By Richa Pokhrel/@nepalichoriblog
Hi everyone! Happy February to you. This year has been pretty good so far and I am enjoying it day by day. The Bay Area’s winter has been comparatively short. While I enjoy the warmer temperatures, I am hoping we get more rain. I am sorry we have not posted any new Nepali Women of the Month interviews but hope to have some your way soon. I decided to share another short story of mine. I’ve mentioned before that it’s always scarier for me to share my fiction work verse my non-fiction writings. Not sure why. I wrote this story after the earthquake and while I like it, I think there could be more words on aama in her spirit form, that needs a little more development. Let me know your thoughts because I am in a rut with fiction writing at the moment.
Ghosts of Saturday
There are always stories of ghost sightings in the Kathmandu valley. Generations have passed down their own rumors, new ones getting added as time moves forward, elongating the telephone line of tales. The ghosts are always clad in loose white clothing, hovering over the ground, their feet never touching the earth. Krishna grew up with these stories, especially ghosts of the Royal Massacre. His neighbors would talk about how many of those killed still roamed the palace, looking for solace and revenge. The truth of what happened that June night never revealing itself in all the years since. These stories excited him, they didn’t scare him, just made him curious to why people stayed behind. He was born that same year of those murders. Some people said it was bad luck, others thought it was an omen. His mother always saw it as a blessing because, after years of trying, she gave birth to a healthy boy.
The first time Krisha saw a ghost was in late 2015, a few months after the earthquake. He was roaming the dark streets of Bhaktapur, unable to sleep in the tent that was his current home. The tent now covered in speckles of gray dust, became stuffy at dusk when Didi, Babu, and Krishna put their heads down for the night. Whenever Krisha closed his eyes, images of her body burning crept into his mind. The sounds of exploding body parts never died down, only got louder like a siren blaring next to his head. The only way to release was to cry, the only place to do it was at night when nobody’s watching and the dogs were his only witness. His sobs lost amongst the barks and howls, but even they seemed to be in mourning that night. All of Bhaktapur was not destroyed, but many of the favorite neighborhoods were. Fallen homes lay on the ground like shattered drinking glasses. The government slow in responding to the rubble that has filled the city. Every time an aftershock hits, fears bubble to the surface, taking everyone back to that deadly Saturday. More recently though, many residents of the valley have gotten used to the ongoing jolts, some of them don’t even make their way outside. It’s become more of a nuisance than anything else.
That chilly night he saw a glimpse of a familiar sari. A turquoise and bronze fabric that softly swayed as the woman walked. His mother had a sari like that once, she would wear it anytime she was invited to a special occasion. He couldn’t recall the exact details of the chiffon fabric, but he’d remembered enough that it was just like hers. The lady on the other side of him, on the other side of the street, walked slowly. From her back, he hadn’t been able to tell if she was young or old, all he saw was her henna tinted black hair. He thought it was strange that a nicely dressed woman would be walking at night by herself. Parents would never allow their daughters to be out by themselves once the sun vanished for the day. Unsure if he should make his presence known, he left her alone and continued to walk without paying her any more attention.
Lost in his thoughts with his head down, he didn’t notice the lady cross the street towards him. Her sandals made no sounds, the bangles on her wrists lay still. She stopped next to the closed chiya shop on the corner. Krishna passed by her without realizing someone was there. She stood without saying a word. After walking a few feet away from her, a familiar scent engulfed around him which stopped him in his tracks. “Aama,” he called. “Aama!” The perfume was a gift his mother received from her employers, the Sharmas. They went to America every year to visit their grandchildren, and every year they brought back the same bottle. The fragrance had aromas that were unfamiliar in Nepal.
His mother turned and smiled at Krishna. Her face looked youthful, there was a glow to her even in the dim lighting of the night. “Don’t be sad kanccha,” she said. “I am not in any pain.” Unable to say anything, he continued to look at her, slowly lifting his hand to her shoulder, her body vibrating warmth. She looked and felt very real. He collapsed into her arms, something he hadn’t done since he became a teenager. Both mother and son had tears in their eyes, they wailed, the sounds drifting into the night’s breeze. As dawn neared, aama persisted that Krishna returns to camp, promising him that he would see her again. Night after night, Krisha went to the remaining steps of Nyatapola temple. Some nights, aama appeared, other times, she didn’t come. He’d ask for explanations to her whereabouts, but she never revealed where she went the nights he was alone. Many mornings, Didi would comment on the black blue circles under his eyes, worrying that his lack of sleep was harming him. But Krishna slowly returned to feeling like himself, a teenage boy with hope for the future and joyful memories of the past.
Aama perished in the earthquake when the multicolored six story apartment building next to their small two-story home fell and crushed her beneath its weight. Krishna had been sitting outside in their small front yard. He was reading his favorite chapter in his science book, The Solar System, for the third time that morning. When the earth violently shook, he didn’t realize it was an earthquake. He stood in shock for a second or two before dashing to the street. Screams could be heard in every direction, a dark veil of dust blocking his view.
When the earth settled, people ran around, screaming the names of their loved ones. Some people emerging from broken buildings, looking like soldiers of battle. Krishna screamed and yelled for her, but no one appeared in front of him. It took two days before they found her, she was face down on the ground, covered in gray dust, dried blood streaked her face.
Just that morning, mother and son were enjoying their breakfast of chiya and boiled eggs. It was rare for them to have the house to themselves. With six other family members, there was always commotion, never ending chatter heard within the walls. That sunny Saturday morning, everyone had gone out to do various tasks, even Grandpa. Mother and son were sitting on the floor talking about his upcoming exams. He was feeling nervous about passing Nepali, the subject he had the hardest time with.
“Are you looking forward to your break? What will you do with your free time, read and study?” his mother asked.
“All I want to do is finish reading a book Santosh gave me last week. Maybe go see the new Salman Khan film with my friends.” he said.
“I don’t think I want to see that one, too much blood. I want to see the one with Kajol, she is so beautiful. This is her first film after so many years.”
“Uh huh. It looks kind of boring.”
“It’s not for young people like you.”
“I’m going to Santosh’s after khaja.”
“Yeah, okay. Can you pick up the kerosene on the way back?”
He nodded and each went their separate ways to tackle their chores, aiming to accomplish them before dusk.
With time, Grandfather’s second cousin was able to find the family a two-room apartment on the south side of town. Krishna was happy to leave the cramped tent for more space, but it meant that he was further from the Nyatapola temple. Didi took over aama’s role at the Sharma household and life was on it’s way to becoming as stable as it could be. Krishna needed aama less and less. All his focus went to finishing up school and studying for the SLC. His dreams went straight to America, a place of possibilities.
The last time Krisha saw aama was when he went to their old home, still broken and stacked on the ground. The six-story apartment building was in the process of being rebuilt, an unusual sight for that street. He had told didi he was spending the night with Santosh so they could prepare for their exams later in the week. She let him go, but her eyes revealed she did not completely believe him. The night was warm, the first quarter moon hung high on the horizon. Aama was already there, waiting for him. She was fidgeting with the pallu of her sari, pulling and tugging at the fabric. Krisha noticed that she was acting strange, not like her usual happy self.
“Aama, what’s wrong?” he asked.
“Kanchha, I think I need to go,” she started.
“Go where?” he asked.
“I’m ready to leave this place,” she replied.
“I’m not ready to say goodbye.”
“I don’t think I will ever be,” she said. “But I can’t stay here forever.”
“A little longer,” he begged.
“I can’t,” she said.
They hugged amongst what they used to know and aama left, her perfume trailing behind her. Krishna stood and watched her go until she completely vanished into the darkness of the night. This time he cried, unlike at her cremation, when his body was unable to produce tears. He came to accept the fact that he was an orphan, but he was not alone in this world. He had Didi, babu, and his grandfather. He sat there until the early signs of the day came, the sky slowly turning bright orange-pink. Cold and tired he decided to go back before anyone noticed a skinny boy huddled amongst the bricks. As he turned to look at his house one last time, a sparkle caught his eye. It glittered ever so slightly as the early rays hit it. He dug through the bricks until he found his mother’s old perfume bottle, still intact, no signs of any damage. The familiar bottle felt heavy in his hands. Once home, he placed the bottle next to aama’s picture on the puja shelf in the corner of the kitchen. She and the perfume among the other gods he revered.