The Ragpickers and the Lady – Part Three

By Tom Calarco

The night comes all too soon, shutting down the light that gives life to all, the lesson we experience throughout our lives, the lesson we sometimes forget because the light is such a wondrous . . .

That night, Ram decided to return to his father’s home. Though Mr. Punjab had offered to visit Ram’s father with him, Ram felt it was his duty, alone. Early the next morning he snuck out of his room at school. The monsoon season was approaching and a gray sky and a constant drizzle accompanied him. The drizzle turned into a steady shower as Ram trekked the ancient footpaths. Thousands of years old, they passed rice terraces and grain fields dotted with thatched houses, and crossed even more ancient rivers with magnificent views of the mist-shrouded Himalayas. On the way, Ram stopped to see his friend Shambu, who had begged in the streets with him and Raj, but had returned home. It was a happy occasion. Shambu’s mother gave Ram dry clothes, made him a tasty meal, and gave him a soft mat to sleep on.
The rain let up the next day, and by dusk Ram reached his father’s house. Made of brick rather than the mud and stone like the house in which Ram had grown, it was the home of his stepmother. The fields behind the house were empty, and the smell of curry drifted. He heard the cries of a baby.
How Ram dreaded telling his father about Raj. In this land, the first-born son was a man’s most important child. Now Ram had to tell his father that his first-born son had gone to the next life. Ram rang the little bell that hung down at the entrance. The door opened and Ram saw his stepmother
“Who are you?” she asked, at first not recognizing him.
“I am Ram,” he said.
“Raj,” the woman called. “Come, quickly.”
His father, whose name was also Raj, came to the door. His eyes widened and his mouth hung open.
“Ram?” he mumbled and looked behind. “Where’s your brother?”
The eyes of Ram’s father continued to search behind him. He stepped outside to look around.
“Where’s your brother?” he asked.
The baby resumed crying and Ram put up his hands in fear.
“It wasn’t my fault. He didn’t want to stay in the school.”
“School?” his father shouted.
“A lady put us into a boarding school.”
“And where is your brother now?”
The baby cried louder as Ram choked on his words and felt tears fill his eyes.
“He, he has passed into the next life.”
His father’s eyes froze. He said nothing and stood motionless, then grabbed Ram under his armpits and heaved him onto the grass. He started after Ram, but the stepmother interceded.
“That is enough, Raj. Let the beggar go away.”
“No,” Ram’s father said, then looked at Ram and shouted.
“First he must tell me how his brother died!”
Ram got up and brushed off the dirt.
“He left the school. And was with a gang. Then a rabid dog bit him. I did not know until after he was dead.”
Ram’s father pulled away from his wife. His eyes afire, his face reddening, he clenched his fist.
“Please, father, don’t hit me,” Ram said. “I did my duty. I performed sraddha, and he has gone to his rightful place.”
“I don’t care what you did,” his father said, grabbing Ram by the arm and kicking him in the behind. “Go away and never come back! You are not my son anymore! Go! Now!”
Ram backpedaled, staring at his father who was crying. Tears filled Ram’s eyes as he turned and ran away as fast as he could.

Ram rushed through the night countryside, ignoring the cries of wild animals. He entered the outskirts of Kathmandu just after sunset. He had not eaten all day but was too tired and upset to feel hunger. Not knowing where to turn, he decided to visit Krishna.
Ram shook the small bell at the entrance to Krishna’s small dwelling place in the temple. The curtains opened, revealing Krishna.
“Ram,” he said, somehow knowing it was Ram though he couldn’t see him.
Ram collapsed as he entered. Krishna helped him onto a mat in front of the low table that faced his thatched chair. He brought Ram some tea and rice, and put it on the table.
“It has been a long time, Ram,” Krishna said. “And I have not seen your brother. Has something happened to him?”
“Yes. He has passed into the next life,” Ram said, and then explained what had happened.
“May the Lord send him to a better station,” Krishna said.
“And why aren’t you at school?”
“I ran away to tell my father. But, he threw me out, forever.”
Ram started to cry.
“Eat some rice, boy,” Krishna said. “It is better to eat than cry.”
Ram sniffled then picked up the bowl and scooped up the rice with his hand and stuffed his mouth.
“And will you go back to school now?” Krishna asked.
“I don’t know, I don’t know what to do.”
“It is much better than living on the streets, Ram. You could die like your brother, and even if you don’t, what good can the future hold for you?”

Ram slept the night at Krishna’s. After the holy man tended to his morning duties, he and Sidd brought Ram back to the school.
“I am glad you are returning to the school, Ram,” Krishna said.
“Yes, Krishna,” Ram said, “You think Angela will return soon?”
“I believe she shall,” Krishna said. “She struck me as a kind woman. Let us hope the Lord Ganesh will make it so.”
While Krishna spoke to the principal in her office, Ram waited in the hall. Moments later, the principal hurried out with Krishna behind her. Without a word, she went up to Ram and hugged him.
“Ram, we were worried about you,” she said. “We thought we might never see you again.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Sharma, but it was my duty to tell my father about my brother.”
“But it was not good to leave as you did,” she said. “We could’ve have sent you in a car.”
“I’m sorry, Miss Sharma.”
“Well, you will not be sorry for long,” she said.
Ram looked at her with puzzlement.
“Your lady friend, Angela, will be here tomorrow. We phoned her about your leaving, and she insisted on coming at once.”
Ram looked at Krishna and they both smiled.
“You see, Ram,” Krishna said, “the Lord Ganesh is watching over you.”

The next day Ram and Miss Sharma met Angela at the airport. They spotted her as she walked down the stairs that rolled over to the plane. Her face was expressionless as she entered the terminal. Then her eyes fell upon Ram and a big smile formed.
“Ram,” she said, “I thought you had run away.”
“He just came back yesterday,” said Miss Sharma.
“I’m so sorry, about Raj,” Angela said, and hugged Ram. “But I’m sure, God has his reasons.”
Angela released him.
“So, what do you say” she said, “dinner at Mr. Punjab’s tonight?”
“Yes, okay,” Ram said, then felt a poke in the side from Miss Sharma. “And,” he said in his very imperfect English, “I very happy see you.
Angela looked at Miss Sharma and smiled.

Mr. Punjab visited with Angela and Ram at the restaurant. They talked of school and Ram’s visit to his father. But the talk never interfered with the meal, for it was the most delicious meal Ram ever remembered. He had the house specialty, Chicken Himalaya, everything specially prepared by Mr. Punjab himself, including an ice cream cake that he set on fire as he brought it to their table. It was after dessert that Mr. Punjab came to the table. Though Ram’s English had improved since entering the school, Angela wanted to be sure that he clearly understood what she was about to say.
“Ram, how would you like to come with me, to America?”
Ram thought he understood but wasn’t sure.
“America?” he pointed to himself, “Me?”
She nodded.
“Me come America? With you?”
“Yes, Ram, yes. You come to America and live with me. Yes?”
“Yes?” he said, still unsure. “After the school?”
“No, Ram. As soon as we can get a flight. I will bring you on the plane, to America, to be my adopted son, and you will go to school there.”
She pointed to him and then to herself. “The school has contacted your father and he has given his permission for me to adopt you.”
“I see,” Ram said.
“I’m sorry, Ram, about your brother and your father, but you will have a good and happy life in America.”
Ram did not know what to say.
“I know it’s a big decision,” Angela said.
Mr. Punjab translated.
“Oh, yes,” Ram said.
“You think about it, Ram, and tell me tomorrow.”

Ram couldn’t believe what he had heard. He couldn’t imagine leaving the land of his birth. That night he talked with his schoolmates about going to America. They all were excited. It sounded wonderful, but really leaving was another matter. Perhaps life had not always been so easy nor pleasant, but leaving the gods, the temples, the holy days, the holy men, the Kumari, the ancient fields and footpaths, the home where he had been planted? Yes, he hated his father, but that did not mean he never wanted to see him again. But if he went to America, that could very well happen.

The next day Angela came to the school. She had promised to take Ram out shopping and to dinner. As they left in the taxi for Durbar Square, Ram smiled at Angela.
“I will go to America,” he said suddenly.
Angela smiled and hugged Ram.
“Wonderful, Ram,” she said. “Wonderful.”
Ram could feel the quivering of her body as she hugged him, and when she released him, he noticed her red eyes and felt his own tears.

Some days later, Ram said good-bye to his schoolmates and Katmandu, and took off in a big jet. He went with Angela to live in a quiet little town in America. There, the markets are larger than the temples, and life is so rich that the bellies of the people are often too full.