By: Arun Budhathoki
Fighting the Cold
his village makes me sick. After the earthquake in April I am moved by utter destruction and pain. I lost my beloved wife and five-year-old son. It is cold today and I have no idea how long it will take for the concerned authorities to reach us with warm clothing and build earthquake-resistant homes for us.
The sun too hides behind the foggy weather. I stand on a high hill—green everywhere, but my mind is black. This valley used to be beautiful but not any more. Most houses have been ravaged. I shudder and get the vibes of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Two elderly people had told the villagers, say about twenty years ago, about the coming disaster. No one took it seriously as they were mere drunkards. Now it has come true.
I am hungry but I am not sure what it means to eat full any more. Have you ever lived in a tent? I never did but had seen foreigners coming to our village and live inside tents in the same place. We have become foreigners to our own place. We have become strangers to our own people. We are in exile, and excluded.
These days I don’t even bother complaining to the city people. You know they come in groups: wearing dhakako topi, formals and casual wears. I cannot make any particular distinction you see. I only went to school till eighth grade. I simply couldn’t comprehend the education system. It was too tough for me. I wonder how city people pass the Iron Gate. How do they achieve education and then leave this beautiful country? Maybe that’s what means to be educated. I am happy I didn’t study. I went to Qatar and worked in the labor industry. I did earn some money and sent it home to build a house. That house, my friend, was brought down by an indifferent earthquake. But isn’t it funny that natural disaster spares no one? Our corrupt chief died inside his expensive house. Who would have thought that he would die that way? No one did. Not even him.
I think I have become less human. I feel so desensitized these days. I try to repress memories of my wife and son. I couldn’t cremate them you see. First, the house was ravaged by the earthquake and then came the landslide—it swept away my home. I was busy working in the field when it happened. I saw it happen right in front of my eyes. My seven-year-old daughter came running and hugged me tightly. She had no words to say but only wept bitterly. I stood stunned, tears rolling down my disbelieving eyes.
City people keep coming with false promises and house designs. Their smiles too are vicious. Some of them are kind though. Few young people had come to our village last week to distribute blankets. But other people they just come, give a speech, hand over 10,000 rupees and go away showing us maps of imaginary houses. I think I am living in an imaginary country where you are free to imagine but dreams never come true.
Today is extremely cold. I don’t know why. Maybe our gods are angry. Although I see fog covering the sun. Maybe that’s the reason. You see, I am not an educated person so I barely understand all this science stuff. I am only concerned about my tent.
My tent is a small one where I live with my cute daughter. I have a radio too which was gifted by one of the city people. I listen to the news and understand a little bit. The leaders are doing nothing but they have got so much money. I wonder where it is all going. I wonder why people are so greedy and evil. It’s true that people think about themselves and I have to do the same.
It is a bit windy today and frosty. The ground is frost-bitten and cold is seeping through the tent. I am covering myself and my daughter with a single blanket. We have worn our ragged clothes and still feel the cold. Thankfully, the young people from the city gave us an extra blanket seeing my daughter. Now I have to see where it is. It looks like it has been stolen. Bastards. I wonder who stole it. This is madness.
At midnight I hear people crying. I don’t like all these melodramas and try to go back to sleep. The crying gets stronger and I go outside. I see a family crying over a body. I go near and see an old man has died because of cold. I feel bad and shudder. I remember my daughter and walk towards my tent. My daughter is fast asleep. She’s my princess. I go back to sleep as the family continues to wail.
It is a beautiful morning. I go outside my tent and see my daughter smiling, running and singing. I have never seen her do that. This is a beautiful place indeed. Suddenly I see so many people around me and it is not even cold anymore. They are so white, pure and radiant. Where am I?
I turn back to look at my tent. There’s no tent and I see the old man that had died last night. He comes near and hugs me whispering in my warm ears, “It is all well.” I do not understand what he means. What is so well about our pathetic state? He must be a mad man.
This place is beautiful. I no more see the valley. Suddenly I see my wife and son coming towards me. My daughter comes running too. We hug each other. All of us are happy now. A small but beautiful family. We don’t feel cold anymore. This place is too bright you know. It smells good too. We walk towards the bright city along with the old man.
The city people reach Sindhupalchowk village the next day after they heard about the old man’s demise.
“How did it happen?” asks one of the city people.
“Cold, what else?” replies a villager.
“Is it so? Anyone else?” asks one of the city people.
“Oh, a man and his daughter,” replies a shivering man.
“Don’t you see the tent over there?”
The city people open the tent and see the man and his daughter fast asleep, smiling.BW
Arun is a poet and fiction writer from Kathmandu, Nepal. He has published five books so far: Edge, The Lost Boys of Kathmandu, Poems on Sikkim, Prisoner of an iPad: New Poems and Second In Love: Short Stories.
His works have been published in MadSwirl, North East Review, Driftwood Bay, NNATAN, Dead Beats and The Huffington Post India. Second In Love is his first short stories collection.
Arun is a graduate in International Relations and works as an editor and freelance writer.