28th December, 2014. Christmas doesn’t hit as hard as the New Year here in my country. We have our own calendar, called the Bikram Sambhat and so, we get to celebrate two new years in a year. The change in AD year makes a difference in technical perspectives, while the BS is how we get out festival dates; even our birthdays. I was doing my Bachelors in General Science and I rarely attend my classes there. We were having a week break after that day, which is why everyone in our group decided to join the IMPORTANT decision of having a meeting on what is to be done this New Year.
Getting to the point, it was three days before the ‘English New Year’ when I first saw her, it was in our college corridor. She walked past us and no one noticed her. It felt like the world does not know that she exists. She didn’t even care, It seemed like she was used to not being noticed and being completely fine with it. She had her face half covered with black scarf intentionally, as if she was keeping herself away from dust. In Kathmandu, it seems a completely normal behavior. Why? Visit to find out!
She caught my eyes for like a second or two and moved her way. I too, didn’t care much further and moved to the class with my gang (cause everyone in our group looks like a gangster). We did our chores, hustling and shouting and doing everything that a normal back bencher does in our place. Good old days!
Then arrived our beloved Mr. Paudel. He was our Molecular Biologist and no one in his class would feel less interested when he was speaking. There used to be an oceanic silence, like someone was showing the prisoners the way to get out of the prison. The old man was lovely. He taught interesting enough. But someone diverted my concentration that day. The same girl I saw at the corridor, with a black scarf around her head and face, showing just her eyes (clearly not Burkha wali) was sticking to the back window; from outside; with a broom on her one hand and a blue bucket of water on other; staring at Mr. Paudel’s diagrams of DNA Fingerprinting. She clearly seemed interested, focused and nerdy. However, to my surprise, she was outside the classroom with a broom on her hand. I was staring at her, not intentionally but, my brain forced me to scan every bit of her. From the blue slippers she was wearing (probably from the street vendors from Gongabu) her grey and black kurti, her single black bangle to the duplicate white pearls in her ears. She was definitely not older than 20 or 21; younger than most of us in our classroom. I said no words to her even though I was so near enough that she could even hear me whisper. After a minute or two, when I still staring at her, she noticed me; seemed a little concerned and ran away. I waited for the class to end cause Mr. Paudel used to take attendance at the end of the class and I was only there for my attendance.
After class, I went straight to search of her, going through staff rooms, offices, classes, management blocks, and every other room in the college. I rush from here to there just to find her but I couldn’t. Today was the only chance cause the college is going off for a week from tomorrow. There was a strong urge in my heart to find her, and see her once more. Eager to know who she was, and why she was hiding. I searched for her for an hour until the clock stroke five and finally gave up when everyone started leaving.
Having no other option left, I sat on my motorbike, started it and once, I roamed my eyes all around the campus. Yet, I couldn’t see her. The college seemed different, for I had never looked at it’s details so closely. Giving up all hopes, I was about to take off just when I saw someone cleaning the staff restroom. It was already getting dark and I was not sure if it was her. But I didn’t want to take any risks. So I jumped off my bike, ran towards the staff restroom.
It was her. I found her. Again, I started staring at her, unintentionally! Her scarf was still upon her mouth and nose. Just then she shouted “You can’t be here, it’s girls toilet!”. She was little annoyed, and may be angry too.. because the freshly mopped floor was all muddy cause I stepped it with my shoes that ran across three small dirty puddles on the way. “Sorry!” I apologized immediately.
“I need to talk to you” I was as polite as I could be.
“What do you want? I already got few more chores left. Find another helper if you need help.” She was rude. May be still angry.
“I can wait. There’s something I need to ask.”
“Was it you who saw me listening to the lectures today??? I am sorry.. I couldn’t help. Can you please not disclose it to the staffs?? Please?” And now, she was as polite as she could be.
“If only you agree to go with me.”
She seemed scared.
“Just to talk. I promise.” I added.
“Ok. But let me finish cleaning this first.” She agreed. I was ready to wait.
After almost twenty minutes, she completed her job and came infant of me. This time, no cloth was hiding her face. She seemed average looking at first look. But as she came nearer, how elegant she was. Simple, elegant and simply beautiful.
“You can tell me now. But first you need to promise me you won’t say anything to anyone about what you saw today.”
“Let me decide that.” It was fun scaring her. “You work here?”
“Do I look like a student?” she replied immediately.
“You just don’t dress like one.” Hearing this, she looked down to her slippers and clothes she was wearing. But seemed nowhere near ashamed.
“I can’t save enough to take care of my clothes. I have a family to feed.” She was, yet again, annoyed. I felt sorry for her.
“Did you understand what Mr. Paudel was teaching today? The DNA patterns and all??” I was curious.
“Honestly, I don’t. But I recognized the DNA. I saw it in one of the biology notes I found when I was working in a high-school last year.” My eyes were still, mouth was opened. I froze. “I never went to school.” she added.
“What do you mean you never went to school? You know what a DNA is!”
“You don’t have to know this. I am going home. It’s getting darker.”
“You tell me or else the first thing I’ll do tomorrow morning is to tell the Dean about this.”
“You can do whatever you want. I have other things to worry about.” Well this time, she didn’t seem to be worried at all.
“Well, then let me drop you home! Can I?” I asked.
“You don’t have to. I can walk.” She was still mad.
“Its dark already. I’m going home anyway! I can drop on my way.” I kept on insisting. After a little bit of pleading, she agreed.
But she didn’t allow me to take her to her home. Rather, she told me to stop at the bus stop and left. She didn’t even say bye. Nor said she Thank you. She just left, without speaking a single word and I kept on looking at her leaving.
I couldn’t stop thinking about her that night. I decided to go to the college next day. I knew only the General Science students had a week off as our mid-terms were completed earlier. That meant the college will be opened next day and she would be there too.
The next day, immediately after breakfast, I rushed towards campus. When I reached there, few of the students from morning shifts were leaving and few from the day shifts were just arriving. I knew I was on time. I waited for her in the entrance gate. With a cup of hot chiya in hand, I stared at the road waiting for her to arrive.
She arrived exactly at 11, with same black scarf covering her face.
“Oi black scarf!” I stopped her.
“Will you bothering me?”
“Not at all!” It was really fun messing up with her.”Do you want a cup of chiya? or maybe coffee?”
“No. I’m in a hurry, I need to get everything done by 5. Bye.” Honestly, this reply was expected.
“Five minutes. Please?” I already knew she was a big deal.
“I already told you! Nothing about me is about your concern. Do whatever you want. You can go tell the dean, chief or whoever suits you. Just leave me alone!!” She was annoyed already.
“I want to help you. Only if you tell me about yourself.”
But, she was in no mood to listen to me or anyone else. But I had already made up my mind. I ran after her and said that I can really help her study. “Only if you want.” I added.
Hearing that, she stopped immediately. She turned and looked towards me.
“It has not even been a year when a guy like you said he wanted me to study. But all he wanted was to take advantage of me.” She couldn’t even speak further. Tears stopped at her eyes corner and she turned and walked away. I didn’t do anything but see her walk.
I waited for her lunch break. All the staffs arrived at the canteen to have their lunch. I searched for her, but she was not in cafeteria. She was not in the front garden as well. So I went inside the building to see if she was in any of the class having lunch. But I couldn’t find her. I asked one of the helping assistant if he knew where she was. “She must be working in the terrace.”
I was climbing up to the terrace but found her sweeping the stairs on the way.
“Aren’t you having your lunch? The break is about to be over.” I was still breathing heavily for climbing so fast.
“I’ll have it afterwards.” She was still sweeping while she answered.
“Did you bring you own lunch?”
“Come lets go to the canteen then. I’m hungry as well.” I made a chance.
“I don’t want to eat anything right now. You may go.”
She was pale, thin and seemed tired. “You look hungry!”
She looked at me with surprise.
“Aren’t you?” I was already sure. But I needed to speak something after that look.
“No” She was trying to sound harsh.
“Okay. I’ll wait for you in canteen then.” I didn’t want to argue over there.
But she didn’t come there all day. It was nearly 4 PM and her shift was over. She was coming towards the gate. I saw her from where I was and rushed to her on my bike.
“I’ll drop you.” I knew she was going to resist and argue over it. But to my surprise, she didn’t say a word. She quietly sat on the bike and we rode off. I wanted to speak something to her. I still didn’t know her name. So I asked her.
“But I never saw your muskan(smile)!” My attempt was successful. She smiled.
“I’m Aman.” She gave a formal smile.
“Where are you from?” I asked again.
“I am from Kaski. We moved here few years back.” She replied. But never asked.
“What about you family? Do they…” I was still asking but she interrupted in between. “I am hungry.”
We sat in one of the corners and I ordered two plates of MoMo in a local restaurant nearby. It was freezing outside, so I asked for soup for both of us.
“My father never had money for us.” She started as soon as she took the first sip of her soup. “He used to all his money in alcohol and gambling and never brought anything home. Aama used to work in fields during seasons and during winters, she worked as waged laborer. We had very little money for our livelihood. So they never bothered to spend it on my education. But I had a friend from nearby village, Sarita. She used to go to school and during Saturdays, we would sit on river bank and she would teach me everything that she learnt on school that week. I was really smart at picking things. And she never hesitated to teach me. She even brought her old books and I read every one of them at least twice.”
I realized she wanted someone to listen to her, without judging her, without sympathizing her. So I stayed silent and she continued.
“My parents starting quarreling a lot more after younger sister was born. I have two siblings, Milan and Rakhchya. Aama was usually tired and I started doing domestic jobs from a very young age. My brother was just 6 months old, and my sister was almost 2 when Aama ran away with another guy and my father took out all his anger upon me and my siblings. He even married another woman.” She took another sip.
“So you moved to Kathmandu alone?” I couldn’t resist asking her.
“No.” She replied. “ I really wanted to go to school, buy books, and be able to read.” Tears rolled down her eyes. ”I used to collect Guavas, Oranges, vegetables or anything seasonal and go to the highways to sell them. Most people didn’t even bother to look, but families in big vehicles used to stop by to buy them. The rich, you know!” And she gave a fake smile.
Then she didn’t speak for a while. As soon as she emptied her bowl, our MoMo plates arrived. I didn’t ask for her to continue.She too, was very hungry. So she started eating without even looking at me.
“Why did you deny having lunch if you’re this hungry??” The way she was eating, it felt like she hadn’t had anything past three days.
“I didn’t have any money. I have my dues in canteen as well, I can’t risk going there!” And she started eating again. I looked at her eating everything in the plate at that pace.
“Do you want some more?” I thought I need to ask.
“No. Thank you for this. It was really delicious.” She formalized things.
I wanted to listen more of her story. So I continued “So you collected money to come here and study?”
“In the beginning, yes. But I knew I won’t be able to enroll in any school after I save enough money for my education. I was already 14 and it was going to take almost few more years to collect money for my overall school life. I just made few hundreds a week. Some weeks, I wouldn’t even earn anything and some I used to give to my mother for home expenses.” Her voice seemed full of energy after having some food. She continued “But I wanted my siblings to study. So one day, when no one was home, I took my brother and sister with me and came here. Basically, I ran away from them.”
“They didn’t search for you all?” I was surprised.
“I don’t think so. They never bothered caring for us. Our step-mother didn’t even like us near her.” She was saying. “Its far better here. I worked in high school at the beginning. But then there was the guy I told you about, so I left working there. I thought college students might not bother noticing me sneak to their classrooms, but here you are!” I laughed at this.
“Do you trust me now? I want to help you.” I really did.
“I don’t know. I have two siblings to look after. They are the only family I have!”
“Leave that upon me!” I assured her.
“Aman, I don’t think you’re sure of what you are going to do. I can’t let you do this. It is going to cost a lot.” We were in a nearby private school and after six months of teaching her the basic education, I thought she was ready to join classes.
“I know what I’m doing Muskan!” I pulled her with her hands inside the principal’s office. “I own a business of my own. You don’t need to worry about the money!” I shouted at her, so she obey quietly.
In all those months that I help her study, she did really very well. She was an outstanding, smart girl, who would logically analyze everything that came infant of her.
After talking to the principal about Muskan’s story, she accepted Muskan as her student. Based on the test she took, she was readily given the chance to be a 9th grader. I had never saw her any happier before that day.
That day Muskan wass receiving her gold medal for being a topper of her batch in her 10th grade examination. And there I was, stuck at the traffic and already late for the event for like an hour.
I reached the event exactly an hour late. She came straight towards me with a fired face as soon as she saw me enter the gate. Before I could even congratulate her, she punched me a few times, and hugged me.
I hugged her tighter.
“Thank you!! Thank you so much!” She was crying in my arms.
“I love you.” I kissed her.
“I love you too.” She cuddled up in my chest foe a while. “See what I got!” Then she showed her prizes to me.
“You deserve this young lady!” I was smiling the whole time.
Half a decade later, I remember how I meet her, and what she means to me as she sleeps besides me peacefully besides me. Today, is our 1st marriage anniversary and its already 12 and I’m afraid to wake this devil up, cause I forgot what she asked for as her gift.
Now she works for a local NGO, to help children like her to study and bulb a better future. Her brother and sister also study in high school now. I love how peaceful she seems now; how her name suits her the best now! Muskan! And I love how she shouts at me for all the things in the world and still manages to show that she loves me. I love her at all her times.