The day looked grim and the wind seemed to blow in the opposite direction with melancholy sigh. Despite the cool weather , Sabitri was profusely sweating. With her one hand she wiped the thin film of sweat off her temple and with the other clutched the empty milk tumbler. Stepping outside of the bus was such a relief
"Sorry, I am bit short in cash". - embarrassingly she handed fifteen rupees to the microbus conductor.
Little frowning the conductor spoke -"well we are not running charity, are we?.
"But for a beauty like you I can make exception. "- he winked all the while staring at her torn blouse
"You owe me one"- he further pouted his lips making an obscene gesture
She stood there in front of others absorbing all the harassment without remonstrating. Mute. By now she was used to such harassments.
Her house , a two storey mud hut in the glade was almost thirty minutes walk uphill from the stop. There was a thicket full of pine and bamboo in between and few scattered huts along the way . Just recently villagers had dug up a new track for vehicles to commute. But the track was more winding and she decided to take a short pass through the usual trail that was muddied by yesterdays rain. She slipped several times while treading but walked on as she was already late. Her husband might already be furious. She thought.
She stole a glance at her watch, the steel plated seiko 5 watch, that has been part of her wrist for almost ten years. It is hard to imagine now how her hands would look if it was taken off. Naked of course. The watch wasn't just a piece of accessory , it held so much memory of both good times and bad. First time she saw that watch the times were definitely different .
It was around noon few weeks after their wedding, while loafing around the Ratnapark , a shiny object floating on small tub at roadside caught her attention.
"Baba. I want that !"- she cried and the peddler grinned.
"Sure thing.!" - Nervously her husband spoke and looked inside wallet searchingly.
A little bargaining , a little negotiating and a little haggling and finally the timepiece adorned her left wrist ever since.
"Wow! Vinaju really loves you" - that was the reaction of her friends filled with surprise, jealousy and unease. She felt like queen. She wished she were in time capsule and remain shut within those moments. Life would have certainly been s joy.
But the watch didn't stand still, instead it ticked. The day came when her husband went to Arab. She stood by the door and he looked back from below with endearing eyes and tears wailed up. With all the dreams, all the hopes and all aspirations wrapped up in a small suitcase as he walked she felt as if her heart was tearing apart.
"I'll be back in a year nanu. And I will buy you even better watch"- he spoke .
Those words, which is now distant, still softly rings in her ear.
"Nani, please come hither. I have some prasad from yesterday's Rudri".
Her trance broke as she heard Thuli bhauju over the bush. She knew she was late but couldn't ignore bhauju's call as it would be rude. Acquiescently she replied -"How have you been bhauju? Sure would love to"
After couple of minute of detour she entered the yard where wild marigold blossomed in all the glory . Sound of her footsteps woke up Lurke who was snuggling in hay. It gave quick short yap and finally sensing her started to go in circle and playfully stood in its hind legs all the while nibbling in her kurta. Sabitri patted the dog-
"How are you little boy?"
"Bad boy! Get out of there!!"- Thuli Bhaju yelled from the patio.
Her stern voice frightened Lurke. It whimpered and then went back to the haystack and laid down prone with sulky eyes.
"You needn't scold him. He was just happy seeing me"- Sabitri remarked.
"Of course he would be happy to see you. You hardly pay us visit anymore"- Bhauju replied. " How are the things at home?"- She further added
"Usual. Where is prasad?"- she replied
"Come inside and have tea"- Bhauju offered- "then I will hand it to you"
"He might be angry"- Sabitiri spoked worryingly
"Don't fret. Give yourself slack sometime. Tell him you missed the bus"- Bhauju remarked.
Sabitri nodded. The room had a low arch ceiling with a hearth in a side where firewood was burning. On top of it was all black old pewter kettle. Meanwhile the smoke from firewood had coagulated into a ghosting of soot over the wooden rafters. They hung down in all sorts of shape. Sabitri, looked around and saw picture of Khagendra hanging on wall. As usual garland adorned it and small incense was tucked in the wooden frame and its ashes were strewn all over the floor below. She quickly looked away and again stared towards the overhanging soot that conjured the image of old man's beard.
Meanwhile Thuli Bhauju returned from the attic and brought along a Tapari filled with prasad. Putting tika on Sabitri's forehead she gave some blessing.
"There are some leftover Sel I will put it in your bag"- Thuli Bhauju spoke
"What was the occasion for Rudri? Was there any bhakal?"- Sabitri enquired
"Well it's been almost five years since he is gone. His father wanted to do Saptaha, but little short in money so we performed Rudri instead." - looking at picture of Khagendra Thuli Bhauju spoke with a deep sigh.
How could she have forgotten, Sabitri thought herself. How can she ever forget that night when it had rained heavily and she along with her toddler, Bhauju and Thul Baa were all watching that stupid tv show at her house. They had rice plantation in the afternoon and were having some relaxing time after exhausting days work. Her watch was pointing around seven or eight in the evening when Thul Baa's cell rang . Paleness in his face told the entire story. After couple of days body of Khagendra arrived while her husband returned in wheelchair paralyzed waist down.
Khagendra and her husband Jiwan were fast friends. Both worked as member of cleaning crew in same oil rig in Oman. On that fateful day as they were cleaning the mast in derrick ,all the while laughing and chewing some tobacco, a steel girdle fell on them. It was almost five ton in weight. Everything changed in instant. After returning home Jiwan's attitude towards life completely changed. He lost all the will to live and remained grumpy and bitter all the time. He spent days drowned in alcohol brought along by his gambling friends and lived on the interest from the insurance compensation. He was paranoid of people around him and always remained convinced that his wife and other family members were after his money and will abandon him as soon as they get hands to the fund. He was abusive towards Sabitri and despite her devotion always found flaws in her.
"Don't wear that veneer of good wife you bitch. "- He invariably screamed at her. " I know you are just looking at chance to elope with my fortune just like that Khagendre's wife"
"Please stop Baba ! At least for our daughters sake. Please stop drinking and stop playing cards " - she used to plead.
" I don't care it's my money. I will do whatever pleases me" - Jivan always retorted.
His words were stingy , but more painful was seeing her husband verbally abuse their only six year old daughter
"She too is going to be a whore someday just like her mother. And I will not spend a dime for anyone of you"- He always yelled.
To meet the ends meet Sabitri bought a jersey cow by selling her Tilahari . And with the money earned by selling the milk door to door in Kathmandu at early morning she made the living.
Her husband on the other hand hated her job as milk maid and always screamed at her - "Aren't you ashamed of prostituting yourself while your husband is helpless!"
But despite the abuse Sabitri accepted it as her cruel fate and acknowledged that her sole purpose in life now was educating her daughter. She kept on hoping that someday the monster within Jiwan will die and her old loving husband will return back.
"You know you are a good wife just like Sabitri in purans. "- Thul Bhauju told Sabitiri as she was about to return.
"Despite your Dhundhukari husband you love him unconditionally. He would have deserved some bimbo like our daughter in law. Don't worry God will certainly bless you someday for your devotion. "
"I'll be back in couple of days" - flustered Sabitri spoke as she took leave
When she reached the home her daughter was skipping in the front yard and the tethered cow was lying on the shed ruminating. Meanwhile her husband was already a bottle down and staring outside from the window. Seeing her he yelled -"Oh look slut is back after doing the rounds, while her husband remains starving."
Without saying anything she entered the house . Putting milk tumbler at the corner she collected her husband's bed pan and proceeded to clean it. Her husband grabbed her hand and screamed - "You want me dead don't you?" She didn't replied. "Oh hell with it. Go and bring me something to eat"- he ordered
She stood in anguish and returned back to her daily chores while Jiwan kept on spewing obscenities. As she was cleaning all of the sudden the ground shook heavily.
It was a tremblor. And for an instant she couldn't think of anything. She heard everyone in neighborhood yelling and shouting. She even heard her daughter crying outside and in the shed cow bellowing. Meanwhile, Jiwan was cursing inside. She couldn't decide whether to go and help her husband and ensure his safety or untether the cow. Then swiftly without thinking she ran out of her house and loosen the harness. Before she could rush inside, the house fell with a huge rumble, all the while drowning the shrieks of her husband with it.
As she watched the debris fall she clutched her daughter to her chest and cried inconsolably, in the meantime her watch kept on ticking.