Mingma Choekyi Zimba Tamang
Preserved mango pickles dried up in the scorching sun. Its oily contents drenching the Persian rug. Concentric rings of oil on the spotless grey carpet left behind by the pickle jars that were sunlit in the lazy afternoon. The cool summer breeze rustled the mango tree leaves, which furnished the sweltering sparrow nest with shade. A woman in her mid-fifties stocked a table with a basket of mangoes and lemonade, smiling faintly to herself.
She trailed off into her bungalow, shortly arriving with a sun hat and a popsicle in her wrinkled mouth. With the wheat-like complexion of her skin painted orange by the popsicle, she sat obliviously upon the tall blades of grass. Contemplative of her past and what was to be of her future. “Oh, to have a loving husband and young, bright children”, she deliberated in melancholy, flipping the pages of her tattered family album. It was yet another sultry and lonely summer for Poppy. How befitting was her name to the crimson hair she had in her youth. Now it was a dull, fading copper that refused to gleam in the sunshine. Cicadas and crickets tainted the air in raucous.
Poppy shut the basket close and bristled back into the cool shade of her ivory bungalow. Inside, the air smelt contradictorily of blooming lilies. Walls were bathed with flower wreaths, muddy rakes and shovels lay around, a guitar stood unchaperoned in the corner, and there was only one bedroom where dust had now begun to gather.
Irritable and anxious, she rushed into the bathroom only to study vacantly the furrows and pigmentation on her hands, back, neck, face and the entirety of herself. It didn’t help nodding sideways, and fleeing from the truth that she was withering, with no husband to share the love for their children with. Loneliness apertured satisfaction and inflicted remorse in her for having chosen to take on a life of independence and solitude. In her college days, she was boastful to her roommates for having had a sour perspective on men and love, which she then found futile. Now, she wished to turn back the clock needle several years and not seem so uptight to the roommates who now would have turned into companions. The only company she received was from the sparrow and its eggs on the mango tree, and the ants who stole bits of the decomposing fruits from her garden
Realizing that she abandoned her sun hat on the picnic table outside, she walked briskly to retrieve it. Something odd stung her eyes with a fortuitous surprise; the air had a trace of distinct pungent odor. The once pulpy mangoes in the tree had festered, the pickles turned sour in the heat and the sun had set momentarily; leaving behind a pink canvas. Had she spent so many hours crying horridly about her escalating fear in the bathroom? It didn’t feel like it had been so. Pained by the realization of how her trepidation had conquered over her psyche, she wiped the hot stream of tears from her cheeks.
Mustering courage, Poppy’s shaky and wilted finger unfurled the shrouded world wherein stacked bundles of letters exchanged with her pen friend lay inside the dust-laden bureau of the bedroom. She clicked her fingers repeatedly, trying to recall his name. It floated somewhere in her currently blank mind, but she was aware it was there. As she shakily opened the first envelope in sight, there was his signature in black ink: Alder. Poppy envisioned the unsullied smile he held when they first met at the local coffee house. Pulling the letter out gently she read in a brittle voice:
My dearest Poppy,
I am not the Alder you intended to write to, but the letter has printed an unforgettable impact on my lone soul. I apologize deeply in advance for the inconvenience I may be causing, but I cannot seem to erase your impeccable character from my thoughts. Curiosity still gets the better of me as I don’t understand why a letter for someone so many miles away would only constraint itself to three lines:
“Their smiles fit perfectly like a mould;
As they sing poems line-by-line,
Will it grow different when we are old?”
Is it an extract from something?
The Other Alder.
As she finished reading it, pain struck her heart. It was an extract from a poem she had composed for Valentine’s Day. It was intended for an editor, for she was keen on publishing her collection of prose and poems. The response she received however had moved her deeply, causing her to reply immediately and embark on an unexpected friendship.
For a moment Poppy was reminiscent of her past and yearned to meet Alder, for she realized she had been affectionate of his cordial nature and inventiveness. Unfortunately, her persistence towards avoiding marriage and its consequences resulted in her acting unaware of his existence and stacking his letters in her bureau the moment he disclosed his visceral emotions for her. She never did unfold the letters he crafted in yellowing parchment with creased edges, and neither did she reply. Now she stooped on the creaky wooden floor of her summer bungalow’s bedroom, weeping. She had been ignorant of the importance of love and company, but she had also for a brief moment been ignorant that she could provide both to herself. This revelation opened her eyes. If she could sustain a content and undisturbed life for such a prolonged period of time, why couldn’t she do it now?
As she stood up to go into the kitchen, the amber mango faces gleamed within her picnic basket. Whilst quaffing the juice from a hole in the fresh mango, Poppy chuckled at herself and the despair which she now perceived to be silly. She was once again a blooming crimson Poppy, whose heartfelt dream of finding solace in her loneliness was discovered on a radiant summer day.
Illustration by Dhanashree Pimputkar