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Manu Brajak! (b. 1942) Brajaki's first published story appeared in a Janakpur magazine in 1962, but he is still regarded as a writer whose work reflects c:ontemporary trends. Brajaki has published two collections to date: Avamulyan (Devaluation , 1981) and Akashko Phal (Fruits of the Sky, 1986). A SMALL FISH SQUATS BY THE DHOBl KHOLA (SANG MACHHA DHOBl KHOLAKO RAGARM A*) Today he saw that the ugly iron Aligarh padlock2 was still hanging on the outside of the lavatory door. Its paint and polish had all washed away. He stared at the locked lavatory, deep in thought. Someone had chalked a picture on its outer wall of a betel leaf pierced by an arrow. It seemed incongruous to him; this was no place to be wounded by love. He remembered the strangeness of his landlady, Bajai Ama.3 Stranger still was the sight of this lavatory bolted shut with an ugly iron padlock since eight o'clock in the morning. He looked at his watch: it was half past eight. Outside, a light summer shower was ialling. How many more times could he go running over to use Hari's? Hari had a landlord, too— what was he going to say? It was Hari who'd told him teasingly, "This is what you've been looking for! You won't find a belter room than this 1. The Dhohi Khola, or "Washerman's Stream," is a small river that Hows through Kathmandu. 2. Aligarh is a large town in northern India, presumably the plate of the padlock's manufacture. 3. Her name is a combinationof bajat, "grandmother," and tiinti, "mother." 298 MANU BRAJAKI 299 anywhere for 50 rupees. After all, they were going to ask seventy or eighty for it." Realizing that he had little choice in the matter, he swallowedhis pride, picked up his umbrella, and went out of the room. On the stairs he met Bimla. Bimla looked coyly at him. Her lips did not smile, but her whole face, her eyes, were laughing. He felt her face showed sympathy, not mockery. And some slight sense, too, of a betel leaf pierced by a barb. After an awkward moment when they jostled on the stairs, they each went their own way. Bimla's long skirt swayed on up the stairs. He wondered , did Bimla have the key to the padlock? Who knows? She might not. And could he really bring up the subject of a lavatory in his first conversation with such an educated young woman? He pulled out a cigarette and struck a match. Perhaps because of the match light, the ugly iron lock appeared again before his eyes. He hurried irritably down the stairs. At the door, he came face to face with Bajai Ama, the landlord's wife: a yellow face full of creases and wrinkles, a sandalwood spot on her brow, some ritual materials in one hand, a lady's umbrella in the other. "You're up very late, young sir. Where are you going?" "Just off to buy some vegetables . . ." She laughed, as people often do, and their conversation ended. Was there sarcasm in her voice or kindliness? He did not know. There was no time for him to know either. But as he hurried away he felt as if that wrinkled old face was shouting back at him, "Are you off to squat by the DhobI Khola? You should get up earlier in the morning!" He strode off anxiously to Hari's house. A month ago, he had come here with Hari, looking for a place to stay. They had wandered around for hours, and they were completely disheartened. The house was as historic as Kathmandu itself. That is, it looked however you wanted it to look: to a rich man it seemed derelict; for a poor man it was fine. Hari introduced him. "Hello." "Hello." "You'll have looked at the room?" "Yes, it's fine. I'm on my own; one room is enough." "Have you no family then?" Bajai Ama looked keenly at him, and he felt uneasy. This "because of your family" business had already stopped him getting any further in several other places. "Not at the moment." Hari glanced at him; his statement was true. To tell the whole truth, he should really have said, "My family is in my village. I will bring them 300 SKI.KCTKD SHORT STORIKS here soon." But.the fish had already escaped, and he just sat wringing his hands in...


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