Kumari by Do Hyun Kang

11/16/16 11:49:38PM
112 posts

The goddess’s beauty stole the heart of every man and woman who looked at her. She had eyes like a black pearl, the eyelashes of a cow, thighs of a deer, and the voice of an innocent child. The gold jewellery around her neck and wrists, and her rose-tinted skin only slightly added to her charm as she often roamed the human world. Each night before returning to the heavens, the goddess visited the king in his palace, where they played games of ‘Jusawe’ (dice) and discussed the well-being of the country. But one unfortunate night, the king, intoxicated by the allure of the goddess, attempted sexual advances towards her. The goddess turned away in fury, and told the king she would curse his entire country, which would suffer under his name. The king repented immediately and begged her to show mercy. After years of refusing to respond to his prayers, the goddess declared she would reappear in the body of a young girl ought to be worshipped by the nation, and that every thousand years she would grant the wish of a human who prayed before her.

One dollar! One dollar!” Screamed the two girls trying desperately to catch my attention. They were holding colourfully braided bracelets in their hands.

Sorry,” I replied with a pitiful look, as I walked through the slums of Nepal. White, sunburned, and carrying a Kathmandu backpack, I was a blatant tourist, bound to be impeded by merchants trying to rip me off and beggars clawing at my trousers for money.

One dollar!” They persisted, now waving the bracelets in my face.

No, Sorry.” I said, trying to scurry away.

You want service?” Asked the girls, following my footsteps.

What white men come here for.”

What?” I felt my face flush. “I’m not that kind of —” before I could tell them to go away, they simultaneously reached for my arm with their dainty hands and yanked it towards them.

The tourists love our sister,” said one of them, cheerfully leading me into an alley.

She’s really pretty — she used to be a goddess!” Said the other one.

I could’ve easily broken free, but for some reason I followed in silence. The alley was bustling with people going about in their own ways. I stared at my feet as I stepped across repeating patterns of black and red blocks, almost running over the girls who had come to a sudden halt.

As the girls ran toward the end of the path, my eyes followed through, and stopped at a woman holding her arms open for them. She was dressed in a red garment made of cloth that covered her from her shoulders to her knees. She stared at me with a blank expression, but her depthless black eyes spoke of tragedy, and she stood like a withering flower amidst the smell of trash. Under a ray of sunlight seeping through the roof of the slums she glimmered, and I squinted at the beauty of the fallen goddess.

I approached her, and she slowly let me be a part of her world. She told me about her life as a former Kumari (Nepalese for ‘living goddess’), and how things had turned out for her over the years. The Nepalese had a centuries-old tradition of appointing a young girl, aged between three and five, to serve as a Kumari for the country. The Kumari would enter the king’s palace, and her family would be rewarded a large sum of money. Like most other candidates, she had volunteered to save her family from financial desperation. To be chosen, she had to meet thirty-two standards of beauty as signs of resemblance to the traditional goddess, and drag herself through several tests to prove her serenity and boldness.

The final test was the most difficult,” she said. “A dozen goats and cows were slaughtered, and their heads were placed in a dark room with me. Masked men danced and sang about, and the scent of dripping blood pervaded the air. I had to spend the whole night trying to hide my trembling hands.”

For years she lived a life of luxury, never leaving the royal palace unless there was a special occurrence. And because she wasn’t allowed to set her feet on the ground, she was carried around on a palanquin everywhere she journeyed.

The life of a princess,” I remarked, and she responded coldly by saying, “A princess who had lost enough muscle in her calves to keep her from walking like a normal person.”

Her life as a Kumari ended when she turned twelve and her bed sheets bloomed with roses. Menstruation was a sign that she had lost her purity as a divinity, hence an indication that she must be removed from the title. She was kicked out into the slums of Nepal, where the masses, including her own family, considered cursed and abandoned the delegated goddess.

That’s all,” she said, “From being on top of humanity to reaching its bottom.”

I wanted to save her from the two-faced world that made a fool of her. I wanted to take her back to New Zealand, where I came from. Everything was set for our departure, and the beginning of our new lives – plane tickets, Auckland’s romantic date courses, and my assured heart that I could love the woman in front of me beyond death. The only part left was her approval. She said yes.

We had a secret wedding by the beach at Whatipu, under the velvet sunset of a December evening. Warm words and blessings surrounded the two of us, but amidst the shadows of celebration were hatred and prejudice, thinly masked by hospitality. The fact that my wife was from a Nepalese slum was enough for the eyes of many to label her as the whore who seduced a rich man to settle in a wealthier country. At first, I was scared. I was scared my poor wife, who had already been through so much, would be scarred by the choice I had proposed. But she greeted the foul mouths that spoke of her and the ignorant eyes that glanced at her with a smile.

They’re jealous of my beauty,” she said. And we lived our lives.

I returned to my job as a doctor, and my wife welcomed me home in the evenings. Every night I held her like a beloved childhood toy, and every morning we woke up to each other’s eyes. We went grocery shopping together on Thursdays. She liked to hold the plastic bags of groceries to her chest and let me lift her into the trolley for a ride around the supermarket. On weekends we would lay on the beach with two cans of Tui and stare at the movement of the clouds. Afterwards we’d dine out, critiquing Auckland’s Nepalese cuisine and strolling down Queen Street with our hands folded together, making me feel as if I were grasping infinity in my palms.

But this happiness didn’t last.

It was a Friday morning, and I was at work when my phone rang. I picked up, and a stranger’s voice told me that my wife had been in a car crash. I drove to the hospital, ignoring the traffic lights and street signs in the way. When I rushed into the emergency room, I saw my wife laying on a white bed that had been smeared with blood. She had a respirator over her mouth. Before I could react, two nurses pulled a sheet over her face, and dragged her bed out of the room. Then a doctor came over to confirm that I was her husband.

I walked back home.

I reached the house by three, and sat on the floor of the kitchen. The cold tiles pressed against the bottom of my thighs and I could hear the neighbour’s children playing outside. I stared at a blank space on the wall until dark, and collapsed to sleep after sunrise.

When I woke up, I looked at the clock and felt hungry, which made me want to kill myself. I went to the supermarket, and filled the trolley with as many beef pies and bottles of water I could fit. It was still unbearably light. I arrived home, poured some cereal and milk into a bowl and sat down to eat. As I took my first bite, a dew pearled at the tip of my eye and trailed down my face. For fifteen minutes I steadily chewed and sipped the tears that were seeping through my lips. It was enough time to realize that my wife had died.

I felt like a chunk of my life had been chomped off by a shark. I couldn’t stay at the house, where my wife had left her footprints on every piece of furniture. Soon the whole country became too much for me, as every street, restaurant and cafe I traversed reminded me of memories with her.

I booked a plane ticket and escaped to Nepal. I had a feeling I’d somehow be able to see her again. Maybe I’d catch her walking around in the streets we had first met.

For three days I walked like a madman, circling the district without a destination. I didn’t even reserve a room to sleep in, and exhausted myself until my body shut itself down beside the beggars.

On the fourth day, I entered a Hindu temple that caught my eye. I needed a scapegoat to blame for my wife’s death. I glanced at the shoe rack by the entrance, and stepped inside. In front of me were colossal gold statues of Nepalese gods and goddesses whose toes were the size of my legs. I knelt directly below them and started talking. They were to fault for stripping my wife from me and taking her to the heavens with them. “She’s not a real goddess,” I whispered. I sobbed and pleaded the motionless faces to let me see her again until I fell asleep by their feet.

I woke up to the voices of little girls waving bracelets in my face.

One dollar! One dollar!”

updated by @americymru: 11/16/16 11:50:12PM