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Manoa 13.2 (2001) 128-132

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The Scream

Dhruba Sapkota

They're seated around the fire pit--from the grandmother badeni down to the granddaughter badeni--three generations of flowers threaded onto one necklace. Flowers for the picking, for the plucking. To be slung around anyone's neck. The grandmother flower was plucked ages ago, and today the granddaughter will be plucked. It's natural. A flower is a flower. But the grandmother no longer has any fragrance; old flowers wither away. Someone plucks the new ones. Before they have a chance to come into full bloom, someone is in a hurry to pluck them, to twist them from the vine. Such a hurry, such a hurry!

The women live with the waiting and the hardships. In one day there may be as many as twenty hardships. No one can say for sure. And as for the wait! They have been waiting for generations. Their lives are spent waiting.

There is a fire in the fire pit. The wet wood is hissing and steaming. Tears are streaming from their eyes. The fourteen-year-old granddaughter says, "Grandmother, my eyes are stinging. I'm going to bed."

She cannot leave the fire pit without her grandmother's permission. She knows her grandmother controls the household. The old woman is sixty years old. The girl's mother and aunts do what her grandmother says, so how can she not?

The old badeni understands her granddaughter's problem. She had been that age, too. She would like to give her permission to go to bed, but all at once she changes her mind and says, "Go ahead, if you want to die of hunger tomorrow."

This explains a lot. We can guess the meaning of this. To fight hunger, they need rice, vegetables, salt, and oil. But it's not enough just to fill their stomachs; they can't walk around naked. They need saris. They need blouses and flashy jewelry to wear. Red lipstick is essential; otherwise, how will people recognize them? They need wood for the fire pit. At night mere embraces are not sufficient. They need quilts as well.

The granddaughter says nothing. She takes out a leaf-rolled cigarette, lights it in the fire, and takes a long pull on it. She looks at her grandmother's wrinkled cheeks. She certainly has not told her to stay without a reason. Someone must be coming. Someone will come. Her hairs stand on end just imagining it. She takes a strong pull on the cigarette. It glows brightly. [End Page 128]

"Let her go if she wants to. We're here, after all," suggests the girl's mother. She cannot give orders to her own mother. Not her mother, who brought her up, taught her how to behave, and in whose footsteps she is following. But she loves her daughter no less than her mother. This is the age for her daughter to eat treats and play, not be played with. And if she were to talk the language of the city bazaars, she would say that at this age her daughter ought to be learning, clutching books under her arm on the way to school. It isn't the age to be clutching a man in her arms. She has learned of the great gulf between books and men.

"I wouldn't bother you if I could still work--let alone your daughter." It is impossible to disagree with the old woman. She is one hundred percent right. A sixty-year-old badeni, she has a nagging cough. It's been many years since she wore nice clothes, and more since she slept in a comfortable bed. This is our old badeni. She believes in her work. She has accepted the body as a means of making a living. She is a strict follower of tradition. She believes in the divine, our old badeni.

One day a young man appeared; they were sitting around the fire pit just as they are now. He asked her, "How many men have you had in your life...


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pp. 128-132
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