Sunday, June 5, 2011

Accompanied by silence

The month was July. I was returning home after my semester exam from South India where I was pursuing my medical studies. The other day I had a tiring journey by train for nearly four days.
I boarded the 7.30AM Karma Transport to Khaling from Samdrup Jongkhar. My seat was at the window sill on the left aisle. Sitting beside me was a girl in her teens. She was the most beautiful person in the bus and I saw that she attracted discreet glance from the passengers. A cursory glance later I was convinced that she was a student going home for her midterm break. She looked most debonair in her marthra kira with a dark blue tego over the snow-white wonju folded at the sleeves and collar. Her hair was washed, trimmed and combed into an Alisha look-alike. The one garment she required to win total applaud was her smile which she seemed to hold back mysteriously.
We travelled for an hour in silence. I would have broken the ice but the look of strained unease because of her proximity to a stranger stopped me. But before another hour of speechlessness passed, I could bear it no longer and blurted out my first ceremonial question. ‘Ussa,’ I asked with almost a whisper, ‘Where are you going?’
She blushed and looked straight ahead not replying. A bashful belle, I thought, pleasantly surprised in this day and age of brash woman’s lib. I asked again a little louder half suspecting that she had not heard over the sound of the bus engine. ‘Are you from Samdrup Jongkhar?’ She nodded, but with a slight frown on her innocent moon face. I wondered if she was ill for she suddenly looked uncomfortable. I felt that I was disturbing her or maybe she was a remote village girl, a daughter of some down-to-earth family. ‘Ussa,’ I said again concerned, ‘aren’t you feeling well?’ She smiled a most timid little smile, almost a disdainful grin. I searched for the slightest sign of disapproval on her face. None. I was relieved to note.
I introduced myself, but eliciting no response I left her alone. Is this the common man’s unwelcome boldness to woe innocence and frailty of a woman. I laughed at myself with a sly grin. The bus halted at Narphung for a while. I stepped out and bought some biscuits and candies. The five minutes outside the bus seemed like five impatient hours. I ran back to the bus as it horned sharply. When I returned, I found the girl had occupied my seat by the window. She rose to vacate it when she saw me coming back but I assured her it was all right.
‘Zhugchho,zhugchho, it’s ok I will sit here.’ I sat down just as the bus began to move. I offered her what I had bought but she refused shoving it back on my lap. I insisted as she shook her head then finally placed it upon her lap. ‘Please don’t feel shy…here take it.’ Timidly she picked it up and smiled her thanks. ‘May I know your name, Ussa?’ I persisted gently longing to hear her voice. She never replied. I asked again when she gave a stern look in my eyes. She opened her mouth, and then swayed her head side to side, saying nothing. I grew exasperated and tugged at her tego. ‘Why don’t you answer me? What is wrong to talk to me?’
She turned away and looked out of the window. The leafy trees were breezing past the window at great speed. I caught her hand anticipating a hateful look. She pulled it away with a jerk. For the first time I saw annoyance in her eyes. It stopped me short. I felt ashamed as I released her tender fingers. ‘I am sorry,’ I said. ‘I’m just being friendly, you know…’ There were tears then in her limpid eyes. I saw her bite her lips as if to hold back tears from crying. That really shocked me. What happened next really rattled me to no end. She held her head down on the window sill and her body heaved as she sobbed.
I cursed my unholy boldness and sat quietly for very long time. At Wamrong where the bus stopped for lunch, she did not budge from her seat. I went for a pork curry from the Tshering Restaurant all the while regretting for tormenting the girl. As I returned, I bought two packets of wai wai noodles and handed over to her wordlessly. She did not deny my offer and I felt calm again. I wrote down my address on the paper from my diary with a note at the bottom reading: “Sorry for being the cause of your tears. Write to me, my friend…” I handed my diary and asked her to write her name and address for me. She took the book and pen reluctantly and began to write.
I looked outside and was surprised to see a green maize field of Khaling valley come into the view. When we reached Khaling, she handed my diary back and rose to alight from the bus. Outside there was an elderly woman waiting for my new friend. They walked away down the pebbled road hand in hand. As the bus began to move, she looked back once in my direction; smiled a broad smile and waved. I waved back longingly. It was only after quite a while of bemused thought that I looked into my diary and what I saw there made everything clear as a bell. She dad scribbled in kindergarten writing: Pema Zangmo, class VIII, National Institute for the Disabled, Khaling. I did not know either to feel sorry for her or for myself. Her dumbness brought a shroud of magical numbness to my adventurous mind and the rest of the journey was the longest I had ever taken.

Going Home Forever

July 18th 1999. It was late in the evening sometime around 7; my brother, who was two years younger than me, was returning home after his interview for the Electrical Engineering scholarship at Thimphu. He was then in dilemma whether to choose doctor’s training which was his childhood passion or the Electrical engineering which was his new interest brewed after the recent conversation with his friends. We had completed our ISC in March from Sherubtse College, Kanglung the same year. The two pre-university years at Sherubtse had been a sensational adventure in the beginning and as the year worn down it was a strenuous rivalry in an attempt to mince every line of the mammoth task of studies that would go long into the night and oftentimes to the early dawn.
Pema arrived at the Samdrup Jongkhar bus depot around 4.30PM from Phuentsholing. On his way to the market he met Ten Dorji, the driver of Khaling School for the disabled, who told him he was leaving for Khaling the same evening after a brief shopping. Pema was relieved and joyous. He was going to be home soon. He already felt a strong longing to meet mother and father who were unaware that he was on his way home.
It was about 5.00 PM when the five of them began their late journey from Samdrup Jongkhar. In the front was a teacher of school for the disabled; at the rear Pema sat on the left window side with two visually impaired students. The darkness came in soon after they crossed Deothang town and they began to doze off.
The old Land Cruiser seemed to snail lazily up the mountainous terrain. The carriage was loaded full at the rear. Two hours later they were negotiating the Melongbrak road in the fog and mist. The vehicle bumped against the culvert with a screeching noise. At that moment Ten Dorji yelled, ‘Sorry sir…’ And then they were falling down the cliff at an incredible speed. The car rolled over several times before halting against a thick foliage and climbers.
When Pema gained consciousness he was still in his seat. He called for the teacher and driver but there was no reply. One of the visually impaired boys who sat across him asked him, ‘Ata Pema, are you all right? Anything happened to you…’ Pema felt fine, he did not feel any pain, ‘I am alright, where is sir?’ The boy winced in pain as he tried to move his legs, ‘I think my leg is broken…and my friend is not moving…’ he said. Pema saw that the other student had become lifeless. At that moment he heard the teacher’s voice calling from somewhere above. Pema’s legs were stuck between the seats and were unable to move. He asked the boy to climb out of the window and help sir. The boy clambered out and crawled up the cliff. ‘Ata Pema! Wait here I will call for help.’ were the last words he heard. He sat there in the dark with a lifeless body of the other student.
He tried to push the seat forward but it wouldn’t budge. At that instant a sharp pain streaked through his neck. He was then unable to move his head. He remembered father and mother and longed to be home soon. He mumbled some prayer feeling lonely. He heard the teacher call him. ‘Pema…Pema…Are you alright?” Pema tried to yell back but felt dizzy. Minutes later he fell unconscious and never arose from there again.
The following morning the visually impaired boy reached the road which was some hundred meters from the fateful car. It was a total miracle that the boy who had his left leg fractured and visually impaired could climb the cliff through the thick jungle and soggy foliage. The teacher who had been thrown out of the car on the first impact suffered a fracture in the lower backbone. The driver was dead and slumped in his seat which crashed over him.
The fatal accident at Melongbrak left us bereaved of our charming brother, the one son whose dreams remain unwoven until today. We are sorrowful more because he died a painful slow death at an early age of twenty one. Life as it reveals is an unpredictable cosmic phenomenon.

The Enchanted Rendezvous

Of all the days in a week I hate Mondays. Mondays are my most tiresome days. Most people assume that sitting on a chair eight hours a day is a luxurious job for a man. I contradict that. Seven years into the career as a Health Assistant seem like a century of perspiration and lot of self-sacrifice. On my usual count I attend to no less than seventy people on Mondays and far lesser on others days. If it was a coincidence it was real bad coincidence. The number of patients increases every year exponentially. I take three to five minutes for each patient on an average. I understand the impatience of those still in the queue moving forward in centimeters. I have a statute for myself to make things better for them; I do not vacate my chair for reasons other than my nature’s call of an administrative exigency.
September 6, 2010 was one such hectic day, or let me say more strenuous for me. I attended to 103 patients within seven hours and even missed my lunch. A customary cup of tea and five pieces of snack Ata Changlo brought me was all I had for lunch. I left home at 4.00PM feeling like devouring an Everest of rice. However, feeling tired I cooked koka noodles for a belated lunch after which I slouched into my couch with a pint of brandy to rest my brawns.
Manchester United was playing Arsenal on the screen. It was a replay. I dozed off for hours only to be awakened by the blaring evening Muslim prayer. ‘Damn! Why do they have to shout so loud for the God who never answers their prayer?’ That was the first wisest thought I was too tired and dreamy to make any rational judgment at that moment. It was dusk and Phuentsholing was lit up under the dark clouds which presaged a thunderstorm any moment.
I decided to visit the Zangtogperi Park for a rejuvenating breeze. The sanctuary of sanctity and the tranquility of the colourfully lighted fountain and the lithe children at play always soothed my fatigued sinews.
I circumambulated the Pelri thrice more to approve the convention than to demonstrate my superfluous piousness. I took a seat on an empty park-bench under the shadows of the dates plant. I was engrossed at the playful children in a cat and mouse chase when a young woman reluctantly sat on the other end of my bench. My bench? Yes; as I occupied first I considered it mine! The black skirt and a brown blouse matched her coloured hair. She laid down her plastic of apples on the bench across me –three apples to be precise; and took out a mobile phone. She was calling someone; perhaps her boyfriend. She looked too innocent to be a mother. She put back the phone into the bag mumbling some incomprehensible blasphemes. ‘Uff! What the…’ She tried again and failing to get connected shoved the phone into her handbag demonstrating despondence. ‘What am I doing here watching her suspiciously?’ I thought to myself. I wanted to leave but some unnatural force seems to hold me at the bench.
I was at unease sitting alongside a stranger in silence amidst the crowd of people around us. Three boys on the opposite bench were ogling her in a humiliating way and she behaved as if it was not an unusual scene she faced every day.
To break the eerie silence between us I made a deliberate cough and asked her in almost a whisper, ‘ Naa..chharo lu ghup eena?’( Are you waiting for a friend?) Her abrupt reply was a total contradiction. ‘Mangi kor ni chhowa chha.’ (No! just loitering around) I wondered if she meant she had no reason for coming to the park. I was apprehensive if she was drugged or drunk. I could not make out under the shadows of the tree. I engaged her into conversation again, ‘Ni…nan o’ ga chon chha ya?’(So…where do you stay?) It was supposed to be a casual request. She grinned at my tsangla lo accent which I knew was blunt and incomplete as she replied, ‘Jang mo? Deki Lane frang ga chon chha ko.’(Me…I stay below Deki Lane) I became nostalgic when I heard the infamous street. She asked me if I stayed in Phuentsholing. I told her I stayed at the Pekhil House and worked at the hospital. ‘I am alone…’ I added. I did not know why I was lying. Perhaps that is what men do when he sits with another woman at another place.
A car making a turn on the road alongside the park illumined the park briefly. I then realised that I was sitting under the date plant shadows with the prettiest woman I ever met in my life. She was in her late twenties, with an endearing dimple on her left face. She was neither fair nor dark -a complete blend of beauty. It took a lot of insistence to make her tell me her name. I told her that hers was the most unique name I heard so far. ‘Dechen gi la,’ she said shyly.
‘Dechen thur sho mo? Ja ga Phuentsho Pelbar gi la.’(Only Dechen? Mine is Phuentsho Pelbar) I wanted to give my hand for an introductory handshake but held back.
‘Dolkar…Dechen Dolkar.’ The coaxing got its result.
Dechen told me that she worked in Thonglay Drayang as a bartender. For the second time a cold impulse filled my heart when she told me her work place. She came to Thimphu eight years back to stay with elder sister who was married to a policeman. She worked at the Drayang since three years ago.
“’Where are you actually from?’ I became more inquisitive.
‘Jang Wamrong gay gi la?’(Am from Wamrong) I thought she would say Mongar the place where I had worked before. I moved closer to her. ‘Nan…tha ga oma eebi ga nong chha ya?’ (Who are you waiting for?) I was behaving like her lifelong friend.
The response she gave surprised me, ‘Lopen, chhas thur yek chho mo? Jang fai ga jin dha gi fai gay shon gay ma. Rent ma bee wa, lani sam deewa’ (Lopen, I will tell you something. I could not pay three months’ rent so the owner drove me out today) I looked into her beady eyes in total perplexity. I felt pity at her.
‘Don’t you have a relative around?’ That was the only question that came to my mind.
‘Ajang chha…lek pu aah lu ma la…oga dee laym mastong…’ (I have my uncle but he does not treat me well. Don’t know where I will go today) She trailed away.
I asked about her belongings which she said was kept in one of the restaurants. I told her how exorbitant the rents were in Phuentsholing and we talked about the prices of vegetables, the noises and the vulnerability to various diseases. She told me she will leave for Thimphu the next morning but was in dilemma where she would stay for the night. I suggested if she could go to her uncle’s place or some friends place. ‘Ajang gi kong may…ma de la. Chharo ba la Drayang ga room ga choncha.’(Uncle will beat me, I will not go there. My friends stay at the Drayang’s rooms) I asked her if she wanted money. She refused blatantly.
‘Lopen,’ she pleaded, ‘thhi nong nan ga fai ga dee lay khhe lay la…’ (Lopen, may I go to your place today for the night) It was the request I never imagined a lonely girl would say unless she was out of her mind. Perhaps our long conversation gave her courage to do so. My mind bombarded with questions. Should I accept her appeal? Will I not fall into legal harassments later? What if my neighbours know? She must be infected with HIV. I felt like saying goodbye at that time. What will I tell my wife?
‘Lopen, apple zhhay.’ (Lopen, have apple please) I was lost in questions without answers. I took the apple and looked around. I did not realize that the people around the park have vanished into thin air except for the traffic policemen on the road and two elderly women circumambulating the Pelri. ‘Sitting with a Pretty woman truly knows no time.’ I fumed a bemused grin to myself.
I suggested if I could walk her to her Ajang’s place. That was the bravest suggestion I thought I made that time. She was too innocent to be asking me to come to my place. The resoluteness in her denial was more out of desperateness for a nights’ rest than for mere want of a companion. I was hungry and it was late too. I do not know what came over me after that I was saying, ‘Mo ni de lay…late dee wa la.’ (Let’s go then, it’s late too) My statement was more of an excuse than an invitation. I was overwhelmed either by carnal yearning or by the pitiful circumstance of Dechen. I felt a crude confidence broiling in me as we walked towards my residential building hand in hand.
Am I dreaming? I questioned humourously. Why did I lie I was ‘alone’? How will I convince her later? Should I tell her that my wife is at home and ask her to go back. It was a cruel way to treat a woman after a romantic acquaintance.
As we entered the Pekhil House gate Ram Bahadur, the night guard stared at us with a sly frown on his bearded face. I nodded at him as we climbed the stairs. My heart began to rattle with an ominous fear. Dechen Dolkar followed me like a puppy after its mother. As I fumbled to open the door Dechen’s warm breath breezed down the nape of my neck. ‘O’ ya, jee ghee fayk pay.’ (Please, let me open for you) She took the keys and opened the door as if that was her house. I realized I was trembling then. No sooner we were inside the room I bolted the door and she disappeared into the toilet. She seemed to know the rooms very well. I sat on the couch and put the television on. There was some disturbance on the cable. I took quarter of brandy in one gulp to compose my mind. I asked her if she would like to have tea or Fanta. ‘Hang rang ma zhhu la.’(Thank you, I don’t want to have anything) She sat on my left side like an old friend. I looked at her calm face. ‘What am I doing with a bartender in my house?’ I closed my eyes as I took a deep breath in and leaned back on the sofa. I could hear my heart beat as I tried to still my ravaging thoughts.
‘Tring…tring…tring…’ Startled from catnap I took out my phone from the jacket. It was not the phone. Dechen was not on the sofa. I assumed she must have gone to latrine again. ‘Dechen….Phone…’ I called. ‘Tring…g…g…g…’ The door brought me to my feet. On the screen Blackburn was playing live against Aston Villa. The game was into its 88th minute. ‘Where is Dechen gone? Who could be ringing the bell at this hour of the night?’ I thought, somewhat shaken from the moment. I opened the door slightly and peeked outside suspiciously, anticipating policemen standing at the door.
‘Aaaahhh….jo ba gho phyee may! Na lab now may sa…’ (aaaah…open the door quickly. My hands are paining) There stood my wife beaming with annoyance. She was carrying a bag. My heart froze as I pulled the door wide. My daughter was standing there on the doormat looking like an angel. I lifted her off her feet and cajoled, ‘Aaii naughty dhu mo baby…’
‘Ga dem chi gho gi bell dung ru go ni mindhu-nga dhe chhoe shi sop dre say noyi.’ (I rang the bell so long and you don’t hear it. I thought you were dead.) She joked at me. Momentarily, I was relieved to see them return from Thimphu, though very late. I reasoned why I did not hear the bell ‘Gha tee. Nga na Dechen chi kha trowa toen pay gang een may sa…’ (Ooh! I was enjoying with Dechen all this time)
‘Ngelam nang lu ya?’ (In your dream perhaps) She retorted enviously
‘Nge lam nang lu ra mam..?’ (Of course in my dream, where else) I giggled feeling nostalgic. I had had an enchanting slumber for the night. I had slept for nearly four hours. Feeling little guilty at my fickle reverie I went to the bathroom for an awakening shower. I knew I had an unfinished dream, but the presence of my daughter Tsendhen back at home after a fortnight was an enchanting moment for me. Am awake now?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

‘The Wrong Message’

It has been a full moon night the other day, the beginning of the Annual Cultural nite which was held every November for three successive nights at the college auditorium. Like the other night the cool unforgiving luminescence from the waning moon washed the Punakha valley unobstructed from the starry sky.
Tonight, the shadowy figures could be seen all around the campus: some boys sneaking down the road to the market; some staggering up the road till they reached at the parking area from where a pebbled path bifurcated towards the hall and other towards the dormitory. It is definite to any observers that outsiders have no reason to wait and ponder which way to take unless they were college boys returning after a relishing visit to Kelden Bar beyond the gate. It would not be a welcoming display if the warden shone his1980s Eveready torch on everyone coming up the road and moreover he would have missed a great deal of amusement in the hall too.
A thunderous clap and an outburst of applause reverberated at intervals from the hall. Even the shrill whistling was not withheld as if to proclaim one’s audacity of the authorities’ presence. May be the solo by Ugyen Gyeltshen was quite exemplary, may be the skit by Taag House was a good comedy or the dancers were at the best showdown. Everyone must have had their own reasons to clap and shout for each item staged one after another.
Rinzin Dorji was not among the enthusiast, body and soul. He was sitting outside behind the auditorium on the cool grasses watching the participants making their hasty exits and entrances from the backstage door. Some emerged shouting triumphantly as if they had won a gold medal of some kind, while some giggled and murmured to each other as they exited.
‘This went well,’ one exclaimed with an odd gesture.
‘I didn’t get confused this time’ another said.
‘Karma did a little mistake while…’ yet another remarked.
‘Congrats! You’ve done well,’ someone was congratulation somebody earnestly.
The tents were pitched outside the hall; one was crammed with home science girls selling tea and snacks, while other was a storeroom for the paraphernalia of things required for the programme which was now half the way down the list of items.
Rinzin was beginning to count ten when his roommate Tshewang Dorji appeared from amidst the hustling and bustling group near the stall tent.
Her part is just over,’ Tshewang informed, squatting alongside Rinzin who appeared restless with his right fingers strumming over the left knuckles. ‘I told her to come alone near that electric pole. Go now.’
Rinzin stood hastily and sprinted towards the pole that stood at the bend of the road some twenty yards from the hall. ‘At last I can coax her, tell her how much I love her, only I must be plausible and truthful.’ He was brooding incoherently. ‘But why did she oblige so easily after all these days of blatant denial?’ He mused, confused at the turn of events. He grinned to himself, ‘it is rather difficult to understand woman and their queer idiosyncrasies; they behave in all shades of manners of course!’
Eight months ago, in March, when Chador had entered the class ten minutes after their language teacher, she had become everyone’s cynosure. Nevertheless none saw what Rinzin saw in her, none had felt lifted off their feet as Rinzin did. When asked to introduce herself Chador mumbled shyly. She had come to Punakha along with her father who was a Forest Ranger at Zhemgang. That day Rinzin’s Language session ended reflecting over Chador’s elegant gait, penetrating sweet smile that suffused over the prettiest face, the honeyed voice and cascading dark hair. It was love at first sight.
Swifter than his fascination could weave its way towards the untouched chord of his heart he had sent four letters of introduction, starting with; ‘I like you-‘ then the next, ‘ I love you-‘ then begging still more with, ‘I love you very much please-‘ and the last one had said, ‘you are in the recess of my heart, my idol of worship, my breath, my soul-‘ and so-so.
Yet all the epistles remained un-replied. Every attempts on his part to approach her himself or by his friends were confronted with cold response. Chador was as stubborn as Rinzin was optimistic. As days passed Rinzin began to feel defeated and torn. His days were fleeting in longing admiration; in poignant dreams and deathless impatience.
A light breeze whistled past Rinzin’s well-trimmed hair. A ghostly shadow of the willow tree was cast over the road before him. Chador appeared out of the shadows and sat near him, pulling her knees against her bosom. It was incredible that she had consented to his proposal to this meeting at an unusual time and place, unexpectedly. He did not feel uncomfortable at all. Perhaps the moonlight was not adequately bright to reveal every line and curve of expression on her face. He had no time to ask why he felt strangely at peace when he should be timid and uneasy. Somehow it was like sitting at the table in a favorite restaurant with one best friend!
There was an explosion of applause in the hall. Rinzin suddenly felt alert from his reverie. He had to shatter the ice between them. ‘I-‘ he began , ‘I am happy you agreed to talk at least. I…’ Chador looked straight in his eyes cutting his poor prologue.
‘I know- I know you love me. I have hurt you so much. What else do you want to say?’ she questioned sternly.
Rinzin continued, ‘ I perceive you are not interested in such affairs. Perhaps you are afraid of something or someone. Are you?’ he was speaking without looking at her.
She grinned in annoyance, ‘you are nagging me too much…why do..?’
‘Too much!’ Rinzin almost yelled, ‘I just said I love you; I didn’t do anything wrong. We are still strangers aren’t we? Sorry if I have disturbed your studies.’ He said ruefully. Chador was peeling away an orange fruit as if to behave deaf to Rinzin’s plea.
‘why do think Namgay and Wangmo were expelled from the college for-? She blurted almost stuttering
‘Because they went beyond normal affairs-‘there was a weight of indigence in his voice.
Chador interrupted, ‘What ever!i don’t want to get involved in such affairs. I want you to forget me from now on. No letters too.’ She said with an inconsiderate tone.
‘Forget! How can I? I love you. Why are you doing this to me.’ He was begging ferociously. Chador remained silent, fiddling the peeled orange in her hands.
‘Is it wealth?’ He asked, steaming with impatience. She stared at him demonstrating cold expression.
‘Rank and influence?’ he prodded further feeling defeated.
‘No! Please don’t mention that again?’It was her turn to plead then. Rinzin bit his lips looking for words to prove his worth. ‘May be I am not as handsome as…..’ It was unbelievable that he was saying all these silly things. It was mere desperateness.
‘What are you saying? I said I am just not interested Rinzin.’
‘Is somebody restraining you from this friendly affair? Or are you engaged?’Rinzin was becoming excruciatingly bold.
‘No! Nobody is restraining. Am not interested!’ She said with a note of a Judges’ final decree.
‘You are so obstinate, so heartless. I don’t understand why?’ he clasped his palms on his face, hurt.
‘Why?’ She raised her eyebrows, bit her lips and barked, ‘ Because I am here to study, because I want to get through the board exams, because I am too young for such stupid things, because I don’t want to disgrace my parents, because I have-“ She paused abruptly, trembling as she sighed a deep shaky breath. Her eyes glistened with tears.
Rinzin remained motionless, feeling guilty. Yet strangely he yearned to know more.
‘Because what?’ He tempted again. For him eight months of admiration was a pretty long time to bear.
She wiped her tears, ‘because-‘ she was gazing on her toes, ‘because I don’t like you. I don’t. it was the last thing he had anticipated to hear. He became dumbstruck.
Two black dogs began to bark at the approaching shadow of a Layap woman. ‘I am fighting a losing battle. Nobody will worship you like I do.’ He thought
‘Do you really mean it?’ It was the only question that came to his mind. Chador flung the orange peel at the dogs. It went flying over the Layap woman’s head into the darkness. She rose to go. Rinzin caught her on the left hand and pulled her down without a slightest hesitance.
‘You know what you are saying? You will never repent more, I am telling you.’
She broke away from his grip with a jerk. ‘Rinzin!’ She yelled. It was the first time she called his name.
‘What?’ He replied, shocked to hear her call him by his un-respectful name.
‘Why don’t you forget that I actually exist here? And remember I will never regret for this-‘ She walked away towards the comforting crowd of her friends. Rinzin sat rooted against the pole hidden by the shadow of the willow tree. There was nothing he could think about, nothing to brood on, nothing to fancy about. He was fighting back masculine tears he never shed in years.
‘You are the meanest creature I’ve ever seen.’ He said more to the electric pole than to Chador who already disappeared into the crowd.
There was a faint creaking noise of a door being opened, ensued by a cacophonous disturbance. Rinzin flicked open his eyes nostalgically. His classmates were pouring into the classroom hastily taking their seats behind the rows of desks. They were returning from the dining hall after a sumptuous lunch.
‘Rinzin you missed eggs today again. Last time….’ Pema Wangchuck said proudly smacking his lips.
Rinzin’s desk mate Phurba remarked, ‘Still here! I thought you had gone to market.’
‘I didn’t sleep well last night, so…..’Rinzin’s words trailed away.
Chador walked in flanked by her friends Tshering and Dema laughing over something they had talked about. Dema broke off from chador and came towards Rinzin who gave a feeble but friendly smile. As she passed his desk, she slipped a folded paper into his hands. He almost missed a breath. Phurba who sat near him nudged Rinzin with his elbow.’Atlast’ He hinted. Rinzin opened the paper under the table with trembling fingers. His face blushed. Not everything that was written was of interest, except the phrase which was in bold letters ‘ I love you.’
His heart leaped into his throat chocking him. Tears began to fill his sad eyes. Of course at last the eight months ordeal has come to an end.
The 1 ‘o’ clock bell rang like a distant howl of a destitute child and everyone remained quiet and settled when they saw lopen Dopey coming down the stairs.



 

The best thing to do


Gonpo offered his seat to an old man who boarded the bus on the way and remained standing for three hours continuously. He pulled the collar of his gho slightly above the neck to keep himself warm from the frosty wind that lashed at the half-open window pane. The bus was gently rising, heaving slowly up into the Chirpine Mountain, puffing our dark curl of smoke. It was heading for Bumthang.
Tashi Pem pulled at Gonpo’s sleeve to wake him from his doze. He turned and look down at her, winking, “Take my seat; you had been standing for hours now.”  She offered. “No. It is alright, I am comfortable.” He denied politely. She insisted but he ignored her. Pem securely girded the woolen muffler around her neck as she eased in her seat. It was a present Gonpo had given to her on her twentieth birthday few months ago.
They were heading for their home on their winter vacation from Jigme Sherubling Higher Secondary School. Pem completed her class eleven science finals and Gonpo had written his class twelve Arts exams a week ago. Pem hoped that she could continue her studies the same school the following year.
Nine months ago in early spring they had fallen in love discreetly and even vowed a customary lover’s vow to remain till eternity. Gonpo is from Paro. His old father ran a small restaurant at Bondey. He was a school idol and a favorite of most teachers. Yet he remained timid and isolated from his friends.
Tashi Pem grew up in Bumthang Ura. She lived with her widowed mother who made her living running a small grocery shop. Pem loved watching football games and that was how she treaded into Gonpo’s timid heart. Gonpo was the best footballer of their school.
Presently Pem is building castles in the clouds. She sees herself married to Gonpo after her graduation and sitting in a candle lit room, teasing him and cajoling him. There was a sharp ear piercing honk. She woke up from her reverie and looked outside. A truck loaded to the heavens whizzed past her face. It almost jostled from her seat. The hazy glow of the afternoon sun shone through the mists and fog as they descended down Thromshingla pass. The trees were rushing backwards speedily. She surveyed the other passengers with a quick glance. Almost all had dozed off after their heavy lunch with hot butter tea at Sengor an hour ago. The bus driver momentarily looked into the rear view mirror and met her eyes. Pem forced a smile shyly to say hello out of courtesy. He returned her smile by briefly looking at her directly in the eyes.
The next moment there was a rustling and a screeching echo. They were shooting down at an incredible speed almost flying. Pem felt her heart come to her mouth. The cliff face was rushing upwards as the bus fell like a waterfall almost without a noise. Pandemonium broke out for couples of seconds before the ill-fated bus landed at the foot of the cliff with a tremendous crash some hundred meters from the road. Silence prevailed the aftermath of the fall.
When the police arrived three hours later, they could only see the carcass of the bus like the carcass of a bull attacked by a hoard of tigers.
Five days later, Gonpo regained consciousness in Paro Hospital. He had a fractured right leg and a deep cut on the head. The pain sheared throughout his body and he could hardly think well. To his utter dismay he found that his right arm has been amputated. He stayed in a state of shock for almost a month. His friends visited him occasionally. As he got better he enquired about Pem. They told him she was fine and recovering for a broken rib at home in Bumthang. He started to write letters to Pem but it was not replied leaving him concerned and feeling lonely at the ward. He was sad and desolate.
Gonpo recovered from his wounds and trauma sooner than doctors expected, thus he was dispatched home after one and half months at the hospital. When he reached home he opened his incomplete diary and plucked out Pem’s only photograph. On the rear of it was her address and phone number. He became so happy that he almost forgot about the accident. He walked around the room musing and recalling the last journey they had travelled together. The last time he saw her was when he turned to look at her as she slept like a princess leaning against the window bars.
The spell of darkness was beginning to fall on to the chilly Paro valley. It was time to take his normal evening walk down the street as doctors had suggested for total healing. He had hardly come out of the ward during the day.
That evening at about ten, the phone rang at Tashi Pem’s Grocery Store. Pem’s mother picked up and answered, “ La! Ga suungm mo?” Gonpo at the other end smiled, “Nga na Paro ley zhu do la?” His heart beat was pounding his chest in anxiety. He continued, sighing; “Nga Pem gi chharo yein..” This time the Pem’s mother replied with a stammer, “ Ga chi bay ni inn na mo.” Gonpo wiped his tears of joy and answered hurriedly, “Nga Pem da lo laap go bay sa la..” Instantly he heard a breath crackling into the ear piece. Pems’ mother broke down sobbing. A sinister feeling struck Gonpo. “ Hello!” He broke the silence reluctantly. At the other end Pem’s mother stared at the phone, tears dripping from her eyes and in almost a whisper mumbled to tell him that Pem was no more. She had succumbed to her injuries at the accident site only. Gonpo dropped the phone saying nothing and stood in the room shattered and confused. Darkness became darker; his face became pale as his tears rolled down from his saddened cheeks. A minute later he staggered out of his house as if for another stroll down to the Bonday bridge under the crescent moon; ever so slowly like a gliding shadow.
When the morning broke over Paro valley that one cold winter; the first pedestrian walking by the bridge beheld a corpse floating under the bridge caught between the boulders. It had only one hand. On the bridge they saw photograph of a girl frozen in the winter’s ice!!!!

Broken glass

‘Tshering I am gone,’ her father shouted from the door. There was the sound of water flushing in the bath room and the door being opened. ‘Alright daddy, good day…and bye.’ She yelled back. The familiar sound of the bike’s engine faded to the north. She dried her hair, combed rather hurriedly and went to the dining table to see what her father had prepared for breakfast. There was a scrambled egg still steaming, some five pieces of buttered bread and a tumbler of creamy milk.
For Tshering, her father was everything. Gelephug had become her new home. He had brought her up all alone with his meager earning as security personnel at the Bhutan Boards and Furniture limited. He had been a common security and never risen above owing to his qualification. Tshering’s mother had passed away two days after Tshering’s delivery nineteen years ago. Tshering studied at five different schools before sitting for the class ten board exams. Somehow she had managed to pass but without much hope of continuing further she joined for the basic computer training at CityCenter management institute. She joined the city bank as a typist after graduation. The beginning of her career was a blessing for her father when she began to pay the house rent and saved what little she could for other purposes.
After breakfast she went back to her room and opened for herself a glass of Hit Beer. She lit a cigarette by the window taking a minute’s pull. Her fingers were jittery as the smoke left her nostrils. This had become a routine for the morning for almost a month. Her severity of drinking habit had caused lapses at her work and it was a clear testimony of her irresponsibility even after repeated reprisal from the board Director himself. Her job had been terminated a month ago but she did not tell her father for fear of displeasing his trust and love. Her father had no way of knowing with his duties almost engaging him all hours and seasons. Desperation compelled her to take support from more drinks and smoke secretly.
Whenever her father returned from work she would welcome him warmly, ‘How was the day dad? Any interesting incidences?’ He would reply, ‘Fine; all the same.’ At times he would ask her about her work. She would tell him how she hated her work crammed with computation and statistical managements. It was more of an excuse to cover her lies than a complaint. Times passed with the hide and seek game. She became a perfect actor for one important audience.
Tshering had almost forgotten that another month was coming to an end. She began to get worried about rental payments. One evening during suppertime her father casually reminded, ‘Tshering tomorrow we must clear our rent. We don’t get time to talk much so I am reminding.’ She was barely listening. Her father almost shouted, ‘ Tshering! Are you alright?’ Tshering flexed to attention, ‘ Dad? Yes I’m listening. But I didn’t get the months’ payment so far.’ There were no more words from her father.
The following morning after  her father left for work as usual she opened her father’s briefcase. She took a gold ring and a chain. The same afternoon she sold the ornaments to a goldsmith across the border for less than its actual price. She even managed to sell her imported jacket to the local retailer. It was the boldest crime she had committed to redeem her failure. When her father returned home that evening Tshering was sobbing on the floor her hand cut by the window glass. There were broken glasses on the bedroom window and on the floor. ‘What happened?’ He exclaimed aghast at the unexpected spectacle. He took her in his arms and asked her again. ‘I don’t know. It was broken and the window opened when I arrived. I checked inside. My leather jacket is gone.’ She answered between breaths. Her father became pale. When he came out of his room it was even paler. He muttered inaudibly, ‘Darling, everything is lost, everything.’  Tshering called the police to calm her father. That night supper was a forgotten item and sleep became a ghost of tormenting thoughts for both of them.
From the following day the policemen from the criminal department began an intensive investigation into the case for two weeks. Tshering noticed her father becoming paler and weaker every day. He was losing his presence of mind. She felt terribly sorry for him as for herself. One evening he called her to his bedside and told her how he had promised her mother to never let their daughter suffer. He had vowed to take care of her throughout his life. She could see glimpse of despondency weakly glimmering in his aged eyes. ‘You mother was just like you, cheerful and silent.  When cancer took the last breath out of her she asked me to give the gold ring on your twentieth birthday. The chain was to be your wedding present.’ Tears filled his eyes. There was no expression of any emotion on his face. She became afraid her father would not live to see another dawn. She sat by his bedside gazing blankly at her father’s pale face. 
‘Apa…..apa; I want to tell you something.’ He turned to look at her. He wrapped his hands around her trembling fingers. She wept as she spoke. Without the least hesitation she told him the truth she had tried to hide for almost three months. It was a story of her alcoholism and sordid crime. She told him how she was unable to hurt him my telling the truth and tried all means to keep him happy. There was a blot of bewildered expression on his face, ‘ But you could have told me you lost your job at least.’ Tshering tried to justify to console her father, ‘ I was afraid dad, I really was. I did not want to pressure you on your weak heart. I loved you too much to let you suffer from the stroke. How could I lose you dad.’
His father’s face twisted angrily, ‘This is how you return my blood and sweat. I have wasted every inch of my muscle for you standing night and day. Get away from here?’ He yelled with all the strength he had. Tshering held his hands begging forgiveness. ‘ I don’t want to see you. Please go……….’ He screamed at her. She stood dead by the bedside saying nothing. He gestured her to go out, his hands flailing lifelessly. She walked out of the room weeping agonizingly. The silence outside was less soothing than it did with the bottle of beer.
Irreparable damage had been done. When the morning broke over the town Tshering’s father was no more a man but a defeated corpse. Everything after that happened like a dream. Her confession gave her a year and half in jail.
After her release she had no home, she was a dilapidated woman. However, she got a job at the Blue Dragons’ Diner as a counter woman without much difficulty. And for the rest of her life the old guilt distressed her even in her comforting dreams.The broken glasses could never be mended again.


Angel in Disguise


One windy morning in August, the earliest would be passenger arrived at Bumthang-Mongar bus terminal ticketing counter at about quarter to six. He wore a well-ironed cotton serthra gho with a neatly folded lagay and collar ghong. His immaculate disposition but belied his sodden looks that was suffused with lines of worry on his brow. His hair was dusty and unkempt. As he leaned over the counter his eyes lit up with a streak of joy on seeing the counter clerk. He managed to smile for an introduction.
‘Is there a ticket for Monger sir?’ he enquired between gasp of anxious breath.
‘Yes but it’s all reserved by others, you may have to wait,’ counter boy explained. ‘Perhaps someone may cancel and….’
The man pursed his lips and nodded to say something but didn’t. He stood aside for sometime fiddling his rosary as if it was a talisman of good luck. People began to throng the terminus in ones and twos. As minutes passed to hour he became impatient. ‘Hope someone changes his mind,’ he prayed silently. A little later he joined behind the queue at the counter.
‘Sir, sir,’ he called over the queue desperate to know if anyone cancelled.
The counter clerk heard him, ‘Two tickets left; we have to wait a little while for them to come.’
‘Sir!’ He implored earnestly, ‘please will you understand me; I really have to go today please. My wife is ill at home. She needs me.’ The clerk stared helplessly at him unable to say anything.
A woman came and took one ticket. He stood there becoming more worried. ‘Listen, I’ve been asked to wait and I’ve waited for almost two hours now. You must arrange me one anyhow.’ He insisted.
‘These tickets were booked since yesterday by my boss and I can’t do anything.’ Saying thus the clerk resumed work, his fingers tapping on an electronic calculator.
The other day, after an exigency call from Tangmachu Hospital Lopen Tshering had left for Bumthang from Trongsa in the afternoon in a PWD truck which was loaded with firewood. They had arrived that morning. He had not slept throughout the night and presently was feeling sick and drowsy.
Lopen knpcked on the counter bars, ‘Look, my wife is dying and I,’ He tried to explain his woe. He felt like strangling the clerk for ignoring his plea, ‘You must do me some favour.’ The clerk was adamant not to give him the last ticket. Lopen’s last hope vanished when the last ticket was taken by an elderly man. Lopen pleaded for a standing ticket as a last resort.
‘We’ve strict orders from RSTA, we can’t do that.’ The clerk had no authority to favour lopen.
‘I shall go standing then.” Lopen declared angrily and stormed out of the terminus to the parking lot. He tried to make arrangement with the driver who denied request with a harsh answer, “You educated lot very well know the rule. I can’t take the risk.’
The DCM truck parked at the far corner fired its engine as lopen turned. With fresh hopes he sprinted towards the truck and inquired the destination of the truck to the driver. ‘We’ll go till Thrumshingla, for logging ‘the driver explained politely, ‘you are going to Mongar? It’s difficult to get lift in other vehicles from there.’ Lopen thanked him and retraced his steps to the terminus again. There was only ten or so minutes left for the departure of Monger bound bus. People began boarding the bus. They smiled at him as their eyes met. He smiled reluctantly out of Bhutanese courtesy.
Lopen walked to and fro impatiently. He was beginnining to get annoyed at everything. He wanted to blaspheme the entire place, the system, the counter boy and the passengers as well for not leaving a ticket for him. If he did blaspheme it would be from expediency of his circumstances and not from principle. He wanted to revile god who made his wife ill and made him to respond on the spur of the moment without the necessity of comfort.
‘I must go anyhow or I will be late.’ He bit his lips to hold back tears of desperation. He slung his bag over the shoulder and hopped towards the bus. Just as the bus began to move he banged hard on the bus door, irritably.
  ‘Tickets please.’ The conductor asked from the window of the closed door; extending one greasy hand. ‘It’s an emergency sir, here-‘he took out some notes, ‘I will pay you double the fare.’
‘Sorry la, I can’t do that.’ Saying the conductor withdrew his hand. The driver revved the engine and gave a sharp echoing honk for departure. Lopen saw two traffic policemen approach the bus from the terminus gate. He approached them as humbly as he could and asked if he could board the bus.
‘Can’t you something? My wife is very ill in Tangmachhu hospital.’ He explained.
‘No,no. The rules are strict here. We can’t be of any help if you got no ticket. Better reserve for tomorrow.’ One of them answered with a rehearsed phrase.
Unable to do anything and greatly disheartened, Lopen slammed his fist on the bus. The policemen gave him a stern look. The bus began to gear towards the gate.He stood immobile, watching his only hope disappearing. As he closed his eyes and sat down he heard the bus screech to a halt, but he ignored it. He staggered towards the Bar outside the gate with a leaden heart.’This isn’t happening to me, it is just another bad dream.’ He imagined. “ My wife wasn’t ill and nobody is worried-‘ He remembered the phone call and came out of his reverie.
‘ All right! One peg of whiskey and I will forget everything. No! I must not drink again. When was the last time I touched the bottle? Fifteen years?’ Lopen was in dilemma. He wished he would wake up in his room and would hear the cacophony break by his window as the children went to school for another day.
Lopen was about to order for his drink when he heard a man’s voice from behind. “ Lopen la; lopen.’ He turned to face a stranger.
‘Kuzuzangpo la.’ The stranger wore a mathra gho. He bowed slightly almost blushing. He was half the years younger than Lopen.
‘Kuzuzangpo.’ Lopen replied, staring suspiciously at the stranger.
‘I’m Damchu la’
‘Damchu?’ Lopen frowned trying to recall. The bus honked. He thought the bus had left and wondered why it was still out there.
‘ Damchu from Damthang la; I was your student.’
Lopen Tshering raised his brow in bewilderment; ‘ Are you Damchu Damthangpa? Where are you nowadays?’
‘Lopen there is no time for explanation. My co-passenger in the bus told me you were here since morning. Lopen’s Aum is ill or something at home. I looked for you in the terminus too.’ Lopen’s mind was floundering in the sea of tribulation. He sat there as if in a dream, unable to speak anything. Damchu shoved his ticket into lopen’s shaky hands; ‘Please hurry. You take my seat. I shall come tomorrow morning, I’m not in haste.’
‘What?’ Lopen could barely utter another word as Damchu dragged him humbly out to the bus. Damchu seated lopen in his seat, excused the passengers briefly and jumped off the bus with a leather briefcase stuck under his arm.
As the bus glided forward, as if across the blue sky, Lopen Tshering had a difficult time trying to separate feelings of joy and perplexity. Warm tears of joy coursed down his wrinkled and weathered face. He had even forgotten to thank the kind soul. He waved through the window to the angel with a grateful smile that showed every line on his ageing face. He thanked god and closed his eyes as if to sleep eternally.