my friend, baburam

Dashain was here. Finally. I was excitedly packing my bags. I hated school by now. It happened every year. Return from a two months winter vacation to school. Stay there seven months. By the time seven months were up, I was itching to go home and eat with my bare hands, no utenils to deal with. Sleep late, no early morning drills. Yoohoo. The cycle went thus. Go home for a month for Dashain. Come back for a month and a half. Go home for winter vacations. Repeat. People returned home. We ended up returning to school.

Towing my hastily packed overweight bag, I piled into the bus that would take us to Martyr’s Memorial, the heart of the city. Our parents and guardians would be lined up there to take us home. The richer kids had their parents pick them up right at school. They got away from all this faster than we did, lucky bastards. We had our moments on the bus though. Singing memorized songs all the way along the 14km ride. They’d miss that later in life. We’d be singing memorized songs all through life and they’d be wondering how we remembered all those songs. It’s rote, I’d tell them later. You never rode the bus.

This Dashain, I’d be going to my mama-ghar. My mom grew up in a village several dozen kilometers north of Janakpur. There was no semblance of city life there. No electricity, no tap water, forget natural gas. No roads, just dusty tracks worn bare by oxcarts. I can’t believe there’s still no electricity there, to this day. There, I’d be treated like a prince by my mamas and maijus. I’d take gifts to my friends there, some of whom were amazed by the fact, in the cities, light came from glass covered things that you didn’t have to light up. You just flick a switch, I’d say. I would end up spending half an hour trying to describe what a switch was. I was eleven. I must’ve ended up describing it as some magical thing that only gods and magicians could figure out.

I would be meeting baburam. He was my age. We had become good friends over my successive visits to the village. He came from a family that owned a couple of acres of land and so could afford to send him to school in the next village for three four days a week. He still had to work, helping out his dad doing farming things that I still don’t understand or doing other house chores. Due to his having gone to school, and him being bright, he was thought of as a young man with a lot of promise. Other people, older people, came to him to have their letters read and written. He would happily oblige, patient that he was. Imagine that. Eleven years old and playing leader already. He indeed was a lad with a ton of promise. That was my friend baburam. My best friend.

I had already written a letter to him saying I would be there that year. I had been so enthusiastic while writing that letter that I had just ended up writing,

Dear Baburam,
I am going to be there in during Dashain this year. We can go
keshar-hunting at night in the next village.
I will see you soon.
Your loving friend,

Two sentences, properly formatted and spaced in an eight by eleven lined piece of paper with date, salutation, ending statement and everything. We were supposed to do it that way. We were supposed to scratch our mistakes, not erase them. In English too. We were only allowed to write letters in English, under the pretention that it would make us better writers and communicators some day. Baburam understood English though. He’d been to school.

… to be continued


Fleeting Glimpses

A study in character

The young man with frizzled hair is at the bookstore cafe reading UTNE, with another book by the side. He sips his recycled paper wrapped coffee, lifting up his head once in a while to look around. With his left hand he constantly fidgets with his shoulder length hair. Sometimes tugging it, sometimes sweeping it back, sometimes twirling it. He seems as unsure about himself for being at the bookstore as he is about his hair.

A girl with long black hair, black jeans, black sandals, a black top and a black book bag walks in with a sandwich, spots the empty table next to him, looks at him then back at the table. She sits down as if satisfied or interested. She proceeds to pull out a chair for another person, puts her bag down on it, repositions the other chair with the back to him and sits down.

The young man lifts his left hand from the chairback so as to avoid touching her back. He glances at her back briefly then leaves his hand as is. He looks away from his magazine and towards her, notices her panties worn high showing above her jeans. Nice, netted ones, he chuckles to himself and turns back to reading.

Once in a while, the girl looks over right shoulder, eating her sandwich, as if to make sure he’s not watching, or vice versa. She crosses her arms and hugs herself, indicating that she’s feeling cold. It’s chilly in here.

She gets up, steals a glance at the intriguing man next to her, smiles at herself and fishes out her sweatshirt. She gets up and goes in between the book shelves direcly facing him. She’s in the travel section. She takes a book titled “US National Parks”, flips though it and puts it back. She’s always wanted to go hiking. She hasn’t found time. She’s busy studying all the time. In fact she’s here preparing for her GRE, way before she’s graduating.

He notices her in front of him, glances up and smiles, quickly stops short of completing the smile noticing she’s not smiling. She then stretches her arm upwards. She pulls up her hair to tie into a knot. He watches, barely sure that it’s appropriate. She watches. She sits back down. Both of them turn back to pretend they are reading.

She wishes he would speak to her, say a few words, say hello. He wishes she would give him an opening, a smile.

After a while, the man turns left to her and says, “Excuse me, would you mind watching my bag for a bit?” She turns to him.

In the span of a second, he notices her eyes, deep blue, almost azure. Angular face, a deliciously pointed nose. Altogether not bad, not too bad at all.

She looks back at him, stares at him for a second. She notices his hair and the goatie he sports. Cute touch. She sees his necklace, his full lips and his somewhat chubby but likeable face. Really likeable. She smiles. Slowly she says, “Sure, I’ll be right here.”

My quest for the rainbow

The brown, yellow leaves are falling to the ground. Slowly, as if trying to give me time to watch their slow dance of ritual with the wind and the earth. I watch the complicated path a leaf takes as it reaches the ground. I turn back to the path I was following. Beyond the cushioned path of brown twigs and rotting fall leaves, I can see the mist rising from the river. The sky is really blue today, I think. I look up at the sky, straining my neck, following the upward line of tall sequoia trees. No birds, today. Strange that feeling, as if waiting for something really loud to happen.

Realizing that I have been musing again, I trod along the path. The twigs snap under my boots. A squirrel scampers up a tree, pauses, looks at me and then scampers off again, as if saying, run along kid, do what you were doing.

A short meadow lies ahead of me, the yellow dry grass moving from side to side, brushing, whispering. I trudge along thinking these thoughts. At the edge of the edge of the meadow, I am standing on a cliff, overlooking a narrow river falls. The mist hits me, stinging my face with a thousand pinpricks. It is cold. I shiver and pull my jacket around me. I look at the sun. It’s almost about to set. Then I look back at the river, laughing as I usually do when I realize I have been straying off. This time I caught myself thinking that I looked ridiculous begging the sun for more heat.

I see a small log topple off the edge of the river. Free flight for a while and then it disappears in the surf and bobs back up a few feet down. That’s a long pilgrimage for a log to take. Almost like a salmon, but going down river never knowing where it might get caught and start to rot. Everything has a cycle, I think, a purpose and a cycle. What a contrasting thought. The log will either get to where it’s going to – the sea further down or get stuck somewhere along the way. I snap back on the sound of a splash. A bird is flying off to the rocks below with something caught in its claws. A fish. I should have caught the bird swooping down to catch the fish. I always seem to miss that majestic sight.

I am here to see the rainbow over the river. As always, I have missed it again – me and my thoughts. It’s not such a long hike from my house at all. But, along the way, nature seems to have its way with me. As if trying to say, forget the rainbow, you can’t reach it yet. Think of all these other wondrous things I have for you to examine, to think about. And when you have told me a story about each of the things you see along the path, then I will let you see the rainbow.

I close my notebook. I have written down my story for today, I console myself: the story about the log and its mission to get to the sea.

I will get to see the rainbow one day. Then I will close this notebook forever and throw it down the waterfall.

-Tram Zack