The Yellow Rose / Prema Shah
[Translated by Kumar Nagarkoti]
I've been unable to write for two months. As I turn the empty pages of this diary, I feel a great emptiness growing inside of me. What sort of emptiness this is, I don't even know. I'm tired very thin now and sometimes blood comes up mixed with my saliva, dark red blood that dazzles my eyes. It turns out i have tuberculosis. Who knows how long I've had it, but I found out eight months ago and I've been in this sanitarium ever since. The doctor said my right lung was already quite bad when he saw my chest x-ray and that was quite sometime ago.Honestly,i feel as though all that's left is for my rotten lungs to drop out one after the other. I asked my husband if I could see my x-ray and he said I could but he still hasn't shown it to me. He tells nothing is wrong with me. He says I shall be well soon.Oh, it amazes me; why does he try to fool me like this? What's left now? I've already been deceived as much as a person can be before this! My own weakness has left me with this saliva streaked with blood, these rotted lungs. How much more can I be deceived; how much more can I bear!
He shows me so much affection and takes such good care of me; he comes often and stays with me for hours and hours. Doesn't he know what horribly contagious disease I've got? Yet he isn't afraid and he isn't disgusted. On the contrary, he sits on my bed and holds me tight. I really worry about him; so what can I do? When I remember what he did yesterday, I tremble in fear. While he was sitting with me, i was seized with a long spasm of coughing that seemed as if it would bring up my quivering heart and he was so frightened I didn't even realize I had coughed a little clot of blood mixed with saliva that dribbled all over my chin; I only discovered it after he had wiped it up with his own silk handkerchief. His carelessness shocks me; he's just like a child! Earlier this afternoon when he put his hand into his coat pocket, that handkerchief came out, encrusted with the mess. Why did he have to use that handkerchief? There was a towel hanging from the stand near my bed. That handkerchief was so pretty, pure pink silk; I was the one who bought it for him and he was so happy to have it. I love the color pink; almost all the clothes in my trunks and cabinets are pink. Every time I see the color, I feel incredibly happy so he jokes: Shall I keep you in a pink tub all the time or what? He respects my happiness and my desires too. At home, he's planted pink geraniums all across the lawn of dubograss in front of the drawing room. I used to sit among the pink flowers for hours and watch the pleasant evening clouds. It was blissful. Now it's been eight months. I'm here and who will look after those flowers? Those pink geraniums! The pink handkerchief! Alas! How could it get so encrusted with filth? The germs from my lungs must be swarming all over his coat now. Ugh! Even if he washed it, what would anyone do with this diseased handkerchief? So I threw it in the wastebasket. I can't even describe how much he loves me. I know this love has spread within me; it has buried its roots in every one of my veins. How could I ever get free of it? I am not happy; what sort of love is this, in which I cannot find even scrap of peace? Even with all this love, I am empty. Perhaps I will never be able to fill this emptiness.
For two months I was so ill I couldn't even get up; now I'm a little better but so what! These TB germs have already eaten up as much of my lungs as they can; there must be nothing left but huge holes. Sometimes it feels as though the wind pierces my whole chest and my heart too. There must be nothing but air inside me, a balloon filled with air. My lungs have already had a huge hole torn in them; the whole sky could fit in here, a sky with nothing in it. I fill up this space too with as much emptiness as I can hold. After all, it seems all we can do is empty ourselves. The more you try to fill things in, the emptier you become.
He came. As he always does, he peeled and sectioned a pomegranate, and squeezed the juice into a glass. I didn't want to drink it; I wouldn't even look in the direction of the glass, nor would I pay attention to what he said. Since yesterday I've been so sad; I neither wanted to move nor speak. For a while he held the glass of pomegranate juice in his hand and tried to convince me. I refused to listen. Finally he seized hold of my head and poured the rosy juice into my mouth. I had hardly had a chance to wipe off the juice around my mouth when suddenly it seemed a crocodile's sharp teeth started snapping at my lips; I got dizzy. I had no idea how much blood or how many germs flowed from my lips; I fell into a faint. I only woke up two hours ago. Well he had already gone; perhaps because it started to rain? The rain is still pouring down. This rain looks as if it will continue all night. Ouch, why does my arm hurt so? It feels as though it's been brutally twisted. Oh, of course, perhaps the doctor gave me an injection this morning. What's that on the stand? He's gone and left his coat on top of my blouse. Such rain and he isn't wearing his raincoat. This coat on my blouse; my white blouse is as white and worn as my bloodless face, yet he still loves me so much, not like before but even more so, more than before. Oh, how hasty are his caresses, how greedy his kisses. My lips are still sticky and wet with the saliva he left there.
For two days I haven't been able to write. I shouldn't say that I haven't been able but that I haven't had the chance; I haven't had any free time. For three days he hasn't left me at all. I've been bound up in his overpowering embraces. I'm ill and this tuberculosis has already exhausted me; where could I find the strength to escape?
This rose bush and its vines are quite dazzling! The rain yesterday morning and all last night has left them sparkling. The rose bush has been here since I first arrived. Vines which keep climbing up from the portico below always seem to come to rest at the window of my room. This rose bush is ill, as I am-it only grows yellow blossoms and so I feel affectionate towards it. I won't let single caterpillar onto its leaves; as soon as I see one I will always pluck it off and throw it away. Now the vines are laden with yellow buds. When they bloom, the whole window will be framed in yellow. Yellow is our common suffering.
He hasn't come yet. I anger easily; if he'd be even a little bit late, I'm patient. Now I wait for him and only for him.
The consolation in my illness is his hands which give off the cold scent of cologne and his cold lips. These are what he tries to soothe me with. He has been soothing me with those hands and lips for four years now. I'm already exhausted by it; I'm so tired of his consolations! He, however, is not in the least tired of it yet. There's another man lurking inside him, who is even stronger and more powerful than he is. He loves me and caters to my every desire or anxiety. He licks me the way a cat licks her kittens but he has no idea that this powerful man inside him drags me along, knocks me over and pulls my hair as relentlessly as a tomcat. In the four years of our marriage, he has shown his love for me in many ways but what does he know of how his caresses have destroyed me, left me naked? On the first night of our marriage, I gave myself to him. Back then, my eyes were full of dreams. I felt I had everything that was possible in the world when I got him. I didn't intend to be a dam to be burst by his rapt love but rather to be like a quiet, self-contained lake. Alas! He was a hasty man. His excitement flowed and swept me along, too. In the course of his love, he ground me thin, inside and out. I flowed. I had to-he had opened the way. He had forgotten everything but that he was a man and I was a woman because there I was before him, a desirable ball of flesh! At that point, his desire was satisfied. He spilled over me like a greedy jackal and tore the cover off my ideals. Since then I've been squeezed inside his fist like a lemon again and again; I've melted in his hot saliva like so much chewing gum. Now what do I have left? Only hardened rubber, from which no amount of sucking, biting or squeezing will produce a single drop of liquid.
Alas! There are caterpillars on the roses again. No matter how many I pick off, they come scurrying from somewhere. Will they turn the leaves into sieves before the buds have a chance to bloom? They should bloom in a couple of days. It's time to take my medicine; the doctor will be coming now. There's the doctor! Ugh, how much medicine do I have to take-not just one kind, either! All sorts and kinds. The doctor's gone, taking the empty ounce-glass with him. When he goes into another room, he'll fill that glass up with medicine, and then empty again. I am that empty ounce-glass, too hollow, with nothing inside. What there was, he finished off. Even the remnants, scattered here and there, have been swept away. Honestly, in these four years, he hasn't suffered any loss at all. I'm loser; now that what I had is finished off, I've ended up playing host to these TB germs throughout my body and waiting for death. What's clever as a salesman selling clarified butter but he can't show me any kindness. What have I left but this wasted body and these rotted lungs? What more does he come here to get from me?
When I heard that I had TB, I wasn't sad; in fact I was happy. I thought that at least I had gained relief from this torment. That day I lit an incense stick to a god; my heart was light. I thought to forget one trouble in the face of another but since I came here, I've had to suffer the same abuse. Except for the two months when I was too ill to get up, I've spent six months mingled with his saliva like a creature of hell. This substance never dries up, never goes away. My arms and legs are stuck fast in it. Where is heaven? In the pink germaniums and hell is in his saliva. How disgusting life! Sometimes I want to pour an entire bottle of poison down my throat but no, I can't do that, either. How much longer will I have to drag my life through this fiercely burning hell? I've heard that those with TB live longer than those with other diseases!
I'll go ahead and write something that happened yesterday. I don't want to remember it because I'm ashamed. Just now when the doctor came in to give me my medicine, I couldn't look him straight in the eyes; he knows everything. Why shouldn't he know? I'm his private patient. Last night, my husband was lying next to me on some errand without any warning; immediately he spun around and went out of the room then came back in, still laughing: Silly doctor! My face was hot and red; I looked at him and his face was undisturbed. I felt so ashamed; what could I do? I understood everything, yet I swallowed my shame.
He's come; that's the sound of our Cadillac. Thousands of cars come to a place like the sanitarium, but I still recognize our Cadillac well.
The roses have bloomed. Only two and they are so beautiful. How long I have waited for these yellow roses; the others haven't bloomed yet. Right now these unopened buds in bliss; they are in a deep sleep in blissful peace. Alas for the blossoms! There are caterpillars on them again. Plucking off these caterpillars is now a full time job. Sanucha a skinny five year old boy has come to the door. His mother Champa, though a dark skinned woman, has bright red cheeks. She sweeps here and goes from room to room of the diseased removing the dirty bedpans. She has her own life. Sanucha is attracted by my biscuits; right now he's standing on the threshold with one foot inside and one foot out, grinning. As soon as he shows his teeth, I understand, poor thing! Ugh! Sometimes I'm disgusted; his dirty teeth and snot-encrusted nose make me nauseous. Once again he's come for a biscuit. I take out a cream cracker and toss it towards the door; he quickly snatches it up and races away, the foolish boy! Yesterday I couldn't write anything. At one o' clock in the morning I sat down to write. But I didn't feel like writing at all. Nor could I sleep. What can I write today? It feels like some huge boulder has been dug up to hang around my neck. I've become like the fossil of a lifeless century.
Yesterday he harassed me to the limit. Dangling me the hawk dangles a mouse, he whirled me all about high, high up in the sky. It was an infinite sky; I could see very far down from there, but the higher we went, the dizzier I felt. The doctor just came to give me an injection again. There was no place to give me shot; my arms are already riddled with holes, so I boldly exposed my backside. The doctor just held the syringe and started. My backside was all blue with bruises from pinching, as if a witch had sucked on it. I told the doctor, "I had a dream that I was flying high up in the sky. Then suddenly I fell to the ground. Of course, it wasn't the sky; I found I'd fallen out bed in my sleep." The doctor said nothing; he silently gave me the injection on my black-and-blue backside, gave me an odd look, and left.
Since the day before yesterday my chest has started to hurt. Before, the pain was insignificant; I paid no attention to it. Since yesterday it's gotten worse and worse. I pushed him away so many times yesterday and didn't speak. As if I'm not speaking would make a difference! He chattered on obliviously like madman, and laughed loudly as though he were insane. Tsk! These caterpillars have already defeated me! Look how they cling to the flowers.
Yesterday when he arrived, he handed me a bouquet of pink flowers. I just laid them on the table. After he went home, I picked them up to look at them. It had been a long time since I'd had a chance to play with pink flowers, so I looked long. I counted them one by one. Suddenly bristles pierced my hand; there was a caterpillar on such a pretty flower. Red itchy spots appeared all over my hand, and from somewhere, his ringing laugh sounded throughout my private sickroom. Two bright black eyes peered out from the caterpillar's two gleaming ones. I was startled; he's really trying to torment me. I had those pink flowers thrown far away; otherwise the caterpillar would have climbed onto my yellow rosebush.
Oh! What a cough just seized hold of me! What a lot of blood came up, too. I didn't see any clear saliva at all. The doctor said it's bad when a lot of blood comes up like that. Shooting pains have started in my chest and won't go away even when I press my pillow to my chest. It's time for him to come, too. If he brings a bunch of pink flowers like yesterday, he's only going to make this pain in my chest worse. Let it ache, this chest of mine; how much longer will it hurt? It'll go on hurting; the blood will keep spewing up until I'm already finished, why should I worry about it happening again? I won't want perfection; I already have everything. Now I'm disgusted with it all; I know I won't recover; I won't. Just now I brought up even more blood than before. He'll come now. He'll joke around, roll me into a ball and squeeze me hard, then go. More blood will flow.
Behind the yellow roses in the window, the green field spreading farther then the eye can see looks pleasant against the pine forest. Both the greens become one shape. Who can that couple be on the lawn?
Perhaps they've come for a stroll; they've already covered the whole field. From far away they look so pretty. There's a red rose in the woman's hair; the man has his arm around her shoulders as they walk. They've reached the pine forest. On the dense shade of the forest has completely covered that red rose and that arm on the shoulder. Now there is only the empty expanse of waves of terraces. That red rose has dazzles my eyes. Oh! I can't bear it; why is my heart trembling this way? This iron bed has melted and stuck fast to my body. What scorching envy! Why is the sky shaking? Look, oh mother! The sun is starting to fall, too; it's shaking, look! Oh! The sun will break into pieces on my head. Suddenly everything will be on fire; I shall burn, and these yellow roses will burn with me. Look, what a huge caterpillar has got onto the roses! Let it burn and die, too; I won't pluck it off now, let it die. Mt chest is cracking, my heart is quivering so, and it's as if there's an earthquake going on inside me. Will my chest burst too? A river of blood will flow from my burst chest, blood as red as that red rose that went into the pine forest. It'll burst, it will; a pool of blood will come flowing out. It's time for him to come, too, he'll come, my chest...!
I'll bite him, too; I'll show him love, too! I'll become a cat, too, and scrape his tender body all over with a rough tongue of thorns. I'll dig pieces out of his rosy flesh, and fill it with all the germs from my lungs. That rosy body, which loves me, must become scaly, like a hard fossil just as mine is. His lips look as if milk would flow from them; how long since mine have been like that? It's time for him to come; I have to be ready. I'll bite his lips all over and drink from them in gulps. I'll pour all my rotted blood into his fresh blood. I'll give him the same kind of love he gives me. He loves me, so I'll love him. How difficult it is for him to come from home everyday to see me here; so how would it be if I could tie him to this very white bed! Today I won't let him go; I won't let him go at all. In his lungs, a huge hole like the one in my lungs, a hole big enough to fit the whole sky into. The holes in our lungs will grow and meet somewhere; we'll become a great void, and two hard, scaly fossils in it. Ugh, there's a caterpillar on every petal of my yellow rose. It's nearly finished off the whole flower; these huge ones finish off the petals so quickly! It's starting to drizzle; the sky is trembling; all that's left is for it to fall. The rose! The yellow rose is losing its petals one by one.