“The sky is falling!”
That was the only line that kept resounding on her mind. Nuzongmit lay sprawled on the floor, disoriented. What just happened, she wondered for a split of a second before she panicked. She could barely move a muscle. All she could muster was this one line from a colourful animation she had watched in school.
“The sky is falling!”
The music in her head grew more faint in it’s din as she managed to plug out her neon earphones. She looked around the thick black air in her room and felt nauseated. A fire somewhere crackled carrying the whiff of burnt meat and made her choke again. With all the strength that she could rally up, she lifted a broken piece of mirror that lay strewn on the floor next to her. Her pale, sinewy fingers trembled as she brought the mirror close to her face. She looked closely into it and tried to make out her reflection against the golden dying embers of the fire that was still lit somewhere in the hearth. She flinched when a soot stained face with bloody, grave eyes peered back at her from the mirror. Petrified, she dropped the glass and let out a muffled scream. Her tousled gray hair weighed heavy against her frail body. “Amla”, she called out but no one replied. She opened her mouth to speak again, but her parched lips bore no words.
Finally it all came back to her. Like a sudden flash of lightning blinding the night sky, she realised what had happened.
It was three in the morning. The old gong at the monastery had echoed listlessly in an empty valley. The moorish grasslands still smelt wet from the night’s downpour. In the dark light of an early, unexpected dawn, people clambered out of their houses, half clad, half asleep. Women latched on to their men, children clung against the warmth of their mother’s belly. The chill of the morning air bore a sinister grin that lashed against every inch of flesh that it found exposed. Bones and teeth clattered. The earth had twitched again.
Against the backdrop of the rush of hurried footsteps and terrified little moans, you could hear a dull buzz of the cicada among the thick magnolia trees. Nuzongmit pressed hard against the cupboard she was buried in. It was an old, ornate, wooden cupboard her Grandfather had passed on to her. She had never liked it. Her school had colourful little cupboards for children, where they kept their knick knacks. She wanted to colour hers as well but her mother was very stern about it. “This is Grandpa’s last piece of memory I will live with and you will not dare sprinkle a colour on it”, her mother had warned. Now as half of her lay buried under that wooden rubble, she could see that the latch had broken. How upset Amla would be!
She started to thud at the cupboard, gently first, so that her mother would not be disappointed but as time went by, her pounding became harder and vigorous. She had to find a way out. Outside the walls of that little house, nature was savage. Tonight it unleashed it’s barbaric instinct. With every shudder, the leaves danced to the horrendous tune, but unlike the other days, when it carried a faint fragrance of orchids and moist earth, of pine cones and warm cheese, tonight it was an overpowering stench of blood and grime. The caverns and cliffs had split. The boulders, shifted, tumbled, crushed and sat grandly, overlooking the debris it had created. Some yelled, some bled and some stood helpless in the black of the night. Some found their way to the monastery seeking refuge in a spiritual realm, like a dying soul seeking grace in its last gasp of breath.
Within seconds, just like it had started, not a flicker of wind stirred. An eerie silence enveloped the fringe of dwelling houses in this little hamlet in the North of Sikkim. The night lay dilapidated after a gruesome battle with nature but Nuzongmit’s little hands never grew tired of the constant pounding. For a second she heard someone call out her name in the wilderness and in desperation she called back again, “Amla”. For a flickering second, too petrified to speak, a rush of emotions wrapped up all that a few words could never emote. Death was relentless today, in a fallen debris of lives and she knew it.
Nuzongmit loved to paint the colours of nature, bright blue and green. The last painting that won her the first prize in school was where the neon sun overlooked the pink hills, the emerald rivers and the orange houses. They nicknamed her Rainbow after that and she was delighted. She had an unusually beautiful sense of colour, her teacher had remarked. Nuzong had once wanted to paint on the bone china cup that her mother treasured. “It is already chipped and old”, she argued but her mother gave no heed to her rants. “Things have more in it than you can see, Nuzong, just like our lives. While others see our patched walls, we see sunlight streaming in. While they see a broken roof, we sleep under a grand canopy of stars, so, where you see chipped china, I still see my mother pouring out the last of her rice pudding for me.” This said, Nuzong was silent. Her neon colours, wet in the palate, stared back at her forlorn face.
Her watch beeped four and she was transported back to beneath the cupboard again. The early trifle of sunlight peered through the virgin crack on the roof. In the light of the early hours, trapped where she was, all she could now see was a pair of distorted legs beneath a wall that had fallen. Her mother, she recalled, had been gathering driftwood from the river to set on the hearth. She must have returned, she must have laid down the wood and leaned, tired, against the wall, like she did every morning. Now she lay there, beneath the same wall, the place of her resting had become the place of her eternal rest. Nuzong looked at those colourless pair of feet. The nails were painted brightly red with the poster colours that she won in the competition. She looked at it for the last time and turned away. A tear trickled down her cheek leaving a dirty trail in the thick soot that painted her face.
An hour had passed. The Indian Army had moved in at dawn and young men from the village had volunteered for any help. Nuzong finally heard a humdrum of people. Each calling out different names, but for her, the only lips that bore her name was now sealed. She gathered her courage. “You are a brave girl, Nuzong,” her mother’s voice echoed. “Believe in compassion and don’t ever let go of faith. That will be your only weapon against a rude world”. She pushed with a broken limb and screamed.
“There’s someone here, quick, I hear a cry,” a military man in a green uniform shouted out to the volunteers.
“I heard someone beneath the rubble, you need to be careful,” he said. All Nuzong remembered was them sawing open the cupboard to get to her. Her mother could not have been angry now.
She was airlifted to Sir Thutob Namgyal Memorial hospital in Gantok, the capital city. This was her first visit to the capital. One fine day, she had hoped she would paint the capital. One fine day, she had hoped to capture nature in her colours, green and yellow and pink and all the colours of the rainbow.
Today, after two long days, she looked up from the hospital bed and all she had was a desperate urge to paint. She had found a new colour. Nature was not green. It was for her, all but gray and black. The same colour as that of her Grandpa’s old cupboard.