I spent my formative years in the village of Surunga, in the district of Jhapa, on the fringes of a forest. A road was the only thing separating our home from the vast expanse of green. I remember the tall slender trees, with branches jutting towards the sky, creating a cloud of green overhead, the gnarled tree trunks hoisting upward; the faint rustle of the leaves. The ground would always be covered with dead leaves.
Often, the wind would howl fiercely through the forest, making the leaves flutter. Then, the rain would burst from ominous black clouds and crash down on the village, quenching the dry ground. The rain pounded on the corrugated tin roof, slid down and cluttered around the edges, where it overflowed and splashed on the wet gravel. The sky was like a ceiling of cobalt. When the clouds cleared, the pavement outside, riddled with wet footsteps, would be buzzing with throngs of children. On our veranda, sunlight slipped through the coconut leaves and streamed onto the veranda.
When I shut my eyes, the heat comes rushing back. You woke up bare-chested and drenched in sweat. You went to bed in a vest and awoke clammy. Salty sweat slipped into your eyes. Your clothes clung heavily to you. Your hair was invariably matted into your head. A finger of sweat would slide down your back leaving a trail of coolness behind. The back of your head itched. The oppressive heat beat into your skull a steady rhythmic thumping. The blazing ground boiled and waves of hot vapour emanated from it. You could feel your limbs stiffen and your mind grow lazy. The tin roof glittered fiercely in the heat.
Dogs slumped in the heat all day, clouds of flies buzzing around them. The heat made every living creature sluggish. Even the massive trees drooped, not a leaf stirring. The scent of the dead fields came drifting to you, stirring patches of hay on the banks, until you felt the back of your nose burn and your head begin to swim. In the Mai river, children and animals slapped their arms as they slithered through the swelling waters. The mornings were shudderingly cold, but as the day progressed, you found yourself praying for the night.
But all these memories are dwarfed by a rather terrifying incident. On a rather dull dark evening, I was returning home from a rather long day in the fields with the boys. That day, we had played football till the shadows lengthened. Thanks to the rain, the oppressive hot air had become cool and sweet, every breath was an indescribable joy. The air whipped my shirt around but the silence was unbroken. My mother scolded me for being late, then regained her composure and took me inside. As we entered the home, the lantern became unsteady and our shadows began to dance on the cold cement floor. There was a terrible thump, followed by a rattle that made me clamber up the wooden stairs with astonishing speed, throw open the door and jump into the bed.
I was sinking into sleep when a earsplitting sound cut through the wet air, making the thin matchwood walls tremble and the drapes ripple like sails in the wind. I swung my feet onto the floor and looked out the window. A large collective gasp could be heard echoing on the lonely plains. I craned my neck. My heart caught in my throat.
A column of smoke and earth, rising slowly, almost motionlessly, from the distant hills. A rain of dust and fire from the hills onto the plains below. The fire was spreading, licking its way all over. I could feel colour rush to my cheeks and I wondered if it was of the explosion or my nervousness. The light was blazing and even in the dead of night, the shapes of houses were becoming visible. A continuous crackle, like bullets, could be heard drifting in from across the forest.
My mother stormed into the room and closed all the windows. Her fear stricken face shocked me. I remember sometime later, crying loudly and wetting my trousers. My memory, treacherous through the weariness of time, has made it difficult for me to narrate what happened without fault. However, I do remember being numb with fright and shame days after this happened.
I don’t anticipate or beseech belief. I simply lay down my experiences that come flashing back to me on sleepless nights.Published: 2018-09-08 08:09:47