October 1, 2008

Sweet November

My name is Kuenza Karma. I am a temporary teacher in Thimphu. I am still single, even after six years in my chosen profession.

I stay above the DNP office, in the unpainted building. Every day I walk down to the swimming pool bus stand and take the city bus to my destination, my school. If it rains in the evenings I ride the bus otherwise I walk back home, taking a detour through the town. For the past couple of years I have been following this pattern

Sundays find me at my sister’s place (below Kelki) or at my brother’s (inside RICB colony). My friends consist of Sonam and Yeshey, teachers in another school. I have my school-colleagues but we don’t meet during our leisure time. Still I don’t consider myself lonely. After all my brother and sister are also in Thimphu

...
It is in November… as I am going to school one morning, that I see her. She is sitting two rows from the end, looking out of the window. I notice her because she has long, straight hair. And her eyes… they radiate happiness. She is smiling to herself.

I eye an empty seat at the end and go towards it. When I reach her row I look at her briefly and smile. She doesn’t see me.

Who is she? Where is she going? She looks like a working woman. Where does she work? Her well-groomed personality spells ‘taken’ to me.

...
That evening it is chilly so I take the bus. I don’t expect to see her in the bus.
She is there, in the last row. This time I espy an empty seat beside her, and I take it. She notices me and smile. I return the smile.

There is silence in the bus, accompanied by occasional bursts of conversations between the other passengers, and some talking in their cell phone. I take out my multimedia phone and plug in my earpiece. Soon I am lost in my music

There is a tap on my shoulder. I turn, opening my eyes. She is saying something. I take off the earpiece.

“Cool mobile… can I see it? What is it?”
“Motorola…” I hand her the phone. She looks over my phone.
“What are you listening to??”
“…ummm…pop?” I guess.
“Can I listen too?” She is bold. She comes closer.
“Sure”
I share one earpiece with her. We listen. She doesn’t volunteer her name, and I don’t ask. The bus reaches my stand. I apologize and get off. As I look back, she waves, smiling. The bus continues on its journey.

The next day I expect her to be on the bus, but she isn’t. Nor is she on, the next day, or the day after.

The next time I see her is at the cinema hall. A new movie is being released that day, and I am provided a ticket by my brother. She is squeezing through the crown in front of the ticket counter, rushing for a ticket but she doesn’t get one. I get up to her and smile.

“Hi,… no luck. I couldn’t get a ticket”, but she is smiling. How can someone still smile on not getting a ticket? “I have one… want to have it?” I offer.
There is a wistful look in her eyes but she declines. As I wait for the buzzer to ring, we make small talk about the movie industry. She seems well-versed in that.

The buzzer goes off. I excuse myself and move towards the entrance. As I am swallowed by the surging crowd I happen to glance back, and I see the same wistful eyes, still there. I make a split-second decision and push my way against the crowd. She sees it and is puzzled- I can see it in her eyes. Panting after the ordeal I reach by her side.

“Why aren’t you inside?” she questions me.
“I thought talking to you would be more worthwhile that watching the movie alone”
We go to Lhanam’s and have coffee. No, I have coffee. She, tea. Her name is Dechen Lhamo. She is due to complete her second year at Samtse College of Education. She is an English major. At present she is staying in her aunt’s flat in Motithang.

We talk about our interests (music, reading), about my life in college, my teaching profession, friends, but we don’t talk about us.

We bid our goodbyes at 9:30 pm, as she catches a taxi to go home. I don’t offer to escort her home. She doesn’t ask.

It is only when I reach home that I remember, I haven’t asked her number. I want to know more about her but I have no means to do so. I frequent the city bus, the cinema hall, the music rentals, but she seems to have vanished.

I try the local Radio's request show and arrange a meeting at Lhanam’s. Nothing happens. I lose options.
...
On 11th evening I go to town with Sonam and Yeshey. Some open-air programs are being staged. Modern Bhutanese numbers are being voiced and I am thumping to the beat when I feel a tap on my shoulder.  I turn around. There she is. 

“I knew it was you”, she says.
“Hi” I beam with happiness “Where are your friends?”
“They are gone. I lost them in the crowd.”
We talk and roam the town together, searching for her friends, but fail to locate them.
Finally we decide to call it a night, and drift off towards motithang, towards her home.

At her doorstep she hesitates, so do I. But then she invites me in for tea. We have tea, and one thing leads to another. We make love. I don’t remember how it actually starts, but I can still smell her perfume, still feel her skin, and still taste her lips. How can I forget? I am in love.

I am in love with a girl I know anything about, a girl I meet on the bus, a girl so beautiful. Our relationship continues through the continuing days and weeks. We go for shopping, movies, walks.

For one week I stay at her place, and go to school directly from her home.

One morning I find her looking pale, but she insists that it is just a cold. The next morning, she looks the same.

Later in her kitchen cabinet I find pills, capsules and different medicines. On asking she denies anything. That evening I ask her again about the pills but she doesn’t volunteer any information. I get out of the house in fury.

When I return, her apartment is locked. I wait for an hour but she doesn’t return. I ask her downstairs neighbor but she doesn’t know anything.

I return the next day but the downstairs neighbor is waiting for me. She informs me that her upstairs-tenant has shifted residence, had been a terminal Cancer patient for a long time. So that explains the medicines. When was she going to tell me? I feel sorry for her. There is nothing I can do. I go back home.

...
After a week I receive a letter. There is no return address. It is posted in Thimphu. I open the letter.

“Dear KK,

I am sorry that I kept you in the dark about my situation. I wanted to tell you but I was afraid that I would lose you.

You see, I had fallen in love with you the moment I saw you. I even tried to distance myself from you but I couldn’t. It was fate that brought you to me, to give me happiness in the last hours of my life. The doctor had given me less than a month to live, and having you for these last moments has shown me what life is really about. Love is life, I learned it from you.

I shall take these memories to the grave, but this is not goodbye. Instead let me say ‘good night’. I shall keep watch over you forever. I pray with my last breath that I be reborn as yours again in the next life.

Don’t try to find me, you can’t. By the time you read this I shall be far away…, maybe with the fairies, dancing in the clouds.

Yours Love,

Dechen.”

...
My tears have dried. I don’t cry anymore. I don’t love anymore. Why does god have to give certain terms and conditions to true love?