Short Story: Searching for Blouse of Affection

When Rajiv married, almost all friends in the troupe played a prank – Prajwol should fall for Rajiv’s sali. Prajwol, timid and reticent guy, blushed at his friends’ gimmickry that continued for few weeks, and eventually everyone forgot. Even Prajwol did not remember, once he was mocked about a girl, whose face though he had seen once or twice had blurred, when spotted again, surely he would not recognize.

It was not the first time he had been a victim of whimsical comments; it went back to his high school days. Anish was one of them who played pranks on him. Anish and Prajwol were in the same school, same class and shared the same room in the hostel. There was a time when Prajwol considered him insolent, but later had to eat his words when Anish stood by him through thick and thin.

One day the two friends were together after six years. Anish said, “Aha! Let me see what you’ve written – a suicide note.” He screwed his eyes. “Oh! Then you’re thinking about death.” 

Prajwol smiled. “Trying to fill the hollow, I’ve found solace in poetry.”

“Behind this façade lives a philosopher,” Anish sounded sombre. “Life is a coupling and death is annihilation.”

Prajwol’s mother popped in.”I hadn’t known your friend is here.”

“Never mind auntie, two friends will drink from the same mug, alright.” Prajwol’s face suffused with brightness, Anish seemed to be overtly arrogant. “Don’t smile boy, actually you’ve got into the hot water.” Mother walked out grinning. “I’ve got someone for you, curvaceous, full bodied,” He was winking his eyes. Prajwol laughed. “It’s nice to hear you like in those good old days.”   

“Rima always queries about you? You still love her, don’t you?”

Prajwol raised his voice.”Alright, tell our former teacher I want to marry her.”

“Aha! My friend’s nerves are at right place,” Anish laughed, he was jocular like always.

Anish had met Prajwol while he was trying to ameliorate his life giving up drugs. In spite of his addiction, while all boys swerved away, Anish had bonhomie with him, which was a payment against the trust Prajwol had bestowed him with. The trust was to let Anish see his diary, and reveal the minutiae of his life. Once he had asked him the reason for taking narcotics, Prajwol had given him a note:  I’m always tormented, what it is, I don’t imbibe – time and again I think of death. What’s there in living? I’m to live a life of a widow, strangling all exultation. Life ought to be like that of a young exuberant woman. When I embark into the delirium of intoxication, nothing pre-empts me, I laugh in pain, cry in happiness.

Anish and his friend were living in a hostel room meant for three, and Prajwol longed to join them. His roommate had trepidation with the drug addict, but Anish bullied him not to be pernickety and be pragmatist, and keep vigilance on him. Prajwol was an insipid person – darkly circled eyes were lugubrious, palled face having few pock marks was apathetic, and obnoxious odour never left him. He was mundane guy, slowly they acquainted him. Sometimes he slept 24 hours or was awaken, played mouth harmonium before tossing it on the floor, prepared for exams or rather would rip the pages of books. He whined for being second in the class, bonked on the wall and scratched himself remembering his people, soiled his mattress, let the washing rot in the tub, and did not shave or manicure for weeks.

“I wetted my under pants yesterday, when it was announced I secured highest position in the class. Earlier I had been dismissed from four schools. For twenty years my parents were homeless. Affliction is the name of the game,” one day Prajwol said. Anish was morose. Those days he never taunted him, instead was quite succinct. He considered him a neglected soul taking refuge on a boat with a hole. Like a mentor he tried to shove him off from puffing marijuana and swallowing drugs, slowly making him eschews narcotics. To him it was reconcilable but what he lacked was affection. He commiserated him and reproached his kin for being too careless about the boy.

After High School, Anish went to the United States where as Prajwol enrolled in a college in Kathmandu. Parting with him it had never struck, one day he would receive an email from a friend informing him about Prajwol’s drug overdose. Recollections conjured up in his mind and did not know whom to castigate. When Anish departed with Prajwol, he was trying to give up drugs. He was always erratic as he oscillated between fecundity and foul play. One could never predict his psyche, he shrieked in happiness, or laughed when malaise took him. Every time boys were topsy-turvy, they mingled over the maze of truth and illusion.

During the interlude of six years, Anish feared the bereavement. He craved to sweep the idea about narcotics puffing out Prajwol, but the idea hit him incessantly. Once Prajwol wrote him he gave up drugs, Anish blithely believed.  However, he again received an email from a friend informing Prajwol’s another suicide attempt.

And yet, Prajwol was living. He had staved off turbulent past and stood in the equanimity of present; of future? Who knows what it has in its womb.

*

Days and nights, months and years, strut and sway away like a gust of wind. Yesterday was the spring smiling boisterously like a child. A glimpse and then it’s gone. Humans have compulsion to fabricateviability,condemned to celebrate sorrows. Life and world mitigate this way, and people are cascade of recollections, manifesting their weakness and constraints, to whirl into the labyrinthine – the men and women of contradictions. This is the truth of humnity.

That day walking briskly out of the class, Prajwol was interrupted by a girl, panting and flushing. “Sir, would it be alright if I walk with you,” she said. He saw no despicable design. “I like you not squabbling with those bunch of morons – a self centred lecturer,” she laughed. He scrutinized the girl and was little miffed by the pandering. “What’s your name?”

“Swarnim Koirala, Commerce Stream, class 11, section B,” she raised her eyes, “of course I told you Mr. Chhetry.” Mischief floated in those brown eyes.

There were 50-60 students in each class, how could anyone, who gave lectures to almost three hundred pupils in a day, remember a student. Prajwol saw felicity in her eyes while walking into the Royal Palace Plaza of Lalitpur city. Open air market, temples, stone pillars with statutes, rest-inns, open air stages and water spouts occupied the site.

“Sir, inside that old palace there are several courtyards, so majestic. One day I’d like to go there with you.” He considered it a slick idea, devoid of her vicarious thrill he walked. “And that temple, much vaunted asset.” He looked at the Krishna Temple with 21 pinnacles. “The Lord had a harem of sixteen hundred women that’s why sometimes I wash my hands of the males. But many times I feel I cannot.” Where was she going with the trite talking, he thought, a tawdry girl? However, before he could prune her, she slinked.

Another day from the dais of the class, about which she talked, he looked for her – the no oil painting was lost amongst the hilarious young pupils. Nevertheless, in the afternoon, walking towards his home, Prajwol was again side tracked. “Sometimes I think what our country possesses. And then it comes to my mind, it is the compendium of legends and myths.” This crazy silhouette, a little girl’s face, only to vanish into a hag; he smirked turning away to the stone pedestal, a king squatting, a serpent’s hood as an umbrella, a golden bird perching.

“Sir, do you believe that king is still alive?” It was a goofy question, he pouted his lips in resentment. “Those elephants would walk to those water spouts to drink water, the Garuda would lay two pearls as big as a hen’s egg, and that golden bird would fly.” He cast a glance at her, on her lips he saw impish beam; however, she was not looking at him. He wanted to act like rouge but failed. Swarnim was brightened like a morning sky.”Thus spoke the king about the signs of his death.” Then she disappeared into the crowd, analogous to the king who had vanished in his palace, and would be dead when such improbabilities would be accomplished. He looked at the golden bird, it was a work of a master, would it fly to the heaven, he asked himself, and smiled. The bird was still there on the serpent’s hood, and he knew Swarnim, a precocious little girl too, was somewhere in the city.

In his next class, he saw her tugged between girls, noisy by long odds as the girls of her age. And he was angry. That day and few other consecutive days he took another way to avoid her, on the fourth, he saw her hogging the school gate. She smiled and let him pass. How long could he swerve from his student whom he met six days a week.

*

He was puffing a cigarette, engrossed into himself, head askew, looking into the Queen’s Pond from an overhead bridge. Old grand pond, peace giving blue, green as fun, streaks of white foam – how would it feel to get there? The blue-green churning water changed his mood, sun warmed his stretched back, white water drifting from large tapes rapidly, mother duck wagging her babies under the low bending bough.

“It’s beautiful.” He did not look back because he knew it was Swarnim’s voice. “How deep is the pond, sir?”

“I’ve never been there.” He was still not looking at her.

“Neither I,” she was as phlegmatic as she could be, “the Queen’s Pond, a symbol of love from the great king, but why’s there a Shiva’s temple instead of Kamadev.” She laughed, her brashness was lost in the din of zooming vehicles, loquacious people.

“Kamdev is not the God of love.”

She chuckled. “I was afraid you’d never talk to me.” He frowned, at her felicity. “Kamdev is the god of sex whom Shiva destroyed, but do you think love and sex can be segregated? The kings were cursed because of the replica of this pond inside the palace, do you believe that?”  She sounded like a heretic, “I don’t, but those rulers believed for ages, and hence they never paid homage to the Budhanilkantha.”

“Why do you talk about incredible things?”

“Alright, you want practicalities? But what we talk about?”

“Why do we have to talk?”

“You don’t like, no? Okay, I’m going, bye. See you in the class.” She however, did not budge. “You know sir, I don’t like getting married like my sister, to me, that was a trade. I want to tie a knot with a man of my choice – inter-caste and inter-class, I’d call it.” A faint idea evoked within his mind about the girl talking strange. “I’d have been elated if my sister had wedded you.” Prajwol watched his student, she was keeping her composure, slouching over the railings of the over-head bridge towards the turquoise-coloured water. “I despise my vinaju,” she said.  

He was dismayed – what did she mean? He tried to waive the conundrum, nevertheless, quite often he found himself bellicose. Her arrival irked him; notwithstanding, he would forget her after the departure.

*

The Nepali year was turning and soon there would be Dashain, the festival of bloodletting, when goats die in the courtyards, and the bamboo swings arch over the meadows. Sitting on the stairs of a benighted temple, Prajwol was subservient to the kite season. The paper kites sharp against the livid sky, city children reeling them back and forth until they were caught in trees, or shagged on electric wires, flapping like wind tattered prayer flags. In a holiday evening trying to come together with the throngs, he saw Swarnim in slinky apparels. She waved her hands and vivaciously walked with two girls. Prajwol was relieved seeing her walk away, nonetheless, his solitary did not last long for soon she joined him. “You must labour hard with your studies,” he said.

“Yes sir, I’ve great expectations, want to be a trail blazer.” He moved his eyes over her, an ambitious girl, perhaps. “Happy Dashain,” she said handing him a packet.

 “What’s this?” he asked ill at ease.

“Festival’s greeting.” She was in high sprit.

He tore the packet awkwardly. There was a chocolate bar and a card with compliments: to my best teacher. She smiled sheepishly. “I’m so sorry sir, for I could not be in the school in Guru defying day. I missed you so much that day when I remained in my room sickly, listening and watching rain drops rattling the roof, and the clouds darkening the balcony.” She waited for his rising to the occasion but he kept his own counsel. For almost half an hour she sat almost touching him, hearing his breath, and trying to conjecture his thoughts. He was stiff. She stood feigning anger but it ended in smoke, she even said ‘bye’ and walked little farther, yet he did not budge. Then suddenly he looked at her, “I don’t eat chocolate.” She obstinately held a piece offering him.

“What’s your problem?” he asked spitefully. She desisted. “I’m taking this card,” he smiled, “I’ve got three this season, the largest number in my teaching career.”

His smile was devastating, the first she had ever seen.

*

“Sir, you drink your coffee here?” Sahuni, a canteen woman, asked. He grunted not deigning to look at her, hating the voluptuous woman always smiling at him. He was standing at the edge of the roof terrace “You want a chair, no?” He nodded. The woman brimming with a smile walked off swirling her sari. Hearing the girls guffaw, he tossed his head, he saw a cropped head of a boy enshrouded by girls with short hemlines. As usual he loathed him. Then there was Sahuni with the coffee mug and a plastic chair. Like a docile child he sat, took the mug, and averted his eyes in case he might be attacked by her smile. On the other side girls cackled and it was where the shoe pinched. He sipped coffee, it had an amicable taste. Sahuni was still smiling. “Good?” He grunted. “I prepared myself – strong and little sugar.”

Spasm of anxiety got the better of him, he appeared a snob and the debasement suffocated Sahuni. After waiting for a while for him to say something, she walked indignantly. He sighed deep and sipped coffee. In the winter afternoon it had soothing effect.  

“Good afternoon, sir.” Prajwol was thrown out of gear, Swarnim, whose smile he always found welcoming, was standing before him. He did not dislike her but saw no reason why he should like her either. He looked quizzically. “The lecture did not fascinate me.” He felt wounded by this raid in his privacy and tried to flinch away, but he found himself arresting the nuance of his student. “What fascinates you?” he asked reluctantly.

“To be in love is a surreal thing.”

He gazed vacuously at the girl blazing in her frivolity. Prajwol found breathing space when there was a call from her pals. She frowned at her friends and gazed him exuberantly. “Got to go.” He stood his ground by not following her cat-walk.

Over the days He was so much engrossed with his work that he hardly found time for pass time affairs. It was the month of December and soon there would be winter vacation. Before the class adjourned he had to finish lecturing on this chapter, so he was in the library reading the relevant book for his subject.

“Prajwolji, what are you reading so tenaciously?”

He twitched, a pang of disgust surging up inside him. “I see, you don’t have a class at this hour,” he asked his colleague.

“Mm… actually, I need a break before my lecture,” the man replied, pulling a chair, “I think I should read a newspaper first.”

Students are waiting in the class and this man is goofing around – Prajwol thought. “Will you excuse me, sir? I’ve to finish this reading.”  Had he been too callous? He assumed so, immediately followed by the sweeping of the very idea from his mind.

The man grinned laconically. “Alright sir,” he said and walked off. “Kabitaji! You look beautiful in this grey morning.” Prajwol heard him complimenting the librarian. He wanted to utter invectives but was left shimmering, also, could not have a moment of respite for here was Swarnim again. “Looking good!” she said sitting on the chair, “I didn’t know bright colour suits you.”  

He was almost in fury by her raving with a lot of frills. He looked other side, the man at the reception desk flashed bawdy smile at him. “Go away,” Prajwol raised his voice.

“Sorry to take your time, sir,” she said politely, “I just came to ask you a question.”

“Ask me in the class.”

She was miffed, yet in the afternoon she had mustered buoyancy when they came across at the juncture towards his home. “Do you remember sir, once I’d said I wanted to go into that palace with you,” she said, “and one the day I sat on that parapet with you, looking over that stone temple, the Garuda, the king, the elephants?” She gazed his face for a while. “Sir, look at this, what I’ve got for you” she held a miniature of Krishna playing a flute. “Too soon but I wish you for the happiness of the coming year.”

Sticking to his colours, he trotted, she almost ran to catch him. “Why are you doing this to me,” his voice faltered, “I despise this.”

“What? Krishna or me?

He sidled into the melee on the narrow street, gagged by men and women he looked at her, she was pinning her faith on dormancy. Next day in the college, he hanged with his colleagues and students, in the afternoon he asked for a lift. He was relieved as he succeeded in refusing to be led by the nose. In the month-long winter vacation he did not have to snap his finger at Swarnim, and he was elated. But he fell flat a week later. His step-brother had died in a motorbike accident and he had to go to the funeral. Prajwol wanted to wash his hand to the matter, but anyways, he had to go to the bereaved people. He wanted to skip from formalities which he couldn’t because women were not permitted in the crematorium, and he did not want his mother to offended. In the foggy morning he boarded a bus towards Pashupatinath, thinking about his father.

After a terrible altercation he told his father he will be averse to riding the motorbike. He was angry and vowed to bear down everything he gave. “How will you shake off my name?” was the question from his father. It was bitter and brittle truth and he did not wish to pull back to the day he had done for. His step-brother had died in a motorbike accident, the same motorbike which he rode proudly for a year. It was very dear to him, the bike which he loved had later become his worst enemy. The memories attached cut him up.

Beneath the Pashupatinath temple his relatives had amalgamated. Corpse was obtruded upon a slanted stone slope, feet almost touching the Bagmati’s water. At the side of the head was an outlet of temple sanctum. Water mixed with requisite of worshipping – flowers, rice, sandalwood paste, milk, honey etc. – was flowing towards the river. His father eyes were filled with tears when he saw Prajwol as spectator of the rites, contrarily, the son gauged with spasmodic rage surging – the selfish man has realized now I’m his only child. Avoiding the old man’s mien, he limped to the other side. There were his uncles, cousins, nephews, the pieces with his father, whom he despised, but here, he had nowhere to go.

The corpse was laid on the pyre, and people queued to deck it with flowers. Prajwol had looked at the same ritual when the dead body was at Bramhanal, the sewage of God. He watched people dropping flowers, sitting in the sattle with marvellously carved wood. His father gave fire to the pyre, a custom expected from son at the death of his father, an irony to the old man, who disinherited his mother and him, and stayed with his paramour.

Butter and camphor drenched logs had caught fire, people were gathering in the sattle. He was aggravated – these people had turned their backs when he needed most during the ad hoc of his life. Now he had survived the crux, and they said – this is my cousin, you know he’s a lecturer, Prajwol is my nephew, he earns more than thirty thousands in a month.

At this hour someone was saying, “Babu, when will you invite us in your wedding.” His uncle said, “Son, I’ve found a beautiful girl for you.” His cousin said, “Dada, bhauju must be beautiful as well as intelligent.” Contrast to the situation the imbeciles were having an axe to grind. Prajwol was stark, he wanted to castigate, but he had to have pragmatism. He walked towards the other side, apparently, he was not supposed to extricate from the burning pyre. Then he saw Swarnim that passed off as an excuse. He stood waiting her to approach.

“Sir, I had not known you were a pious man,” she said when he was at the stone’s throw. She was walking along with two women. “You won’t believe, but you know, I had a hunch I’d meet you today. Guess what, I had seen even numbers of sarau.” Prajwol tried to light him up, his lips quivered when Swarnim stood facing him, “Sir, would you like to put tika.” He did not strain every nerve to answer but found himself slouching towards the girl, who just came to his shoulder. “A cold morning,” he said.

“And grey. I hate this gloom.”

He smiled. The two women, standing little away, grinned. “I think I’m distracting you,” he said pacing on the stone pavement. She did not wish to lose her ground. “Sir, why don’t you give me your number.” Prudently, he was beginning to give himself airs. “I do not have a telephone,” he said keeping the veneer intact. “Yes, I know you don’t have a cell, but at least you could provide me your home number.” He looked sitting on the fence. “Just to ask questions every time I’m confused about the chemicals,” she giggled.

“Oh”, he said and walked past, “I haven’t visited the temple yet.”

He did not turn back and was very swift fearing she will be on her heels. Inside the wings of the temple – he remembered – during the first 13 mourning days, the custom did not allow to put tika or visit temples. He was happy being a rebel to his father. When he was back, some of the men had gone but relatives were still there. He hated his uncle winking at him, cousins smiling slyly, and the morose father. He filched away at their appalling questions not answering them.

On the bridge over the river straddling the temple and the small wood, he saw Swarnim hunching. She waved her hands when his eyes met hers, he could sense her alacrity from a distance. She was alone, he walked towards her. “Is there anything wrong?” she asked. He enumerated her words, she giggled. “I’ m happy to talk to you on and off.”

“Let’s go,” he said, “away from this pong.”

“Who died?”

“My father’s son.” She was galled by his innuendo. “I hate that man, my mother’s husband. Let’s go.” She did not budge. He grabbed her arm making her feel the tightening of loathing. “This is suffocating,” he said, his voice lowered. She staggered while crossing the bridge and climbing the stairs. When he let go her arm, she lost balance almost dropping on the stone pavement but Prajwol held her again, then they walked silently, almost touching the other shoulder. He was hoping against hope, and she was trying to catch intricacy of the jungle. 

“Sir!” she cried like a child, “Look at those deer. He was lackadaisical. “And those monkeys,” he said not intending to make her laugh but how much he regretted later. “I always love to come here because of these beautiful deer, funny monkeys, innocent pigeons–”

“Hello, are you dreaming?”

“You know sir, the myth of Shiva and Parvati related to this place. Well, in fact, you may call me agnostic, but the idea of Pashupatinath, the master of animal-kind, psyches me. In the winter when the Swasthani is read in my home, I sit listening, the same story every year and try to see beyond the deer incarnated Shiva, Parvati searching for her beau and other gods looking for their master.”

“Why do you ramble on mythic meanderings?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why do you want to be hand and glove with me?”

“I don’t know.”

“Alright, let’s go back.”

“Please sir, let’s sit somewhere, and watch this mystic world.” He agreed. “And let’s be silent,” he added.

“Why?”

“I want to listen.”

“What?”

“Myself”

She laughed gaily, he was sombre. “A tough guy,” she said not tracing his face, “how good would it be to watch this place from the sky.”

“You can flare like those Gods.”

“I’m a poor woman like the Mother-Goddess Parvati. I really feel sad thinking about her gruelling acts to find Shiva. Tell me sir, why a woman has to endure this? Even Parvati had to sit on penance to have Shiva as her consort.”

“Because gods were created by males.”

“Then why did they create goddesses?”

“They wanted playmates for their gods.”

“Why do I have to come to you always?”

“You’re a student and student needs a teacher.”

“What is a teacher?”

“Omniscient like the male gods!”

She cheered, “Are the males superior?”

“No,” he said, “let’s go back.” He did not wait her answer and walked the same path, she was subservient following him; all the way they were quiet. Without seeing her face he walked off gait rolling, towards the bereaved people. The pyre was almost brunt and many men had left the site. He sat there with no exchange of words, until soot and ash were thrown into the river. His father had tried to talk, still he did not answer.

At home he hated to do the ablution for he had come from the cremation ground, which he obediently accepted, intending not to incite sorrow in his mother. But when he took his first morsel he was raged. “I won’t abandon salt.”

“At least for few days,” mother pleaded. He did not agree. He went to the kitchen cabinet for the bottle of salt.

*

The spring day was sultry. Soon class 11 would sit for term-end exams. He was in the parlour of the school building watching gold fishes swim inside the glass-box. Theirs is the whole world within the box. Who cares for the sky?Who cares for the earth?Few stonesaround.  And some greens.Divers at workDeep down to the ocean…High up to the surface…Water! Easy food!  Light!Freedom within. Artificial.Charm is their colour. Freedom is their name, ignorance is their life. The whole world around within a box.

Prajwol was so much engrossed into the goldfish that he took no notices until Swarnim spoke. “I was little confused about the size, but here I see the shirt had been tailored for you.” Prajwol looked critically at himself and smiled at her. “It gives you a pleasure to find somebody has liked your gift.” The girl was going too far. “I think I should not have accepted this,” he said. At first he was dubious about the present for the Nepali New Year, but he saw her watery eyes and did not wish to offend his student, who had always been diligent on studies. It was nebulous idea, yet was incessant whenever Swarnim came to him – was the girl having some crush on him. Teacher is a first man a girl sees apart from her kin and kith, the infatuation is obvious – he tried to rationalized.

“You may not love me but you can’t stop me loving you,” she cooed into his ear. He jerked and walked off without casting a glance at her, went to the Principle, and asked for a day’s leave.

*

When the sun sets, there is a wish it will rise tomorrow, but does it sets. With seven colours it’s always up in the sky and under the sun, people and things are down poured with hues – red, yellow, blue. She was the same sun, entering through eyes, melting his heart. Rain was his tears, autumn his smile, spring his love. He did not wish to ruminate other way around because she went into the very depth tormenting and stirring, making drop him into his own knees. Rain or shine, moon or stars – she sat abreast etching a saga of palpitation of two hearts. The sublime delight, the eyes glistened, the diamonds hiding in coyness – he couldn’t smear these, no matter what. Closed eyes see nothing, but mind opened up while thinking about her. Hate, anger, insanity and everything wore off. She was his depth, height; the dweller of his sky, his ocean.

“Let’s bunk the class today and go for a long ride.”

He was submissive relating the relationship with flower and its aroma – can anyone separate water from lake and the river? Crazy wilderness seeped into him, making him wait and want, because she was his present. He took her to the dance, presented lavish gifts, dined in an exquisite restaurant, and went to extravagant theatre. She was his heart, and he thought he was her mind, she lived in him, he was inside her, and not the independent existence. Her heart was with him, his soul was with her. He was there, and she was here – everything here, everything there.

“Don’t preach! I don’t like you being my guardian.”

He turned himself. Past and future were just cavernous space, and in the present, sadness wrapped, and he felt like cut off. This suspicion was very painful. Setting sun and the dark night kindled melancholia and dejection; agony and sorrows of wounded heart cried in the rainy days. She did not exist, nor he and hence the universe was just an illusion. In the infinite depth, in the inner body, she was born, and was always with him. Like a lotus calmly waiting for the sun to come, dropping its petal on its shadow on the surface, he waited her to fill his emptiness. She would be his or not, he knew he was always hers, loving eternally, till the stop of his throbs, breathe, life! 

“I’m at New Road, will you pick me up, and drop me at my friend’s place.”

Here she came. The sky drops its tears still the ocean is silent, was her love such? River finds its own path, would it be right to emulate the same? He cried unconsciously spending the days in great restlessness, nights tossing and turning – oozing out of him was emotion, like tears rolling down the cheeks. What was happening, was he demented? But, no, it was her love, and he knew he had plunged into the depth drowning, beating hands restlessly towards the shore. 

“You won’t believe Ranjan has given me a gold pendant. Yesterday we went on a long drive. You know, what a lovely car he has.”     

The game of mouse and cat made her faceless, and he spotted her in silhouette. Instantly he realized she was there and he was here, and between them a cleavage.

“You have been quite good with me but Ranjan is better.”

She came, made a dwelling in him and of sudden trod away, remunerating emptiness. It would have been better if she had not pre-empted. A silent night ends. He stands. She smiles just above the eastern hill. He runs, to grab hold of her. But alas! She is not there. Saddened.Dejected.Outcast. He turns back, she smiles! The yellowed sun.A squadron of sparrows.Run. Run. Run.All over again she escapes. Frustrated.Discouraged. Upset. He turns back. She shimmers alongside the moon. Another attempt forward. He walks. The odyssey relentless. Shoes are broken. Legs swelling. But the heart ever enthusiast. The hurt soles challenges the heart. You idiot! You won’t find her. But the heart opposes. He floats in and out of her heart. Perhaps someday she will know how much he loves her.

I see you smiling. A blend of pity and condescension. Don’t know what you’re engrossed atbut all I feel is your love. So you are calling me iconoclast. You might have reasons. Reasons not necessarily the truth, however, pragmatic in its aspect. No-no, there’s nothing indiscreet in your saying. Actually you know, nothing infuriates me since the time, I began loving you. It hurts no more. I sag with the clout you have over me, perforation getting bigger. Why I live, when living is so much feeble. Why alone in this world glutted with people. The crescentmoon, night glittering with stars and fireflies, your reality outgrowing. I wish you come near and be mine.

During a power cut evening, a candle was burning alighting his room, albeit, he was in dark. Tick-tick-tick, the table clock went on, so was his heart. He took the cell out. Ha… the clock was off. But couldn’t he take his? Yes, why he has to live when people die of hunger, disease and war. He, a burden of earth, the creature of darkness, had rendered nothingness; the stagnant water, mosquitoes multiply, germs breed. Love oozed out. Peace, kindness, happiness – everything wrung.

He slouched on his desk and wrote: I’m going to the fire, going to the earth.

But so poor of him, he could not kill himself. He had no courage to live, or to die. He was found sleeping in the bed for 18 hours and was rushed to the hospital.

*

Prajwol, burning the candles at both ends, kept shuffling on his room. What’s that girl up to, he thought, she’s too young, it’s beside the mark. She would judiciously forget everything when she grows up, he concluded, might even be a fiasco someday. At 33, a girl probably 16-17 frequented into his mind, though, was nailing his colours to the mast. She’s just a child – he told himself – she does not imbibe what she’s saying. He was topsy-turvy for the entire evening, not switching the lights, sighing heavily. Wednesday passed, he was still awake. It was 4 in the Thursday morning when he was apprehended by sleep oblivion.

He slept the entire morning. When he woke, he remembered. Why’s she doing this to me, he said loud, starring the ceiling, I won’t see her again, no, never. Then he called his principle and said he cannot attend classes for few days. “Fire me, if you like you.”

The principle knew Prajwol’s eccentricities still had high opinion about Prajwol’s teaching skills. “I can understand, see you soon.”

Prajwol was furious. What does he understand? Does he know Swarnim said she loves him? He picked up the book and hurled. It struck on his mother’s head, who had just opened the door. “Are you coming down for lunch or shall I bring it here,” she said poised. He was ashamed. “Mother, why don’t you scold me?”

“I love you my baby.”

Love? Infinite in its being and tough in its meaning – like a fish unable to find the boundary of ocean, a bird lost in the vast sky, and like he unable of decipher secrets of living and dying. Of love? Suddenly somewhere an eddy swirled in the veins of his life.

“Mother, I’ve always been hard for you,” he cried.

“A man does not cry, my baby.” She held his head on her lap.

“You’ve cosseted and spoiled me,” he said between his sobs. 

*

The ebb and flow of his father-mother’s relationship seemed in equilibrium when he was in the boarding school. He knew it only after he began living with them, however, owing to his affair with Sheetal, he did not lumber with their altercation. He loved his father who had presented him the latest motorbike in the market, also the mother, who took interest on his every move. “Why haven’t you eaten?” She wouldn’t budge from the table until he finished the last morsel. Father was a bit patronizing but mother defended him. “Take this money, probably you don’t know how hard it is for me to make a pretence.” He had reverence for her every fussing, still did not ponder into the chasm growing deeper between his parents. They had even forgiven him when he tried to kill himself on his bust-up affair.

“Your friends are bunch of morons, don’t ruin yourself,” father had said after coming home from the hospital. Mother unzipped his cloths. “Don’t be a fast rider, I hear lots of accidents these days,” she had said.

In less than a month-time, suicidal trauma healed. His parents never mentioned a word, took him to a resort where they spent three days. They reiterated, parting with boys was okay but swigging and fagging wouldn’t be tolerated. His drug addiction was never mentioned and they insisted him to think seriously about his future. He felt so much guilty that one evening during a joint session of TV watching, he cried and confessed – he won’t take drugs again.

Prajwol was taken to rehab centre and came out strong enough to survive in the world. As he began spending more time, he found what passed between his parents during his darker days, the relationship was at the verge of collapse. It had started when his mother discovered his father’s mistress and the illegal son. Father wanted to declare her as his wife. Mother refused to share her husband. He tried to bring forth the circumstance that propelled him to illicit affairs which she would not listen. Prajwol was in the final year of his graduate program when his parents formally separated.

After the court session, Prajwol escorted his mother to home who had been stoic during the legal process, but once in home she became morose. She sat at the corner of the room, hugging chest to knees, wriggling toes on the floor – forlorn, with streaks of thoughts. What on earth she was moaning for when she herself had asked for divorce? He waited her veneer to crack, she took to heart yet was resilient. The uncanny silence gagged mother and son. At last he spoke, “I hate that man.”

“My baby, I thank your father for giving me a child like you.” He was surprised; she had no bone to pick. “Mother, how could you forgive that man?”

“A woman must,” she said phlegmatically. He did not know he was weeping, she wiped his eyes. “Now I’m a full time mother.”

Hitherto, he had not known how much he loved his mother, and while loving his mother, he began loathing his father. He was her child craving to rest under her shadow, persistent to be an infant – ruffling, caressing, patting. But it was quite late to be a child, be secured inside her embrace, or was he too big for her womb, respire and palpitate with her. He had solicitude, yet no courage to shun her tears, or simply ask what afflictions impinge her. Nine months he was inside, she accepted pangs and woes to nourish and tend him, ironically he had done nothing for this woman. The world was a seamy place, life gone into the maw of doom, the womb was transcendental, he wished to go there, be obliterated from shabby people – lethal weapons, diseases, chaos, war, hatred, anger, strife, rift! But it was too late to be cordoned inside.

He was dazzled with visions.

He took a knife, cut his nerve. Blood dripped making him giddy, he was unconscious. Blood dripped and dripped, and he was dead. Ha! The arrogant sadistic prig was dead.

A man stretched a rife. One, two, three… bullets entered, he became a mound on the floor and was dead. Ha! The bloody swine was dead.

People gathered and started to kick him. Ha! Hit him, he has done nothing for you but always expected a lot.

Craps! The flashes disappeared. He stood in bewilderment – mind empty, heart murky. He went into the bathroom, took a shaving blade, and cut his wrist.

He opened his heavy eye lids, looked at the woman, and knew, there was the shadow comforting him from the scorching sun. Only too late, she had come out of the obscurity, he could not smile, neither she was happy, but still she took his hands. She said little living in thoughts, when she spoke, she revealed her dreams without embarrassment – even the prosaic ones, which had desiccatedwith the time.

“Mother, I’m sorry,” he cried. Then he saw his father rubbing his palm. “I hate you, go away.”

“I cannot,” his father said.

After spending six hours in the hospital’s bed he went home. At first, he declined to aboard his father’s car but he agreed when his mother said it was okay. That day and few more days his father stayed with them, without taking to heart his son’s misbehaviour. “I’m stout to protect my mother, you don’t have to stay here,” Prajwol said. His father hugged his stiff body and went away.

*

He fought shy of his work, did not feel enthusiasm which he had always felt. He waited for summer holidays but when he had, there was a feeling of tedium. In a way he was relieved from Swarnim but another way around his agitation outgrew. He went into the city to vanquish his mental turmoil, still it was obstinate to be ousted. One evening after the supper he was out into the street, loitering petulantly, from one street to other, watching the mellowing people, the shopping stores, the vehicles. In the market place engulfed by people on trot, he forgot himself. As the evening grew older, people started deserting the market and the streets. He felt lonelier.

At 11:30 he was the last customer to leave the pub. The barman yawned incessantly and reminded him politely it was the time to pull the shutter down. Alcohol had soothed him and he felt elated. Suddenly he remembered his mother. “Mom you’re still awake?” he asked tying to subdue his intoxication.

On the street he wobbled remembering his mother’s wary voice. He had given a facile answer saying he will be there in half an hour, but he began floundering helplessly when he saw the Queen’s Pond. The temple in the middle, decked with colourful lights, looked ethereal. From the overhead bridge he watched the dark and still water, the Ghantaghar struck twelve times and he jerked. He climbed down the stairs and walked around the fence of the pond, gate was locked, he climbed the fence. The two cops came off their heels when he was just about to jump inside. “Hey! What are you doing there,” one of them yelled,” are you trying to kill yourself?” Another struck his baton on the iron fence violently, “Get down.” Prajwol obeyed.

“Oh! He smells alcohol.”

“I was thinking to have a swim.”

The cops laughed thinking him harebrained and zonked. “Or trying to kill yourself.”

“I’ve already done that,” Prajwol said abruptly and walked off. He had wanted to find the depth, but why did he want? The medieval king had built its replica inside his palace, by draining another pond at the Budanilkantha when his consort wanted. The sleeping God – not known either was Vishnu or Shiva – came in the dream and cursed the king and his progeny – they would die if they visited Budanilkantha. The curse came to the king who constructed a sanctifying symbol of love. 

Why is love cursed? Love! What’s that – he cried loud.

He found his mother sleeping on the sofa with flickering TV; it was 2 in the morning and he was ashamed. The entire morning he slept and was restless again when he woke up.

*

In the vicinity of patron god of the valley, he remembered the last time he came here. There was a man whom he detested most, and a girl who admired him. He straddled in-between the feelings of love and hate. He had not wanted to come here again but could he avoid his mother. From the sanctum of Shiva’s temple, he escorted his mother to the temple of Guhyeshwori. He stood at the threshold of sanctuary as his mother went for worshipping, watched the big stone where Parvati had done her penance to find Shiva, the Kirateshwor temple where Shiva had materialized as a mortal, the jungle where he roamed as a deer.

Feeling himself hollow, Prajwol walked with his mother. The twittering birds, squawking monkeys, and deer in the idyllic jungle did not spur vitality in him. Stark to his mother’s satisfaction he walked all riled up, and was silent.

“Speak your mind, my boy,” his mother said. He jerked, was he not accustomed in talking, even with his mother?

“I was thinking,” he said after deliberation of few seconds,” the Lila of Shiva.” He was quiet for a while then of sudden he asked, “Mother, do you believe the Eternal Flame inside that temple?

“I do,” she answered, “why do you ask?”

“I don’t.” The early inhabitants had discovered the Flame when a cow walked there and milk from her udder fell by the will of the power.”Why do people have faith on such insanity?”

“People do not give you the solace but only gods.”

He wanted to laugh. If they were gods, why did Shiva and Parvati suffer, why did Satidevi die? Why Shiva had to wait until Satidevi incarnated as Parvati? They endured and struggled like feeble humans.

*

New session began. In the class he escaped Swarnim’s eyes, though during the recess, she caught him. In the canteen, once she waved her hand and he had to turn away. After the class he took different route, sometimes he did not go to his home directly, he loitered on the street. And one day he found her barricading his way in a narrow alley. “I missed you lot,” she said.

“Why?” he raised his brows.

“Because you’re my best teacher.”

“Craps!”

She had not seen him use such abysmal words. “I’m sorry if I offended you,” she said apologetically, “I only mean to make you happy.”

He was walking languidly and in a while he found she was not beside him.  She had let him go.

*

Rain clouds hid the mountains and hills, the streets resembled Bagmati and Bishnumati, though people stood under the awning they were drenched in minutes, cars and bus showered the pedestrians with muddy water. However, Prajwol just loved the monsoon in Kathmandu. Rain had never been so much fun, not even when he was a kid, he had to carry an umbrella whenever it rained or was rainy season. In the later part, he couldn’t meander into the pleasantries of life – he suppressed his propensities to many things to acquire the drabness of insipid living. Now at this age nothing mattered.

Rainy Kathmandu lulled him into oblivion, or was it intense wakefulness. Cadence of rain falling on the asphalt and buildings, and the tenor of buoyant pleasure within him he heard. He felt deeper and deeper. He saw the lake, the brightness of white light, everywhere, all around, encasing him. And he was exulted over splashing river, gulping flow on the streets, and cascade of water from the sky. In his life certain things were too beautiful and beyond description. But he could not have too much of it.

“Sir, you might catch cold.”

He was indignant. “You don’t have to worry about me.”

“I don’t. Just in case, you may be absent in the class,” she chuckled, “sir, you don’t show, but I feel what you’re feeling.” I won’t let it happen – he said to himself. He surprised himself, what was he expecting to happen? “Where do you live?”

“In a while you’ll know,” she said, he looked quizzically. “Because you’re going with me.” She scoffed at his naivety, he laughed. “I’ve always expected this moment, the moment when I’d see laughter.”

That day he walked to her home and took a leave at the gate promising he would return her umbrella the very next day. His mother smiled seeing a lady’s umbrella. “Had to borrow from a student,” he explained.

Life was a simple affair, only he had complicated his living. In the evening, as he made himself cosy in the bed sipping coffee, he decided, he would face it – scampering away from trivial things would dwarf a man. On the dining table, he made some plans, “Mother, let’s exchange our old TV with bigger one – a latest model.” She agreed. “Let’s colour our house with something bright, I’m sick of this blue paint”

*

Rainy days had begun to wane, however, he was still high and dry, his mood did not alter like schedules. Standing at the threshold of the fall was amorphous thing. He tried to light him with frivolity, glimmer did not show up, though. He frequently went into a coffee house after the class squandering himself. One day he could no more be in solitary, Swarnim conspicuously stood before him.

“I followed you here,” she said. He did not ask, and she did not wait to explain. “Cause I like you, Mr. Chhetry.” Once again he loathed her. A fickle girl, he murmured.

“What did you say, sir.”

“Nothing.”

“I’ m a bit obstinate,” she was smiling, “why can’t you face the reality.”

“Face the reality?” he enumerated. She giggled. When a waiter approached he asked for a cup of coffee.

“Two,” she said looking at the waiter, and turned to him, “I can pay my bill.”

Spending almost an hour in the coffee parlour, Prajwol was hushed most of the time and Swarnim babbled this-that. It was twilight when they stepped out. She asked him to aboard a taxi with her, he did not agree and walked towards his home. The royal palace plaza was lighted with neon bulbs, he stood to watch the stone temple with 21 pinnacles flooded with oil wicks.

At home, he went straight into the kitchen where his mother was boiling lentils. “Mother, I have bought goat meat.”

“Meat? The bereaved family can’t eat meat for a year,” She absentmindedly said, but soon she regretted.

“Come on mother, don’t drag me into that family.”

After all he was – she wished to say but changed her mind. “Okay, what kind of dish I shall prepare gravy or fried.”

“Gravy,” he said, “I’m thinking to get a motorbike, which model do you suggest, Pulsar or Karizma.”

“Red Pulsar, 220 cc”

He laughed.” A red Pulsar! How would I look on it?”

She was little sceptic about managing the money. “At the end of this month when I get money from your father.” She waited her son to express his anger, but he did not. “Not from that money, I can get it in instalments,” he said phlegmatically, “and the hand-set which one is nice, Nokia, Sonny Erikson or Samsung.”

“iPhone.”

He laughed again. “Good heavens! How do you know about bikes and cell phones?”

“I’ve been always thinking to get these things for you.”

The following days he was very busy. He renewed his driving license, bought a motorbike and a mobile phone. The first call he made was on Anish’s number, they agreed for Friday revelry. On Saturday he invited Rajiv. Few days later when he rode to his college, he was wearing sunglasses and a bright jacket.

His colleagues: Nice bike, Prajwolji!

The boys: Looking cool!

The girls: You rock!

He smiled sheepishly at every one. In the afternoon, he rode to his home, he had promised his mother to take her to a dinner. She was profoundly happy, her son had at last found rapport with joys. Between their courses, she mentioned about her husband, and was surprised, Prajwol did not render hatred. “You don’t have to take money from father.” The word ‘father’ moved her, he had used it for the first time since the separation, the reconciliation came in nine years, “Don’t you think this is our legal rights,” she said.

“Yes, but why to bother him when I earn enough. Poor man! Has to battle for keeping two wives,” he laughed. His mother felt little awkward but was happy.  “What do you think about seeing him this Saturday?” she was still worried about her son’s mood. “Not on Saturday, but in Dashain.”

“We can’t celebrate Dashain, a year hasn’t passed since the death of your brother.”

“Brother!”  There was impish smile on his lips “Have you seen your sauta? How’s she like?”

*

He was about to crank his bike when Swarnim came asking him to give her a ride. “My didi and vinaju are coming, and I need to reach little earlier,” she said, “I don’t like him, still, I have to entertain him. After all he’s my sister’s hubby.”

At the gate of her house when he was about to torque the wheels, he heard Rajiv calling, and could not avoid his friend. In the drawing room of his friend’s sasurali, his friend cooed into his ear, “Shall I talk to my sasura about your engagement.” Prajwol was angry for Rajiv’s father-in-law was smiling slyly.  

“Do you know how much pain I take to endure your sali,” Prajwol whispered, “I hate her.”

Rajiv laughed surprising everyone except Prajwol, who was so much angry that he did not stay there long despite the genial request from all members. Would he have agreed if Swarnim asked? No, certainly not. That imbecile was the one who drag him into such absurdities. She said she had to insist him a lot to give her a ride, and then was mum all the time.

There was autumn and soon autumn-festival holidays would begin. He was mellowing out alone in the canteen and Swarnim came along with some girls. They handed him cards. “Happy Dashain, sir,” one of the girls said.

In the evening when he opened one of the cards, he saw Swarnim’s mobile number. What does that girl think, he thought, why was she quite all the time when the other girls were blabbing this-that.

*

Prajwol’s mother was trembling, where her son’s idiosyncrasies would lead, however, he agreed abruptly when she proposed to visit his father. At his father’s house, he did not place his head on his father’s or his step-mother’s feet as the custom demanded, still did not act as a pathetic misfit. “Mother, I’ve realized, now I’m the only son,” he said to his mother. His father and step-mother were not carried by his words, they were rather polite.

Babu has come to our house for the first time,” his step-mother said, “didi, what does babu like to eat.

“Anything from your dainty hands,” Prajwol said.

She blushed. “Why are you sitting idle, go to the market, and bring some ice-creams and chocolate,” she said to her husband.

“You don’t have to,” Prajwol said, “father let’s play cards.” He happily agreed. “Mother, do you have whisky or gin, even rum would do.” The word ‘mother’ had surprising effect on his step-mother, she stood utterly bewildered.

“What are you waiting for, didn’t you hear what son said,” his father said, “I want a toast with my grown-up son.”

Couple of days later Prajwol’s father and step-mother came in his house.He was away but they waited for four hours just to give him a watch and a pair of Jeans from their own hand. For Prajwol, Dashain was a palatable affair, the entire month he enjoyed for he had ironed inconsistency with his father, and coalesced with his long-time uncared friends.

His classes started and it was not a trauma this time, even Swarnim’s coming was not as provocative as it used to be. One Saturday morning he met her at the King’s Way, she proposed to go for a movie which he agreed after some hesitation. He was her teacher, apparently now he felt bonhomie. Once after the class she asked a ride, he obeyed. He had become friendly, however to him it was not love; it’s just an attraction – he through about her. When he abided, everything looked simple. “I want to respect your feeling but do not go far,” he said. He had become a sanguine man.

There was winter vacation and he was capricious again, feeling himself a creature fallen in a void. One warm morning he walked knowing not his destination. Loitering with a blank mind he found himself before the old royal palace. He stood dejectedly facing the stone lions for a while and then bought a ticket, and went inside. The magnificent courtyards, wood and stone carvings, kings and their stories, everything intrigued him. Entire day he was fine but when he reached his abode, he was enshrouded with same nothingness.

Over the days, he was cast down, remaining on his bed starring the ceiling, or puffing the whole packet of cigarettes standing on the roof terrace in a cold night. If only I could know my son’s malaise, his mother said to herself, when she saw him pacing heavily in the room. During the night she prostrated on her bed and wetted the pillow. In the morning, mother and son, both had blood shot eyes. How can I make my son happy, she thought over and over, and eventually became bellicose towards her husband. If he had not put boy-Prajwol in a hostel, he wouldn’t have been drug addict and try to put end to his life. Or if he hadn’t left her, Prajwol wouldn’t have cut his nerve. Without reserve, you are the cause – she cried loud. Aren’t I also the reason – she cried and cried.

Prajwol lowered his eyes to meet hers, they were darkly circled, forehead and neck were wrinkled, streaks of white hair were on her head. He felt sorry for his mother, he had become overtly insular. That evening he rode his mother to a boutique where he bought her a sari and a pair of sandals, mother-son were hand and glove, little things brought happiness. Why couldn’t he acquire it in full? 

Few days later as he was exuding sorrow staring the walls, his father called him. He listened the mellifluous buzzing, little miffed. Couple of minutes later, mother popped into the room announcing father was on the line. “Will you like to talk to him or shall I say you’re not in home. He said he had ringed on your cell but there was no answer.”

“Tell him I don’t want to talk.”

Mother slinked but in a while she came again, “Day after tomorrow is your brother’s barsik, he wants us to attend.”

“You may go if you like.”

“I’ m not going if you don’t.”

He smiled at her innocence.”What do you think mother?”

“After all we can’t remain enemy to the dead boy.”

Prajwol watched her, he would have been dead if she was not with him. “I don’t like that man.”

“Me too,” she said, “but after all we had lived 23 years together”.

On the morning of the yearly-rites for the dead boy, mother came to him. “If you’re dying to meet that man, why did you sign the papers?” She was stunned by his rasping. As she was about to leave the room, he stopped her, “How’s the weather like?” She pulled the curtain, from the grilled windows he saw it was foggy. “What’s the time?” She turned the table clock towards him. “Mother we’re going.” She walked out silently.  

In his father’s home, his step-mother welcomed them, “How’re you, babu,” she said ruffling his hair.

“Don’t ever dare–” She cringed. “I’m cold, I’d be obliged if hand me a cup of tea.”

“Alright son.”

“Son is dead.”

She ran inside tears welling-up in her eyes. Father was performing the rituals. There were his cousins, uncles, aunts nieces and nephews. “Son, you surprise me,” his uncle said.

“Yes you were happy father and son were not hanging together.” The rancour in his voice left his uncle distraught. In order to avoid the communication, Prajwol stuffed head gear and tuned to music. Amongst his relatives, he had to live a year in a minute. He was about to take a leave, but then his father stopped, kinsmen were around, he had to abide. “Son, I want you to stay here tonight,” his father said when the people were gone, “want to talk.”

“Talk?” Prajwol showed stern expression. “Alright, what do you want to talk? About property? How much am I going to inherit?” There was uneasy silence. “Well actually, I’m the only legal heir of your wealth, aren’t I, young wife of an old man?” His step-mother avoided his glance. “Father you face a worst enemy of your life.” His laugher was mawkish. “Mother, what do you think about staying here?”  

“I don’t want.”

He understood how a woman could share her husband.

*

Warm days were waxing and it had impeccable taste. He was reading newspaper in the library.

“I’ve found your number, will you permit.”

“No,” he said slickly with much ado. Than his cell buzzed, she was smiling, ringing had stopped. “A missed call,” she chuckled.

The following days his cell buzzed incessantly. Some were missed calls, or even blank calls. Whenever he heard Swarnim’s voice he immediately aborted, and sometimes he had to switch it off.  Once he even threatened her, she did not stop her frivolity, however. Most of the time he skipped her, but when she asked for a lift, he could not ignore. One Friday evening he went to dine with her, she said it was her birthday, and he did not wish to dishearten her. “You should have celebrated with your friends.”

“When parents too, can be your friends, why can’t a teacher.”  He had no answer.

“Happy birthday.”

“Thank you,” she said, “when’s yours.”

“I don’t remember myself coming in this world.”

She laughed, “You’re the perfect man – tall, dark, handsome, and with a good sense of humour.”

One Saturday morning he woke up to the ringing cell. “Sir, don’t disconnect, I need to talk to you. I’ll be waiting for you at New Road.”

“I’m not coming,” he said and hanged on. Then he saw his mother on the door. “Your father is coming today, will you be home,” she said, “I hadn’t invited but he said they are coming for lunch.”

His father and step-mother had brought a sweat-shirt for him and a sari for his mother. “Son, I need to talk to you,” his father said, “we’re thinking about your nuptials.”

“Why do you have to think?”

“You’ve reached the age.”

“You know Mr. Chhetry, my father married when he was 50,” Prajwol said, “or even more. Actually I don’t know if he had married.” His step-mother blushed.” My dear lady, you don’t have to be timid with your step-son.”

Suddenly he remembered Swarnim, he dialled her, when she said hello, he said – my father wants to talk to me about my wedding so I’m not coming. He hanged not waiting her response. He had hunted his both prey with a single arrow.

“Father, I need your car,” he said, “you can buy another, or if you like, you may take my bike.” After they were gone his mother said, “I didn’t think you were serious.”

“I wasn’t,” he laughed.

*

When Prajwol stepped off his car, he saw Swarnim walking gloomily towards him. “Congratulations!” she said. He looked at her devoid of warmth. “The thing you said.” Then he laughed. “I thought you came to congratulate me for owning a car.” Without waiting her response he walked into the college building.

The session had come to the end and the class 12 was going to have board exams. Before the closure of the session, one afternoon as he was about to burn the engine, Swarnim stood at the window. “Get in,” he said. She took the seat next to him.”Where are we going?”

“Your home.” She looked confused. “To drop you.”

“I thought you’re taking me for a long drive.”

“When I was in college, a girl left me because I didn’t own a car.” Then he was quite. He drove away from the city into the Ring Road. Even Swarnim was quiet, she played with the Laughing Buddha on the dash board.

*

Two weeks gone, he was growing more and more restless. He was averse to the glaring sun, sultry weather, and traffic jam, garbage at the road side, the lectures, the students, the car, and even his house.

“Take your car and return my bike,” he said to his father.

“But I sold your bike.” Prajwol was fired, “I don’t have obscene wealth like you. I’d summed days and nights to get that bike.”

“Son, I came to give you a new car, a black Santro, and take my old one.”

“I do not want it, go away.”

His father was gone but the new car was in the yard, it badly augured anger in him. He thought gratuitous to drive. In the Durbar Square he gazed at the king who had prophesied his immortality, who was in deep meditation praying to his guardian deity Taleju Bhavani residing in the towering temple. There were few White people escorted by Nepali guides telling the story of longevity. Prajwol was intrigued. He ruminated about the legend the entire day roaming around the temples and statues. In the evening he walked home pacified, then he remembered he had missed the class, and he was happy.

When he was not going for the class he stayed the entire day in his room. He sat on his chair resting his head on the writing desk, or glaring the ceiling from the bed. Mother saw him heaving sighs and went away. Life had been damnable nightmares for her son, and it shook her terribly. If he went for the lectures, he would not come home until darkness wrapped the valley. He ate silently what was laid before him; did not talk to his mother, watch TV, listen music, or read. Sometimes he slept entire day and walked out before supper only to return home staggering at midnight. He delivered his lecture reluctantly, and when students raised questions he said, answers were in the text books. Nights passed sitting on the balcony and loathing the settlements.

One night when he got down from the roof terrace after gazing the myriads of stars, he heard his mother sobbing. He went into her room, she did not lift her head. “Mother, you’re doomed with a son like me,” he said stroking her head. He was ruing for being hard to his single mother. Another day he drove his new car and took his mother for lunch. Both, their jokes and laughter were wishy-washy, for other’s sake they tried to be normal.

*

It was raining mildly. Prajwol parked his car. Results were out and there was a gathering in the college. Swarnim was there. “I can’t tell you how hard these days were,” she said, “can’t be away from you, sir.” There were many ‘whys’ rising in him but he remained silent. “I didn’t call you because I had a premonition, you’d announce something unpleasant.”

She had the same spirit, nothing changed. That night as he stayed awake, he thought, I don’t feel love but want to be with her. It took almost two years to realize how important the girl has been to him. He went to the roof terrace – it was raining. Standing under the downpour he decided to propose her. “I’ve something important to tell you,” he said over the phone. She agreed to meet him in a restaurant.  

The next day he waited, she did not show up however. Called her, mobile was switched off. After emptying three cups of coffee and waiting for two hours, he went to her place, she had shifted. He went to his home and locked himself. His mother knocked the door calling him for supper, he said he had no desire to eat. In the morning she came with the tea, the door was bolted from inside. In the afternoon when she found the door still locked and Prajwol not answering, barricades of her patience broke. She furiously swatted the door.

“Go away,” he yelled.

Suspicion cleared, she went. Prajwol did not open the door for evening meal. Poor mother had no desire to eat, she too, slept with empty stomach. The next morning she sat weeping at the door, Prajwol did not open. In the afternoon when he opened, his mother was sleeping at the door. He carried her to her room and went out. He returned home with the pong of alcohol. 

“Would you like to eat,” his mother asked.

It was 2 in the morning.”No,” he answered, “have you eaten?”

“…….”

“Yes, heat the food.”

Prajwol ate little.

In the morning mother did not find her son in his room, she ran to the terrace, he was sleeping on the chair. She caressed his forehead, he did not open his eyes. When he awoke it was midday, he ate his food, walked out, and returned at midnight. Another entire day he was in his room but when it was dark he went out. He strode the street, entered a pub, and remained there as long as it was opened, then he wobbled on the street with a bottle on his hand until the baby sun appeared. Couple of days later when his mother went to clean his room there were a dozen whisky bottles, cigarette butts were uncountable.

He did not go for work, attend the call, meet anyone; did not watch TV, listened music, or read books. He drank, smoked, slept the entire day, or was awaken whole night, walked on the streets at night-time, sat on the terrace, shuffled on his room. He did not talk, he did not shout; no wailing, no crying.

Then there was the fall. The morning was bright. He walked into the garden, flowers blooming, butterflies fluttering, bees flitting.

I’ve escaped death – he said loud – now I can justify death of a man whose love is at the crux. He was in a sublime state. I’m alive, he cried again. Thinking himself silly, he smiled. Red petals quivering, waiting for a butterfly, the perfect union.

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