It was a frosty winter morning. The whole Ura valley was covered with a blanket of morning frost, as thick as snow. It was bitterly cold and everybody was silent, curled warm in their woollen blankets. Lethro peeped through his small window. In the faraway mountains, he could see that the hermits had already started performing the daily purification ritual. The incenses formed plumes of smoke all over the skies of the hermitage, far and wide. It was the place from where Lethro’s father had divined his horoscope. A horoscope which foretold that Lethro shall become the king of the empty plains and the possessor of the white and black jewels!
In the nook of the village was Lethro’s house – an idyllic wooden cottage, which he called a home. The spruce shingles were very old and rotten. When the snow melts during the first sunny day after the snowfall, water enters the entire room and soaks all his belongings: an old woollen blanket that he never washed for almost a decade, a Chinese carpet and a pair of porcelain tea cup that his late parents brought from one of their illegal trips to China, and some old clothes. The entire room was black with much soot accumulated on it.
Lethro was a short black man with great sense of humour, a barrel of laugh. Some people often whisper that he is a son of Indian labourer who came to construct the first east-west motor road. His eyes sunk deep into his skull and when he stared at something or someone, he looked like an Indian scopes owl. His owl-like eyes were always on his cattle day in and day out. He was a young and happy cow herder, with deep sense of attachment not only with the cattle, but also with the wide green pasture.
It was one overcast day. Lethro curled like an armadillo and snored under an old spruce tree after eating his roasted potatoes. Hence he dreamt:
He found himself lost in the field of flowers. The whole scene was ablaze with the sparkling of flowers – blue, green, orange and red from each angle. A glowing rainbow hung high like a colourful scarf of angles. The sweet fragrances of roses and marigolds filled the entire air. It was a real blissful time, an episode of joy. But it did not last long. The sky grew dark. The rainbow disappeared and a torrential rain arrived. A lot of flowers were blown away far afield and down to the dust by the storm.
The camouflage Indian army helicopter, flying over the azure sky of Ura valley with its rattling sound suddenly awoke Lethro from his deep slumber. He followed the trail of the helicopter and started to dream. “I wish I could fly like a bird”, he whispered. For an uneducated, hand-to-mouth farmers like Lethro, dreaming of flying in the sky was like building a castle in the air. Almost impossible!
Lethro’s day-to-day duties kept on continuing as though like there was no end at all. Milking the cows, feeding the cattle, grazing them the whole day, and bringing them all back home before he went to bed. However, his ambitious dream of flying grew stronger and stronger each passing day. He fantasized himself becoming rich, and escaping from the stink of dung forever. Living in a good house, travelling in a car, and feasting on the best foods kept on lingering in his mind like a shadow. Such thoughts gradually started to affect his peaceful life with his cattle. He started to lose interest in raising cattle anymore, and kept his eyes and ears open for any possible exit from his hectic and monotonous life.
One day, as Lethro was grazing the cattle in an open pasture along the road, he saw an antique car moving towards him with a great roar. It produced a trail of smokes like cirrus clouds behind it. His eyes rolled as the cattle scattered with the thunderous noise. The engine stopped right near him. A tall bald man in a black gho came out of the car with a Chinese cigarette in his mouth. He slammed the car door, and approached near Lethro.
“Good morning,” greeted the man.
Lethro swallowed his saliva that was accumulated in his mouth, and greeted back. “Good morning, sir.”
The man puffed the cigarette and released a huge amount of smoke from his mouth. “Is this all your cattle?” asked the man.
“Yes, we the nomad’s depend on cattle, sir,” replied almost immediately.
The man gazed at his cattle for a long time, nodded for a while, and posed, “Do you have any plan of selling them off?”
Lethro swallowed once again. Thought for a while and nodded, “Yes sir, if I get good price, I thought of selling them all. Life is chaotic with all these things,” he added.
“So, what’s your desired price?” asked the man.
“Around Nu. 50000,” he said, little embarrassed with such a huge amount.
The man once again looked at his cattle. More carefully this time.
“If you really mean it, I will come back after a week. I have to sell this car, and get you the money,” said the man.
Lethro’s eyes directly shifted from the man’s face towards his blue antique car, shimmering like a pearl in the autumn sun. To his eyes, the form of the car resembled much like Norbusili, a rhinoceros. Lethro remembered his late father mentioning that rhinoceros are considered as a “wish-fulfilling jewel”. Thus, for Lethro it was a face-to-face moment with the jewel. His desire to possess the rhinoceros-like car ignited like a winter wild fire in his mind. The fantasies of driving a car amidst his dust-coated friends, multiplying cash by hiring it, and prospering beyond bound came into his mind again and again so that he even forgot to breathe for a while.
“Let’s do an old-fashioned business then, a barter system. Take all my cattle and keep your car for me”, mentioned Lethro, rubbing his hands involuntarily.
The man was taken aback for a while. “Well, it’s absolutely fine to me, but we must consider some arrangement and adjustment to carry all these cattle to Chamkhar, my village. It’s 48 kilometers, pretty good distance!” responded the man.
The two had discussed the trade like in a dream and had done a deal like in a delusion. Both agreed with the arrangement and adjustment until the car magnificently parked in front of Lethro’s cottage, and the cattle was far beyond from the old herder.
The next morning, even before the stars disappeared in the wide sky, Lethro rubbed his eyes, and went near his car. He touched it with his rough and ginger-like hands. He tried to discern all dark and bright parts on his car. “Ah! I am the possessor of white and black jewel”, he cherished the moment. He fetched buckets of water and splashed until his arms became numb. The car shone in the first light of the day, to the extent that it even dazzled him with the reflection.
Days turned into week and weeks turned into month, but Lethro couldn’t get a single person to teach him driving. By now, he had washed his car for hundreds of times and circumambulated for thousands of rounds. The brand-name label “Dadi Musso” faded owing to excessive scrub, and the grasses started to dry around the car due to his excessive footsteps going around it. Village people even started to call his Musso car as Lethro’s chorten or the stupas.
It was early hours of Thursday, pshayza, the bad day of a week for Lethro as per his horoscope. The moon sunk behind the western mountains, but the sun had long way to reach to the eastern hills. The whole world was in total silence. But Lethro was awake. The only sound he could hear was a hoot of an owl from the roof of his cowshed. It called to his mind one unpleasant story of an owl from his late mother:
“Owl is considered as the bird of evils. Its hoot is a presage, warning that something unpleasant will happen. Even worst is to hear the owl muttering like a group of aged people together. It is a real presage, cautioning that someone from the village will be taken away by the lord of death.” He contemplated on this orthodox belief for hours, until the sun peeped from behind the mountains.
The next day fetched a real surprise for Lethro. As he opened his door, he saw a real abnormality in both paint and form of his car. He dashed like a high wind towards it, only to see his shimmering antique car reduced to mere crumbled metal box. The pieces of windshield scattered like a sugar on the ground. Head lamp, taillight and mirrors were all smashed, and out of order. Marks and scratches on side-panel, bonnet and also on grille looked like a intricate spider web. Two tyres flat to the ground.
Lethro sobbed his heart out. He stared at his jewel and felt sicker at heart. He missed those gone by days, sitting on a branches of old willow trees, legs dangling, eyes on his cattle. He missed each and every tree and boulder that dwell like his childhood friends in the wide pastures of his village. The more he looked at his damaged car, the more his heart ached.
That night Lethro couldn’t sleep. The image of his damaged car kept on haunting him throughout. He felt the hardest kick in his life, as if all his misfortunes saturated for thirty-two years of his life burst out at once. A farmer without a farm like him had no options on the table in such situation. It reached to the point that he even when he thought of surrendering his life to the god of death. He thought of dying before death, but his courage didn’t let him. Thus, even suicide was not an option for him. He rolled right and left in his bed, until the birds started to chirp. It was already morning.
The next day, Lethro heard much commotion in his backyard. He saw some village people surrounding his damaged car. Below his window was a Tshokpa, the village leader. Lethro got out of his house with his heads bent low to greet the crowd.
“Good morning, friends,” greeted Lethro in his lowest voice. Lethro was a man with a bundle of laughs, and perhaps, that was the first time he spoke in such a serious tone.
“Good morning,” greeted the people in unison. At the back, people started to talk in low voice.
The Tshokpa took two or three steps forward, and expressed their grief on seeing Lethro in such agony.
“We are deeply saddened to see you in such agony. We are here to pay our deepest condolences for the loss. We wish there is something we can do in such a difficult situation,” said the Tshokpa.
From the back, people started to express their grief in unison.
Lethro wiped the tears that rolled involuntarily from his eyes, and started to thank all who came there. “I spent all my cattle to purchase this car with lots of dreams and aspirations. But now, as you can witness with your own eyes, my dreams are shattered, aspirations blown apart. As such times, up over me is the wide sky and down beneath, the barren soil. Nothing left for me,” said he in a voice little over a whisper.
The Tshokpa changed the tobacco in his mouth, spitted from the half-opened wooden window, and said, “We are as worried as you do. It is natural for us to make mistake in certain stage of our life. Sometimes, it can be something irrepressible, totally pushed forward by our fate and fortune. But the successful people are those who realize their mistake and stands up again with a bunch of lesson.” The people nodded their head together.
The word ‘fate’ stroke Lethro much. He rolled his tongue while he thought deeper and deeper about his fate. A destiny of a humble cow herder! A dream that he had long time ago came into his mind like an Indian movie flashbacks: A dream of a harsh weather that blew away many flowers far afield and down to the dust. He recalled his horoscope. Missed his black and white cattle.
At that point, Lethro realized that his Lethro or the destiny was never with automobiles. He cleared his throat and declared, “My dear village mates, I understand that my Lethro is never with the automobile. I am going to get rid of this ugly monster instantly at very reasonable rate. I will find someone who can buy this monster. Meanwhile, you all may also like to help me advertise this information far and wide. Otherwise, I will wait for the God to send someone who can buy it back, just like how he had sent it to me.”
The villagers praised for his splendid decision, and all scattered into their fields again, and started swinging the rhythm of their day-to-day life.
After two days and three nights of heartache, Lethro saw an unfamiliar man walking towards his monster car. A skinny man with a white suits walked like his right leg was shorter than the left one. He inspected the car thoroughly before Lethro could reach the scene.
“Are you Lethro?” asked the man.
“Yes, I am Lethro.”
The man threw a packet of money and said, “Here is your money.”
Lethro was numb, unable to utter even a word. But deep inside, he understood that the Tshokpa must have negotiated everything for him. He turned back to his car, and never looked back again, thus it was never seen again.
Lethro found that there is Ngultrum thirty-thousand in the packet. Contemplating for days and days, he understood that raising cattle was the most suitable work for uneducated, single farmer like him.
Finally, Lethro bought two cows – black and grey from his neighbour. He took them to the same wide pastures of Ura, and once again started his life as a happy cow herder. He had become the king of the empty plains and the possessor of the white and black jewels!