Meera by Sushil Awale
It was a Sunday afternoon. The falling leaves and cool breeze of the autumn season made it a beautiful day to spend time outdoors. Sneha sat in the long grasses of Garden of Dreams in Thamel reading a book. She could smell the festivity in the air as Dashain was approaching near. There was a bamboo swing in the garden where a little girl was being swung by her mother. Sneha’s mind pondered back to the memory of Meera and her time at Sindhupalchowk.
Sneha was a Nepali – American who had arrived in Nepal to work on an education project for UNICEF. She was a beautiful and ambitious woman in her late 20’s. Her cheekbones were narrow and dimples formed on her cheeks when she smiled. But it had been years since anyone saw those dimples. Sneha was married and she was in the prime of her career. She had everything in her life except for the thing she longed for – a child. Sneha was infertile.
Sneha had to spend a month in one of the local schools in a remote village as a part of her project. She worked as an English teacher in a local school in Sindhupalchwok. She loved to work with the children. During her stay, she stayed in the house of the principal of the school.
The principal was an old, fat person. His bald head and bulging tummy matched his strict personality. He was the most educated person in the village and was very boastful of it. He was arrogant and talked rudely to people. But, when it came for his own selfish needs, he could be talked into doing anything.
The principal had two children. His son went to the school with Sneha, but the daughter, Meera stayed at home doing the house and field works. Sneha was aware of the gender discrimination in remote villages. She wanted to study the scenario of the village first and then make gradual progress in eradicating the problem. So, she didn’t make a big deal out of it.
As days passed, Sneha couldn’t stand to see a 7-year-old girl doing all the household chores. Sympathy arose in her heart. So, she requested the principal to allow her to teach Meera after the dinner. The principal couldn’t say ‘No’ to her. In his own selfish mind, the principal had assumed of some kind of reward or gain from Sneha. So, he agreed to Sneha’s request.
Every night after dinner, Sneha started teaching Meera. Meera was a smart girl and loved learning from Sneha. And, Sneha slowly grew fond of Meera. Sneha imagined if only Meera was her daughter, how lucky she would have been. She thought of all the things she would do with Meera – dress her up, make her breakfast, send her to school, help her with her homework. She also felt sad how she couldn’t do much for her despite wanting to.
One night, as Sneha was teaching Meera, Meera started to sob. Sneha was befuddled.
“Hey, Meera! What happened?” Sneha said as she rubbed Meera’s back.
In her weepy voice, Meera said, “I feel very tired after working all day. I want to study but I feel so tired.”
“There! There!” Sneha said with a heavy heart. Her eyes started to fill with tears as well.
“My parents would not have let me work so much.” Meera blurted.
Sneha was shocked and confused, “What do you mean? Aren’t they your real parents?”
Meera ran away from the room.
The next day, Sneha talked to the villagers about Meera. All the villagers were scared of the principal and dared not to speak against him. But, an old woman told her that Meera was a bonded laborer and she was not the daughter of the principal. Sneha immediately stormed to the principal and asked him for an explanation.
“Meera is a bonded laborer?” Sneha shouted at the principal.
The principal who always had something cunning thing to say couldn’t even look at Sneha. He hid his face in shame and fear.
“You are going to release her immediately. Or, I’m having you arrested.” Sneha warned the principal.
“But I only had her because her parents are dead and she didn’t have a place to live.” the principal tried to defend himself.
“I’m hearing none of that,” Sneha answered. “I’m taking her with me.”
Sneha returned to Meera and talked with her. “Meera! You don’t have to work here anymore. You don’t have to live in this house anymore. You are now free Meera. You are free.”
Meera ran towards Sneha and hugged her. Both of them started to cry. Both of them didn’t let each other go. First time in two years, Sneha’s dimples were seen. Sneha finally felt the happiness she was missing. She started to think maybe she was destined to meet Meera and that’s why she was infertile. The thoughts of adopting Meera started to circle her mind.
Sneha had called the police and they arrested the principal. The whole village rejoiced on his arrest. The inspector talked with Sneha in private.
“Thank you! Ma’am for reporting this to us.” the inspector said.
“Well! I’m really happy for Meera. She can have a better life now.” Sneha replied. She was already imagining Meera as her daughter.
“Oh! Yes, she will.” the inspector asserted. “She is the daughter of a rich businessman from Kathmandu. She was kidnapped two years ago. We have been searching for her ever since.”
Sneha’s smile soon went away. She couldn’t muster any words. Her dreams shattered in front of her. She collected her voice and said, “OK”
The sky had turned orange. The garden was almost empty. A tear rolled out of Sneha’s eyes. It had been a month since that event and the memories were still fresh as yesterday. She felt both sad and happy remembering Meera. She closed her eyes and took a long breath. She wiped her tear and smiled.
She called her husband in California.
“Hi. Sneha. How are you?”
“I’m good. Hmm. I think I’m going to stay here longer.”
“I don’t have my own child. But, I can be a mother to hundreds of children who need me.”