I roll over on my bed. The pillow rises to either side of my head, hard as it is, it has molded to cradle my head just so. I pick up the alarm clock beside me and hold it to my face. 4:58. What’s wrong with me? I wonder. It must be the sun, because I am fully awake after barely 5 ½ hours of sleep. I drop the clock beside me and close my eyes. I’ll just lie in bed for a little while. When I’ve had my fill of lying and look at the clock again, it is now 5:10. I stretch my legs and swing them down to the cool cement floor. I grasp my glasses, and face wash, squeeze some toothpaste onto my toothbrush, and toothbrush filling my mouth with minty freshness, venture outside to greet the morning.
My bhaauju squats beside the water tank filling our jugs with drinking water, which flows out of the green pipe in her hand. Raamro suthnubhayo? Did you sleep well? I ask around my toothbrush. Ekdamai raamro. Excellently. She says. Timi? You? Eh. Ma raamrai suthe tara ekdaam dhilo, nindaaena, ke. I slept well, but it took me ages to fall asleep. Like two hours. Hora? Really? She gives a slight smile. Ma ta, mero taauko siraanimaa rakhepachhi, malaai nindaaialchha. I put my head on the pillow and I’m out. Timilaai thakhaai laageni ki ke ho? Haami hijo dherai hidekaa thiyaau. Weren’t you tired? All that walking yesterday…. Timilaai dherai thakai laagekole nindraa laagena, hola. Kahile kaahi tyasto hunchha. Maybe you were too tired and that made it hard to sleep. That happens you know.
Toothpaste threatens to spill from the corners of my mouth so I simply tip my head to one side in response and quickly make my way to the tap where I spit before resuming my brushing. I set my unrinsed toothbrush on the top of the water tank beside my glasses and bend down to wash my face. The cool water slips off my skin and I arise ready for the day and appropriately clean to enter the kitchen and start helping out. Bhaauju is already there readying chiyaa for us. The fire-blackened kettle sits on the earthen fire in the kitchen that we do not use except to place prepared food upon and to offer cooked rice to before we ourselves eat. I pick up the kettle, heavy with water. Aago baalera, yo tataaidieu? Shall I take start the fire and heat up this water? I ask bhaauju. Hunchha. Okay, she tells me, timi pharkera haami chiyaa khanchhau, la? When you come back, we’ll drink tea.
I carry the kettle down the now familiar stone steps leading to the cow shed where another earthen stove is located. This one we actually use, as one can see from the fresh ashes and partially burnt pieces of wood. I set the kettle down and walk along the edge of the earthen landing that drops off to the terraced fields below, past the cows in their section of the shed (they make large wet eyes at me as I go by), and around the corner to the wood pile. It’s pretty haphazard. Rather different from the wood shed I commented to bhaauju on yesterday – there the wood lay neatly stacked, ready for easy removal. Here, the wood is simply piled together. I reach into the chaos and pull out variously sized sticks, branches and logs and carry them back to the stove. I’ve never been great at starting fires or being really good at camp stuff, but it’s always been something that I wish I were better at. In this case, some neon blue kerosene helps things along nicely. With a less than satisfactory-sized fire going, I tip on a little bit more of the blue liquid, and immediately the flames leap up to lap at the bottom of the kettle set on top of the stove. Satisfied, I traipse back up the stone steps and make my way back to the kitchen.
A stainless steel mug sits on the edge of the low earthen fire, a small saucer covering the top. Timro chiyaa, bhaauju tells me. I settle myself on the wooden stool beside the stove, my knees raised to my chest and sip at the sweet chiyaa. Dudh chhaina. We’re low on milk, bhaauju says apologetically in regards to the darkness of the chiyaa. I drink slowly. Timro lugaa dhunne chha? Do you have clothes to wash today? Bhaauju asks. Chha. I guess so, I respond. Paani pugchha, hola. Anyway, there’s enough water today. I think of the conversation I had yesterday with bhaauju in which I told her that the next time I washed my clothes, I would also wash the curtains that hang in my room. I finish my tea and leave my bhaauju to fry flat bread for her two sons’ breakfast.
Tightly coiled lengths of wire hold the curtains in my room up, and I struggle somewhat to get them down. I pull the dirty clothes back out from under my bed despite its relative emptiness. It’s been a while since I did laundry before it was a dire necessity. The curtains make the washing pile sizeable. I pick up the 5 1-rupee each packets of washing powder and the tan bar of laundry soap and make my way back to the water tank and tap. Here I make myself quite at home, filling the bucket with sudsy water and then dirty clothes, careful not to put in anything that will run with clothes that must not be ruined. I squat with my heels on the slight ledge behind me. Sometimes I feel tipsy when I think about the 5 foot drop behind the ledge, down to the cement path that encircles my younger host brother’s house. I enjoy the feel of the clothes in my hand, the way the soap suds multiply when I pound the material against the cement slab next to our tap. But the fun diminishes after 20 minutes when my clothes are done and all that is left is four heavy curtains. But I finish them as well, and soon the drying line is a stream of colors and odd shapes shifting in the breeze.
I change my clothes and comb my hair, which has become long and unkempt. I am trying to grow it out, and it’s at the stage where it’s neither long nor short and simply looks untidy. I am avoiding cutting it, refusing to be set back in my attempts to let it grow long (attempts that often continue until my hair is kind of mid-length and I am too impatient to wait for it to reach the length I want so I just cut it all off). I gather my things for school into a “COEXIST” bag that a friend sent me, each letter made of a symbol belonging to a different religious following (too bad they don’t all actually WANT to coexist, another friend told me, but it’s a cool idea anyway). My aamaa awaits me as I lock my door. When I turn to face her, she is ready with her killer hug. She comes barely up to my shoulder and cannot weigh more than 80 pounds, yet she is solid under the squeeze of my arms. I bend down for her to place her lips on my forehead, this is my invisible tika that I receive everyday, a blessing of love that the day may go well and harm may not come my way. Subaa din. Have a good day, she tells me. I smile. Tapaai pani aamaa. You, too, aamaa. Raamro sanga baasnus, la. She waves. Raamro sanga jaanus, chhori. And I’m off on the path that leads to the rest of my day. I glance at my watch. 7:05.