A Hundred Gourds 2:4 September 2013
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Sonam Chhoki - Bhutan

Portrait of a Lady *

Zangmo sits by the window of her daughter’s flat. Willows lining the street swish to and fro with each passing vehicle. A fire engine, with lights flashing and sharp bursts of siren, forces the morning traffic to the edge of the road. A delivery van pulls up outside the building. Zangmo winces at the loud clang of metal trolleys carrying crates of beer to the restaurant on the ground floor. The delivery man bangs shut the van door and is gone in a plume of fume.

Ichor of sunlight leaks through the haze. A sudden breeze funnels empty cigarette packets, drink cans and paper bags down the street. Zangmo looks at the unremitting gray of the city sky and feels the rain.

“Your breakfast is getting cold. I’m off to work. The cleaner will be here soon,” her daughter calls out as she rushes out the door.

Zangmo sighs. It's almost six years since her husband died and she has come to live with her daughter in the city. She walks over to the table. The tea is tepid; the omelette is pale and wrinkled on the plate. She wraps the omelette and some bread in an old newspaper and leaves for the Memorial Chõrten on the hill.

Out of breath after the climb she rests a while on a wooden seat near the Chõrten. She breathes deeply, calmed by the creak of prayer wheels and the murmur of mantra. A white-haired man in a yak wool coat thumbs his prayer beads and smiles at her. A young nun, in saffron robe raises her hand in greeting. Soon, stray dogs gather around her. Zangmo hands them pieces of omelette and bread.

The wind picks up. The prayer flags around the Chõrten flap frantically. Again, Zangmo smells rain. She closes her eyes. Her memory works like grief . . . She is back on the teak balcony of the farmhouse. The late spring air is filled with the smell of chili and cucumber seedlings and the lowing of cows soon to calve. Her husband is whistling in the field.

sound of the waterfall
flows from his flute—
the street musician

* with apologies to Henry James

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