November 16, 2018

The Bud That Withered Before it Bloomed

Neema Sherpa
BMKF Alumna

The shortest needle of the table clock was about to align straight with number nine when Kopila woke up to loud screams of exuberant neighbourhood kids playing on the street. A strong feeling of annoyance rushed through her, not for being disturbed from sleep but rather for being disrupted from a sweet dream about her crush at school; the most joyful aspect of life for someone who only a month ago had blown off the fourteen candles lit on her birthday cake.

“Brats!” she whined squinting through the blanket and tried to go back to sleep and resume her dream. After a few minutes of vain attempt, she sluggishly rolled out of her bed and headed towards the bathroom to freshen up. Back in her room, and now fully awake, she recalled her dream looking at herself through the mirror: “Aww…That charming face!”

Unlike other mornings Kopila felt rejuvenated because she was going to see her friends after a week. The last seven mundane days of winter vacation were spent in a mechanized routine- waking up at 9, brunching at 11:00, basking in the sun throughout the afternoon accompanied by never-ending supplies of oranges and peanuts, watching television and face-booking simultaneously whenever NEA graced their group area with the power or else working on the projects and assignments that she and her classmates had been flooded with on the last day at school. She was missing school terribly, or to be more precise, she was missing her friends, their gossips and giggles.

“Finally, it’s going to be a pleasant day!” she thought exuberantly and put on her favorite blue jeans with a black high-neck top and the new red jacket, her latest birthday gift that she had saved for a special day like this. At the dining table, Kopila hastened to finish her brunch, trying to avoid any conversation with her mom who had finally relented and granted her permission to be away from home on her own. She grabbed her side bag, put on shoes and rushed towards the main door. “Be back by 5 p.m. you remember that?” she heard her mom yelling through the corridor. “Yes, I do!” Kopila replied flatly without even looking back at her and ran out the door.

After grabbing a seat on the micro bus that headed towards her destination, Kathmandu Mall where she and her friends had decided to gather and then visit Basantapur, Kopila breathed a sigh of relief. She was happy to be outside the house after a week and sensed little bit of freedom in herself for being out on her own. “I am a big girl now. I can fend for myself” she thought with slight infuriation about her mom’s nagging last night.

The day went exactly the way Kopila had expected it to be. She and her friends spent the whole afternoon wandering around the Palace Square, sitting at the front porch of the tallest temple in the square, clicking as many photos as possible, taking bites of titbits each had brought along, gossiping about the girls they didn’t like at their school, and observing strolling tourists, busy handicraft vendors trying to lure them, young couples around the porch of another temple and locals leisurely basking in the sun. It was a typical girls’ day out. With friends, hours felt like a minute and minutes like a second. Kopila lost the track of time and suddenly it was already 4:30 p.m. time to depart and rush back home.

After almost 10 minutes of waiting in front of the NAC building, the micro bus to her place finally arrived but the real battle was about to begin, a battle to get in and secure a seat. Initially, Kopila was horrified at the sight but remembering her time deadline she decided to take part in the battle. Since Kopila was tiny and lean, she managed to slip herself swiftly through the crowd and secured a seat by the window in the second row. Without delay, a huge man made a dash to her side and in a matter of seconds the conductor shouted to make more space for third person. As per the conductor’s instruction, the huge man thrusted closer to Kopila squeezing her towards the window. Kopila was so jammed in between the window and the man, she could barely move. However, she decided to ignore how uncomfortable it was because it was already late and at that hour getting even a little space in the micro to place your bottom was some sort of trophy won.

Fifteen minutes later after the battle and trophy won, oblivious to her surrounding Kopila was rejoicing the pleasant afternoon with her friends. She felt so content that she had even forgotten the discomfort of the seat until something pulled her back to reality. She felt something firm pressing on her left arm. For a moment, she thought to ignore it assuming it one of the discomforting aspects of their sitting arrangement. But the press continued getting firmer and firmer. It caught her attention outright when the press probed through her arm and ended on the small bulge at the left part of her chest. “Alas!” Kopila gasped with her eyes widened and looked down to examine what was going on. To her dismay it was the elbow of the huge man at her side, a man her father’s age. She glared up at the man who seemed to be unaware of her glare or most probably pretended to be so and turned to the other side. Kopila struggled to move a little trying to free herself from that awkward touch- a bad touch in fact, but the elbowing didn’t cease. It got even worse and now he was elbowing through her chest down to her abdomen. Not only was the press awful, it was painful too. She felt an adrenaline rush through her body due to pain, anger and fear. She observed her surroundings hoping someone was noticing her discomfort but in vain. She found two elderly ladies at the front row occupied in their incessant chattering, a guy staring blankly through the window with his ears clogged by a headset, a man busy making a call and another young lady adjusting herself in the seat. Nobody seemed to notice her discomfort and the huge man had no intention of ceasing his elbowing. With much struggle she mustered all her courage to confront the man but all she could utter was “Uncle, sit straight!” She feared embarrassing herself in front of all those strangers if she told him to stop elbowing. In response the man blatantly shouted back “There’s no space to move and you’re asking me to sit straight? Tell the conductor not me.” Kopila was frightened at the yell and heavily shocked for how he could be so blatant and at the same time so confident to yell back at her. She saw other passengers and conductor staring at her and soon dismiss their conversation, as it was a regular episode in a public vehicle; passengers conversing and even quarrelling for space at seat. If only they could see and understand the predicament, she was in. Noticing everyone’s stare at them the huge man suddenly stopped his low-minded action and now they were only a stop away from Kopila’s place.

Upon arriving home, Kopila couldn’t still grasp the micro bus incident. She had heard in the news and read in papers about girls being raped but what on earth was that. For a moment, she asked herself “Was it a rape too?” Kopila was old enough to have heard of rape stories in news but too young to know that there existed other terrible things like molestation, physical harassment and abuse; the terms she hadn’t even heard/understood of but she had already been victimized with. She wanted to share the incident with her mom but feared getting scolded back since her mom had already warned her not to leave alone from home. For the first time in her life, she longed for a sibling, a sister whom she could share her distress. Kopila was now shivering in her room, choking back her tears and the heaviness at her chest. Before her mom found her in that state, she went to the bathroom, took her clothes off and turned on the shower. In the next moment, she was rubbing through her elbowed body parts with soap; she did it as hard as possible with an attempt to wash away the filthiness of the man’s touch from her body. As she thrusted the soap on and on, she silently burst into tears under the shower, regretting her decision to be out on her own, cursing at herself for being so frail who couldn’t even fend for herself, complaining to god for making her a girl, prone and vulnerable to misconduct and emotional upheavals.