Shishir (Winter) 2021 Stories - Maureen Rampertab


I Am Soomaria
By Maureen Rampertab


A young girl from the dusty village of Fathaha, south of Uttar Pradesh.In the unwanted embrace of poverty, dried tears on a face with a speck of hope in the brown eyes, bare feet kissed numb by the dry dirt and ragged clothes on a body that craved for warmth. I sometimes looked up at the sky when tormented by the hunger pains and asked,

“Why dear Bhagwan? Why this suffering?”

I always asked questions when it’s dark and quiet, so God could hear my weak voice, but there were no answers. I did not give up hope though, knowing one day he would hear me. I lived with that thought so even in the day when a dry leaf falls from a tree whilst I am walking by, I would look up at thesky and ask, “Did you say something?”

So anxious I was for an answer to prayers, that could lift the burden of poverty so we could have enough food and comforts to smile with life. One night I saw a shooting star and I jumped up almost, knocking over my little brother to make a wish, and I waited. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months by which time my Nana died. He had become sick but my father did not have enough money to buy his medicine. I watched my father carry that guilt with him which was so sad, and I wondered about my wish.

Then on the fourth month, something happened. Strange white men came to our village. They had been sailing to different ports in search of labourersto work in a rich, far off land. After listening to their offers, many desperate men, some with their families, took the offerwith the understanding that at the end of their contracts, they would be able to return home with their earnings.

My father took me and my mother along with him for he did not want to travel so far away and leave us home alone. My little brother was left with aunts and uncles who hadn’t quite decided to go on the journey.

“We will be back as soon as we finish our contract,” he promised, “Take good care of yourselves and my son.”

Just before boarding the ship, I picked up a piece of dried dirt and put it in my pocket so the motherland could stay closely with me until I returned. It was not easy leaving, to follow a dream that in our eyes were painted in brilliant colours. But the shocking reality during that long journey splashed shades of grey on that painting.

The cramped ship, the inhuman conditions and the disdain on the white men’s faces as poor souls who died during the journey were tossed into the sea.
After countless days and nights, the ship landed, I later learnt, in a small South American country – British Guiana. My barefoot touched soft, green grass, the cool breeze blowing in from the river cooling my face and for the first time, I felt I could smile a little.

“How good would life be here?” I wondered.

My thoughts went to the families awaiting our return with hope, but as we were allocated to different plantations, I realized it had been a deception. A one room hut, harsh working conditions on the sugar cane-fields, the cruel whip that tore the skin on the backs of men were a far cry from a good life. The dreams we came searching for we had to toil to find until it was time to return home.

That time never came for me.

The white colonial masters were reluctant to honour the contracts signed by the indentured servants, mostly by thumb prints, and the sweat we gave for pittance turned into blood and tears. But over time the labourers discontentment and deep desire to return home forced the colonists to honour the agreement and those who had saved enough or couldn’t work under such hardships returned home.

It was such a deep relief for my father but we couldn’t return home just yet because he hadn’t saved enough money and the entire family left behind was depending on him.

“What do we do, Baba?” I had asked.

“I will work harder to save some more,” he said, “And two trips from now, we will return.”

That sounded quite reasonable to me and my mother, for ships were taking back labourers and bringing new recruits, but it was a huge mistake my father made to delay our return. I had grown into a young woman whilst working as a house servant and one day the colonial master from another plantation across the Demerara River came to visit. He saw me and requested from my master to take me to his plantation to be his house servant.

I saw the pained, helpless look on my father’s face and the tears in my mother’s eyes, as she pleaded for me not to be taken away. Her pleas were not heeded and with laden feet and a grieving heart I left for a new place far away. The piece of earth from my motherland I felt in my pocket, squeezing it tightly in my hand.

“I don’t know where I am being taken now,” I said silently, “But I still have you with me, mother…one day, maybe…”

Time went on and I bore children for the master, trapped in a life I never wanted. I never saw my mother and father again and many nights I laid in bed sleepless, thinking of my little brother still awaiting our return.

How could fate perpetuate such agony and pain?

Who wrote these scripts of life?

The plantation that more or less imprisoned me was not far from the sea and on windy nights, I could hear the waves crashing against the seawalls. One late afternoon with the help of the old gardener, I slipped away to the seaside. The sun was sitting in its crimson glory but my eyes just couldn’t appreciate that wondrous spectacle of colours nor embrace its brilliant beauty for I was watching the rolling waves of the sea. The deep yearning in my heart for home, never faded, but the flames of hopes to return flickered.

I had grown older; my mother and father had returned home safely for which I was happy, but sad that I was left all alone.I did not cry for I had no more tears left, just the pain in my heart I had learnt to live with. Home now seemed further away from me, and all those who were frustrated with the long wait to receive their passage to return bought pieces of land and decided to stay. But the good thing was they held onto their faith and culture, and lived and worked each day with an unborn resolve to achieve something of worth in this land that now became home.

At the end of indentureship, the colonial master returned to England bequeathing to me his house and some acres of land. So, from a servant girl I became the mistress of a mansion and owner of lands. I never dreamed for one moment that I would have become a rich woman but it came at a heavy price. So much time had passed, and now being the mother of five children, how do I go back home?

Standing by the seaside, one late afternoon, I untied the cotton that held the piece of earth from the motherlands I had picked up as a little girl. It had crumbled to dust over the years and dissolving it in a goblet of water, I poured it slowly over my head.

“I cannot come back to you now, dear mother, but you will always live with me.”

I stood there for a long time, watching the waves rise and fall, feeling in my heart that the boundless sea was my refuge. Then I turned and walked back to my mansion, my children, a new life for maybe this was my destiny designed by fate.

A simple wish on a falling star for a good life as a child in Fathaha, India, brought me this far.


Maureen Rampertab is a short story writer from Guyana, South America with a passion for the Arts, Literature and History. She debuted in the literary scene in 2008 with a children's story and has since written over 200 short stories of different genres. Her work is being published on a feature page for creative writing by the Nation's leading newspaper. She has self- published three books available in bookstores here and at the Indo- Caribbean Queen's public library, New York. She is currently working on her novel.


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