Aastha had just come back from her college when she saw her uncle enter the house. He rarely visited the house, like rarely. It must have been a year since she saw him. In 18 years of her life not once she saw him smile. He barely talked and whenever he came to the house, he would sit in the corner and listen to everyone talk, or maybe he wouldn't even listen to them at all. She was confused about why he was there.
"I know, it sounds quite rude but he rarely visits us and barely talks with anyone," She thought. Suddenly she realized it was her birthday.
"Holly, molly," she said, "I totally forgot when I saw him."
Today she was turning 19 but the thing was did he came here for her birthday? Surely no, he never once came on her birthday before. Instead, he would send her gifts.
Shaking her head, she went inside. He was in the kitchen with her mom. Her mom liked to celebrate her birthday even though she was not quite into it. He was wearing a black hoodie. Both hoodie and dreads covered his face. when he heard her coming, he looked at her. She noticed a little bit of tattoo in his neck which she thought was wings. He was wearing medium size black round ear studs.
"Last time I saw him, was there any tattoo in his neck?" She thought and realized she never came near him to see that tattoo. Even though he rarely visited the house, she would greet him from far and he would give a slight nod, and then she would leave him alone. She would hear about her mom visiting him but she never asked to go with her.
She greeted him and did Namaskar.
"Happy birthday," He said trying his best to smile but failed instantly. His voice was frightening yet pleasant. For her, it felt like it was the first time she heard his voice because truth to be told she doesn't remember the last time she heard him speak. He looked miserable but handsome at the same time.
She thanked him smiling and he nodded. Her eyes went to the back of his left hand, where there was a white lion tattoo. She remembered that tattoo and she really loved it. It was her favourite tattoo. she stared at it for some time and then left.
The same question ran on her mind "Why is he like this? I mean all other relatives are so cool you know but him." Once she even asked her mom if he had any problem or if he is suffering from something but her mom would say "Nothing is wrong with him. Stop thinking like that about him,"
Everyone was laughing, enjoying, and started to prepare for the celebration but he was the only one who didn't have any glow in his face. He looked horrible like he has been living in depression or there is no fun in his life.
The celebration started, she extinguished the burning candle using hand because as in Hindu Nepali culture they don't blow out candles by mouth cause they believe fire as a god. After that everyone came and put Axeyta on her forehead and gave her gifts and blessing. Her attention was all on her uncle. He was sitting on the corner watching everyone.
( Axeyta - a dab of red vermilion mixed with yoghurt and rice)
At last, he came, put Axeyta on her forehead, and kept his hand on her head. She guessed he was giving her his blessing. She felt quite happy. She always wanted to know about him but couldn't. He was a mystery to her. She always wanted to ask him, why he was like this. once, she asked her mom about him and her answer was "He is fine. It's just we can't help him." hearing her mom say that broke her heart, "Maybe she did her best but still couldn't help mama so she gave up?" she thought.
(Mama = maternal uncle in Nepali )
She saw him walk out of the door. Did he come just to give blessing and leave? she followed him not getting anyone's attention. When she was about to go outside, she heard mom call him. She hid behind the door and watched her mom follow him.
"Prayas," Her mom called him again and then he stopped. She slowly watched them from the door and tried to hear them.
"Thanks for coming," she said and he turned to look at her.
He blew the smoke and then nodded. He was about to leave when she again said.
"How long are you gonna punish yourself? Why can't you just move on and leave the past behind", he stared at the house awhile and then looked at her. He took the puff of a cigarette and blew smoke.
"What's done is done, you can't change it," she said.
He turned back and started to walk away throwing the cigarette butt.
"Stop punishing yourself. Stop it, it hurts to see you like this," she yelled.
She came back inside the house while Aastha decided to follow him. He went inside the park and hid behind the tree. She then saw him slowly throw his hoodie cap back and sat on the bench. At first, she was confused about why he was there because he was alone and without a cigarette. He never sat without cigarettes in his hand whenever he was alone but then she realized he was watching someone. A lady must be in her what? The early 50s maybe. she was sitting on the grass, looking at the sky. It seemed like she was in deep thought. Many questions came on Aastha's mind.
"Who is she? Does he know her?", He sat there watching her without blinking once. When she left, He followed her pulling his hoodie cap back. That woman went inside a house and he stood outside watching the house.
"What is he doing?" She thought.
After like an hour she saw that the woman turned the lights off. He then climbed the window and went inside. Aastha watched his back in confusion. Is he trying to rob the house? Then after like forever she heard the scream. It was women screaming. She just stared at the window. Was he there to harm her? She thought.
She then slowly climbed the window and saw him beside her, his hand on her. She calmed down. Aastha couldn't think properly and was confused about what she just saw.
She slowly came down and for last time looking at the window, "Who was she? And why is he there? I mean he was there to calm her down? he was there to help her get rid of nightmares? she is an old lady. If I am aware of my grandparents. They died a long time ago in a war." So many questions came on her mind but the only person that could answer was him or her mom. So, hurriedly she went towards her home.
Everyone was still dancing and eating when she entered. she went straight to her mom and told her they need to talk. Muna looked at her confused but nodded. Pratik looked at both of them, his daughter and wife, and followed them outside.
"What is it?" Muna asked wanting to go back inside.
"Aama, do we have any old age relative?" she asked.
( Aama = mother )
"No," she said without thinking twice. Aastha looked at her dad and he shook his head.
"You said, hazuraamaa, hazurbuwa (Grandparents) died long ago," she asked again and Muna nodded.
"Then, who was she?" she asked. Both of her parents looked at each other than at their daughter.
"Who?" They asked in unison and Aastha told them everything she saw.
While his niece was asking questions about him. Prayas was with the person whom he loved dearly. Every single day he came to be beside her cause he was known about her nightmares. Even though he knew she hates him. He loved her with everything he had. One of the reasons he was alive was love and the same love was the reason he was half dead. It's weird, how everything starts and ends with this word, love.