“Sleep well my guests and see you tomorrow morning,” wished Aum Penzin as she lit the bunch of bamboo from the furnace. She served us Kharang mixed with white rice and ema datsi for our dinner. She prepared us our bed in her altar room and served us Zimchang – ara to ensure good night’s sleep. But for Aum Penzin, activities kept rolling in one after another and to miss one of them by chance would mean foregoing better days ahead. With her bamboo lighting raised above her head she left to guard her maize fields from wild animals while we laid down in her altar room for a much desired rest.
In the silence of the night, even noise of fleas hovering underneath the blanket is heard distinctly. Fleas kept jumping from my eyes to nose, and to my ears almost making me sing along a popular nursery rhyme – head and shoulder. It wasn’t a nightmare that kept me awake. Fleas all over had been really nasty but something deep inside my heart kept me wandering all night long.
The music of monsoon showers kept playing at a regular interval and “Oie…Ah…ho…ho” noises of people from the surrounding maize fields filled the hell of the dark night. Not a single dog barked and I wandered why people are not using dogs at night. Oh! Yes, Aum Penzin did tell us about the whole of village dogs falling prey to a leopard. My friend, a Surveyor on my left enjoyed sound sleep, probably few cups of Ara that he had must have been in action.
Frequent showers outside and its cool breezes that rushed in through crevices of window shutters kept us cool that hot summer night. “Ah…hooo,” I could hear our host lady shoo away wild animals from time to time. Fully awake, I let my thoughts wander back to the moment we got in here.
My friend and I made a late start that in the maize field we lost our way as darkness surrounded us. Fully drenched by the drizzles throughout our journey we landed up seeking a nice place to halt for the night. Our quest took us to a large house in the middle of the maize field. The house appeared deserted. We knocked on the door hesitantly. There appeared a young boy, probably around six or seven year old boy, from the dimly lit room. As he opened the door, cloud of smokes gushed out through the door almost choking us.
On the left side of the hearth was a lady, Aum Penzin who was busy preparing dinner. As we stepped in, “We lost our way and we would like to seek your permission for a night halt here,” she, at first ignored while her hands kept busy over her dinner preparation. Probably our presence meant an additional activity on top of her already busy schedule. She managed few eye contacts with her daughter, Yangzom who sat on the other side of the hearth feeding her infant baby and then said, “You are welcome. We have a large house although we might not have anything special to offer you.” With a hope to dry our clothes we sat around the hearth.
Not long after we settled there, “How old is your baby?” I was asking Yangzom, “Where did the father of the baby go?” She just smiled and did not answer. “This is her second child,” Aum Penzin answered from behind, “That boy is also her son. His father left us long ago.” The child on her lap was probably a result of illegitimate relationship that left her handicapped from helping her mother although she tactfully hid her helplessness in that smile. “Had her husband been with us, I would not be in such a chaos,” Aum Penzin expressed her difficulty.
While our conversations went on, “Ahem…Ah..aw” came from one corner of the room. I tried to catch a glimpse of him in the flickering light, when Aum Penzin interrupted, “He is my husband. He has been lying there bedridden for last two years.” But “why?” I started to question, “Why is he not in the hospital?” There was no answer. I looked at my friend. He nodded and said, “Medication would cure him.”
“He has been to all the hospitals – even traditional hospital at Thimphu and tried out all sorts of medicines. Nothing seems to cure him. His medication and treatment has only left us broke with our minimal savings already spent on it,” came in the frustrations of Aum Penzin as two of us sat there filled with guilt over putting-up such a question. After about few seconds Aum Penzin continued, “Nothing would cure him it seems. He is under the spell of someone’s black magic. And only return magical spell would let him free, but to hire a magician is beyond our capacity,” as she lay dinner in front of us.
Thinking these over and over again and sometimes feelings of guilt for troubling this family running through my mind kept me awake whole night while my hands desperately sought fleas underneath the blanket.
At around 5:00 AM, my host lady returned home. I could not resist myself from going to the kitchen only to discover that she is 24 hours “On”. Yes, she was 24 hours on, her cycle of activities kept her on toes. At night she guarded her fields from wild animals. Her day started with breakfast preparation while her daughter could not be of much help with infant baby on her lap. Aum Penzin feeds her husband food and helps him to toilet; she dressed that boy and sends him to school located about a kilometer away; she collects nettle leaves, minces banana trunks, boils them and feed their pig; she collects grasses to feed their ox; she makes a round of her maize field during day time too to ensure crops are safe; she sometimes even manages to go on errands; and in the evening she is near the hearth preparing dinner for the family and by the time she finishes her dinner, it’s already time to go and guard her field from wild animals. Yet she was full of energy and hope in keeping the family spirit alive. Therefore, I would not be wrong even if I call her – the Real Supermom.
My friend joined us in the kitchen and soon breakfast was served. My friend and I handed her Nu. 300.00 each, as we left to the next village – our final destination.
***I wrote this story to pay tribute to my host lady, whose true identity I beg to conceal. While it is based on my real life experiences I may have spiced it up to make it more interesting to its readers. The names of characters have been changed and actual places are not reflected in the story. Therefore, it may as well be considered as a work of fiction.