The Value of a Dollar

This was the fastest trip I’ve ever had to Nepal – I don’t know where it went!  Apparently, my Nepal life which was once just in Kaskikot and at a little primary school has been divided in to multiple villages and cities.  On the other hand, the more time goes by, the more I find things grow in depth rather than width.  As much as I seem to run around, during the last two months I’ve been much more aware of the dimensionality that time adds to the same routines, and it seems more important than any of the cutting-edge details of this project or that.

Last week I went with Govinda to visit his father in law in Begnas, because he was Buba (Govinda's Father in Law) - Version 2diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer in August.  I first made the trip to Begnas when Govinda and I were teaching together in 2003, and it became one of our most legendary adventures – we still tell tales of how I climbed in the orange trees, and sat with Bua while he cut vegetables, and we all slept up in a tiny attic–this elderly man insisted on giving me his bed (I was a 23 year old collegiate rower) and he slept on the floor and I could not convince him otherwise.  As we were all lying there in the dark, he slowly and carefully asked me questions like, “Nani, Little One, in your country, what do they eat at weddings?” “Nani, in your country, what do the roads look like?”  I told him about elevators and the job market and hot water taps.

Bua worked as a security guard in India for five years and is not as sheltered as he sometimes pretends to be. But he is the gentlest human being I have ever met and every tiny detail of the world seems to move him.  He has a way about him that is intimate and unceremonious at the same time.  Most of his wealth from working abroad was lost to loans he made and never demanded back – how would they pay?  On that magical trip to Begnas with the orange trees, Bua asked to see a rupee from my country and I gave him a dollar bill which he folded in half and put away.

00012004050900500110In the decade since, Bua has come to visit me in Kaski every year that I’ve been here.  Each year he’s older and more frail but he takes a few bus rides and schleps all the way to Kaskikot, and we never know when he is coming; he just arrives in the yard one morning.  Aamaa and I beg him to sit and eat with us before he goes and he always says he has to get home to do this or that.  Every single time he says, Nani lai dekhna paeyo, “I got a glimpse of the Little One, I have to go now,” and then he schleps all the way back to Begnas.  Once I brought him a poster of a photo of the moon.

Last week Govinda and I went back to Begnas to see Bua during his last months of life.  It poured on the walk there and the rice paddies turned to mirrors under the clouds.  We spent the night at a relative’s house he has moved in to, in a space over the buffalo shed and under the slant of a corrugated tin roof, which sloped down over our heads and stopped in thin air, leaving an unobstructed drop to the ground and a view out to the hills.  The sheltered stone paths and trickling water of Begnas are quiet and patient like Bua, so different from Kaski’s dramatic himalayan perch.  He had asked for a light from the U.S. – maybe they make them better in my country – and I gave him a red metallic maglite that he tucked under his pillow.  We chatted some, about India, and then we fell asleep.

The next morning we got up to leave and Bua walked us down a path from the house to the dirt motor road.  He is barely more than the circumference of his bones, but still moves with an elegant deliberateness with no notice of my constant, automatic haste.  He stopped on a random set of descending stones in the trees and turned around.

“Nani, you won’t be back again till next year.  Me – maybe six months, who knows.  I’m in a lot of pain.  I am going to die now.”  In his unhurried way, he reached in to his breast pocket to get something.  I could hardly believe my eyes when he unfolded a dollar bill.  Ten years later, it still looked perfectly new.  He looked at it and shook his head, and in my mind I heard him say, “Nani lai dekhna paeyo–I caught a glimpse of the Little One–I have to go now.”

He put the dollar back in his pocket, and sent us on our way.

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