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Manoa 13.2 (2001) 93-100



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A Corpse, a Statue, and a Thousand Buddhas

Ramesh Vikal


Early each winter morning, when the earth and sky blend together in a thick blanket of fog, the municipality sweeper Nhuchhemaya arrives to clean the streets. The eastern sky has just begun to glimmer, and the fog rests gently on the rooftops. For a brief while longer, darkness will obscure posters announcing elections and advertising current movies. Shop signs hawking Aristocrat Brandy, Fancy Tailor, and price-controlled rations also remain dim. Houses and shops, lampposts and taxicabs seem half-asleep.

But Nhuchhemaya is awake. Each hair on her body, each cell of her skin, even the bangles on her wrists are vibrantly alive. She races through the morning fog toward the statue that has stood on its marble platform at this crossroad for decades. In fact, the platform is dedicated to its life-size statue. Nhuchhemaya's task is to sweep this platform and the nearby streets, and so she arrives each dawn, whether cloaked in the heat of summer or the cold of winter. Moving through the fog, she looks at first like a dim, faraway shadow, then slowly takes on the complete form of a young woman. (Only a few years ago, she was a child and not a woman. Her figure did not race through the fog with such abandon; rather, she clutched the end of her mother's sari. At that time, it was her mother's task to sweep the streets and the platform. Nhuchhemaya had only tagged along, but her fate has been mysteriously tied to this intersection ever since.)

Yes, she is a young woman now, having taken her mother's burdens onto her own shoulders. With the early-morning union of earth and sky, she arrives as an indistinct figure to wake up the drowsy houses of this slumbering street. In the cold, thick mist, a basket balances on her shoulders and sways rhythmically with the movement of her steps. Her shawl has a hole in it. A drop of water glistens on the tip of her nose, and her hair is wet with dew. The air echoes with the sound of her ragged slippers sliding along the blacktop road and with the tinkling of her bangles as she heads toward the platform with the statue.

The whole atmosphere of the sleepy street is transformed when Nhuchhemaya arrives. The window of house 15 creaks open and an old man spits out phlegm. A brown dog curled up by a lamppost jumps up in a huff and, raising a leg, urinates against the door of a nearby shop. At the taxi stand, [End Page 93] sleepy drivers shift in their cars. One driver coughs, then sings off-key in his sleep the lyrics from a movie soundtrack. Nhuchhemaya stops beside a taxi bearing the number 0849 and, looking in, says softly in Newari, "Hey, isn't it time to get up?"

The driver of taxi 0849 sinks deeper into the old blankets that he has tucked himself into. His eyes are still heavy with sleep, but Nhuchhemaya's sweet voice beguiles his youthful heart. He pokes his head out of his blanket like a tortoise coming out of its shell and yawns. With his eyes half-open, he mumbles in a sleepy voice, "Su? Who is it? Hey, is that Nhuchhe?"

Nhuchhemaya feels immensely drawn to something she cannot explain in this charming young driver. She never passes by his taxi in the early morning without stopping to caress with her gaze his sleeping shape. She feels a pleasant tickling inside her chest, and her voice quivers. "The sun's rising. Isn't it time to get up?"

Inside the cab, the young driver mutters. Nhuchhemaya responds impulsively, "Well, you probably have a wife to hold on to every day, but who do we have? Who do we--?"

Having said too much, she is overcome with shyness and scurries off giggling. She stops only when she reaches the intersection. There, she lays her basket on the platform...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-943x
Print ISSN
1045-7909
Pages
pp. 93-100
Launched on MUSE
2001-10-01
Open Access
No
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