The late afternoon dims as the shadows of some dark clouds gather over the upper parts of the mountainous areas, leaving tiny bright patches here and there on the lower slopes. The gust of wind suddenly stops blowing, leaving things in the open untidy and dusty. The widening sun-lit spots suggest that it may not rain. So I stop gathering the dung laid out for drying, and return to the tent.
I build a fire in the earthen oven in the centre of the tent and mount the soot-stained kettle to boil some water for tea. It won’t be long before my husband returns home after a long day out herding sheep, hungry and exhausted. I rearrange and tidy the household items while keeping an eye on the fire.
It’s been about a week since this young man came to our area and stayed. This afternoon, I had brought some food to him and was still there talking to him when the clouds suddenly started rolling in.
It was an evening he first appeared, with a flat bag on the right shoulder, wearing small thick-looking glasses, as if just passing by, when my husband greeted him to our home. It was already dark and about the dinner time. I was surprised that he couldn’t speak our language; not even a word. I could see my husband struggling to make a simple conversation with him in Chinese during the dinner course. From the flat bag, he showed us many paintings about mountains, flowers, women clad in long dresses.
’He’s from a town where nobody understands Tibetan.’ My husband introducing our new guest to me. ’He’s just graduated from school and came here travelling on foot. When he goes back, he’ll be looking for some work, a job.’ And I could add some more details to that: a mature attitude, medium-length and uneven hair, a whitish soft looking face. Quite a cute face, not that I said it. We understood that he wanted to spend the night with us. And so he did.
The following couple of days there wasn’t a shadow of him to be seen. I first became worried, but then started to care less about it. I presume my husband had already forgot him, because he had never mentioned him again.
I still remember when our village had a tent school for the first time, set up on the pasture, not far away from here one mid-summer. The parents got worried the new policy might force every family to send their children to the day classes. But as I recall it now, my parents were, on the contrary, relieved that I was well past the suggested age: nine.
’Girls get married and have a family.’ My father would say. ’Only leaving for the parents to choose wisely for a worthy husband.’
’The two daughters of the Lobsang Family,’ my mother would always back him up on this matter, ’one thirteen, but the other only ten, both already arranged. A fine plan, that was.’
’First the boy, the eldest and now fifteen.’ my father’s plan, ’It’s high time to do something. Supposedly fifteen is an age to be able to replace the father.’
’I was fifteen when I first came to this family.’ Mother digging into her memory, ’Remember how I was then? Only knew to cry. But it worked after all. Fate sets the destiny.’
It was unexpected that my father didn’t reject my request to attend the tent classes that summer. To be honest, I was ashamed at the time being the oldest in the whole class and slowly forgot school altogether. Glad that my parents haven’t brought this up again, as a frailer. I also remember then more and more children refusing to go to school, and as a result there was no tent school the next summer. I heard some parents had to fight to get their children back from the school, as if they’re not their own children.
For I’m an only girl in the family, my father used to say, and also the youngest of the three, I could stay home later than other girls in the village.
It was during the eighth month last year when I first came to my husband’s family, now it’s been nearly a year. I was eighteen. For the first couple of months, I missed home very much but also knew it was important to stay with the new family, because I’m not yet properly married. This is the first year for us to love each other and help his family (my mother told me to be careful about using words in the new family), it’s now to help our family. I was very shy to say my husband’s name at first, that is, to call him by the name. I’m still shy of it. My in-laws — both the parents and the sister (one year junior to me, already married) — along with some other families have left for a pilgrimage to Lhasa. They’ll be returning in a couple of months. Then when the New Year arrives, we’ll be getting married. A real big wedding celebration.
My husband and I are the only ones taking care of the animals these months. Well, it’s him most of the time. I’m only assisting him from time to time, not to mention the small things to take care of around home.
Then I saw the young man again on one of the lower hillsides on the fourth day, not far from where our tent stands, sitting on a rock. I sat near the rock, watching him. Neither of us saying a word. Suddenly, as if something came to his mind, he grabbed the bag lying beside him. I thought he might stand up and leave. But instead he took some white paper and a pencil from the bag and put his glasses on. Now looking at me and then back at the page. He did this many repetitive times, as if comparing me with a similar picture on the page, and trying to correct something by using the pencil in his left hand. I didn’t move, stayed still, watching him doing what he was doing. After a while, after the many glances at me and looks back at his page, he signalled that I could come near him. He showed me the picture on the page.
On the page was a picture: a girl with long black hair. She was staring right into my eyes which made me feel a bit uncomfortable. So I took my eyes off. A faint thought telling me that I might have seen her somewhere, but it could also be the reason that her wearing a long Tibetan dress. Another idea suggested that he might be looking for a girl, the girl in the picture. If this is the case, she must understand Chinese because he can’t speak any Tibetan. I felt confused for a moment. And then tried not to think about it any more.
After preparing the dinner ready — the tea has already been boiling for some time — I step out of the tent and look in the direction to see my husband coming home. Not a sight of him yet.
All the clouds have rolled to one side and now the place is bathing in the last period of the sunshine. It’s quite pleasant.
I sit in the sun, looking blankly at the horizon, at the mountains at great distance. An image, the image of the young man (who has once been our guest) comes to my mind — him reading a book, a book thinner but larger than the one I used to have during those months of schooling, a book having many pictures in colour on many pages; full of creases at all edges, and some edges torn-up.
’I also used to read books,’ I would say to him, not that he understands what I’m saying. ’Not exactly like yours with coloured pictures though.’ He would give me a glance from time to time. It is quite strange how it makes me feel natural talking to him like that. ’And I used go to school, too.’ I would say.
When I brought him something to eat to the hillsides, he would first stare at me for some time, seeing me making myself comfortable on the soft grassy ground, then stare at the landscape for a while before putting his glasses on and taking the coloured book out from the bag. I suppose it’s something about seeing him reading with the glasses on, something that made me wish there would be the summer school again, so that my children can go to school when they grow up. An image of my children finishing school and reading colourful books, just like the young man, with such glasses on, while they come home waiting for jobs.
This evening something inside me makes it impossible to wait, wait for my husband to come home, so that I can tell him the good news: that I’m now pregnant!