A Hundred Gourds 1:4 September 2012
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Sonam Chhoki - Bhutan

A Day in the Life

first light –
dung fire smog darkens
Brahmaputra Plain

He emerges from the tin shack he shares with his parents, twin baby brothers and younger sister. A glass of black tea and last night’s rice warmed up must keep him going until he returns at dusk from the scrap merchant.

He picks up his sack. The woolen coat his mother got in a second hand market stall is tight and torn under the arms.  His rubber shoes are new though, purchased from a proper shoe store with money he saved under his sleeping mat.   He wets his hair from a ladle of water. His sister complains he uses too much. He doesn’t have to carry tins and plastic jerry cans to fill at the stream across the fields. He ignores her glare, runs a small comb through his hair in the latest Bollywood hero’s smooth sweep.

Whistling a film song he heard on the neighbor’s radio, he walks to the rubbish dumps by the railway tracks. The rainless winter air carries the reek of urine and faeces from the open toilets. He ties a polyester cloth with a gaudy picture of a Bollywood couple dancing around a fountain, over his mouth and nose. He has learned to use a plastic bag as a makeshift glove ever since his fingers closed around a dead baby’s head.

Trains from Delhi to Guwahati come and go – Express, Night Deluxe and the freight with petroleum and teak cargoes. He looks up briefly at their hoot and rumble.

He trudges to the yard– dusty, overflowing and noisy. The merchant is drinking tea. He yawns and eyes the boy.  He shouts, “How many times have I told you not to pick paper bags? You do it to fill the sack!” and throws him some coins.

the window cleaner wipes crows in flight


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