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Manoa 12.2 (2000) 152-161
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Tomorrow's Weather Will Be Better
He drove his ox and his shaggy donkey, loaded with sacks of dung, along the rough, winding mountain path toward the little village that lay on the hill ahead. On his own back he carried a sack of sheep dung. From the neck of the ox hung a copper bell, from the donkey's neck an iron bell. With each lumbering step of the animals, the bells rang a contrasting harmony, splendid in the mountain stillness.
The cord of the dung sack cut into the sun-darkened skin on the back of Kelsang Tashi's neck. He had looped the crimson tiestrings of his winter hat into a knot like a flower beneath his chin, so it swayed from side to side like the bells hanging from the animals' necks. Pearls of sweat sprang from his forehead and temples and ran down his cheeks, onto his jaw. When the trickling sweat stung his eyes, he wiped them with the cracked palm of his dirty hand.
For fifty years he'd been carrying loads up and down this rough mountain path. Now his knees were swollen, and he hobbled like a cripple. He so accepted his body's declining strength that he didn't give it a thought.
Long before the first cockcrow, Kelsang Tashi had gotten out of bed, scooped some tsampa into his leather pouch, and gone out into the pitch dark. Trotting through the still of night with his ox and donkey, he had only taken a couple of hours to reach the pasturelands where the nomad herdsmen grazed their livestock. Everything was asleep, except for some mountain sparrows hopping about and some voles running playfully through the grass. He filled the large sacks with yak dung, and the smaller one with sheep dung. Hungry, he took out the tsampa from his pouch, only to discover it had frozen into lumps of ice.
It was cold, and Kelsang Tashi's stomach ached with hunger. He forced himself to gnaw one of the frozen chunks. Though he could hear his teeth grinding the ice, he couldn't taste a thing. He stuffed what was left of the tsampa back into his leather pouch, loaded the ox and donkey, swung the sack of sheep dung over his shoulder, and hurriedly set out on his way home.
Save for the steady clomping of his ox and donkey and the ringing of [End Page 152] their bells, the familiar road was silent. The mountain was still a black shadow in the east. Smoke from cooking fires rose from the chimneys of the little houses in the village where his neighbors were boiling water for tea and cooking their morning gruel. Nobody had come out yet to drive sheep and oxen to pasture. The sky gets light so early now, he thought to himself, and I'm already back from the pastureland with my load of dung. He felt so happy, so proud!
Like many young men, Kelsang Tashi's elder son had gone to the city to work as a construction laborer in order to save money to get married. Last year there had been a long drought, so the harvest had been a very poor one. It had been difficult just making it through the winter, so he hadn't been able to afford to get his son married and to bring his bride into their home. He felt remorseful and remembered a proverb: "If last year's crop was poor, this year's will make up for it." He regretted the way he'd gone about his work last year. Resolving to put more energy into it, he'd begun early, just a week after New Year, gathering dung with fervor. He had a goal. No matter what happened, this year he would have a good harvest and bring a wife for his son into their home. Mother had suggested sending their elder daughter out into the fields to help him, but when he imagined her working...