On the first day Little Dust arrived at the beach as a lifeguard, she saw the Bodhisattva made from a mound of sand. The Sand Bodhisattva was sitting in a cross-legged position, slightly taller than a person, facing the sea with a smile on its face. At first, Little Dust thought there was a sand sculpting festival taking place, but looking around, apart from the Sand Bodhisattva, there were no other sculptures. The other lifeguards told Little Dust that someone had started building this Bodhisattva on the beach since the start of summer. As for whose masterpiece it was, no one knew.
The Sand Bodhisattva was situated not far from the watchtower where Little Dust was stationed. Looking from the tower, one could see the beautiful profile and straight torso of the Sand Bodhisattva. When off duty, Little Dust couldn’t help but walk around the Sand Bodhisattva, observing it closely from all angles. Over time, whenever Little Dust sat down, she would unconsciously mimic the Sand Bodhisattva, crossing her legs, straightening her back, and hanging a slight smile on her face. If not for the different attire, one might not be able to tell which was Little Dust and which was the Sand Bodhisattva.
As it was made of sand, the Sand Bodhisattva was not sturdy. On a perfect day with no wind or rain, the Sand Bodhisattva could hold its shape for longer. But when the sand was thoroughly dried by the sun, it would loosen. By evening, the Sand Bodhisattva inevitably lost some of its contours and became blurry. If there was wind or rain, in less than half a day, the Sand Bodhisattva would lose its nose and mouth, gradually turning into a shapeless sand dune. Even on a fine sunny day, the Sand Bodhisattva could suffer misfortune, such as losing an arm to a volleyball, the head to a frisbee, or being dismembered by naughty children. When these things happened, no one stepped forward to stop them, and the Sand Bodhisattva could only silently endure. Strangely, the next morning, the Sand Bodhisattva would be sitting intact in the same position, as if nothing had ever happened.
Little Dust really wanted to know how the Sand Bodhisattva was restored each night, but no one could give her the answer. The beach was located in a rather remote place, with only a few scattered houses nearby, and it would take an hour by bus from the nearest town. Only during the two or three months of summer each year did swimmers visit the beach, and only during this time would the government hire temporary lifeguards for duty. After dusk, all the swimmers and lifeguards would leave. No one knew what the beach was like at night.
Little Dust speculated that it must be a villager living nearby, a secluded sculptor, or a religious practitioner who came to the beach every night and built the Sand Bodhisattva with a heart full of diligence and devotion. She even went to the village to ask, but no one knew what she was talking about, and no one cared about the Sand Bodhisattva. As the summer vacation was coming to an end, the swimming season was also about to cease. Little Dust decided not to return to school but to go looking for a job in the city. But before that, she had to solve the mystery. To boost her courage, she asked her lifeguard colleague Young Guy to accompany her.
One evening, after all the swimmers had left, Little Dust and Young Guy stealthily hid in the lifeguard tower. They brought snacks for dinner, intending to stay up all night. Before this, Young Guy had demolished the Sand Bodhisattva completely. Little Dust just stood by, repeatedly apologized to the Bodhisattva, unable to give a hand to the destruction. After nightfall, the starry heavens rotated and the silvery waves shimmered, but there was no movement on the beach. It was around midnight when suddenly there was a sharp whistle of the wind. They quickly got up and peered out from the tower. A sandstorm swept up on the vast beach, blurring their vision like a dense fog, making even breathing difficult. The sandstorm danced for most of the night, and they hid for most of the night, too, worn out and eventually fell asleep. When they opened their eyes again, under the dazzling morning light, a complete Sand Bodhisattva was already sitting there.
Little Dust refused to give in. The next night, she arranged with Young Guy again to probe the secret of the Sand Bodhisattva. This time they brought face and eye masks, and protective clothing. Past midnight, there were no signs of a sandstorm. Little Dust simply went to the beach and waited where the Sand Bodhisattva would appear. As she walked, she felt a bit unstable, and then she realized that the sand beneath her feet was floating, as if something was about to burst out from underground. Before she could jump, countless tiny black things surged out from under the sand. From various places, the emerging little things rushed like numerous black rivers toward the sea. She heard Young Guy shouting behind her: “It’s turtles! Newborn sea turtles!”
Illustration by Ian Leong