighty desk who acknowledged the items with a grunt. She began to present her statement by pointing out that the boy had always been a troublemaker in the past, but that this act of self-mutilation during her mathematics class was such outrageous behavior it needed to be punished severely. She suddenly jerked the boy’s arm—still held in a tight, skeleton finger wrist –lock—forward where desk master’s ant eyes began crawling all over it, poring all over the freshly inked “23”, meticulously scanning every inch in every direction, causing an unpleasant tickling sensation for the boy. As the ants’ scouting expedition didn’t yield any results in regard to the meaning of the number “23”, the desk master threw Miss Bartl a stern look, making her grovel for a moment before resuming her uptight, composed posture.

Student, why did you scratch that number into your arm?”

The boy remained silent, not knowing how to answer such a stupid question.

Student, answer!” she reiterated with a voice sharp as a knife

I…I…can’t tell you…it’s a code…you wouldn’t understand,” the boy replied.

A code…a number…maybe a phone number,” the mathematics teacher hypothesized loudly before concluding that the only reasonable explanation for “23”, as for any number to be written on a body part, even in most cases only temporarily, must be that it can only be the first few digits of a telephone number important to the individual noted down not to be forgotten.

Whose phone number were you scratching onto your body, student?” her voice was like two snakes entangled around the boys arm, heads high up and charged, hissing into his face.

But…it’s…not a phone number,” the boy said. “It’s a code.”

A code? What code?” the teacher continued the interrogation under the tiny dark eyes of the desk master who had returned to their holes.

Illuminatus!” the boy tried to explain. “It’s a book which talks about the secret meaning of the number 23. You should read it!” he added almost enthusiastically

The bewildered eyes of the desk master lurked out of the darkness of his oaken surface, impossible to comprehend the fact that a book, unknown to him, had been mentioned in a reference.

Is this book on the official students reading list?” his dark voice addressed Miss Bartl.

Of course not!” Miss Bartl replied. “The school committee would never approve of any book inciting students to mutilate themselves.”

Turning towards the boy, she continued to inquire, “Where did you get this subversive book?”

You can torrent it from the internet…” the boy tried to explain, before being interrupted.

So this ‘Illuminatus’ is a pirated, illegal good?” the teacher concluded.

No…I mean…I am sure you can also buy it online, but my dad does not give me a credit card.”

I don’t think this needs any further explanation.”

With this Miss Bartl ended her prosecution statement and turned towards the desk master adding, “I demand the strictest form of punishment for these criminal acts.”

Anything to add, student?” the desk master’s dark voice addressed the boy.

Knowing there was no way to explain why he had chosen “23” as his first tattoo and fearing that any more questions of the inquisition might force him to reveal Alex and Ping, the boy answered almost inaudibly,

No.”

In that case I, as desk master, order you to never mutilate your body again nor incite others to do the same. Your parents will be informed immediately and I will advise them to seek medical assistance to remove the markings on your arm. About the book which you have acquired illegally, I give you a stern warning to destroy it immediately and not mention it again or I have to report you to the authorities. You will be suspended from school for a week with immediate effect. You may leave now.”

In a triumphant gesture, Miss Bartl turned her head quickly towards the boy, raised her eyebrows, summoning him to leave the headmaster’s office with her. The boy followed her, feeling like a beaten dog, clenching his teeth to prevent his anger from taking over and strangling the teacher from behind. “Now, let’s call your parents,” she said in an almost melodic way. “I am sure they will not be amused.”

The boy was suspended for a week from school while his parents decided to confine him during that time to his room. The boy didn’t perceive this as additional punishment, being relieved at not having to watch their tantrums any longer. The only thing which made the boy sad was that he could not visit Alex and Ping for a while. Luckily his parents had not found his notepad with designs which he hid under the bed.

Immediately after his punishment was lifted, he went to see Alex and Ping whom he told over a glass of mate´ the whole incident. Alex listened to everything silently, while Ping muttered something in Thai which nobody apart from her could understand, but which sounded very much like she was cursing all bad teachers, headmasters and wicked parents on this planet.

The boy resumed his afternoons at the tattoo temple and soon happiness again returned to the boy. One day the boy arrived two hours earlier than the usual time; he had skipped the classes which he found unbearably boring to attend, and he found Alex with his notepad in front of him but with no client in sight.

He didn’t want to disturb Alex, who seemed to be very focused and immersed in his work, so he just sat down quietly beside him. Yet he was curious. Peeking at the notebook, he saw a picture of a wonderful dragon, holding a strange symbol which looked like a triple yin yang, something which he had never seen before. The dragon had a friendly look and expressed power and strength. It was a young dragon full of energy, curiosity and eagerness to spread its wings and explore the world. The pen stopped drawing, Alex looked up and their eyes met for what seemed like an eternity.

Don’t tell anyone, kid….” the master said.

Oh wow, wow, it’s so beautiful,” the boy gasped. “Thank you so much.”

This exact moment Ping entered the kitchen. The boy jumped up from his chair and flung his arms around her, holding onto her waist, whirling around the kitchen full of unbound joy.

It’s time…” the jaguar said. “Time for your initiation, you are ready.”

Ping, still shaking from her spontaneous dance with the boy, was busy scribbling in her appointment calendar, assigning next Saturday, a day usually reserved for quality time for her and Alex, as the day for the initiation and circled it in red with her favourite Hello Kitty pen.

On Friday evening the boy was so excited that he could not sleep. Finally he would be getting his first real tattoo, something he had waited on for months. Alex had given him a copy of the design which he held in his hand, caressing the outlines of his dragon, visualizing how the master would ink it. The excitement to feel the fast needles, the sweet pain penetrating his skin, impregnating it with color, the oozing sound of the tattoo gun….the boy drifted away into a deep sleep.

Saturday morning found the boy jumping out of his bed, taking a quick shower and rushing to the apartment of Alex and Ping. He was almost two hours early when he rang the doorbell. It was opened by a very sleepy Ping, whom he had awoken.

You too early. Ping going to bed again,” she mumbled to herself.

The boy rushed through the corridor, passing by the bathroom where he heard Alex having a shower. In the kitchen he prepared water for the mate´ tea, which a surprised Alex found steaming on the table. He was in a good mood, and quietly smiled at the boy.

Today is an important day for you,” the Jaguar said. “Today you are entering a new world. You have been a good student for many months and now you are ready for your initiation.”

Ping, who did not go back to bed, entered the kitchen, took the mate gourd out of Alex’s hand in exchange for a morning kiss and looked at the dragon design blueprint which Alex had only finished late last night. It looked magnificent.

Mangon!” she exclaimed suddenly.

Mangon,” she repeated and looked at the boy with sharp perceptive eyes piercing deep into the depths of his soul.

As her outburst didn’t seem to elicit a reaction, she pointed with her thin fingers to the dragon blueprint on the kitchen table saying, “Now you are mangon boy… the dragon boy.”

The boy’s, now Mangon’s, face lit up and he repeated the name a few times, enjoying the sound of it.

Mang-o-n.” he repeated slowly enjoying the sound of his new name.

Yes, I am Mangon, I am the dragon boy,” he exclaimed, jumping up from his chair, taking off his shirt and whirling it over his head while performing a strange dance around the kitchen. “I am Mangon, Mangon, the mighty dragon, Mangon!!” he cried out loud, which caused Alex to laugh and Ping to giggle hysterically.

It took five hours to tattoo the dragon onto his back, which was more painful than Mangon had imagined, but he enjoyed every moment of his initiation. Finally when the tattoo was finished and the skin cleaned and disinfected, the boy rose from the chair and for the first time in his life, felt like he had achieved something big and important. He had taken a huge step forward.

Be fierce as a dragon,” Alex said.

I always will,” Mangon replied.