When the cycad blooms

Growing up, my mother never told me about all the civil unrest that was happening in Nepal. Even if she had, I probably wouldn’t have understood the reason and the gravitas of the country’s turmoil.

I recall her reminding me now and then to make sure I let her know when I wanted to go out for a play and always to return home before dark. I could always sense a profound impatience in her. I could see countless shades of fear, anger, frustration and agony on her face.

When schools closed, which happened often, there was nothing much to do for an eight-year-old living in the hills. I remember spending entire days playing in the fields with the other children from our village. Since baba only came home once in a while, my mother did all the household chores and agricultural work. I never asked my mother about baba or why he was seldom home. All I knew was that he was busy and doing big things for the country, unlike the village’s other men who just looked after their livestock.

Whenever baba did arrive home, he came bearing many gifts of toys and chocolates. He never stayed long, maybe a few days, and then he disappeared again, leaving me wondering when I would see him again.

Baba was a man of dignity and honour. He never raised his voice to my mother. He loved us endlessly, but he was someone who didn’t believe in showing it to us. Whenever he came, he told me to study hard and to ace my studies. He also constantly reminded me that I should soon move to the city for better opportunities. Due to him constantly telling me the importance of moving to the city, I even started picturing myself in a big, strange, crowded city hundreds of kilometres far from the tiny village I call home. The city seemed distant and scary for a child who had never stepped outside the village.

A few days after my ninth birthday, things started becoming tense in our village. I could feel the tension growing. The child in me was petrified to some extent. One night, before going to bed, my mother pulled me close to her chest and whispered in my ear, “There are some bad people who want to disturb our country’s peace.”

When I asked what she meant by it, she refused to elaborate. I couldn’t sleep the whole night. I desperately wanted to know where these bad people came from and what they wanted from us. The following morning, I woke up before my mother and went for a walk around our village. Men clustered in groups were talking about something that sounded like an emergency declaration. That very day, a neighbour came into our house wailing about how her husband was shot dead right in front of her. Later in the day, I learned from the news that more than 200 people had disappeared or been killed in the last 24 hours.

Days passed, and I started noticing that my mother’s tummy was bigger than usual. I soon learned that I was to become a big sister soon. My mother started involving me in her chores. I started lending her a hand by bringing water from the tap, helping her with laundry, and doing the dishes. As my mother’s tummy grew in size, I became more and more excited about the arrival of my sibling. I told myself that I would love him/her endlessly.

It had been months since my father’s last visit home. As much as I wanted to ask my mother when he would come, I knew it would be of no use as she was as clueless as I was. “Your father is working very hard for a revolution. After he completes his work, he will stay with us forever,” she told me whenever I asked about him.

I looked forward to the revolution ending, even though I didn’t know what the revolution was about.

A few days later, baba came home. This time, he brought more candies and toys. I knew why. “Are you going to stay with us forever now?” I asked him. He didn’t reply. Instead, he said, “Always be a good girl and never trouble your mother.”

After dinner, I didn’t immediately go to bed. I wanted to spend some time with my father because I knew he was leaving the following day. He was going through some paperwork when I sat near him. He put the papers aside, put me on his lap, and gently played with my hair.

All of a sudden, we were startled by loud bangs on our door. My mother got terrified to such an extent that she started sobbing. She asked me to stay quiet and not utter a single word. She gestured to baba to not open the door at any cost. The bangs on the door continued, and they grew even louder. Baba asked me to sit with my mother as he moved forward to open the door. I could see three men standing in the dark. The men were wearing combat uniforms and red cloth on their foreheads. My father spoke to them for a while and returned to us. He kissed my mother’s forehead and caressed her womb. He came to me and carried me for a while. And then, he went along with those men.

She would turn pale and stiff whenever I asked my mother about baba’s return. Every day, I waited for him sitting beside the cycad plant he planted in our garden. One day, my mother finally replied to me and said, “Your father will come once the cycad plant blooms.”

For years, I waited for the cycad to bloom. It was only ten years after his departure that I learned that cycads are non-flowering plants and never bloom.

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