Second Chances

We were sitting on the porch eating popcorn beneath a rumbling sky, when all of a sudden, the air became thick and threatening.  Fat plops of water began to fall, and the four of us leapt up and scrambled in to the yard: Aamaa headed for the buffalo shed, and Didi to the goats tethered outside with their three jumpy children, while Bishnu and I ran for the wheat lying in the yard, where it had been drying just minutes earlier.  I bent over the precious pile of grain to shield it with my back, frantically sweeping it into a basket, and Bishnu scrambled around the yard brushing it towards me with a bundle of straw.  When that was done, I joined Didi in her tug of war with the goats, and just as we managed to get them untied and inside, and Aamaa threw the last few baskets and bundles of grass in to the buffalo shed, the clouds disgorged a furious rainstorm.  With the belongings and grain and goats stored away, the four of us dashed into the house to shelter ourselves.  We jumped up on to the beds and turned off the single light bulb to protect against an electrical surge.  And then we sat there, staring out the door.

Rain from PorchIt began to hail.  First a little; then in golf balls.  I’d never seen anything like it.  For a while Aamaa kept running back outside with a mat over her head—to put this or that away, to put the plastic tarp under shelter (why?).  But finally we had done all we could, and there was nothing left but to lean against each other on the beds and stare out the open door, where pale light came in and lit our four faces.

The torrent was powerful and close and deafening on the tin roof over the buffalo shed.  I looked down at my fingernails, where dirt and little grain fibers had taken harbor.  The hail pounded and clattered; a heartbeat.  It was thrilling.

“The corn is ruined,” Aamaa said.

“What?”  I turned towards her.  We’ve just spent weeks slaving over planting the corn.  I’m still sore.

“Oh, this rain will damage all the crops pretty badly,” Bishnu repeated.  “And everything else—cucumber, beans, zucchini—is already gone.”

My mouth dropped.  “What do you—how—I mean—we need to plant the corn again?!

The three of them looked at me for a long moment.

“We have no more seeds.”

I blinked.  This was obviously unacceptable.

“Doesn’t everyone have the same problem?” I finally demanded.  I felt this made it an unreasonable problem, which therefore, by the laws of logic, could not have cosmic permission to exist.  There had to be more seeds.  Meantime, the yard was an inch and a half deep in water and golf balls.

“Yes,” Aamaa said.  “Everyone.”

I glared at Bishnu, seeking a revision.

“If it stops soon, the corn will be damaged, but okay,” Bishnu offered.  “But the other things are already gone.”

And that seemed to be all there was to say about it.  Bishnu turned her face back toward the door.  Nobody appeared upset, which was what confused me the most.  I couldn’t even bother to ask, What will we eat?–the injustice of our wasted effort was enough.  So I sat on the bed and stared at the rain while it ruined the corn.  Because it was the only thing to do; because the people who knew how to make things work out were doing just that and nothing else.

There are no more seeds.

I have thought of this moment many times since.  Maybe loss, like mortality, is that globally unknowable thing so innate to our humanness that we can never discover it.  We can only be confronted directly with what we always knew: that we control things only with the permission of a universe that can render our efforts irrelevant or take everything away at any instant.  But we almost never separate from that reality and stare it in the eye as its own fact–instead, we are surprised again and again, each time something more unreasonable is broken.

My gaze falls back to my fingernails.  How have our lives been so different that what is unacceptable to me is already a familiar whim to Aamaa and Didi and Bishnu?  They will wait until the storm ends and salvage what they can.  In May, they’ll plant millet.  And in that moment I envy their grace, over and over, because my effort is still wasted throwing stones at a dispassionate sky while theirs is diverted back to planting.  To the ground.  Where things grow.



The Middle Girl

Aamaa talks often about my departure now. She’s worried about being left alone when Didi also leaves to join Bhinaju in Pokhara, which will be happening any day now.  And of course, Bishnu will stay in the city as long as she can, to study for her 12th grade exam.  It’s so strange to think that when I first arrived a year and a half ago, Aamaa and Didi and Bishnu were so intimately bound here in Kaskikot, and now Didi is married, and Bishnu is studying, and we are all wondering what Aamaa will do when I leave for the U.S. in a few weeks.  It’s strange that despite everything, it’s my departure, of all things, that will thrust her in to real solitude for the first time.

The wheat harvest, with the lack of fanfare it has produced, has been a kind of seal for us.  It’s fun to be exotic to one another.  But as crazy as it sounds, one day we looked around and found that something had tipped over.  Today I did housework on my own most of the day, with no direction: watering the buffalo, doing dishes, pounding wheat, moving goats.  Just because it was there and needed to be done.  The fact that nobody’s all hot and bothered about these feats anymore feels…strange.  It’s an entirely new reality, for all of us.

“Everyone is saying to me, ‘Don’t let your mailie go,’” Aamaa said in the late afternoon, while Didi and I were lying on the beds inside, writing, and she was on the porch pounding wheat.  Mailie means middle girl.  “Your maile does all this work around the house,” they’re saying.  “She brings you good food, she helps you all the time.  Don’t send her to America.”

Didi interrupted Aamaa mid-sentence to ask me something from her book, but Aamaa doggedly re-commanded my attention.  She wanted to make her point.  I looked at her through the doorway.

“Other people have said that?” I asked.  Despite myself, I was delighted. I realize I had no business being here, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’ve taken some knocks.

“A lot of people,” Aamaa sighed. “When you go, I won’t be able to say anything, so I’m saying it now: raamro sanga jannus, eh?

Go well, okay?

I lay on my tummy on the bed with my head near the door, where Aamaa resumed pounding wheat.  I was writing a poem and story and speech I’ll recite at my school farewell if I get one.  And then where will I go?  Where on earth does a person go from here?