A cake in the gulfRamesh is a melancholic man and it had been a long, long time since he was seen smiling. Though the sun had ripped his soul to pieces, these papers were apparently keeping his hopes of a happy life alive.
A pungent smell of sweat fills the room but everyone seems sound asleep. The room has three parallel rows of double deck beds. White, stained towels hang above the windows. Reverberating in unison are discrete snores, rendering the room an uncanny, even ghostly, vibe.
It’s five in the morning and Samir has just begun watching the comedy series Bhadragol on YouTube on his phone. The noise wakes Ramesh too. Ramesh rubs his eyes and sighs in exasperation, regretting his decision to have chosen a bed beside Samir. He puts away his blanket, which has his name labelled, and gets up fuming.
Ramesh pulls out a pen and strips of papers from underneath his mattress—paper calendars. He swiftly crosses out the previous day from the calendar. His hands have started wrinkling, thick veins run throughout his skinny hands as if it were holding his bones together. Those hands, which had possibly painted countless rooms across the hotels in Arab, quivered with the touch of the pen. The infernal heat of the Arab had drained all the flesh in his body and happiness in his soul.
Ramesh is a melancholic man and it had been a long, long time since he was seen smiling. Though the sun had ripped his soul to pieces, these papers were apparently keeping his hopes of a happy life alive. These papers help him keep track of time. The strip constitutes 10 years of those morning crosses. But today, there’s a green mark on his calendar; it’s his birthday. He starts counting the remaining days to cross and its only 11 months and 12 days.
He pulls his towel from the window and rushes to bathroom expecting the absence of queue that early.
As Ramesh returns after half an hour, he sets up regular alarm for the hall. The new recruitment from Nepal has flooded the hall and destroyed the silence set by old workers’ departure. Ramesh has been chosen as the in-charge of acquainting the new workers with the daily work in construction.
Ramesh then moves to the corner of the hall and pulls the blankets from two beds. “Wake up, Sabin and Bishal!” They wanted to sleep for five more minutes but they don’t dare resist the orders from such a hostile guy.
Amazingly, the solitary man has some affection for these two boys. Both of the boys must be in their early twenties, thin traces of beard have started to draw their faces.
These boys feed to Ramesh’s nostalgia of his youth when he first arrived here. His son was three when he left Nepal. He was 23. He was told that internet connection was going to be set up within the next month and it has already been a year since then. But he still hopes that very soon he will be able to video chat his family.
Young boys with new extravagant energy is all that a contractor needs. And within four hours of working the contractor gives them leave for that day. The boys are too happy but they will not know until the day they leave that it is the only early leave they get in their career here in Arab. No matter what, the work has to be done on time.
Ramesh pulls out the two boys from the excited crowd and offers them to show the city. The boys get overwhelmed by such an offer and accept instantly.
After showing them some skyscrapers and the hotel he worked at before, he takes them to a bar, which seems to be filled completely with Nepalis. The boys rejoice such company. They sit at a table in the corner and start having shots. Sabin starts narrating his dream of becoming a cricketer as a child and of his unmarried lover who has promised to marry him after his return. He expresses his idea of working for four years and returning with a fortune so he can have his own shop in Kathmandu.
Bishal is inarticulate about his motives but he keeps repeating, “Money is everything, I won’t return until I have enough.”
Ramesh starts opening up: the otherwise enigmatic person starts to become simple and decipherable.
He keeps speaking. “No one ever defeated me in chess, and I am the only one to ever pass 2 examinations in the entire clan till today. Even the comrades in village used to praise my intelligence…”
He prattles nearly for half an hour when he starts to get personal.
“When I was in school I always counted hours to return back home. When I finished SLC, I counted the days for result so I could go to Kathmandu. In Kathmandu I counted the days remaining for Dashain to return to my family in village; in village, I counted my days to return to Kathmandu. After visa I spend every hour waiting for the day to fly and now for the 10 years I have been counting days to reunite with my family. My life has been all about counting and waiting, counting and waiting—counting the infinite and waiting for the impossible. I still regret the day I denied the comrades to join the peoples’ forces calling out their plan whimsical fantasies, regret the day I denied the job at home at half the price I get here, the day I denied the partnership offered at chicken farm, the day I decided to marry without a job, the day I left my three year old crying at the airport terminal expecting to buy happiness. My life has succumbed to melancholy and denials. The priest who saw my kundali said that I will always enjoy the charms of family life. But it seems that sadness will follow me everywhere, even after death.”
Then Ramesh starts weeping.
“Don’t worry, your son will make you happy some day,” Sabin attempts to console Ramesh.
That very sentence acts as a panacea, and he stops weeping.
“Yes! After all, all this is for him.”
Deep down, Sabin doubts his own words of wisdom knowing Ramesh has no idea how different his son could be from his expectations. To hope your children will love you back because you loved them is the irrefutable fate everyone knows yet denies. Sabin distantly recalls the night when he ran away from his home in village to Kathmandu at the age of 12.
Ages of solitude annihilates itself after a few drinks with unknown friends. Ramesh declares he will cut a cake today in the hall for his birthday. May be no one ever had such a privilege to cut one in such a solitary life. They buy 3 pounds of cake. They also get free birthday candle and conical hats. The boys get more excited as Ramesh successfully smuggles the cake through the security of the dormitory.
As they enter the hall, they summon everyone to join the ceremony. Sabin puts the cake on table across the hall and then puts candle on the cake. Bishal realises lighters are strictly prohibited in the dormitory, so he hastily pulls out the candle saying, “We are not kids to light candles. Let’s cut it fast!”
He then realises knife too is prohibited in the dormitory and smiles.