| March 21, 2019

Fiction: The pool with two dead bodies

Fiction: The pool with two dead bodies
Two white grains of rice are stuck to the man’s forehead, strangely askew. The vermilion that should have colored the rice bright red is absent. You are reminded again of who’s not there.

“The bodies,” he said, “were found inside the pond.” Next to the gurgle of the river, halfway up the hillside, in the heart of a jungle, where the women, seduced, had entered.

The bodies of the two women lay submerged inside the still water. Their hands were crossed at their breasts. “Like this,” he says, crossing his own hands over his heart, as if the almost peaceful posture puzzled him. “We could see them lying there, clear as day, inside the water.”

The two bodies were like white marble statues of long-forgotten deities. The sleeping Vishnu of Budanilkantha, asleep for a thousand years, had been discovered by a farmer who hit the exquisite, carved knee with his plough. The two bodies had been discovered by a young boy who had gone to cut firewood five days later.

The bodies, preserved like prehistoric bodies, were lying inside ice. Under water, under glass. Hands folded, like goddesses. Preserved, intact, their bodies untouched by foreign hands.

“There was a terrible buzzing of flies, and the smell...,” he trails off. “He ran crying and screaming and brought us up.”

The listener pauses. The bodies, pristine, untouched, rise to the surface of the water, suddenly bloated, and buzzing with fat green flies.

“They did not have their clothes on,” he adds, with difficulty. The word “naked” hangs unsaid, for a moment – An indecent word that has no place near two women.

“The men who came must have eaten some noodles, we found some empty Wai Wai wrappers. A chappal was stuck behind a rock,” he says, after a moment of silence. “There was a scuffle of some sort, they must have tried to overpower them after eating. The ground looks like there was a tussle. Their bangles were broken and scattered all around,” he adds. And the rubber chappal, forlorn, stuck behind a rock.

Everybody in the cowsheds had been asleep when the men arrived. But Hariram’s wife woke up. She took up her lantern, and talked to them. They were dressed in the same green combat fatigues and the same kind of boots. The same kind of men who had come through two weeks ago, she assumed.

The new men said they were from Surkhet. We’re your new comrades, they said. They wanted to meet the village leader.

“My husband has been appointed the village leader,” she said. She was so proud of this. Two weeks ago, the men had come, wearing their boots and green outfits. They had gathered everyone together and told the village that they were Dalits – the oppressed. They must now fight the People’s War. Then they had told her husband he was now the village leader. She’d been so proud of him—he a humble herder, and now a commander of the entire area!

She would take them up to the pastures so they could meet him, she offered. It was midnight, but she didn’t care. She was seduced by the boots, the green outfits, the authority of the man who asked her to show him the way. So proud, she’d been, to take part in something larger than her own life.

“She woke up my wife.” The man pauses. The listener pauses. The listener looks into the eyes of the man and realizes that the pain will never go away.

“My wife was scared. She didn’t want to go. But her sister-in-law forced her to go. Our son was watching. He pretended to be asleep, but he heard everything,” he says, his voice full of loss. How can he be angry at a dead woman? Two dead women, who went where they shouldn’t have gone?

“They were there under the water. Their jewelry was still in place – earrings, nose studs, all of it in place. I should have removed them but how can one think of such things at a time like that?” The man pauses, his eyes looking out into the horizon. The thought of the gold, which could help his two daughters now, torments him. His entire inheritance, all his material wealth, had rested on the ears of his woman. And then he’d seen that gold, still attached to her earlobes, under the water.

He wanted to remember his wife like that, a princess who had walked through the lake on the leaves of lotuses to reach the temple in the middle, and who had slipped and fallen, bestrewing the bed of the lake with jewels. He didn’t want to remember the details that haunted his dreams--the soldiers stopping to make a fire and cook their Wai Wai, the scuffle as the women tried to resist, the broken bangles, the rubber chappal behind the rock, the naked women, and the way they had ended up inside the lake, their arms folded on their breasts, like in a silent prayer.

“The human rights lawyers came. They told us they would send doctors to do medical examinations. They told us not to move the bodies. Then there were blockades and strike, and nobody came,” he says.

“The priest told us then it was too late to perform the death rites. Thirteen days had passed. Then we couldn’t touch the bodies.” The man looked away. “They would have to be washed downriver, without cremation. We were told the bodies ended up far down the river, that they were stuck at a bend.”

The man’s eyes told the listener all he needed to know. This is the memory that would never leave the man. This, of the bodies, their rites unfulfilled, the souls of the two women forever in torment, stuck in the bend.

“Later I heard the soldiers had said that they’d killed the wrong people, and they were sorry. They come around every once in a while to check. I think they wanted to know whose family they had killed. They were curious.” The man is weary, a weariness that nothing will ever be able to erase.

“My son recognized the man from that night. A handsome young man, well-built. He came back past our house again, looking at us with those eyes. He asked me for rice. I told him I didn’t have any. So he picked radishes out of the ground and ate them.” There is no anger in his voice.

“Eat them, I can’t stop you from eating them, I told him. You have taken everything I had. How can I stop you now?”   

Joshi is a Nepali writer and filmmaker based in Kathmandu. She is the author of End of the World, a book of short stories.