The day has broken. The river is flowing unceasingly. A few leaves grow from the young tree recently planted by the riverbank. The spring air is still a little cold and an iced wind blows unceasingly.
The sun slowly rises from east. Man A and Woman A crouch by the young tree and gaze at the leaves that grow on the trunk.
Man A says, without a blink:
“It’s only been a few days since this tree was planted, but its leaves are already growing. How strong vital force is!”
Woman A, without blinking an eye either, replies:
“Vital force will undergo birth, old age and death, like this tree. When one thinks about it, human life is totally absurd.”
Man A sighs deeply and says:
“Human beings are just like trees. Upon reflection, it is completely absurd.”
Woman A also sighs deeply:
“The world and samsara are utterly meaningless.”
Man A says, a wise air on his face:
“But the difference between the two is that human beings have faith and trees don’t.”
Woman A says, nodding her head:
“Right. With faith in the Three Jewels, life force acquires a meaning, in spite of its impermanence.”
Man A and Woman A, hands joined, pray:
“I take refuge in the Three Jewels.”
Man A and Woman A get up and scrutinise the opposite bank of the river. The boatman there is looking back at them.
Man A, upon seeing the boatman, calls out: “Hey! What have you seen?”
The boatman replies in a loud voice: “Nothing, I haven’t seen a thing.”
Woman A, too, calls him out:
“Pray watch carefully! The doctor is about to come.”
The boatman turns around. He glances and looks back at them. He shouts:
“No, I cannot see anything.”
Man A and Woman A sit again by the tree.
Man A sighs and says:
“If the doctor does not come on time, it will be extremely serious.”
“He’s about to come. It has been over one month since we sent him an invitation letter.”
Woman A sighs too.
Man A says, sighing ceaselessly:
“One fourth of the inhabitants of our Earth community has been stricken by ‘mnemokleptia,’ and the disease is still spreading. It’s really terrifying.”
Woman A stops sighing:
“By the Three Jewels! Will the doctor be able to cure this disease?”
Man A’s face instantly expresses confidence, as he says:
“There have been doctors in the human world for two millenia, people say. It is also said that an epidemic of ‘mnemokleptia’ strikes human beings once every century. Doctors have acquired excellent expertise in this field, so we could trust them completely.”
Having thus spoken, Man A looks at the opposite bank of the river, still with a confident look on his face.
Woman A stretches and says:
“I pray for the doctor to arrive on time.”
A din can be heard in the distance. Man A and Woman A turn around and look to where the noise comes from. A vehicle bursts and stops near them. The vehicle is wrapped in the dust that it raises. After the dust has settled, several people get out, whispering to each other.
One of them gets nearer and tells Man A and Woman A:
“We come from the Sun community, of which I am the head. We flee because we fear that our community be contaminated by ‘mnemokleptia,’ on account of your community.”
Man A asks, astonished:
“What? You are from the Sun community? How come I have never heard of it?”
The man replies, with a distant air:
“It is because you have not seen much in life. Tell me the truth: how can we cross the river? If you help us, we’ll let you have our vehicle.”
Woman A asks nervously:
“Do you really mean what you’re saying? If you do, we’ll help you.”
The men say, nodding their heads:
“Yes, it is true, it is true. This beat up car is of no use to us anymore.”
Man A and Woman A wave their arms to call the boatman who is on the other side of the river.
The boatman comes closer slowly, rowing his boat.
The men, once on board, order:
The boatman glances at Man A and Woman A and says anxiously:
“So many people on board of one single boat, this is very dangerous.”
But the men, without the slightest hesitation, say: “It is even more dangerous to stay here. Hurry up.”
The boatman prays “By the Three Jewels!” and starts rowing towards the opposite bank. When they are about to reach it, one man falls into the water, but the others do not pay attention. They just gaze, eyes wide open, at the body being carried away by the current.
Once they have reached the other side, the men say:
“Sacrificing one individual or two for the sake of the group is fine.”
The boatman, upon seeing this, is agape, eyes goggled.
The heat in the heart of summer is intense. The tree trunk and its branches have fully grown and leaves are about to shrivel in the midday heat. The river bed has dried up, its stones shine brightly.
The faces of Man A and Woman A are emaciated and cracked. It seems both have aged a little.
The man wipes swiftly the sweat on his face and says:
“What a heat! I would never have thought I would experience such an agony. Better to die than to live like this.”
Woman A wipes also swiftly the sweat on her face and says:
“Have you never heard the phrase ‘There is no happiness whatsoever in samsara, which is like the tip of a needle’? In samsara, everyone ineluctably experiences suffering. Without that, they could not feel the urge to grow.”
Man A says, waving his arms, as if he had not heard:
“By the Three Jewels! By the Three Jewels! I cannot stand it any longer. Better to die quickly than to undergo such agony!”
Woman A says with a sneer:
“Aren’t you driving the Three Jewels towards something evil, by saying such things? You are a breathing being. Could the Three Jewels, who cultivate love and compassion, make you die?”
At that moment, Man B, of the Earth community, runs towards them and says, out of breath:
“Everything’s going wrong. Everything’s going wrong. ‘Mnemokleptia’ has contaminated half of our community. Something terrible is in store.”
Man A says, fidgety:
“Alas! What to do? Why hasn’t the doctor arrived yet?” Woman A, concerned, says:
“As long as the doctor does arrive, it is fine. We have been waiting for him here for the whole spring. What bothers me is that I still have some little things to do at home.”
Man A joins the palms of his hands: “By the Three Jewels! By the Three Jewels! May the doctor be here soon.”
A tractor comes near the tree in a racket.
Man A asks the driver:
“Where are you from? Where are you heading to?” The driver replies, reluctantly:
“We come from the Moon community. We flee because we fear that ‘mnemokleptia’ that strikes your Earth community will contaminate us in our turn.”
The driver presses strongly on the accelerator and moves straight ahead from the river bank. Blue smoke rises from behind the vehicle.
Woman A can be heard saying:
“These people are amazing. Don’t they know that the doctor is due to come? What kind of an escape can be expected if fleeing like this?”
The autumn wind blows fiercely. The leaves on the well-grown branches of the tree, withered, are falling. Man A’s forefront, that of Man B and that of Woman A are wrinkled and all look weary. The afternoon sun shines horizontally into their faces.
Suddenly, the sky is shrouded in dark clouds and a violent rain falls. Man A, Man B and Woman A take shelter under the tree.
A torrential rain keeps falling. One woman, Woman B, runs towards the tree. Her clothes are soaked by the rain, making her shiver.
With a trembling face, she says:
“All is lost, all is lost. Three quarters of our community have been affected by ‘mnemokleptia’. And the toll keeps rising.”
Woman A takes Woman B by the hand and tells her:
“By the Three Jewels! My parents, my siblings, my husband and my kids are still there. May the Three Jewels protect them!”
Woman B says, her face still trembling:
“Some cases of incest between parents and children and between brothers and sisters are happening in the community. Try as we might, we cannot prevent them. It is really terrifying.”
Man A says, worriedly:
“We have no option but to wait for the doctor, wholeheartedly. We have no choice.”
Man B sighs and says:
“But, that so-called ‘doctor,’ does he really exist after all? We have been waiting for him for two seasons without seeing were it only his shadow. Sometimes, I lose faith in him.”
“We have no other option but to wait for him. He will be able to cure this disease. But we are helpless.”
They leave the tree and call the boatman by his name. He is on the other side of the river and does not hear, as a strong rain keeps falling. He scrutinises the distance, totally motionless.
A hand-driven tractor, coming from nowhere, arrives by their side. A few men get down, and pester loudly while kicking it.
“This heap of junk cannot outdo a man when it comes to driving in the mud. For sure, driving it is out of the question any longer.”
Man A asks them:
“What is your community? I have the feeling that I have never met you before.”
“We come from the Star community. We flee because we fear that ‘mnemokleptia’ that is striking your community may contaminate us. In times of need, this heap of junk is more useless than a human being.”
Seeing that they are about to leave, Woman B asks them:
“If you are going to flee, would you consider giving us your tractor? We badly need it.”
“Take it, take it! We didn’t know how to get rid of it.”
They head towards the river bank after saying that.
Man A stands in their way and warns them:
“The river is big now. If ever you venture there, there is a great danger that it carries you away.”
“Let it carry us away! We have no intention whatsoever to stay here anyway.”
Without heeding Man A’s warning, they go ahead.
Upon reaching the middle of the river bed, the current carries them away. No trace of them is left.
When Man A, Man B, Woman A and Woman B see this, their mouths agape, eyes fixed, say:
“It is really terrifying.”
It is a freezing winter. The tree branches have grown in all directions, a pitiful sight. As the sun is about to disappear behind the mountains in the west, the sunset rays shine on the creased faces of Man A, Man B, Woman A and Woman B. The river has frozen into a thick layer of ice. The four
of them, their necks stretched, are looking towards the opposite bank.
After a long time, they circle the old tree and make small talk.
“We are old now, like this tree. Our bodies will certainly not be able to bear such a cold weather.”
“By the Three Jewels! Down in this world, we have no option but waiting. I might as well die now. I do not feel any longer like waiting for this doctor who is not coming anyway.”
Man B asks, with a sigh:
“Don’t human beings spend their life waiting for something? But waiting for what, nobody knows. We have never seen this so-called ‘doctor’, so how could we know what we are waiting for?”
Woman B, contrary to the other three, does not sigh when she says:
“If you do not know what to expect, why wait then?” The boatman’s eyes still look carefully the distance.
Man A sees his wife run towards him. He steps forward to welcome her.
Man A’s wife stares at his face as if she had lost something and she asks him:
“Who are you?”
The gaze of Man A becomes blurred, as if he too had lost something. He steps forward and asks Woman A:
“Who are you?”
The gaze of Woman A too becomes blurred. She steps forward and asks Man B:
“Who are you?”
The gaze of Man B too becomes blurred. He steps forward and asks Woman B:
“Who are you?”
The boatman then shouts in their direction:
“The doctor has arrived! The doctor has arrived!”
The doctor, followed by the boatman, runs in their direction, walking on the frozen river.
The gaze of Woman B becomes blurred. She asks the boatman, looking at him:
“Who are you?”
The gaze of the boatman becomes blurred too. He turns around, glances at the doctor and asks him:
“Who are you?”
The gaze of the doctor becomes blurred, as if he had lost something. He reflects for a while, examines himself carefully, and asks:
“Who am I?”
(This translation by Françoise Robin was originally printed at Himalaya, the Journal of the Association for Nepal and Himalayan Studies, http://digitalcommons.macalester.edu/himalaya/vol33/iss1/13.)