Fiction: As the Life Turns - Part 2

>> Friday, August 15, 2008

As the Life Turns
Part 2

By Ajay Pradhan | August 12, 2008

When the call ended, Ashay gave the phone back to Pranita, his hands trembling.

“You alright, Ashay?” asked Prakash, a little worried and a little curious. Prakash, a doctor, was one of Ashay’s closest friends. They had known each other since they were little boys. Prakash had gone to medical college in India; Ashay had gone to the U.S. for his undergraduate and graduate studies in Public Policy.

“Yeah, I’m okay,” Ashay said, almost whispering, as he reached for a glass of water.

“Who was it?” Pranita asked, adding, “I wonder how she got my number and I’m surprised how she even knew we are together this evening.”

“It’s just someone I know,” Ashay answered, quickly adding, “someone I knew. Don’t worry, guys. Let’s enjoy the evening.” His mind was in turmoil, but he didn’t want to ruin the evening for his friends.

As the waitress brought their cocktails, Ashay ordered whiskey.

“What would you like to have? We’ve Jack Daniels, Chivas, Johnny Walker…”

Ashay stopped the waitress and said, “JD is fine. Double please, on the rocks.”

“With Coke?”

“No thanks. Straight up. And quick, please.”

The waitress brought the whiskey quickly. Ashay didn’t sip it; he drank it and ordered another double.

“You sure you’re okay?” Nisha asked Ashay.

He nodded his head, “Yeah.”

Later as the waitress brought their dinner, Ashay was lost in thought. Sheila was in his thoughts. He wondered what she was doing that moment in Vancouver. It was Saturday morning in Vancouver; Saturday night in Kathmandu. He wanted to call her on the phone. He just needed her by his side. In less than six moths, Sheila had become someone very important in his life. He never told Sheila or anyone how he felt about her. At that moment, he realized that he loved her.

* * *

Later that night, Apurba, the non-drinker, dropped Ashay at his home. Ashay had said he’d take a cab, but Apurba insisted that she’d give him ride as she lived not too far from his home in Lazimpat anyway. It was close to midnight.

“How was your evening, Ashu?” his mother asked.

“It was good, mom,” he answered, and asked, “what are you doing up this late? Don’t you have to sleep?”

“I was waiting for you to come back home, baba.” Baba was one of his mother’s affectionate terms for him. “Besides, I don’t need much sleep these days,” she didn’t want to make him feel guilty for her staying up late. “Did you eat well? Do you want some warm milk?”

“Nah, Mom, I’m good,” he said, and after a pause he added, “Ma, I want to talk to you.”

His mom looked at him for a moment. A smile came to her face. “You want to talk to me about some girl. Yes?” No one knew Ashay better than his mom. She could read his mind.

He smiled and nodded his head, “Yes, Ma.”

“Who’s it? Where’s she from?”

“Her name’s Sheila and she lives in Vancouver.” He took his wallet out of his pocket and pulled out a small picture of Sheila.

His mom’s face beamed as she looked at the picture. “She’s pretty. She’s beautiful.”

He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t even know if he needed to say thanks to his mom.

“You’re in love with her?”

“Yes, Mom, I am.”

“What time is it in Vancouver? Call her up. I want to speak with her.”

“Ma, she doesn’t know."

“What do you mean she doesn’t know?”

“I’ve never told her.”

“You’ve never told her what? That you love her?”

“Yes, mom, I’ve never told her that I love her.”

“Why not? And you told me before you told her? You silly boy,” she smiled. “But, that’s okay. You call her and tell her now.”

“Ma, I think I need to look at her when I tell her this. I’ll tell her in Vancouver.”

“No, you call her tonight. It’s morning time in Vancouver and its Saturday. She should be home.”

“I’ll call her in the morning, Ma,” suddenly, he felt nervous, not knowing what Sheila might say when he told her his feelings. For the first time, he started fearing rejection. He didn’t want to think what he’d do if she rejected him.

“Don’t you wait, my boy. Go to your room and call her in your privacy.”

He looked at his mom, looking somewhat relieved, “Okay, Mama, I’ll call her tonight.”

He went to his room, sat on the edge of the bed near the phone, and without waiting any longer, he placed a long distance call to Sheila’s home in Vancouver. Sheila’s recorded message came on, “Hi, you’ve reached the home of Sheila and Sam. I can’t answer your phone right now … and neither can Sam, ha! ha! ... But if you leave your name and number and a brief message, I’ll return your call as soon as we can… well, as soon as I can. Sam won’t answer… ha! ha! ha!” Sam was Sheila’s little Chihuahua dog. Ashay couldn’t help but grin at the playfulness that Sheila often displayed.

Ashay always thought Sheila was much livelier than most anyone that he’s met in his life. She made friends easily; she had that people skill. Often he wished that he was like her; serious at what she did, but always full of life. She was the center of attraction at parties; on the contrary, he often kept to himself.

He called the number three more times and got Sheila’s recorded message every time. He didn’t leave any message. He then dialed her cell number, but then cancelled the call before it went through. He wanted to talk to her when she was home. After a little pause, he called her cell again. The call didn’t go through; he only got busy tone. That night he dialed Sheila’s home and cell numbers about a dozen times, without being able to talk to her.

* * *

At the time Ashay made the phone calls to Sheila, she was already at a Starbucks not too far from her apartment, enjoying café mocha and reading the novel The Kite Runner by Khaleid Hosseini. She heard beeps of Ashay’s calls on her cell when she was on the phone, talking with Rajan, a guy who she had recently met on a trip to New York. She looked at the number, noticed that the missed calls had come from Nepal but couldn’t figure out who it was from. It was not a number Ashay had given her before leaving for Nepal and it was not a number she recognized so she didn’t return the call.

As she sipped her coffee, she wondered if the missed calls might have been Ashay’s. She wondered what he might be doing at that moment in Kathmandu. She rested the novel on the table and looked out the window, not really looking at anything in particular. Her mind began to travel back in time; to the time they first had a chance encounter at an airport many years ago. They had forgotten that encounter until after they eventually met in Seattle and became friends. Her mind trudged on and drifted back into her past.

* * *

Four young, bright high-school students, all girls, all from St. Mary’s School in Kathmandu, ready to embark on a journey that they had looked forward to. The time was December 1998. As part of Japanese government-sponsored youth cultural exchange program for high school students in South Asia, they traveled from Nepal to a distant place where a Little Boy with a big attitude had wrecked havoc on a Monday morning, 53 years earlier. The world had reeled under its reverberations. The inquisitive minds of these young people asked a question, "Why?"

Decades after the Little Boy caused devastation, the world was still trying to find an answer. Many years after their visit to Japan, these four young students had all become young women, with ambitions and future only limited by their imagination. And, their imaginations were limitless. They followed their dreams and often wondered why it happened that happened. They all looked into the future, with aspirations, with ambition, with determination, with hope, and with dreams. One of them contemplated a life with opportunities to shape the future, to change the way how international relations were pursued. The task was enormous; yet, there was little trepidation. She had the ability to touch people's lives, a quality that is of essence in pursuing a career in international diplomacy. That young student was Sheila Dhungana, one of the Grade 11 students at St. Mary’s, who were selected to go to Japan for a 10-day visit on the cultural exchange program, based on their merit, leadership and potential. The other three were Aruna Malla, Sarita Sigdel, and Christine Tamang. Their escort teacher was Suhasini Rai.

The world was still as tumultuous as it was on that fateful day when the United States of America dropped a nuclear bomb, deceptively named Little Boy, on Hiroshima, which devastated the city, its people, its culture, its hope... and stunned the world community of nations. That fateful day was Monday, August 6, 1945. The time was about 8:15 AM. A 61 year-old bespectacled man in Washington, DC had given the order to bomb the city. His name was Harry S. Truman, the 33rd President of the United States, who had become president upon the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt little less than 4 months earlier.

The four young Nepali students raised their head in that December morning in 1998, looking in awe at the skeletal dome of the iconic building that once was the Industrial Promotion Hall. They closed their eyes for a moment and prayed, trying to come to terms with the unnerving knowledge that more than 140,000 people had perished in the blast... men, women and children; fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters; people enjoying the golden years of their lives and young people like these four Nepali students with ambition and hope.

Yet, the building, which was near the epicenter of the blast and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Atomic Bomb Dome, beaconed to the young minds a message that is profound... a message of endurance amidst adversity, of defiance, and of hope. Despite the atomic blast of unprecedented, mind-numbing magnitude and intensity, the building hadn't come down to ground.

A young student from Pakistan stood next to Sheila and her friend Sarita. Imran Abbas, the boy from Pakistan, a lanky, good-looking fellow with sunglasses on, nudged at Sheila’s arm, “What are you thinking, Sheila?”

“Oh, I can’t even begin to appreciate the enormity of the devastation. I don’t know why Hiroshima had to be bombed and something else could not have been done to stop the war,” Sheila said.

“Oh, come on now, don’t be serious. You’re not going to be a politician or something are you?” Imran tried to liven up the moment.

Sarita quipped, “Or, some kind of diplomat, maybe?”

“Come on, guys; we’re all, what, 11th Grader. We still have long ways to go before we become anything,” Sheila said, her eyes still fixed at the dome. “But, tell you what, a diplomat doesn’t sound too bad to me.”

“Ambassador Dhungana,” Imran teased Sheila. “I think that’s what you’re going to become some day.”

“Come on, Imran, you’re so goofy; no wisecrack, please.”

Sunithee Jayewardene, a young girl from Sri Lanka overheard them and came over to Sheila’s rescue. She whispered to Sheila, “I’m a little sad really. Why do these things have to happen? The Hiroshima bombing, the Civil War in Sri Lanka…”

“And the Maoist insurgency in Nepal,” Sheila added. “I don’t know where the world is headed. But, I’m hopeful for the future, Suni. Look at this dome; it’s an example of endurance amidst adversity. Such devastation; yet, such big progress. Look where Japan is now. It’s an economic powerhouse.”

That evening, when Sheila returned to her host family’s house, she thought about her parents. Her parents were apprehensive about sending their young daughter on a 10-day trip to Japan. They were excited about the opportunity, but she was still their little baby and they had never let her out of their sight. After some convincing from Sheila’s teachers, they had relented on the condition that no boys would be allowed to sleep in the same room as the girls.

Sheila’s host family were waiting for her. Yumiko, the wife, asked how her day was and if she’d already had dinner outside, which she already had. Over Japanese green tea, Yashushi Hibi, the man, a political science professor at the university, asked her what she thought of the visit to Hiroshima.

Sheila paused; her young mind wondering how to summarize the day’s highlights. She thought for a moment, took a deep breath, and said, “The Hiroshima residents perished because of a decision of a country that now lives with the indignity of having ever used the atomic bombs to kill people. The atomic bombings of Hiroshima and, three days later on August 9, of Nagasaki brought the World War II to an end; but the misery of war didn't end. Instead, the end of the World War II soon gave rise to another war... the Cold War between the United States and the former Soviet Union.”

Professor Hibi paused for a moment and said, “Sheila, you’re very eloquent; more than many of my graduate students. And I see that you have a good understanding of an important historical event in the world. You know something? I think one day you’re going to work for the United Nations. You have my blessings for whatever you want to do in life.”

Sheila asked the professor, “I am impressed by Japanese people’s progress. It’s amazing how Japan has emerged, like a Phoenix, to become an economic powerhouse in just a few decades after the War. I want to go to some college where I can learn things about international relations, economic development, financial stability like that of Japan… I don’t know… something like that. Could you give me some advice?”

“So you want to combine international relations with economic and financial aspects of it? Have you heard of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, United States? They have a great international relations program. And, for international economics and finance, Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania is excellent.”

That night, Sheila went to bed with a dream. After tossing and turning for a while in bed, indulging in a dream of going to the United States for college, she finally fell asleep.

[End of Part 2]

[Go to Part 3]


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