by Ihlwha Choi
I couldn’t ask Nandini if she had studied at school.
I only asked a foreign student excellent in Bengali about her age.
The girl, understanding only English such as brother, sister and thanks was the youngest daughter of a roti shopkeeper.
Located at the small street near the post office in Shantiniketan, West Bengal,
There was Nandini’s small shop along with fruit stalls and the bike shop.
Cows passing by would thrust their heads suddenly
Into the shop thatched with bamboo stems.
One Korean poet said he had seen the girl when she was seven.
Her bones had grown up until now, at the age of fourteen, selling chai and roti.
In this district, goats and ducks, even dogs and cows grow up by themselves.
They do not pierce cows’ noses nor pull them by reins.
The only thing that hinders the cows is the chains around the trees.
The only thing hindering the sleep of dogs is so many steps and vehicle horns.
Maybe Nandini also has grown up like that,
Delivering the dishes of roti and washing the glasses of chai,
Yelling at the two babies of her older sisters.
She might learn about the world hearing the customers’ talk over their shoulders.
How long had she had bare feet? The toes pressed out from sandals looked like tree stumps.
My returning back to my country has nothing to do with Nandini.
She only smiled brightly twinkling her eyes at my small gift.
I wished she would meet a good man not wanting a dowry,
And become a nice mother, like her elder sister,
All together with her brothers and sisters and strong and diligent mother,
Dissolving the tragic memory of her father’s suicide.
Nandini smiled though I told her to close her mouth, though I didn’t let her say cheese to make her smile.
When did she learn to smile in front of a camera?
There lived a flower-like little girl selling chai near the old house of Poet R. Tagore.
Ihlwha Choi is a South Korean poet. He has published multiple books of poetry. Until the Time When Our Love will Flourish, The Color of Time, His Song and The Last Rehearsal to name a few. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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