by Parbat Lawati
Alluding to the arrival of that year’s winter, fall had already started taking place— in the blue flowers, in the tap water, on his skin and teacup. But, only, when one morning, penetrating through and creeping under his blanket, a gust keeps blowing with an icy temperature and wakes him earlier than usual mornings, he learns the arrival of winter. But he isn’t sure, whether it is because of the hit of wintry gust or the reverberations from the last night’s fight, he had with his wife he is awake so early. Looks at his wife and their six-year son snuggling at his mother’s chest. He looks so lovely and terrified, as if, he is trying to protect his mother from him. His heart gets laden by the weight of guilt— like waking them up and apologise for the anger he demonstrated last night. All he wanted from her was a little, understanding, patience, and perhaps, respect during such destitute times. But, last time, in the absence of his wife, how angry and sad he had become, when he had to scrub the walls and bottom of the jar to acquire just two spoons of sugar. Several times, he shuts his eyes but silence and thoughts keep galloping on his mind. So, he erects the pillow, leans on it, lights the half-smoked cigarette, “how early arrives this bastard winter!”.
Amritman, a tall figure, wide, sunken, and sunburnt face. Who, for the love of watching television, has also mastered the zen-technique of remaining unperturbed to his wife’s words. He can watch television for a whole day only needs a blanket to cover his lower body. After his wife was bedridden, his hands have lost even the slight remnants of softness.
Sometimes, riding the delicate palm over his fricative palm, his son asks, ‘what are these, baba?’ Pressing the lump of calloused flesh.
‘fish eyes’ he answers.
‘but they rather feel like frog’s skin’.
They live in a single room, where everything looks in its place, folded, packed, silent, and still. As if cleanliness is the only thing they can afford in the name of decoration. He selects some of the expensive items which they have added over the past years.
The wooden rack, the single- door refrigerator, and the eighteen-inch colour T.V kept on the steel wardrobe opposite to their main bed. ‘‘Is this all, what one can do with their life. Life, it’s never enough never enough!”
“If I could manage a little more money, this Dashain. . .” Amritman lights a second cigarette.
Sabitri, too, is already awake,
who pretends to be awakened because of the ‘tick-tick’ of Amritman’s lighter.
Although reduced to the bone by the surgery of her uterus, she is still a pale beauty with long and deep ebony hair.
Before she underwent surgery on her uterus they had a peaceful life. Both worked. Amritman as a house painter, she as a maid. Every month, they use to pay their rent and son’s school fees, in time. But two months back, peace was sucked from their life, when all of a sudden, she started having an excruciating ails in her abdomen. At midnight, she was rushed to the hospital. The doctor said she has to go a surgery of her uterus. It was a costly treatment. They had to spend all their saving and lend around sixty thousand, which is yet to reimburse. Now, all the obligations had become Amritman’s alone. Still undergoing medications and follow-up- check-ups, she understands the pressure that has piled up on her husband’s shoulder. But, when so much of labor and strength is put to eliminate hunger- patience and understanding cannot stand anger no matter how much one tries to count reverse. So, sometimes, the pending dues of their son; the rent of their room chided Sabitri with her husband igniting an inextinguishable flare.
The same had happened last night, too.
Tinged with his smoke, she fumbles,
“ . . I doubt the contractor gives the money”
“would you spare at least this morning!” remonstrates with entreaty and anger. This time Sabitri too realises that she shouldn’t have started so early. But expressing it not simply leaves the bed and starts preparing tea. Meanwhile, Amritman keeps playing with the smoke flame. A shaft of light has entered through the interstice of their curtain where millions of tiny particles seem leisurely floating. Amritman childishly shoots smoke rings and disperses the particles like the herring of fish. Sabitri hands him the tea but he doesn’t take it. She keeps the cup in front of him and sits on the low bed by the window. Both sip their tea in silence. He leaves to meet the contractor without saying anything to her.
He finds Kalimati bazaar relatively less crowded than the other day. “Hmm, so Dashain finally is here!” he mumbles. Some shops however are still opened. He arrives in front of a clothing store where a family of dummies in winter wear catches his eyes. He draws a picture of his wife, son, and himself in that attire, ‘Wish I could buy the whole set!’
The contractor gives Amritman only twelve thousand and promises to give the remaining three thousand in the next five days. For a time being, Amritman’s major distress seems to drift a little farther.
He thinks of visiting Carom-Chowk, his regular spot for hangout. The Sun looks candescent. The smug, obfuscating Kathmandu all the time seems to have settled, allowing an immaculate view of Swayambhu and Ganesh Range. The whites and azure of the firmament look perfectly corrected
but, Amritman doesn’t like anything that is exclusively bright, vibrant, be it the weather or the colours.
He arrives at ‘Carom-Chowk’ but, that day, instead of carom, he finds people observing a different game— a Langur- Burja—the game of fate. While, the board is occupied by three little boys, struggling and stretching to bring their hands above the board. He also joins the crowd. The game is organised by the two people, whose glowing eyes tell that a good number of people had lost the bet. They also seem alert— asking people to maintain some distance with them— neither, do they seem to trust their own joint venture-ship. Every time, when one of the partners is distributing the money or managing the money, the other partner, serving the dice, suspiciously leers at his activities lest he should crumple some bills. Seeing so much money, Amritman thinks winning some amount would serve him a good purpose at this Dashain. He takes out a note of fifty rupees and puts it in the spade. The host shakes the bucket, then lifts partially, shuts it on halfway. Shouts with an intention to provoke new bettors. Again, shuffles, lands, lift partially, close, and finally reveals. “Three spades! give me one hundred and fifty!” Amritman demands his share. After that round, luck doesn’t favour Amritman — not even for a single more round. He loses the won amount and extra two hundred rupees. He starts accusing and dictating the host to shuffle the dices properly. Now, he takes out a thousand rupees note and scratches his head trying to figure out on which to bet. But at the meantime, a man, along with a kid carrying a kinder joy and green packet of crisp, joins in the circle. The kid and his son look of similar age. His happiness reminds Amritman of his own son leaping and frolicking with an innocent grin spreading over his face. Thus, giving up the desire to play, he also buys the same stuff for his son and watching a few rounds, more, leaves for his home. On the way, coming across a meat shop, he decides of taking some meat. He enters the shop, asks the shopkeeper to weigh him a kg of chicken. He watches the shopkeeper cut the meat into pieces and when the shopkeeper is about to finish he reaches his pocket to pay the shopkeeper. A subtle chill quivers through his spine. He rummages the other pocket, nothing comes out of it. With beads of sweat spiking on his forehead and trembling voice, Amritman says that perhaps he must have dropped the money. He hastes to Carom Chowk, scrutinising the way, turning stones and papers with his foot, trying to remember each and every spot where he had stepped. The chowk looks empty and hushed except for two policemen. He goes to the very spot where the Langur-Burja was held. But he only finds the white chart of logos oscillating by the gentle breeze of Autumn. A woman, the owner of the hotel, seeing Amritman poke and flip the things, in a piercing tone, asks if he lost anything. Hearing her sharp voice, Amritman gets chided but without replying to her, continues to search. She asks him for the second time. Amritman gives a single word answer.
‘Maybe someone at some hotel is partying with your money’ the woman retorts with an insidious charm. The woman’s demoralising opinion rouse the desire to strangle her, however, he musters to remain poised.
Helpless and forlorn Amritman consults with the two policemen although he is well aware that he is receiving no aid. “Sir ” addresses apprehensively.
“What happened?” One of the policemen responds looking down at him as if some lowly creature.
Clearing his throat “someone stole my money.”
‘So?’ the other policeman asks insouciantly.
“ I want you to help me, sir”
“We can’t, there are other greater matters to take care of.” Amritman receives a cold affright.
He wishes if only someone were to appear and return him his money, how grateful he would be to the almighty.
If only he were to find that pickpocket, how he would kick and punch, he imagines clutching his fist.
“may greater loss befall on that person who took my money” he returns, angry at the pickpocket and oneself but still scrutinising the way lest some kind of miracle take place.
In the room, he finds Sabitri desperately looking at his way. Seeing the kinder joy and the packet of crisp in his hand his son jumps and exclaims ‘yay’—as he had imagined, but the joy serves no satisfaction. He seems absent and vexed, which Sabitri instantly deciphers. ‘What happened!’ inquires with a discerning look ‘you don’t look okay?’
Amritman continues to remain stationary with his slouch posture. Shaking him Sabitri asks him searchingly.
“. . on the way someone picked my pocket!” he replies.
‘What were you looking at and lost?’
‘I reckon someone must have caught my pocket at Carom Chowk while I was buying something for our son’ he doesn’t confess that he also played.
‘I knew it, how could you be such a careless bum!’ says Sabitri, frowning.
‘Why do you always see the faults in me?’
Raising his tone Amritman asks Sabitri.
Their son, in the meantime, trying to assemble the parts of the toy, is shaken and drops by Amritman’s voice.
“Why are you yelling at me” Sabitri too raises her tone, “you only know how to displace your anger on me!”
“And you—you only know to coax me all the time”
“It’s a festival time, where had your intelligence gone?”
“We must be having an ill constellation. . . Now, what do we do buda” asks in a reconciling tone walking to the son who now starts wailing to see his parents involve again in the skirmish.
“Who so ever took the money may good days never happen to that person!” Speaks words of hate with glimmering eyes.
. . .
“Didn’t that person step in my shoe. I would rather starve to death than to steal” Amritman also adds.
“Now what do we do, buda?” again asks coming closer to him.
Amritman brainstorms from where to mange the money. He calls the same contractor several times but doesn’t get any response. He gets an idea of calling to his another contractor and dials his number. After calling for the second time the contractor responds his call. Amritman puts forth everything that befell him that day. The contractor likes Amritman. Working together for more than a couple of years, his sincerity and hard work has won the contractor’s trust. He agrees to lend Amritman ten thousand rupees. Sabitri, who is hearing their conversation, exchanges a relieving sigh. The shrivels and lines vanish from her cheeks and forehead.
This time, Amritman keeps the money in the front pocket of his shirt and returns home without stopping anywhere. The way seems vacant of people and traffic despite, every now and again, he reaches for the front pocket.
After having tread half the way, Amritman sees two men, in black pants and light blue shirt, its sleeve folded to the arms, staggeringly emerging from a hotel. They seem to be continuing the talk which they were having in the hotel.
Amritman gets bored to listen to their petty- piffle. He thinks of getting ahead of them. But Amritman catches a sight that doesn’t let him overtake them—for he notices a half emerged purse—from the right pocket of Bhuwan’s pants. The sight makes Amritman slow down his pace, abruptly. And, rather, like a cat on a prow, he starts stalking them. Any vehicles or pedestrians coming towards them make his heartthrob faster and faster lest they should notice Bhuwan’s pocket and warn him about it. With each passing vehicle and person he becomes grateful to the Almighty. Jatin asks if he received the Dashain bonus.
Bhuwan takes Jatin’s question as intended to mock him since Jatin is well aware that he joined the office only that year. Bhuwan also shares his personal matters— things to be done with a month’s salary. He remembers his obligation towards his parents as well.
It’s the same with him, too, Jatin tries to be even with Bhuwan, keeping the cigarette between his lips and stretching his hands asking for the lighter.
Bhuwan slides his hand in his right pocket, meanwhile, his hand also causes the purse to drop but neither of them notices it. Amritman halts waiting for them to walk a little further. They carry on with their conversation, soon their images and voices recede and wanes. He hurriedly walks to the purse and steps on it to hide from others seeing it. Pretending to fix his shoe, stoops, and releasing all his horses picks up the purse. As he does so, his heart palpitates like hundreds of horses galloping on his chest. Spikes and sweat stand all over his body like a patient having a delirious fever. Then briskly takes a U-turn and swerves for an alley. He treads faster and faster without looking back. The narrow alley, high wall on both sides—portrait of Hindu deities fixed to the other end of the alley to prevent people from littering the place. However, the alley feels a narcotic friendly zone as heaps of old and recently opened pills and syrup bottles lie scattered all over. Amritman takes out an old, black leather purse from the back pocket of his pants. The top hem seems torn with about a finger long black thread hanging. He opens the purse, unzips the main compartment, at once, in which he finds ten bills of thousand. In the other compartment, he finds seven hundred and sixty rupees. In the front pocket, which is specially designed to keep cards, Amritman finds an identity card. From the back pocket, a family photo comes out, trimmed especially to make it fit in that pocket. He crumples the photograph and throws it in the garbage mound. For the last time, Amritman reaches every compartment of the purse if any expensive material should remain clogged. He finds nothing but some pieces of paper and visiting cards. Now, the purse becomes only trash for him. He could carry it for his perusal but doesn’t want to draw Sabitri’s suspicion. Thus, he throws the purse in the garbage.
Now, with more than twenty thousand rupees in his pocket and a protruded chest, Amritman heads to Kalimati Bazaar. He visits the same stores, where that morning he had had window shopping and had to leave the ordered meat. He buys all the dresses showcased on the dummies and five kilos of chicken. That day, Amritman returns with eight polythene bags. In the room, Sabitri, sitting next to their son happily watching television is marinating fish. Both get very excited to see Amritman with so many bags. Exclaiming ‘baba baba’ his son darts toward him. He gives the two bags to his son, this time the leaping and frolicking of his son, truly serve Amritman a fatherly bliss. He gives the rest of the bags to Sabitri. “What are all these!” astounded Sabitri asks(not caring for an answer) with a beaming countenance. “Why so much of meat” she adds delving into the bag, “I have also brought two kg of fish, when are we gonna finish all this?” “There are chicken and buff”, asks her to cook some buff that night. He also gives her twelve thousand rupees. That night, Amritman doesn’t feel sleepy, he stays till late, changing t.v. channels. Sabitri starts snoring, which makes their little snuggling son toss the other side. looking at his son, Amritman, gently slides and plays with his hair, and bends to give him a kiss. The sound of the kiss wakes Sabitri. “You haven’t slept yet?” asks him drowsily. Without replying Amritman just caresses her hair.
“Buda, keep loving us this way, okay!”
“I’ll do anything, anything for you two.” kisses gently on her forehead to assure his words. She keeps her right foot on his feet and gives a feline rub with her toe.
About the Author:
Parbat Lawati did his M.A. in English Literature from Central. Dept of English, Tribhuvan University, in Kathmandu Nepal. His poetry and fiction have been published in Nepal’s major Daily, The Kathmandu Post. He has also been associated with a folk-musical-group called, Baaja. Apparently, he is working on his upcoming online literary Portal called Shabdasopan, a bilingual portal. He lives is Kathmandu, Nepal.