The Yellow Leaves of Summer (1995)

Written by Tashi Palden

Translated by Riika J. Virtanen

 

One

Some parents in the countryside have such a deep love for children they choose to have many sons and daughters. Even though they know that later on their upbringing will cause great hardships. They have a naturafaversion to sending their children to go as baby-sitters for others. They think that though people these days use the pleasant-sounding title “baby-sitter”, it’s actually no different from being a servant. In their opinion children will be happier staying close to their parents, eating and drinking with them, even if they share nothing more than tsampa balls and black tea and their food and clothing are poor.

However, some people don’t think like that; they hold that a girl’s life will turn our happier if she is sent to a town, irrespective of w,kit work she does, and that she will be admired and able to rake pride in herself. Moreover, many young girls consider such an opportunity something marveilous, a dream beyond their reach, pondering on how nice it would be if they had a relative or acquaintance who would one day invite them to work in a town.

Before she became a baby-sitter for her elder sister Pasang Yangki, Nyidri:il went to the central primary school of the shang and she also harboured hopes of that kind. She thought about rhe delights of urban life, which she had heard from her schoolmates and teachers, about the multi-storey buildings which were so high that if you gazed right to their top your hat would fall off your head. The highways with their mirror-like and even surfaces. The wondrous goods for sale, beautiful as flowers. The crowds of people, as attractive as gods and goddesses, milling like ants scattered from their nest. The eternally shining lights and amusements at night, and especially the many delicious things to ear like rice dishes, momos, sweets, apples and other delicacies available, throughout the four seasons. All these images ·arose hazily in her imagination and captivated her mind. Some girls who had been her classmates had left the school and gone.to towns and cities, she dearly wished to do so too and her mind was completely absorbed by the thought. Her hopes were nor just empty dreams as there was a basis for real optimism. She had an elder sister who, after finishing her schooling, had got work in a town, and so she thought that she would also one day get the chance to go there.

In the second year after her sister married her family received a letter from her sister in which she did indeed write about Nyidröl. The letter said that she and her husband were busy with their work and because neither had their parents near them Nyidröl should be sent there to look after their two children and they would take care of her future prospects. Nyidri:il was thrilled and proudly told her schoolmates that she would soon be going to a town. Moreover, her mother agreed that she could go and thought she should leave almost the very next day. Her father didn’t feel so certain about it and said, “If it does not turn out well, the younger daughter will bear rhe losses.” He was worried about Nyidröl’s future.

The mother imagined her elder daughter so busy with her government job and work at home that even if her hair caughr fire she would not have time to put out the flames. Especially she visualised her grandchild crying amidst shit and piss to get attention. She pooh-poohed her husband’s doubts saying, “Even if we send Nyidröl to school, it isn’t the same these days. We will have to find a way in by the backdoor, which for the child of a farmer like us is as difficult as trying through the proper channels. In any case she will become a peasant. Instead of that, if we send her to her sister it will nor only benefit her for rhe time being but also in the long run. It will also make life less difficult for Pasang Yangki.” As for Nyidröl, this was the realisation of her dreams. Even if she were to seek it out this kind of opportunity wouldrit come her way again. Wanting to leave immediately, Nyidrol became very excited and restless, and since she was worried that her father wouldn’t let her go, she lied to him and said, “Ir’s really so. However much I study; I won’t learn anyway. Probably I was a donkey in my previous birth.”

 

Two

When she received the letter Nyidrol was a small girl, about ten years old. Some years later, her sister’s two children had become big. The older one was going to primary school and the other was about four or five. Also, Nyidriil had turned into a budding adolescent. Nowadays her sister and her brother-in-law both called her ”Aunty” imitating the way the two children usually referred to her. That conveyed a sense of intimacy and belonging, and therefore Nyidröl was very pleased at being addressed in this way.

The two children had now grown up to rhe point where there was no real need for a baby-sitter. The_ fact that Nyidröl’s body and her mind were undergoing changes made both Tredön and his wife think that it was now time to decide on her future. There had even been some men who had asked to marry her, but all of them had only mentioned the topic incidentally; along with other matters, and none of them had actually come with chang to make a marriage proposal. As it was impossible to guess whether they wanted to propose to her seriously, or had only been joking about it, there was nothing else to do than wait for them to come again with ‘rhe chang for requesting the bride’s hand’ since Tredön and Pasang didn’t dare to rake the initiative and ask such suitors whether they actually wanted to marry Nyidröl.

Tredön knew a bachelor called Sirhar, who was working in a road construction office. For some rime he had been saying teasingly to Nyidrol “This is my bride.” Moreover, he had also spoken in a joking tone to Pasang Yangki requesting her to give him Nyidröl as his bride. Sithar was heavily built and his eyes were small, his nose big and his skin black and pockmarked. Nyidröl used to call him “Uncle”, and when she was small she had even been frightened of him. Though he was thirty-six or thirty-seven, he was still a bachelor. It caused him im measu rable men tal angu ish that none of the girls in the neighbourhood showed any interest in him. Though he felt deeply depressed that his parents had not provided him with better looks, there was no way to correct that and he had no other allure than to become rich to see whether he could attract people by his wealth and by giving up robacco and alcohol. Nowadays the people in his office were trying to guess how much money he had. He had builr his own house, on an area covering three hundred square meters. He lived in his office and had let the house out for rent. Since Pasang Yangki and Tredön thought that there was a big age difference between them and their appearances were as different as earth and sky, they took his overtures as something of a joke and ignored them.

Nyidröl grew up in the course of ti me and Tredon took responsibility for her welfare just as he did for his two children. Before, Pasang Yangki had washed his underwear and socks, but nowadays he saw Nyidröl searching for them of her own accord and washing them. When Pasang Yangki heard about the many cases of baby-sitters ousting their mistresses, she became alert to the invisible danger lying in Nyidröl’s body and got slightly worried about her. Around that time Sithar arrived at just the right moment carrying tea, chang and presents, and actually asked for Nyidröl as his bride. Pasang Yangki hesitated and said, “I will ask the person concerned.”

Pasang Yangki said to Nyidröl, “There is a saying ‘Ifyou wish to be happy later in your lite, look for an old man as your husband.’ Ifyou agree to marry him, you won’t have to worry about food and cloth1g during your entire life and you will have a house of your own. Luxuries of that kind are difficult to find even if you search for them with a golden lamp.”

Nyidröl interjected, “Please don’t tell me that I have to rush to become that ugly-looking man’s bride. It’s better to become a nun than to get married to a man like that.”

Tredön said, “You can’t really blame Aunty. It’s a crymg shame if she is sent to be Sithar’s bride. It would be so sad if Nyidröl, who’s as beautiful as a peacock, is tied to a husband with pockmarks on his face.”

Pasang Yangki retorted, “Do you imagine that you’re so incredibly beautiful?”, and she contiaued to Nyidrol, “When I was young I also thought a person’s appearance was very important, but once you’re married and the children have been born, who has time to pay attention to someone else’s face? Whether her husband is as handsome as Gesar or as ugly as a pig. All that matters to a woman is if he is sincere and affectionate towards her and rakes responsibility for supporting her.”

Tredön teased her and laughed, “Then, are you saying that I’m a pig?” To which Pasang Yangki sarcastically shot back, “Oh, my dear! Aren’t you King Gesar?”                        .

Sithar was thinking that even though Nyidröl was beaunful, as she was a baby-sitter and didn’t have any chance of getting work in an office, she would probably not refuse. Moreover, when he met Nyidröl he said jokingly, at the same time watching her expression, “My girl, if you become my wife, even though I can’t make you a noble lady you won’t have to feel inferior to other girls. Do you want to come?” Since Sirhar had now actually come to ask for her in marriage, Nyidröl felt immediate repulsion for him and what sprang to her mind was, “Even my father is more youthful than you. Eat shit!” However, she didn’t dare to verbalise the word “No”. So, pretending that she was joking as usual, sh.e said to him: “Old man, don’t tease a child!” Her words struck home, and though he understood their message he didn’t lose hope and approached them again, promising in front of Pasang Yangki that Nyidröl wouldn’t have to go out to work and would live her whole life in happiness.

But Nyidröl had made her final decision not to get married to him. Therefore the couple could not do anything about it and Tredön tried to turn the matter around by diplomatically saying, “Sithar, don’t be in a hurry. Nyidröl is still young and also, because our younger child can’t manage by herself yet, we plan to keep her for one or two more years. Therefore, how about discussing this matter later?” Although Sithar wasn’t pleased, he kept up a brave smile, saying, “Let me wait another year or two. But you shouldn’t keep two.” In the guise of a joke he was hinting at something.

 

Three

On hearing Sithar’s words, Tredon felt a hot surge inside himself and his face became uncomfortable, as if it had been burnt by the sun. “To keep two?” When he thought about it he felt slightly more easy in his mind as he had never harboured sch an idea until now. Of that he was completely certain, and he could even swear to it. However, he actually started to wonder how it would be if the two sisters could somehow be exchanged. Once this thought had arisen it soon gained force, like an electric current, and overwheln1ed his consciousness. Every time he dwelt upon the completely different character, speech and behaviour of the younger and older sister,. the idea became even more compelling.

When he had first got to know Pasang Yangki, before their marriage, she had also had a nice nature and all . the people in the office had spoken about her enthusiasm for her work. After they married all her energies had turned to housework. When she became pregnant with her first child, Tredön had taken even greater care of her and paid much attention to her. He had done all the housework when Pasang Yangki chose to feign being tired. Moreover, after the birth of the child he would say, “It’s not easy to give milk to the child”, and take great care about her food and ensure that she could get enough rest.

During her maternity leave of four months, Pasang Yangki had learnt how to play mahjong, and even though she didn’t play for big stakes she had got a taste for it and became fasci nated by the game. She took part in all kinds of respectable and rowdy gatherings of her colleagues. Wherever Pasang Yangki went Tredi:in used to go to fetch her, and if he didn’t arrive at exactly the righr time she would look daggers at him and assault his ears with endless insults. Ever since Nyidri:il had come to stay as baby-sitter she had got together with some friends to drink chang and play mahjong two or three times a week They rook turns at hosting these gatherings in their homes and gambled. However much Tredon advised her when she was about to give birth to her second child it was of no use, and she continued to go out gambling as before. The labour pains started early in front of a mahjong table and the baby was born before they reached the hospital. Afterwards she was holding the baby in her lefr arm and giving it milk, while her right hand was playing mahjong as she explained with pride to her new gambling friends the wonderful events that had taken place during the birth.

Even though Tashi Döndrub felt angry and displeased about his wife’s behaviour, whenever he mentioned it Pasang Yangki immediately said, “O.k. O.k. I know. From now on I won’t touch mahjong again.” She kept promising, but when it was actually time to go she gave some reasons why it would be wrong not to attend and made false promises saying, “Today I won’t touch mahjong; I’ll come home early.” When she said this, he knew that her words were untrue, but he could do nothing about it. At last, Pasang Yangki’s way of speaking and her behaviour became completely beyond his control. As he could do nothing to influence it, he had no other choice than. to ignore it.

One day he had something important to do, but when it was time to leave Pasang Yangki had gone to an inauguration ceremony and Nvidrtil was also out at the market. Neither of them had returned yet. S he got very agitated, not finding anybody to whom he could entrust his small child. When he looked at his watch, and saw that it was time to go, he could find no other solution than to lock his small daughter inside rhe house. All afternoon he felt uneasy, and as soon as he had finished work he rushed home immediately. Even though Nyidröl had returned after he left, when he heard that the little girl had knocked down and broken a thermos, he picked up his child and looked to see whether she was injured. Fortunately the thermos had fallen from the table on to the floor and not on the child, so she hadn’t been hurt. “What the hell were you doing until so late?”, shouted Tredön, enraged.

Nyidröl flashed back at him, “Well, where has my elder sister gone?” Tredön was angry and said, “There’s nobody worthwhile in your family. You are all leather scraps cue from same skin. If you don’t want to work, you can go back to your parents.”

Although Nyidröl had felt frightened of Tredon when she was still a child, as she grew up she understood enough ro be concerned about him, when she saw her sister’s way of acting and his sheepish attitude. She had tried to take care of him in every cespect and made efforrs to compensate for her sister’s negligence. Normally she was silent, diligent in doing the housework and very affectionate to their two children. The children called her “Aunty” and they were almost more attached to her than to their own mother. Today, when Tredon spoke ro her like that, she was unable to bear it and burst out, “I went to the market to buy vegetables, and wasn’t wandering around idly. When you can’t control your own wife, there’s no point in getting angry with the father and slapping the son. If you cell me ro go, I shall go.” Crying, she sorted out her cloches and packed chem into a bundle.

Although for a while Tredon ignored what was happening, the small girl jumped down from his lap and clasping Nyidrol’s legs pleaded, “Aunty, Aunty, don’t go! Aunty, don’t go!” Nyidrol explained ro her, “Now, since both of you are grown up, there is no need of Aunty.”

Tredön knew that his words had been roo harsh, and actually he understood clearly that Nyidröl was not the one to be blamed for what had happened chat day. So he admitted his mistake and apologised to her. Normally, except for complaining ro her elder sister, she didn’t mention anything to Tredon, but today she had scolded him and pointed out that he couldn’t control his own wife. He felt almost as if his own younger sister had shown concern for him and was delighted and moved. Of course he’d noticed chat she usually sympathised with him, and even though he had said today that the two sisters were leather straps cut from the same hide there was actually a great difference in their character, speech, behaviour, mental attitude and so on. As Nyidrol blossomed to adolescence her body bloomed fully wi th every protuberance and curve in the perfect place. Looking at chis, and at her shining eyes, he admired her appearance and wondered how the two sisters could be straps cut from che same piece of leather.

Although they could have sent Nyidröl away with whoever came ro ask for her hand, they both considered it an important and heavy responsibility to cake care of her future. Tredön showed even more concern and interest in Nyidröl’s future than Pasang Yangki. He thought chat they should seriously look for a partner who really suited her like “a tooth that fits in her mouth”, and not just half-heartedly give her away to anyone. If they did chat they would regret it and it would be a pity for her.

 

Four

It was raining outside. le was the first rain after some oppressively hot days and the first heavy downpour of chat year’s rainy season. As time passed, the sound of the water from the gutters dripping on the forecourt got louder and louder and was irritating to Nyidröl’s ears.

Normally, at times like chis, Nyima Dölma’s lively imagination would drift back to her native place and she would visualise many marvelous and beautiful things. In the morning, after a heavy rainfull, chick fog would gather at the base of the mountain as if it was someone who had yet co awake from sleep and all the earth was shining as though it had been polished with oil. Fresh green shoots, as small as a lark,. with their heads bowed were well nourished by the nectar of rainwater, like someone soundly asleep. Only after the morning sun and the cool wind had wiped away the remaining drops of nectar from their surface did the green shoots arise from their sleep and look alert. The sweet sound of a lark’s song n1ade them rise, one after the other. The sound reverberated everywhere and intoxicated the ears. The beauty and enchantment of the fields immediately after rain were beyond imagination.

However, this evening the sounds of thunder and rain seemed to purposely irritate and injure Nyidrol. The small girl had caught a cold, and for a few days the fever had interfered with her sleep and she had been c1ying at night. This evening, as soon as she had got a little sleep, Nyidrol had been disturbed by the sound of thunder and rain and had to get up again and again.

As soon as Nyima Dölma had fallen into a pleasant slumber the small girl started crying again. The sobbing penetrated the depths of her sleep, and she knew chat she should rise and struggled ro shake off her torpor. The bedroom of the parents was the interior room, beyond the children’s bedroom. Tashi Dondrub, who was sleeping there, was awakened by the sound of the child’s crying. Thinking that Nyidröl would get up, he waited for a while, but as nobody moved and the child continued crying, he couldn’t stand it and got up. The rain was still falling, which had made the temperature in the house drop and an icy wind was blowing inside from a window that had been left open. He was not wearing anything besides his underpants and without even putting on his slippers he went barefoot to the child. First he placed his hand quickly on the child’s forehead and then took her in his lap. He lulled the child for a while in his arms, checking whether she wanted to drink some boiled cold water. Slowly the child closed her eyes.

Although Nyima Dölma was deep in sleep some fear had entered her mind and in her dream she got up, picked up the child, and walked around. When she actually awoke she realised that this action had been only a dream and she felt that a long time had passed since she heard the child crying. She leapt up, alarmed, and opened the door to the children’s bedroom. When she entered she met Tashi Dondrub who was just leaving. Nyidrol was wearing loose pyjama bottoms, and only a flimsy sleeveless undershirt. Immediately she saw Tashi Dondrub both her hands flew to her chest. At first Tashi Dondrub felt somewhat embarrassed; her breasts were white and erect, showing clearly between her flexible soft fingers. Her firm, well-shaped thighs could be seen through her diaphanous pants. He remai ned there, frozen, unable to move away. Even though Nyima Dolma felt ashamed, she was unable to leave at once and, after glancing quickly at him, she lowered her head. Immediately after that, even though their minds flashed around, like lightning in the sky, an invisible wall separated them and neither of them dared to vault it.

“I thought that Aunty was sleeping.”

“I didn’t know that you’d got up.”

The small girl cried again and both of them were relieved of their embarrassment; without saying anything they moved towards the crying child.

“You go to sleep. I’ll rake care of her.”

”Aunty, you haven’t had much sleep yourself so you should go back to bed. I’ll take care of her.”

Both of them were trying to stop the other and reaching out towards the child. As Nyima Dölma was the more dexterous she was the first to lift up the girl. Drawing her close, she comforted her in her arms. Tredön stood beside her and together they attended to the child. “If you were not here how would I manage?” he said, moved. To which Nyima Dölma sarcastically replied; “What is the difference for you whether I am here or not? If I were not here, most probably you’d have got someone even better than me.”

Wrapping a blanket around himself, Tredön sat down and, after lighting a cigarette, he said, “Where could one find someone better than you? I’m not belittli ng your sister, but sometimes I doubt whether you and Pasang Yangki really are sisters from the same parents.”

Nyima Dölma said, “That is the result of your own bad habits. Actually, if I had work ond could get a regular salary there probably wouldn’t be this Nyima Dolma looking after children.”

“Like the saying goes: ‘An adult grows up from a child and a horse from a foal.’ Even if you had work and earned a salary you’d be very different from your older sister.”

After Nyidröl had taken the small girl in her lap, and lulled her in her arms for some time, she fell asleep. She slowly put her back into her bed and after she had finished with rhar Tashi Dondrub went to the toilet to have a piss and Nyidrol went back to sleep in her own bed. Across from the children’s bedroom there was a corridor leading to the kitchen, toilet and the living room. When Tashi Döndrub went to the toilet his mind was like a river plunging into a deep abyss. When he came out Nyidröl was lying in her bed with her eyes open like the morning stars, looking at him silently.

For some time Tredön had had one thought in his mind which had caused him many nights of sleeplessness, but he had neither dared to express it, nor do anything about it. His thoughts were as agitated as flashes of lightning, his face was burning hot and it even seemed that he had difficulty in breathing. Suddenly he said, ‘I’m feeling very cold, let me in your bed.” When these words had escaped from his mouth, he felt surprised at his own courage. But also he felt uncertain of what he should do if Nyidröl defended herself like a ferocious tiger. It was still raining outside, and with a cold brisk wind a few raindrops blew in through the window and fell directly on Nyidröl’s face.

“If you’re feeling cold you should take good care of the person who gives you warmth.” Except for this rebuke, Nyidröl didn’t defend herself nor did she show any signs of repulsion. He thought that she would get wet, and, feeling encouraged by that, started to get into her bed. Nyidröl grasped hold of her quilt and, except for saying “Don’t you have any shame? I will shout!”, didn’t offer any real resistance. Tredön understood her inner feelings and without saying anything he jumped upon her like a wild tiger, pulling the covering away by force. Nyidröl lifted her hand as if she’d heard something, and said, “Be quiet. My sister is coming.” Tredön was startled; his whole body turned cold and, holding his breath he listened attentively, but could hear nothing. Laughing, Nyidröl covered her head, and Tredön again pulled away the quilt and fell on top of her. Like the union of sky and earth, everything turned completely dark and in the midst of the fierce wind nothing except the sound of their heavy panting could be heard.

After they had performed their act of mad ecstasy everything became silent.

 

Five

It was still raining and the sound of it could be heard very clearly. Nyidröl was crying and Tredon felt alarmed. He asked, “What happened? Do you feel regret?” For a while Nyidrol didn’t say anything; she only cried. It made him feel very worried and in fright he asked, “Do you regret it?”

‘Tm afraid. If my sister comes to know about this, what shall we do?” said Nyidröl, turning her back to him.

Tredön said, “I see. That’s what y0ti’re worried about. That mainly depends on both of us. Nobody except the two of us knows about this. Ifwe don’t let people notice, nobody will know about it.”

“Aren’t you afraid they’ll come to know?” Nyidröl asked.

“I’m not afraid.”

Nyidröl touched his face with her finger saying, “When my sister is stripping off your skin with her fingernails, let’s see.”

“I don’t care if my skin is stripped. Not even if my heart is pulled out”, Tredon responded. Embracing Nyidröl, he continued; “I know how much concern and care you’ve given me until now. I haven’t been able to repay your kindness at all. However, I’m keepfng all that firmly in my mind.” Nyidrol said, “Indeed, in doing what I did for you I didn’t have any other aim than to serve my master. Is this how you repay my kindness? Up till now no man ever touched me, but tonight I lost my virginity. If I’ve got pregnant, what shall I do?”

Tredön answered, “Don’t be angry. I don’t in any way think of you as a servant. I admire you from the depths of my heart.”

Usually they were quite familiar with each other, and sometimes joked and teased each other in front of Pasang Yangki. Until now they had been separated by an invisible wall not trying to cross it, they had not even spoken about it. Now, suddenly, ir was as if the wall preventing physical contact had been destroyed, and so the wall preventing them ftom speaking had evaporated by itsel£ They said anything that came into their minds. They had sex again, and afterwards Nyidrol told him, “Now, if you don’t go to your own bed my sister might come.” But Tredon said, “Your sister is probably still e.njoying piling bricks on top of each other.” He still didn’t want ro leave her. Nyidröl looked at the watch and it was almost three in the morning. The rain had stopped. She got worried, saying, “When my sister comes, will you dare to lie here?” Tredon got up unwillingly and, after giving her a kiss, went to sleep in his own bed.

After about fifteen minutes, Nyidröl heard someone with heavy­ sounding steps climbing the stone stairs and knocking at the door. Tredön, being completely exhausted, had fallen asleep, but Nyidrol’s mind was restless and, far from sleeping, she thought and thought and the more new thoughts appeared the more and more confused she became. Stretching out the wings of her imagination, she circled around the landscape of her own future. As soon as she heard the sound of knocking at the door she was slightly startled and felt as if a policeman was coming to arrest a thief. Her heart was beating fast and she didn’t dare to get up immediately. Bur when she thought about it she realised that her sister did nor know anything about the events that had just taken place. As she got up, scolding started from outside. A voice called, “Nyidrol! Nyidrol! You must be in a deep sleep.” Nyidröl replied, ‘Tm coming,” and as she opened the door even though her heart was still beating fast she rubbed her eyes, acting as though she was still half asleep. After Pasang Yangki had stepped in, she chided Nyidröl, “How can you be sleeping so heavily?” As Nyidröl was standing there in nothing but her underpants and undershirt, she said, “Goodness! Young girl, aren’t you ashamed of wearing nothing but underpants?” Those words affected Nyidröl as if a handful of hot ashes had been thrown in her face, causing her to blush. She felt as cold inside as though a bucket of icy water had been poured into her, her heart starred to beat faster. She almost stopped breathing. Pasang Yangki haired her scolding, opened the door of the other room, and remembering her children, asked, “How is the girl?” But, not listening to the answer, she went into the room. She took a glance at her children and kissed the hand of the younger one. After that she went directly to her bedroom, put on the light and closed the door. Nyidröl relaxed and, because she didn’t dare to sleep, listened furtively to their talk.

Tredön had also woken up and, realising that Pasang Yangki had arrived, he used his hand to shield his eyes from the light of the lamp. He reproached her, “You’re so late!” Pasang Yangki was half drunk and a strong smell of chang emerged from her mouth. Ignoring her husband’s complaint she giggled, and lying back with her head on the pillow she said, “There was such heavy rain and I thought that you would come to fetch me. However, it seems that now people are flinging their arms round the neck of a beautiful goddess in the realm of dreams.” Tredön wondered if Pasang Yangki had an inkling of anything. Although he felt frightened, he pretended to be angry, “I know you don’t like me coming to fetch you. So how would I dare to'” Pasang Yangki answered, “Now, forget about that. It was good that you didn’t come to collect me tonight. I’m in luck rhese days. Make a guess! How much did I win tonight?” But, Tredön had no interest in these matters and told her, “Go to sleep. It’s very late.”

When Nyidröl heard those words she imagined that her sister had certainly won a few thousand and she felt contempt.

Pasang Yangki said, “You want so much to sleep, but just for the fun of it I won’t let you. I need it tonight.” When Pasang Yangki was slightly drunk on chang she always said she needed it. Tredi:in got frightened and tried to avoid the demand by saying, “Now go to sleep. It’s ;already so late. I have to get up early tomorrow.” As Pasang Yangki was saying that she needed it, and Tredi:in was doing everything possible to avoid it, Nyidrol got worried and thought, “Why doesn’t he get it over and done with by simply doing it somehow? He’s such a stupid man.”

Pasang Yangki playfully took hold of Tredon’s “it”, and because it was as lifeless as an old donkey enjoying the sun she grew angry and go up. “You probably have another one”, she said, and went to sleep in the children’s room. However much Tredön tried to get round her she ignored him and they fought for a while.

Nyidröl got even more frightened and thought, “Oh dear! He’s such a stupid person!”

 

Six

The invisible wall, between Nyidröl and Tredön, had crumbled and they seized every occasion to be together, especially as Pasang Yangki continued to play mahjong whenever she had rime. After they finished the housework, without any concern for the time of day, they created even more opportunities and they reached the stage where they did not want to separate from each other. Their actions were sliding tov1-·ards danger and both of them were aware that one day Pasang Yangki would co1ne to know about it. Even though they realised that there was a deep abyss in front of them, and that when they fell into it it was not certain whether they would be dead or alive, they didn’t want to turn away from it and continued moving forward. Although they were lovers when they were alone, in front of Pasang Yangki and the children they were rhe master and the baby-sitter as before. So, for a while, Pasang Yangki didn’t notice anything.

Most of Nyidröl’s clothes were Pasang Yangki’s old ones. Although a few new clothes were bought for her for celebrations and the Tibetan New Year, Pasang Yangki bought them and Tredön had paid almost no attention to this. However, now when he went to the market with Pasang Yangki to buy new clothes, he said to her, “Won’t you buy something for Nyidröl too'” Once he went on an official trip to Chengdu, and when he got back he had bought long flannel shirts for both Payang and Nyidrol. He gave one to each of them, separately. As Payang didn’t like the colour of her shirt, she said in front of Nyidri:il, “My goodness! Aunty’s shirt is a better colour than mine,” and she held it up in admiration, wanting to exchange it. Normally Nyidrol would certainly have said right away, ‘(It makes no difference to me. Sister, you choose.” But now the fact that Tredon had done something thoughtful for her made her feel equal to her sister and, not wishing to trade shirts, she said, ” I think that your shirt is good too.” Payang felt disappointed and as soon as Nyidröl had gone to fetch the child from school she said sarcastically to Tredön, “You are behaving differently now. Have you got fed up with me?” Tredön said, “Since you are sisters, what does it matter who gets what? Aunty has worked for us for many years. Don’t you feel any compassion for her?”

Afrer the older child had finished his homework, Nyidröl put both the children to bed and Tredön stayed up watching television. Nyidröl arranged the children’s clothes by their pillows so that they would be easy to put on the next day.Afrer she had finished she still had to do the washing-up and she went into the kitchen and got started. In the television programme a small family had finished eating supper and the man was reading a book. The child was watching cartoons and the woman, washing the dishes, was speaking to the man. Watching the programme, a thought suddenly occurred to Tredi:in, “How good it would be if Nyidröl were the mother of these two children.” Feeling moved, he called “Nyidröl! Nyidröl!” Nyidröl didn’t hear him because of the sound of running water in the kitchen and because the door was closed. So he went into the kitchen and put his arms round her waist saying, “There’s no hurry to wash the dishes. Rest for a while.” Drawing her to him, he kissed her. Nyidri:il had a bowl in one hand and, even though she pushed him away with her other hand, he was totally intoxicated with desire and was undoing the buttons on her shirt. Nyidri:il got terrified and pushed him away with force, saying, “The children aren’t even asleep yet. Aren’t you ashamed?” As it was a strong shove, he fell and hit his waist on the counter for cutting vegetables. He shouted out in pain and pretended he couldn’t get up. She got alarmed and, putting the bowl aside, tried to lift him ro his feet. He then jumped on her like a ferocious tiger, embracing her and Nyidröl hugged him passionately in return. The water flowing from the tap drowned all other sounds and nothing could be heard. Nyidröl said, “I think it’s best we stop this affair of ours now. If we don’t it will get more dangerous.” Tredi:in didn’clike what he had heard and answered: “What are you saying? How can we stop our affair now? It’s not right. I definitely won’t break this relationship.” He embraced her even tighter than before and kissed her passionately. Neither of them noticed that at that moment Pasang Yangki had arrived on the front doorstep.

Although Pasang Yangki had gone to attend the house-warming party of one of her colleagues, she had lost all her money and since she was feeling unhappy had decided to return home. As she opened the door and entered the house she saw the spectacle in the kitchen. For a moment, feeling stunned, she just stood where she was. But after a few seconds the colour in her face underwent a tremendous change. Tredi:in and Nyidri:il hadn’t yet noticed her and were kissing as if they were glued together. She collected herself and roared, “You criminals!” and then flung herself at them.

Apart from worrying that the children might see whar they were doing, it hadn’t occurred to them that Payang would arrive home so early. They were completely unprepared and in their astonishment remained .frozen for a moment. It took them a few seconds to register what had happened. Payang pulled Nyidröl by her hair and scratched her face, behaving like a madwoman. When Tredön tried to stop her she grabbed the kitchen knife and tried to stab Tredi:in in the head. He snatched the knife from Payang’s hand and struggled to push her to the floor. Nyidröl was still standing on the same spot, aghast, and it was only when Tred6n said, ”Aren’t you going?” that she ran out crying. Payang broke all the bowls and thermos flasks in the kitchen. She rushed into the innermost room of the house and tried to smash other things there. Their neighbors, alarmed by the cacophony of things breaking and by the shouting; came running and stopped her. The two children were crying, completely terrified by the shouting; they squatted with a blanket wrapped around them. Payang was scolding and crying at the same time and Tredön was sitting on the sofa silently smoking a cigarette.

Pasang Yangki, sobbing, put on her clothes and jewellery, dressed the younger child and said, “Don’t call me Pasang Yangki in case I don’t separate from you from today on, you shameless man.” However much the neighbours tried to stop her, she would not be deterred and left.

Outside it was raining gently and people returned to their own homes. Inside the house there was nobody left except Tredön and the elder child. There was silence. Tredön stroked his son’s head and cold him: “Son, you have to go to school tomorrow. Go to sleep.” The child asked in a tremulous voice, “Where have my mother and sister gone?” Tredön said, “Your mother and your little sister have gone to Aca Yudrön’s home. They will come back tomorrow.” At the same time he was wondering where Nyidröl had disappeared to.

Tredön remained on the bed, half lying down, and continued to draw on his cigarette. The smoke filled the home’s interior until it was impossible to clearly discern what was there. It looked as if Tredön was thinking deeply, but at that moment there was no fixed thought in his head and, being free from thought, all the objects of his imagination had turned murky like the house filled with smoke.

 

Seven

After Pasang Yangki arrived at her friend Yudrön’s, she spoke to her about her misery. She was crying and saying resolutely, “From now on rhere’s no way I can live my life with him.” That evening Yudron entertained Payang and consoled her. She had some delicious chang and both of them drank rill they were intoxicated. Next day Yudri:in said, “You have two children and also a foundation of love. How would it be wise to divorce so suddenly? You left them alone like this as if you were purposely giving them an opportunity. Ifyou stay away like this for a long time there is a great danger that you’ll actually lose your husbnd to Nyidröl. The proverb says, ‘Even though somebody is your sibling, your bellies are not siblings’, so it’s not right to act impetuously. You should send Nyidröl away as soon as possible. Tredön will lose all hope and he will forget about her.”

Though Pasang Yangki had suspected that the two of them were having an illicit affair, she did not have any proof. If she had raised the subject, it would have seemed that she suspected her own younger sister and in the eyes of her husband she would have appeared jealous of her own sibling. So she had not dared to speak about it. She thought that if some signs of danger had manifested earlier, the situation might not have developed to such an extent. She sighed in regret as she told this to her friend. The previous night, even though she had been intoxicated, her mind had been as clear as usual. She had not slept in the early hours of the morning and the more she thought about it she realized that if she divorced her husband she would have no other options for her future and, moreover, she saw that the children would be the ones to suffer most. She couldn’t stand it, and since her friend was advising her like that she had to relinquish her previous firm decision. The more she considered it the more angry she felt at their behavior. For a while she couldn’t think of any sensible solution to the problem. She said to her friend, “They have disgraced themselves and her loss of good reputation is common knowledge. Who would want her?” She sighed deeply and looked forlorn. Yudrön reminded her, “Didn’t Sithar ask to marry her?”

“Before, I did intend to giver her to that man, but Nyidröl said that she would rather become a nun than be his wife. That shameless husband of mine didn’t want to send her away. Now, even if she agreed to it, what would he say?”

Her friend replied, “Nyidröl’s time to select a husband has gone now and other people will choose for her. However as the saying goes, ‘ If you’re hungry, even turnip root is delicious.’ That man certainly needs a wife and hasn’t managed to get one, so there’s no need to fuss over that. So don’t worry, my friend. I’ll arrange it,” and with that she promised to act as a go-between.

In the afternoon Yudrön led Pasang Yangki back to her home and with a commanding look told her husband that to act  as he had was not at all the way to show true love but was irresponsible and would only harm Nyidröl’s future. Now they should not allow the soiled water to run out on the road again, but should take care of themselves. She also spoke to Nyidröl, criticizing and advising her. “Your illicit affair with Tredön does not demonstrate your affection for him. It amounts to snatching your sister’s husband and destroying a family. Are you going to carry a stigma like that for the whole of your life?”

Tredön thought again and again and realised that while his heart was now attached to Nyidröl he and his wife had also chosen to love each other. Moreover, as they were connected by their children there was no way to divorce. He didn’t wish to give up either of them. Usually people say that love acts from its own force and cannot be divided. However, when he thought about it he felt certain that he could share his love with both the sisters and the children and became convinced that they could all live together. Bur, that was not possible in real life and it was also something which Payang would not tolerate. And so, forced to choose, he decided that Nyidröl should be married.

Yudron had gone to Sithar and said, teasi ngly, “Today I have come here with the intention of arranging a wife for you. Do you want one or not?”

Sirhar replied in jest, “If it is you, I want her. If not, what’s the use of other girls?”

To which Yudriin replied, emphatically: “I really mean it!”

“Now I have lost all hope of getting a wife, and isn’t it better that an old man like me keeps happy eating his own food and doing his own work? Stop joking. Who is it?” Sirhar ended hopefully.

Yudrön teased, “Look! When I mention a wife to you even your eyes get bigger!” Again she persisted, “You aren’t a king’s son. Why haven’t you been more determined about winning Nyima Dölma?”

Sirhar said, “I see. Is it Nyidröl?” For a while he rubbed his jaw and looked as if he was thinking. Yudrön said, “What? Is she no good? If you don’t like it, nobody will force you.” So saying, she starred to get up. Sithar got anxious and to prevent her leaving said, “It’s not like that. Not like that at all. Just stay. Why are you in such a hurry?” He continued, “I saw what was happening before. Still I jokingly told my friend that he should not think of keeping two. Ifshe had been given to me, as Payang promised, everybody would be happy these days. Such a stupid thing has happened now.” He looked sad. ·

Even though Yudrön understood what he was alluding to she acted as if she didn’t and said, “I see. Now, when it’s time to make a decision, you probably need someone completely pure and immaculate. Now I’ve got it!” And she stood up to go.

Sirhar was horrified, “That’s not it. Who could be more impatient than you? Does Nyima Oiilma agree to this?” he asked.

Yudrön said, “It’s all right. Just leave that to me.” Sirhar felt delighted and rook some tins of drinks from the refrigerator and popped them in her bag. As he was doing that he patted her lightly on the buttocks, saying, “Then, I will trust you.” and smiled.

 

Eight

When Nyidröl got to know that her elder sister and Tredon were going to give her to be Sithar’s wife after all, she showed neither happi ness nor sorrow and promised to do as they wished. Sithar again came carrying the marriage proposal chang and presents, asked Nyidrol to become his wife, and at the same rime he gave her a pair of golden earrings to solemnise the engagement. Everything was peaceful as before and life continued so.

Nyidröl didn’t want to go anywhere where there were lots of people and didn’t want an elaborate marriage ceremony. Pasang Yangki and Tredön also expressed the hope that the ceremony would be arranged in a simple way. Not listening to them, Sirhar said, “This is a great event in my life. Until now I have attended other people’s respectable or wild parries and I owe them a grand parry. You don’t need to worry about the expenses.” Now there was nothing for it so they had to keep busy with the preparations.

Though Tredön thought that he should rake Nyidrol to one side and say some consoling words to her, Pasang Yangki had stopped playing mahjong and didn’t leave them alone together for a moment. They couldn’t even speak about everyday things and he certainly didn’t get any opportunity for anything more.

Most of the preparations had been completed, and while they were arranging the cushions and tables Sirhar called Payang to him to discuss the dishes to be served during the first day.The only people left in that big house were Tredön and Nyidrol, who were arranging the cushions and tables, and Tredön, while helping Nyidröl to shift a table, said, “Nyidröl, don’t be angry. Ir was all my fault. I thought that it would be good to find a better husband than him …” Nyidröl’s face, as ever, remained expressionless and she replied, “Nobody is to be blamed for that. Ir happened through the force of my actions in a previous life.”

Tredön thought that Nyidrol was angry with herself and he felt very uncomfortable. In a whisper he said, “Nyidröl, actually I don’t want to send you away at all. Ir’s true bur if! tell you that, you won’t believe me.” When he said that, Nyidröl’s eyes suddenly filled with tears and with an intense expression n her face she looked at him for some time. Then she lowered her head, and said, “I believe it. I believe it. I also don’t want to go to anyone else. However, two fingers won’t fir into a single ring. It is all because of the force of our previous actions. Beginning from tomorrow, someone else will own me. When I have gone, you and rhe children will be the most unhappy ones. However, as my sister has now vowed not to play mahjong, probably nothing of the sort will happen again…” As she was saying this, Payang came in from outside shouting, “Tredön-la, haven’t you finished yet?” And immediately after that she entered the house. While Nyidröl was speaking, Tredon was so moved that he was choking and a strong urge came over him to hold both her hands tightly. As he stretched out his hands his wife came in, and so he could do nothing. Nyidröl immediately vanished from her sister’s sight and went into the toilet. Pasang Yangki sensed what was happening immediately, and as she noticed that Nyidröl was crying she got furious. She tried to suppress it as best as she could and went over to Tredön. Although she lowered her voice, her tone was incensed. “Thüü! You spoiled pig. You’re shameless! I was thinking just that.” She spat in his face, turned round, and went after Nyidröl.

Nyidröl was wiping away her tears in the toilet. Because of her anger, even Pasang Yangki’s face had turned red and her body was shaking u ncontrollably. She twisted Nyidröl’s ear and attacked her. “You disgraceful, shameless creature’ I thought that you had given up what you were doing before and would take some notice of the advice you’ve been given. You are so horrible. Since you now belong to another, be careful what you do and keep your heart under control. Otherwise, you’ll regret it! Except for what is your karma, you cannot just do anything that comes into your head. Think about your situadon.” Nyidröl was shrieking and crying. Payang got alarmed and lowering her voice said: “Isn’t it enough that you have brought about such disgrace? Aren’t you going to shut your mouth?”

“Sister, you have everything. You have an office and a family. You have children. You have a salary. You have everything. Do I have to tell you what I am? When my parents were sending me to school, you promised them that you would do this and that for the good of my future. Now I’ve lost my reputation. I don’t have any way to go. Do I have to say what I am? I’m being given as a wife to that kind of man. Should I say that he is my father or what should I say’ What is there to see in him?” And she cried.

Pasang Yangki got frightened that others would hear the sound of crying and when she heard her younger sister’s sad lament her anger almost died down. She said, “Now, don’t cry. Itwill be horrible if other people hear you. As for life, it’s impossible to get what you wish. You’ll only get what is written as your karma. That is the same for everyone. Even if he is a bit older, that won’t be a problem. Now please, don’t cry.” She also had tears in her eyes and Nyidrol stopped crying. Pasang Yangki made Nyidri:il wash her face and said, “Since you have to leave tomorrow, go home early and wash your hair. There isn’t much work left here. We’ll take care of it.” So she sent Nyidröl home ahead of time.

For a few days the weather had been cloudy and each day seemed so dark. The trees lining both sides of the road were crowned with a thick canopy of leaves and the turquoise-coloured leaves cast an emerald green light. Nyidröl was walking along the side of the road with her head bent when suddenly she felt something light fall on her head. When she reached up for it and looked it was a yellow leaf. She felt surprised. But when she lifted her head and looked upwards she realized that it had fallen from a big tree by the roadside. Even though the entire tree was bent with the weight of its profusion of leaves, the sparse leaves growing on one thin branch had turned yellow. It made the whole tree look as if it was decorated with flowers. After seeing that she felt very sad and thought, “Why are there yellow leaves in this season?”

 

Nine

Next morning Pasang Yangki arose early, and noticing it was silent in the house she wondered why Nyidri:il was not up yet. She put on the light and just as she was about to call her, she noticed that Nyidri:il’s blankets had been neatly folded and on top of them lay a pair of glittering golden earrings. Payang called, ”Aunty!Aunty Nyidröl!” Nobody replied. Although she looked in .the toilet and kitchen there was no sign of Nyidrol. Surprised and alarmed, she went out of the door and called “Nyidröl! Nyidröl!” Even though she shouted a few rimes, nobody answered. Pasang Yangki went quickly back into the house and, frightened, called, “Tredi:in-la 1 Tred6n-la1 Get up quickly! Sithar’s Nyidrol isn’t here. Come quickly!”

Tredön got up immediately and since the older child had also heard the shouting, he got out of bed and asked, “Where has Aunty gone?” Payang told him: “Son, as it’s rime for you to go to school, get up.” She continued, alarmed, scolding her husband, “You’ve caused all this trouble. Now where has she gone'” Both spouses searched everywhere in the neighbourhood. They even looked at the bus station, bur they didn’t find her.

Although they were reluctant to ask others about her, they had no choice since they had to explain to Sithar. So Tredön continued searching in all the likely places and questioned people while Payang visited Sithar to tell him what had happened. When Sithar understood the situation he was so shocked that he couldn’t say a thing. After a while he cried out, “If she had been a good girl how could she have been available for me? Now even my earrings have been pawned. She has made me a beggar. Only the Three Jewels know! What kind of bad karma did I commit in my previous life that this is the ripening result?”

When Pasang Yangki heard him saying this, even though she had thought of telling him that the golden earrings had been left behind, his words incensed her. So she only muttered “Hmm!” and left without saying anything more.

That day, though they searched everywhere they couldn’t find her. Pasang Yangki cried uncontrollably. Grief-stricken she admitted, “I didn’t handle this very well. Now it’s the rainy season and it’s raining heavily. If something tragic has happened to Nyidröl, what shall I say to our parents?”

Although Tredön thought of all the possible places where Nyidrol might have gone, he couldn’t focus on any particular place. He said to his wife, “Don’t get frightened too early. It’s not possible that Nyidrol would do anything like that. Maybe she’s gone back home?” Tears pouring, Payang said, “Nyidröl is proud and she wouldn’t go back home in such a state. The reason why I’m worried is because of her pride. She may have done something reckless.”

Tredön suddenly said: “Now I understand. Didn’t Nyidrol say before that she would rather become a nun than get married to Sithar?”

Pasang Yangki said, “Then, shouldn’t we first go to get a divination done?”

To which Tredon replied, “Oh yes. It’s better to ask for a divination first.”

“Where should we go for it?” asked Payang.

“What the goddess predicts will be accurate,” said Tredön.

Hesitantly, they went together to the temple of the goddess to request divine guidance.

 

 

Written in Lhasa in November-December 1995.