The red capSita wipes the tears from her eyes and says, ‘Dilu! Where were you lost for so many years? I have been waiting for you.’
Naubise has many small tea shops that overlook the Trishuli river. A tall stranger with broad shoulders and blond hair has arrived at one of those tea shops crowded like bees in a hive. He has a fancy-looking green backpack. He is wearing blue jeans and black hiking shoes. He squeezes himself into a corner and asks for a cup of tea. Even in such a crowd, he is distinctly noticed for the red cap atop his head and his tall, heavily built stature.
“Kada or fikka?” asks the waitress.
On a cold, rainy day, tea has to be strong. “Kada.” He says, “Could I also get puffed pastries?”
“Yes, but we have only one left.”
“That’s fine. I will get one. And a cigarette.”
“I can get you a cigarette, but you must go outside to smoke.”
“Why not here? It’s raining outside. I’ve smoked here before.”
“Nobody smokes inside. It’s been three years.”
“Okay, just get me one; I will smoke outside when the rain stops.”
Earlier that morning, there was a landslide in Naubise that blocked the highway. The sky had been grey for the last three days. In the morning, the Trishuli river turned orange. The drivers and the passengers turned pale. Frustrated with the weather, the stranger asked his driver, “When will you drive to Kathmandu again? How long should we wait?” The driver, frustrated himself, said, “Ask your grandfather when he will clear the trash!” pointing at the debris blocking the road. Instead of arguing with the driver, he went quietly to his seat, took his red cap off his head, placed it on his lap, stared at the hills, and hoped the rain would stop. He then slept for a couple of hours. After waking up, he realised he was hungry and decided to come for tea.
That’s how he came to squeeze himself into this crowded teashop. After having the tea and puffed pastry, he comes out of the teashop, and as he lights his cigarette, he sees a timid-looking woman on the neighbouring teashop washing dishes. She looks like someone in her late twenties. He tries to turn away, but the woman immediately puts the dishes down and runs towards him.
He says, “Hold on, stop!”
She cries and says, “Dilu! Where were you lost for so many years? I have been waiting and waiting for you.” She tries to hug him.
He says, “I said stop! Don’t hug me.”
She stops. Her pants are still wet from the rain. Her hands still have the dish soap foam. She washes them in the rain and rubs her hands in her T-shirt. She then rubs her eyes with her dry hands, which again become wet with tears.
“Where were you for so many years? You said you won the lottery, and you left me. After a month, you stopped talking to me. I couldn’t even call you. I thought something bad had happened to you!”
“Don’t talk to me like that. Nothing happened to me.”
“Why? We were married. Why can’t I talk like that?”
“Married? What sort of marriage are you talking about?”
“What sort of marriage? We were married in the temple. The priest is the witness!”
“Oh, that priest with a hunchback! He died the next month he got us ‘married’.”
“Don’t talk to me like that!”
“I didn’t marry you, Sita. That’s the sort of thing people do when they are young and foolish, all right? It’s been almost six years. After so many years, even a valid marriage registered in court gets void.” He laughed.
“This is not a joke. Please don’t laugh.”
“Yes, you are right. This is not a joke. I really meant it. I’m not your husband.”
“But, we were married...”
“Stop! No, we were not married. That was like kids playing a marriage game for fun.” He interrupted her. His face turned red with anger.
“I knew you would get angry,” she cried.
“No, I’m not crying.” She sobbed even louder.
After she stopped crying, he asked, “What do you do here?”
“Don’t you see? What else can I do? I dropped out of school because of you.”
“Don’t blame me. You dropped out of school yourself. You wanted to live in the city with me.”
“What? Say that again.”
“Yes, that’s the damn truth!”
“Blame me for everything!”
“You told me, let’s get married and live in the city, didn’t you?”
Yes, that was true. Sita had madly fallen in love with Dilu seven years back when she was just 20. Dilu also showered her with gifts and luscious words, making her feel like a princess. Sita, already bored with the backbreaking grind of the countryside, had suggested eloping and living in Kathmandu, so they eloped. They did some religious ceremony in the temple, in Kathmandu itself—not sure what, but that ended in about half an hour. They moved to Kathmandu and lived in a rented room near Hanumandhoka. Dilu started working as a newspaper delivery boy. Sita worked in a restaurant as a server. Life was good until Dilu won the diversity visa lottery and decided to go to America. Dilu promised Sita that he would return and take her with him in a year.
Sita remembers the story and says, “In so many years, you didn’t call me even once.”
“Don’t behave like this, Sita. Don’t be childish. Times have changed.”
“No, you have changed. I had already realised that you would never come back and never talk to me.”
Dilu now feels pity for this poor woman and says, “Tell me, when did you come back to this village?”
“You have sinned, Dilu. You will go to hell for even asking me that question.”
“I have no time. They are clearing the debris. Once they clear the debris and the rain stops, I will rush to the bus and never see your face again. And you stay here, crying, moaning, and blaming your luck like you’ve been doing for many years.”
“After you stopped calling, I stayed in Kathmandu for a few more months. After that, you know about the earthquake; your parents died. I heard you were busy with your immigration, and you didn’t even come for the cremation ceremony of your parents. My dad, too, got buried. My mom was in the field that day and survived. I returned to the village to support my mom, who also passed away last year because of jaundice. Now, I live alone, renting a room in the village. I work here when I don’t have school and pay for my education. I also sold the plot of land we had. My elder brother moved to Malekhu. He got married, but I don’t like his wife. Whenever I go to their place, she behaves like I will leech onto them forever. No, I’m not staying with them. I am staying here alone. My brother sends me money when I need it. I’m surviving, but I always think of you, Dilu. You have become so stone-hearted.”
“Don’t think about me. You know I don’t have any feelings towards you anymore.”
“I know that. You have a new girlfriend in America.”
“Yes, she is not a domestic cow like you. She is a sophisticated girl. You like to munch daal and rice all day long. She loves fine dining. We take vacations you can only dream of. You were a stupid girl. You are still the same.”
“You have become such a big guy to betray and belittle me like that. This is wrong; you have betrayed me.”
“No, you have betrayed yourself. For a month, how many times did I say, I now have no interest in talking to you. Go back to your village and find someone else to date or ask your parents to get you married. Have you ever listened to me?”
“How could you say such a thing?”
“Oh yeah yeah, I was joking. I was joking all those weeks, every day, every single day! Do I look like a joker to you?”
As he points his fingers to refer to himself, Sita notices a ring on his finger.
“So, you are engaged?”
He hides his hands in his pocket. “That is none of your business.”
He adds, “Look, Sita, now you should find a life for yourself rather than waiting for me. I have someone in my life; even if we separate, you and I are never getting back together. I am now a different man. I take vacations in Florida with my lady. We go to fine dining. I even eat steak. It is a different world where you can’t fit in. You are an ungraceful girl who laughs and cries in public and frightens everyone.”
Sita cries at this insult and says, “You are a sinner, Dilu. You will go to hell after you die. You have betrayed me. You talk to me as if it is my fault.”
“I might be a sinner, but it is your fate. Accept it.”
“I’ve already accepted it, coward. I don’t want to see your face anymore.”
“You will not even if you want to.”
Sita weeps and tries to run to the neighbouring teashop. Dilu realises that he was harsh with his words and holds her hands.
“Leave my hand!” Sita says.
“I’m sorry, Sita. You are a nice woman, but time has changed.”
“Keep this with you. Use it for your school.” He gives her a bundle of ten thousand Nepali rupees. She holds the money with her wet hands, looks at it, and returns it to him. The bills are wet with the raindrops. Dilu keeps the bundle in his bag. Dilu takes his cap off his head and puts it on Sita’s head. As he takes the cap off his head, she notices that the hairline in the middle of his head has disappeared, with the bald patch looking like a small lake on top of a hill. In the moment of deep grief and great anger, she finds this image funny and giggles. He immediately hides his hairline with another woollen hat in his bag. The rain has stopped, and the debris has been cleaned. The driver calls for the passengers to get inside the bus in five minutes. Dilu rushes to the bus. Sita stares at Dilu until he enters the bus. She looks in the distance until the bus disappears, after which she can only see a rainbow. She is sure she will never meet Dilu again. She is also sure she would no longer long to meet him. She doesn’t want any of his memories. She throws the red cap on the road. A violent wind blows the cap to the Trishuli river, destined to meet the sea.
Bhusal is a writer based in Redmond, USA.