Short story selected for the 2010 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology
I woke up last night and I cried. This is all too much, I thought. I can’t handle it. My husband’s been gone for six years and he shows no sign of returning. He doesn’t send any money either. Wait till I return, he keeps saying. I’ll return next month, he says. He’s been saying this for a while now. He’s in Saudi Arabia. Jeddah, you ask? Never heard of Jeddah. Bantum? Somewhere. I don’t really know where.
His mother comes straight to my dera when she comes to Kathmandu. I’m the eldest buhari, after all. She stays with me for a few days then goes to her daughter’s house. She broke her leg the other week. We brought her down and took her to the hospital. So much expense, so much money. I wish I had another job, but I can’t find another. How did she break her leg? She was climbing up a cliff to cut grass—you know in the villages we have to climb these steep cliffs to get grass. Then she lost her footing and fell. The leg is broken. I took care of her for two weeks, and then it got too much. Her other son took her then. She went back to the village but now I hear she’s worse, she can’t even step on the foot, so she’s coming back. They were asking me to come to the village but I couldn’t, not with two children to look after. They think I live in Kathmandu, work here, take care of myself, and don’t care about them. Thuli bhayaki, they think. What do they know? Do they know how hard I work? Do they know how tough life is?
And my father-in-law, he’s not well. He fainted for four hours — lost consciousness for no reason. My sister-in-law doesn’t take care of them very well. She doesn’t cook food for them on time. She only feeds them when she feels like it, and you can’t do this to old people. We have to take care of them better, you know? We’ll also get old one day. We’ll have to go through this one day.
I asked my husband to send home money to put our son in school. He’s three now. “Paisa, paisa,” he begs all the time. Yes, I’m smiling but I want to cry at times. He takes the paisa and goes to the corner shop and buys a chocolate. All the time, all the time. I am getting so tired, I don’t know what to say to him. I don’t know what to say. “Baba, baba,” he says, while looking at the photograph and pointing at the man in the picture. He’s never seen his father. And no, his father has not seen him either. “Baba, bring me a car when you come home,” he says on the phone. He took my cellphone the other day and threw it at the wall. He keeps taking the cellphone and throwing it. I have to buy a new one because he broke the one I had. My daughter, she’s seven now, she’s not like that, she understands everything. My son, he’s too proud. He does what he wants.
My husband, he works as a cook in a private home. He thought he was going to work at a hotel but they put him in a house. And life there is hard too. Sometimes I feel like crying when I hear his stories. His shirt can be wrung out, it is that hot in that place. All that sweat. He used to work as a carpenter, then he got this new work. He had come back three years ago, but he stayed only… only fifty days before he left. Never seen his son, and look at him now, he’s three now. I said to him: “Lets stay here, as husband and wife. We can share our sorrows and our happiness. Now we are scattered all over the place, and we don’t know anything about each other any more.” When you’re close to the people you love, even hunger can make you full. But he won’t listen.
He’s twenty-eight now, two years older than me. I was married at sixteen, so we’ve been married for ten years. But last night I got so mad I told him he doesn’t have to contact me when he returns. He can stay by himself. Maybe he’s afraid of not finding work here, that’s why he stays behind. Maybe he doesn’t have the same tensions I do. He’s leading a free life, just one soul to take care of. He makes fifteen thousand rupees in Saudi, and most of it goes on food and telephone. Maybe he goes out and spends it. I asked him to send me ten thousand for school fees, he told me he would and that’s been a month ago and I still haven’t seen any money.
It’s better to be single, I realize. If you don’t feel like eating, you don’t have to eat. All you have to do is take care of yourself. You don’t have any tension — no children, no in-laws to look after. I don’t want to live like this all my life — always doing the dishes. I’d get a better job if I could, but there aren’t any. I work in two places and I would work more, if I could, but even these kind of jobs are hard to find. I also want to eat good things, to enjoy my life. I told my husband: “Come back, we can sit down and think about this together. We can make a common decision.” Maybe he’s afraid he won’t find work if he returns. And would I take care of him then? No, I can’t. It is already too much for me. He’d have to take care of himself. Each to his own. I couldn’t sleep all night last night thinking about all this.
You think I’m smiling all the time – but last night I got up and I cried.
dera: rented room
paisa: small monetary unit used in Nepal, Bhutan, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh; it is worth 100th of a rupee
rupee: currency of Nepal
thuli bhayaki: to be bigger than your boots
Illustration by Katherine Jones
Sushma Joshi is a Nepali writer and filmmaker who was born in 1973 in Kathmandu. She has published The End of the World (2008), a collection of short stories, Art Matters (2008), a books of essays about contemporary art, and New Nepal, New Voices (co-editor, 2009), a selection of articles.
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