As her feet touch the cold concrete below, her mind says that she is ready but not her body. She feels the shiver rushing up and down her spine. Stepping into the sitting room out from her room, Dema looks around. No one is in here. Her mother is in the kitchen. She sees neither her little brother nor father. Going to the dining table, dragging a chair, she sits down waiting for breakfast. Finally, as expected her mother shouts, “Breakfast is ready.”
Pulling her body up, Dema walks towards to the kitchen as her brother Lotay rushes in to the room. Finally, her father joins the family for breakfast. Having taken a few spoonful of rice, Dema stops eating and looks at her father, to which her father says, “What is it Dema? You want to say something?”
She shakes her head and keeps eating. Her mother stops eating and asks, “What is it?”
Dema cannot say the words, so she stays silent. Finally, looking at her father, Lotay says, “Ashim wants a phone for her birthday as we know that her birthday is tomorrow.”
Her mother stops eating and gets furious, “What? Phone. Phone is for adults. In addition, being a ten grader, it would be better if you stop talking about the phone. Concentrate on studies.”
Dema does not know what to say. She knew that this would happen. Lotay finishes his food and rushes outside. In the meantime, her father keeps eating without saying a word.
Her mother stares at her saying, “I am saying this for your own good. Look at our neighbor’s daughter who got spoilt because of a phone. Please understand, Dema. You know that, we are a poor family and we cannot afford a phone as Apa has to pay his earnings for the new taxi loan.”
Dema nods. Standing up, she walks towards kitchen with the plate in hand.
Meanwhile, at Rinchending Lhakhang, a few kilometers away from Phuntsholing town, Dema’s friends, Zam and Wangmo are waiting for her. Zam looks at Wangmo and says, “I have something to show you.”
Wangmo takes her eyes off the phone and looks at Zam, “What is it?”
Taking a new phone out of her bag, Zam shows it to Wangmo, “A birthday gift.”
Wangmo takes the phone in her hand and takes a careful look saying, “Wow! Your parents are so kind. Iphone 7?”
Facing brimming with happiness, Zam says, “Tonight, my parents are organizing a grand party. You are heartily welcomed.”
Wangmo says excitedly, “So sweet. Ahh, where is Dema? She is supposed to be here by now. It’s very irritating, to call her; she does not even have a phone. Not even black and white when we are drowned in the ocean of IPhones. She is such a pity.”
“Let’s wait for a while. She would be coming. I told her yesterday,” says Zam calmly ignoring Wangmo’s words.
“Actually, it looks like her parents didn’t let her come here. I heard her mother is very strict,” says Wangmo with her angry eyes on the road, expecting Dema from the road curve.
Soon, as a taxi appears winding up from the curve, Zam says, “There she comes.” The taxi stops in front of them and Dema gets out. Having paid the fare, she walks towards her friends wearing an apologetic face. On seeing her, Wangmo shouts, “You are late.”
Faking a warm smile, Dema replies, “I am sorry. Where are we going?”
“Milarepa Lhakhang,” says Zam showing her new phone to Dema.
“Wow! A new phone? Happy Birthday Zam,” says Dema hugging her, hiding her moody face.
“Your birthday is tomorrow right?”
Wangmo asks Dema with her creepy eyes.
“Yeah!” says Dema composing herself, not telling them about the morning breakfast.
“Did you ask your parents to buy you a smartphone? Come on, Dema. Studies is important but social networking is also equally important,” says Wangmo when Zam stands there without saying a word.
Dema does not know what to say. Finally, she lies, “They agreed to gift me a phone tomorrow.”
Jumping excitedly, Wangmo hugs Dema saying, “Dema, welcome to the family. Now we can click selfies and tag you. Boys will go crazy seeing you online. Likes. Comments. Shares. It will be fun.”
Zam interrupts, “Can we go now?”
In the evening, after a day long walk trip to Milarepa Lhakhang, they walk back till Kharbandi check post and now they are waiting for taxi. Finally, a car approaches towards the junction. Slowing down in front of them; a man lowers the window pane down and looks at them hanging his head outside. Looking particularly at Dema, he says, “Waiting for somebody?”
Knowing that he is the Uncle next door, face reddened by shyness, Dema responds, “Nope, Uncle.”
Wangmo says, “Uncle, can we go with you? My legs are aching.”
“Okay, get in!”
The man waits as the girls take the backseat. Then, he speeds the car down to Phuntsholing. On the way, Wangmo says, “It was a great day, but I am very hungry.”
Lowering down the music, the man asks excitedly, “Hungry? Shall we eat something?”
“Nope, Uncle,” says Zam calmly.
Looking back at Wangmo, Zam says, “Wangmo, let’s eat at my party. My mom says birthday party is ready.”
Turning his head back, the man asks, “Party?”
Wangmo shouts, “Yeah! Zam is fifteen today.”
Smiling at Zam, the man says, “Happy Birthday, Zam.”
Wangmo interrupts, “Tomorrow is Dema’s birthday. For our surprise, her parents agreed to gift her a phone.”
On hearing these words, the man slows down the car suddenly, throwing the girls off the seat for a while, “Finally, Dema is going to have a phone?”
Dema says no words. Finally, they are at Phuntsholing town. Zam requests Uncle to stop the car in front of a building. As they get out, Wangmo says, “Thank you, Uncle.” Looking at Dema in the backseat, she says, “I am very excited about your new phone. Catch you tomorrow.”
Driving past the border gate into the Jaigon, he looks back at Dema, “Dema, is your father buying you a new phone?”
Dema replies, “Nope, I just lied.”
Without saying more words, the man pulls over his car in front of a phone shop.
Later in the night, pushing the door slowly, Dema enters the room, when her mother notices her. Lowering the TV volume down, she asks, “Where have you been?”
“Ummm, I was at Zam’s birthday party. I informed Apa.”
Saying these words, Dema walks towards her bedroom ignoring her mother’s stare. Getting inside the room, she checks her watch and it’s 10PM. Without changing, she jumps on her bed and unwraps a plastic bag. Taking a new box out from the plastic bag, she stays amazed looking at the shiny Samsung phone in the box. Smiling broadly, she presses the power button. As the phone screen brightens, she downloads and installs Facebook and Wechat immediately. Happiness throbbing against her heart, finally she creates a Wechat account. Then, she receives a new message on Wechat. It’s from the Uncle next door. After chatting for a while, he writes, “I am missing you already.”
She gets frightened and replies, “Uncle, please don’t joke.”
There comes a beep, “I mean it. Can you please come here?”
“Come here, please?”
Another message beeps again.
Frightened by these messages, finally, she sends him, “Stop joking, Uncle. I am going to tell my parents.”
There comes no reply but Dema waits. Finally, the phone beeps again. It is a video. As she downloads the video, a message beeps, “If you don’t come here instantly, I am going to forward this video to your parents and other Wechat Users.”
Finally, Dema plays the video. Tears clouding her eyes, she smashes the phone up against the wall shattering into pieces. Luckily, her mother has not heard the noise. She wants to scream out loudly but she cannot. Covering her mouth with hand, she cries leaning her head against the wall. This evening, stopping his car in front of a phone shop, Uncle said, “If your friends know that you have lied about the phone gift, they will abandon you. Others will start calling you, ‘liar’. What do you think?”
Dema didn’t speak though his words were making sense. She thought, if they leave her, others will not befriend her.
He looked at her eyes saying, “But I want to help you?”
Dema asked, “Help me?”
“Yeah, but on one condition,” said Uncle seriously.
Getting out of the car, sitting next to her in the backseat, he said, “You know, what I mean, right?”
His hand playing her hair, looking into her eyes, he said, “Choice is yours. Be a liar or save yourself.” Then, he took her to a hotel and without knowledge of her, he had made a recording.
The next morning, holding a wrapped box, standing in front of Dema’s door, Dema’s mother, Yetsho, shouts, “Apala, come here.” Lotay joins his parents. Before knocking, Yetsho counts, “1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . .” Then, standing beside Yetsho, Dema’s father knocks. There comes no response. He knocks again. Finally, keeping the birthday cake on the dining table, Apala breaks the door. As the door swings wide open, there is Dema lying on her bed, facing away from the door. Apala rushes towards the bed shouting, “Dema?”
Holding her in his arms, he checks her pulse. No pulse. She has slit her wrist, soaking the mattress with blood. Standing at the door, Dema’s mother falls down on the floor, with a new brand Samsung phone jumping off her hand and slides under the bed, with a sticker written pasted on it, “Happy Birthday, Dema.”
In a note beside her pillow, Dema has written:
I have been a very lucky girl. I am grateful for whatever you have done to me till now. I am so sorry for letting you down. I promise that I will be a good daughter in the next life.
Story by: Phurpa Dorji (PJIKKS)
Cover Model: Rigzin Dema
(To read more stories, follow Facebook Page ‘Phurpa’s Writing Cave.’