Well, firstly I have to tell you that each person is unique and special in their own ways. There is a type of human being in this world who holds things with sentimental values. Those things do not need to be expensive or classy; their value lies in the person given to them. I fall under this type of human being. If I am right I still have an old pair of pillow case my mum gave me eight years ago, worn out, torn but still as valuable to me as it was when it was new. Who would have thought that there could be a happy ending between two beautiful souls just because somebody planted potatoes hundreds of miles away?
Raghunath Patel was a middle age man who makes his livelihood by farming potatoes. His earning was decent, he had two beautiful daughters who were in the private residential school in Patna and his two older sons were in Pune, studying engineering. Unlike other Bihari farmers or even most of the Biharis in general who were still not enlightened about sending their daughters to school, Mr. Patel was different, and though he did go out of his village to complete his +12 he wanted his children to achieve more than he did. He had to come home to take care of the family farm after his ailing father could no longer continue to plough and the business was not good then. But coming from the city, Mr. Patel had learnt the importance of relationships in business. He is now the highest supplier of potatoes to an entrepreneur in Delhi. He planted potatoes in 200 acres of land to this day, with twenty workers working under him. His farm yielded him eight hundred bags of potatoes every year. Each bag contained fifty five kilos of potatoes. I will leave the calculation to you.
Well, how did I know so much about him or his farms? It is because the woman that I love most wanted to know it. It started off with a joke and now I have to travel all my way to Kantipur in Bihar to meet Raghunath Patel, the guy who supplies most of the potatoes to the Uncle Chips Company.
It all started off in the campus I lived fifteen years ago. I was a fresher when this story began. There used to be this girl who made me feel like a little boy even when I was already thirty. I liked her more than I liked writing, more than I like my evening siesta, more than watching a sad movie on a rainy day, more than my favourite Vans shoes or the Converse shirt, more than drinking chilled coke on a hot summer noon, more than…. I can go on. The point is I really liked her. So the evening on 14th September, 2016 as usual my friends and I were out strolling after dinner and I decided to buy something to drink and eat. As I reached the ETC (essentials, tea and coffee, as our College canteen was called) I saw her there. Even seeing her from a distance, made my heart beat like a “Super Bass.” I was standing by the corridor when she walked straight up to me and said, “Hi,” I blushed and said, “Hi,” and I was out of words. Finally, I managed to ask her about her studies and assignments. There were other students buying their stuffs so we were in a queue, thank God for that, I could see her beautiful face so close by. She blushed as we talked and her fair white skin could not hide as she turned red, but she looked even more beautiful when she blushed and for a moment I thought I would just peck her cheek, but I stopped myself from doing it as I was still new in college and I did not want to be kicked out before my time to leave and definitely not for harassing a woman. She asked me what I wanted to buy, I replied, “ Uncle Chips,” and she offered to buy it for me to which I declined and rather like any man would, I offered to buy for her what she wanted to which she also declined and refused to tell me what she wanted. Finally I got my Chips but I was short of ten rupees and the ETC did not have the change for rupees five hundred. Then she quickly gave hundred rupees and paid for my four packets of Uncle Chips and her noodles. I thanked her and promised that it will be my treat next time, she smiled and I totally forgot what she said, I was sweating even though the weather was cool.
Over the weeks, our friendship bloomed. It was taking new heights. I fell for her every day, but I kept it to myself. No one knew it, not even my closest friends. There is a pleasure in liking someone, in loving someone from a distance, and I did not want to lose it by revealing it.
And soon it was already time for the semester break. It is true time does fly when you are having a good time. I asked her if I could come and visit her at her home and also meet her family, she said that will make her feel good. So the last weekend before class resumed, I went up to her place, took her mum’s permission to take her out, and gave my words that I will bring her back safely before dark. Her mother was in her early forties, very friendly and an extrovert, so it was quite easy to build the rapport with her.
We decided to eat Naga food. There is this thing about Naga food that you never get tired of it because each tribe have their own way to cook the same kind of meat differently. Our choice was smoked pork with dried bamboo shoots. (I smugged when she said that it was her choice too, this is destiny, she is the one, I said to myself). After the lunch we did something I really liked. We went to the photo studio and took our pictures, acted like we were lunatics, but I had the time of my life, and I am betting she did too (I almost peed in my pants laughing). Then we went to the famous war cemetery and as we walked down the lane, we walked close to each other because the lane was narrow (thank God) and suddenly her hand brushed with mine and it felt like a live wire just touched me. I looked at her, only to find her looking at me, we both blushed and didn’t know what to say, then I slowly went and locked my little pinkie finger on hers but my other fingers were jealous so I finally locked all of them to hers. We went and sat down on the grass, (I wished we never stopped walking) and we started talking of our friends whom we will soon meet again, of the assignments we will soon be busy with. We promised that we will still try to hang out together and have fun once in a while. (Well, I do not know what happened in that war cemetery, but it felt like the winter fire was starting to light up in a little corner of my heart)
We sat for three hours straight but I felt like it was ten minutes or something. Darn it, I hated it when time seemed to fly so fast when you are having so much fun. It was 3:00 pm already and I asked her if she will grant me half an hour more and then I would drop her to her place, she looked at me with a smile and then said, “hu derei, why not one hour?” and winked, my heart skipped a beat for real, and I felt so happy, like how a little boy feels with a new toy. We played truth and dare; both opted for truth all the time. She never kissed a guy, never got drunk, tried smoking but did not enjoy, never bunked a class, did not enjoy singing, loved dancing alone in the room, enjoyed being alone, loved looking outside the window and think and would love to come out with me again given a chance. (I was like, man, why did I not do this earlier?)
The one hour was almost over and though I hated to tell her, but since I gave my word to her mum, I had to tell her it was time to take her home. She grinned, I smiled, the reason she did not want to go was enough for me to feel like I am in cloud No.9. I stood up and offered my hand, she took my hand and I pulled her up, I pulled her a little harder and drew her closer to me and looked into her twinkling brown eyes, and I went close to her ears and whispered, “thank you for making memories with me,” she leaned forward and whispered, “thank you for, creating them for me.”We hugged and held our hands and walked back through the same lane we came.
After I dropped her home, I felt like I had a big hole right in the middle of my heart. I wished for once that time stood still and we had more time. No amount of time with her was ever long enough. I always wished we had more time. More time with her at the Cafe, at the porch, at the court, in the service and more time before graduation. And then just like that three years was gone.
It was the last two months before graduation, everyone was busy planning for their next big step, some had no clue, some wanted to settle down, some were busy with their final assignments and I was busy preparing to finally tell her at least how I felt, or I might never get the chance to say it to her face again. I was preparing to go to Thailand as a missionary, my visa had already come. I will be doing TESOL for six months in Chiang Mai and then start teaching English at a Residential School in Nakhon Ratchiasiama, and might not come home soon, and I wanted to tell her that I have always liked her. I thought she needed to know that, but part of me didn’t want to say it and spoil the perfect good bye. I thought over it spending sleepless nights. I was unable to face her, talk to her, I was acting weird. She noticed that, and asked me if I was okay. I tried to lie but we have spent so much time together over the years that she knew me just too well. She said my eyes were too obvious when I lie, I seriously did not know what that meant, “my eyes what?” and she would say, “It’s all over your eyes,” part of her knew that I would eventually spill the bean because I am not a good liar, and I did not lie either. I would rather hurt with the truth than flatter with lies. So I said, “I have something to show you and I am only wondering when would be the right time,” “a parting gift?” she asked, “not really a gift,” I asserted, “ tell me quick, what is it,” she never liked it when I said or started something and left it unfinished, and I kept on doing that because she would finally show me her cutest smile to push me to tell her, and that smile would always end up in her favour.
“Well we will have to go somewhere private, because if anything should happen I do not want anyone to see,” I suggested that we go to the Prayer Garden which was located ten minutes walk from the College Campus. We decided to meet one Saturday, and so we walked down together, reminding each other of the fun we had and the times we first met and all those stuff, finally when we reached the Garden, we sat down and I smiled and said, “thank you, for all the beautiful memories, you added colour to my stay here and I know that life would not have this fun if you were not around.” “She pretended to be crying, “I am serious,” I told her. She stopped and looked into my eyes, I knew what was coming next, normally when she gave me that look, something serious would come. I braced myself and looked right into her twinkling brown eyes, she smiled and said, “ I need you to know that this is never goodbye and no matter where you go promise me to stay in touch,” I said I will, and she drew towards me and hugged me and whispered, “ I am glad we met Mo.”
“Likewise atsapfü” I replied. Atsapfü means grandma; I called her that because of the expression she made which sounded like an old lady. She giggled and we laughed together. Then she asked me to show me the thing I had for her. I went to my pocket and took out something that initially confused her but later melted her. I took out neatly tied Uncle Chips packets which I have kept it safely for the last three years. These were the first Chips she bought for me in that beautiful September evening and I just couldn’t throw them away. I thought throwing them away would be like throwing part of her away from my life. (Me and my attachments to things I am given). She looked at me and was like, “hu derei, you serious?” I said “yeah,” “what is this she asked,” I smiled and once again looked into her eyes and said “ these are the first thing you gave me’” and she paused for a moment, and said, “ aww you kept it all these years?” and quickly threw herself towards me and kissed my cheek. I blushed and didn’t know what to say. I told her it would be difficult to throw those wrappers after three years and asked her if she wanted to keep them, and even if she did not then she could throw it while I was not around. “I will keep it with me,” she assured me. I looked at her and I became sentimental and shed a tear. She looked at me and forced me to smile but the tears won’t obey and it rolled down her cheeks too. She looked like an angel. I had never seen her tears, somehow she had always managed to hide that from me but now as I stood watching her cry, I couldn’t help but cry too and we hugged for a long time, as if we wanted to never say bye. We returned to the campus and that was the walk to remember. I could only hear our footsteps and the insects around us as we passed through the forest, and periodically the heavy breathing from her mouth. Her breathing was so heavy that it was as if she was releasing the pain she was feeling in her heart. I finally broke the silence and said, “I wonder where they make Uncle Chips, it is my favourite among all the Chips,” she took out the wrappers and said, “Maharashtra,” it is made in Maharashtra.” “Someday I will go find out where they get all the potatoes,” I said, “that will be fun,” she exclaimed, “why would you do that?” she asked, “to thank them, for the memories I had with you,” said I, “make sure you take a picture with the farmer and give me one, and thank them from me too.” she replied, “I will.” “Will you marry me if I do that for you?” I asked, “I will marry you even if you do not do that Mo,” she asserted. (Goodbye is going to be real hard I thought). All the years we were together we never expressed we liked each other. All for good, I comforted myself. In two months we would be on our own way, chasing the dreams and desires of our hearts. I asked her to give me back the wrappers but she said she wanted to keep it, so we decided to keep two each. The first time we meet after graduation we will bring it and if we are still single we will continue to keep it but if one of us was in a relationship, we will give it to the one who is single as a sign that we are moving on. It was her idea, as sometimes she thought too much and came up with such ideas .I wonder if it were the Korean movies she watched or some cheap Asian movies. This was the last thing she was asking, so I agreed without a thought. (That was typical of me)
Two months went by and graduation was just a couple of days away. We went for class picnic, we danced like there was no tomorrow, we laughed at every joke was the best we ever heard, we sat down and talked about the first time we met, the troubles and struggles we went through, struggles and recollected songs we sang over the years. Inthanon busy taking pictures and the rest busy posing for him, we haven’t changed so much, we were all still little boys and a little girls at heart. I sat in one corner watching them and talking to myself , I am going to miss them, I wish I was a little younger, then I could have continued to study again with them I thought. Before I realised I felt a cold drop on my cheek, it was the tears that were rolling down my cheek as I watched my friends and reminisced the joy and the fun, the pain and the struggle we went through. “I might never see them again in my entire life,” I thought. There was a time I wanted to get done and leave but now that the time is almost here, I wished I could make the time go slower.
The graduation day finally came, everyone looked like they hada halo over their head because we all looked bright and fresh and happy. The program was over, there were lots of hugs and goodbyes and pictures and selfies and finally one after the other everyone left. I stood there alone waiting for my dad to finish his chat with my principal, and as I stood there I saw the girl who made me feel like a little boy, coming towards me, “ please no, not now,” I told myself as she came closer , “ so this is it then, I hope you get to do all that your heart wanted to,” and she gave me a peck on my cheek and said, “ call me,” and she climbed to her car and drove away, not turning back even once. My parents came and said its time to head home. We discussed about my next move and by the time I reached home, I felt like it was not home at all. It would take me some days to settle down and finally join the groove of my friends here.
Next two months was the busiest time of my life, working with the youths of my church, practicing songs, visiting churches around, meeting up with friends one last time before I leave for Thailand and I only talked with “ the Girl” through phone, and sometimes exchanging pictures through Whatsapp, and it was already time for me to leave, she came to see me off to the airport, we didn’t speak so much that day, our hearts were too heavy, but the silence was too loud we knew exactly what was being communicated. Finally she said something I will remember the rest of my life, “you know I love you right, Mo?”, “I know you like me,” I replied, “she put her head on my shoulder, held my hands, and took a long breath and said, “ I wish I can be with you forever,” I smiled and I whispered “me too atsapfü,” and I kissed her head( her hair smelled so good, I am going to miss it) and I whispered, “I love you too.” We reached the airport and I had to go inside to check in and she couldn’t follow me. I hugged her one last time and promised to Skype (video chat) her and sent her pictures and go to sleep every night only after I have wished her goodnight. She cried and said she will wait for me till I come back, and then asked me to go in, I walked away, and turned one last time before I will turn to the right and will no longer see her. As I turned I saw her smile and wave at me, and I smiled too and blew a kiss, which she caught and put it into her pocket, and then I turned left. I walked back feeling empty again but also smiling alone at the thought that this young lady whom I love most in the whole face of the earth loved me too, the little fire that started at the War Cemetery in Kohima has now become a wild fire. I wished I had gathered enough courage to tell her earlier that I loved her. I sat in the airport thinking about her and wishing she was with me, and then my phone rang, it was her, she was choking as she said, “ Mo, I felt like the best part of me is gone,” I promised her I will be back for her and no matter how far I am gone, or how long it takes I will find my way back to her. She said she will wait for me. I could feel my heart leaping with joy when she said that. She asked me to sing a song for me and said she will record it, I sang, “I’ll Be Back to Love you Again,” by Scorpion and she said she will listen to it every night before she goes to bed. I asked her to sing for me too, she sang, “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” by Elvis Presley, I died. She kissed me through the phone and hung up, not allowing me to do the same or say bye. She hated byes.
I landed at Bangkok International Airport around midnight, and got a taxi to take me to the Bus Terminal from where I would be heading to my Brother’s place before I headed for Chiang Mai. I called “My Girl” soon after I reached my brother’s place in Korat. She didn’t pick up, probably still sleeping. I went to sleep for I know from noon I would be babysitting my two little nieces. I stayed there for a week and then headed for Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai was a totally different city, Inthanon dropped in to visit me, and helped me find my room and introduced me to the faculties and people around. I would be there for TESOL for the next six weeks. He promised to drop by anytime he was free, and told me to tell him whenever I was free so that he could take me out. I was finally so close to fulfilling my dream of becoming a missionary teacher yet so far from having the woman of my dream. I wondered what she was doing. I settled down in the room allotted for me, thanked God I was alone in the room, it was a small room, with a table, a bed and a shelf. I liked it, I enjoyed being alone at times so the arrangement was good, I thought. We had a grand dinner that night, where we introduced ourselves, I will be studying together with twenty other people who comes from fifteen different nations. I was the only Naga. I liked it. This will be fun I could almost feel it, I wished she was with me, things would have been so much better if she was around. I texted her after dinner, we chatted and voice mailed for an hour before we called it a night. She was appointed to be the youth counsellor in her church and would be busy in the coming days, conducting events and activities and camp and also visiting the youths and asked me to forgive her if someday she was not able to stay with me as long as I wanted. I assured her that it is okay, and I might be busy too and do the same to her, but we promised that we would Skype once every week, and the deal was sealed. Friday night was the allotted time for that.
I Skyped her. I just couldn’t take my eyes off her face, I cried at the first glimpse of her face, “I miss you,” I told her, “ I miss you too,” she said. Then we talked about work and family and the plan for the coming week. She must be a Super woman, I thought. she was doing so much and yet I did not hear any complain. I praised her for the good work she was doing. She said she was enjoying so much she can’t complain. She told me about the young guy who just took baptism and a group of young ladies who came seeking for her help regarding the problems they were facing at school regarding relationships and insecurities and abuse at home, then there was this young guy who was confused about what to do with his life. She had so many stories to share and I could see in her eyes that she was enjoying what she was doing. I told her I was so happy for her and advised her to know when to say no and allow herself to rest. She said she would but I doubted if she would do as I asked her to.
This was the routine for the next six months and, as I finished my course in TESOL and was now prepared to spread my wings and fly, I was hit by the news which made me so helpless. Her dad passed away, he was suffering from stomach cancer and passed away in his sleep. I did not know what to do or say, I just cried with her as we Skyped the night after the funeral. Her dad was a quiet guy, very determined, did not go around poking in someone else’s business, loved his wife and children, and had a great sense of humour in his own way, and like me, he loved good food, that was the only thing we had in common. I remembered how when the last time I visited her, he made me feel at home and I could not imagine he was no more. I wished I could touch her through the screen, put my hands around her and tell her how sorry I am at her loss. But the only words that came out of my mouth was, “I am sorry, I wish I was there.”We stayed up late that night, I told her, “I can’t promise to love you like your dad, but I promise to love you so much to always keep you happy,” for the first time she smiled and said, “ I am already so happy with you.”
3rd August, 2021 (two years after I started working as a missionary teacher) the headlines in the newspaper read, “The Royal Family Massacre,” the King of Thailand and all his family were shot dead by the Royal Guards who were bribed by the Communist Party of Thailand. This event changed the political and the religious situation in Thailand. Foreigners were deported to their own countries, the king’s palace in Bangkok was burnt down, the body of the Prince and the three Princess were hung along with their parent’s body outside the main gate to intimidate anyone who would come against them, all his property put to destruction, and civil war broke out in this little country. The land that was known as “the land of smile,” was now“land of sorrows.”Every missionary was given a week to leave the country, failure of which would lead to imprisonment. Many left, my brother came to me and asked me if I am leaving, and that he would let me take my own decision. I could not communicate with the outside world, the Communist had blocked all international medium of communication. I told him I wanted to stay, because I knew God wanted me to, I had led so many of my students to Christ and to leave now would mean there would be chances that they might all go back to square one if there remained no one to disciple them, and this thought haunted me and I felt so responsible for them that I could not turn my back on them. I asked him to continuously pray for me and tell Mum and Dad that I was okay and they need not be afraid because I was in the right place where God wanted me to be and should anything happen to me, we will all meet in Heaven. I hugged my only brother I was blessed in this life and we cried for he knew the situation I was in, I kissed my nieces goodbye and hugged my Sister-in-Law and that was it. They would be leaving early next morning with many of the others and would not have enough time to meet me. I gave them a letter I wrote for “her” and told her she did not have to wait for me anymore and that I will love her till I die. I told my Brother to tell her how much I wished I could come home, get married and start a family with her, and asked him to tell her how sorry I am that I could not keep any promises I made except that I will love her until my last breath.
Life had then become difficult, I bought ration that would last for months and I did not go out as much as I used to. The school I was teaching closed down, the only thing I was doing was meeting with the believers secretly and praying with them and encouraging them and teaching them the Word of God. We would never go together anywhere in groups because it might arouse curiosity, we never met twice in one place. The Communist have become so powerful overnight, they had all planned so well , it was not only a political issue but they have brought together the biggest religion in Thailand to join hands with them and so this was one reason for their success. They were very insecure and so seeing any of us in groups would raise questions, and might even be arrested for trying to start a revolution. This went on for years, I did not have any news about my family for a year , during my stay there, I lost a handful of good friends who were arrested and executed, but this had not stopped me to continue doing what I was doing.
It was Easter and we decided to celebrate in the jungle. We were also aware that the Communist Army (CA) will be vigilant at this time, but because it was significant for us and specially to some new believers who had not taken part in the Communion yet, we thought this would be the right day to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus and also partake in the Communion as a celebration , so we decided to meet in spite of the danger we might face. We decided to meet in the jungle, far north of the main city beyond the graveyard. We were to meet at 4:00 AM. We were all there except for the newest believer Saun Peng. We waited for some time and decided to start without him. As we started to sing hymns, we heard some footsteps,we thought it was Saun and continued but as the footstep drew closer we realised there was more than one person, we were taken aback but no one moved only to be surrounded by the CA. They came straight to us and started hitting.Those who tried to escape, they shot at them. “Maidai tham raikhau” I told the guy who looked like he was in charge, it meant “do not harm them,” “khun khux khir?” he shouted, “phom chiu Momo, au tuwa phompai then,” I told him. (I am Momo, take me instead I am the man you are looking for, I knew from sources that I was already in the list of the wanted missionaries). Apparently he did not listento me, he shot everyone right in front of my eyes and told me I am to blame for all their lives. Then he hit me on my head with the butt of his gun and that was the last thing I remember.
I woke up in a darkroom, hands tied and the smell was like rotten meat, I could also smell human excrete and urine, I almost threw up. I was in some kind of cell, I could feel the cement walls and floor but there was no light. I was trying to recollect what happened and where I was. When I heard footstep, I didn’t know what to do, whether to pretend I was sleeping or to just sit. When I was still thinking somebody kicked my head from behind, and laughed. Then they took turn to hit me with sticks and said, “let’s see if your God is strong enough to save you from us.” All they did to me was, put fear in my heart, by beating me, electrocuting me, feeding me minimal and keeping me alive. Every night I would remember my family back home, the comfort of the warm bed and clean clothes, the laughter at mum’s joke and the playfulness of my nephew and nieces, the delicious barbecue of my brother, mum’s food, and my lover’s hug. I wondered if she was still waiting for me or if she was married, wondered whom she would be sleeping next to? If she was happy, does she still have the wrappers, does she still missed me? And I will remember the song she sang for me, and hum it till my tired body could hold no more and I would fall into deep sleep.
I did not know the difference of day and night anymore because they did not remove the cloththat covered my eyes and they never untied my hands. The only way I knew of the difference between day and night was the noises I heard and the silence I felt.This was how I could calculate how many days I was in that place, but I guessed it must be a couple of months. One day they came and dragged me outside and took off the cloth covering my eyes, I went blind, it was too bright to look. I was surrounded by the CA, they all looked so ready to kill me anytime. I prayed a silent prayernot to let me die yet. They took off all my clothes and splashed buckets of water on me and told me rise up, and threw some new clothes at me and asked me to change. I did and after that they took me to a room and in the room was their leader, who was with women around him and good food on the table. He offered me to eat with him. As we ate he asked me if I would be willing to help them by teaching English. He said that since I was not doing anything, I could be helpful to them. He sounded like he was requesting but I did not have any choice. I was still bound in my legs with chains, and two guards followed me everywhere, I was still living in the same cell, and given the same food, which looked like their leftovers because most of the time I got the bones of meat that were eaten up, but I was thankful that I at least got them. Hitting and electrocuting had decreased. I was thankful to God for that, must be the answered prayers of thousands of saints praying at home.
I taught them English from the very beginning, by that I meant the alphabets, and how to read and write them. When they did not understand they shouted at me and threw abusive words at me, but I just smiled at them. Days went on into weeks and then to months, and months into a year. It was December 2023 then. In this period of time on many occasions the two guards have asked me secretly so many times why I did not leave when I had the chance. I told them that the Thai people were still not ready to die but I was ready because I knew where I am going after death, and I have already shared the gospel to them and taught them about Christ so many times. I felt like they were already Christians at heart. There were times where I prayed for them and I shared about how we should also pray for the leaders so that peace would once again come to the country. They also shared of their concern about the nations and how they were compelled to join the CA because they did not have anywhere else to go, would be jobless, and there would be no food for their families, wives and their daughters would face the danger of being taken away from them and God knows what would happen to them once they land in the hands of those filthy and lustful men.
I started praying to God to help me get out of the country every night, now that I see hope and that I have won the hearts of the guards. It will be too risky for me to bring out the topic myself so I was praying that they will be the one coming to me to help me escape. After almost two years of being held captive, in the bright morning of August 3rd, 2024, my guards came rushing to me and said, “ You must hurry, we will help you escape, they asked me to take the minimal, I told them I had nothing I owned, so we rushed out towards the jungle,of which I did not know anything about,.“Are you guys coming with me?” I asked, “yes” they replied, after two years of guarding me they had become the best English speakers among my pupils. I asked themthe whereabouts of the others, and one of them told me that they all left to celebrate the 3rd anniversary of the rule of Communist power in the country. (I cannot name them for security reasons, they are still living with their family somewhere and I have to protect them). We ran through the jungle, I slipped and fell often, I was too tired, I did not eat anything, plus I was already so weak from the unhealthy food I have been eating for the last two years. I was so thin and dark and my hair was long so was my beard but the thought of being free kept me running. I saw her face, I saw my family, I saw home as I ran with all my might. I was crying as I ran, the thought of being free made me emotional. We stopped by a river and they gave me the plan for my escape. It was simple, they told me that there wasa village beyond the river, I was to wait outside the village and they would bring the vehicle along with someone who was willing to drive me out of the country for a huge amount of money they paid for me. The driver would take me to Cambodia, and then be on my own. They gave me some clothes, money and a camera and told me if anyone asked, I should tell them that I was a reporter who got lost in the village. Then they got to their knees and begged me to forgive them and their leaders for mistreating them and should there bepeace again I should come and visit them again. We hugged each other and that was the last time I ever saw and heard of them.
I was waiting alone for the taxi, every sound startled me, and I was sweating and thought if I am caught I am sure to be executed and I would never be able to see my family again. Then I decided to think of pleasant things, and I started thinking about home, my friends, my love, the joy of being able to eat my own food. Pork with bamboo shoots will be the first dish I will eat, I thought, and suddenly a flush of memories of the Naga hotel with the girl I loved most came back. It was still so fresh on my mind- her faded jeans, her All Star shoes, her black Puma shirt and her black leather jacket, and her polka dots scarf, her blush, every time I told her she looked beautiful, the warmth of her touch,her smile, and in that moment of fear, once again I felt the fire burning and I wished by the million stars above my head that I was with her.
The jeep which was supposed to take me to Cambodia came. To ensure my security my guards told the driver to call them once they reach Cambodia and to let me talk with them. We started off our journey, the driver was kind enough to bring some Thai rice cakes for me and a few fried chicken pieces. I gorged it in my mouth and went to sleep. Every hour we drove was getting me closer to freedom. Suddenly he stopped the jeep with a jolt that woke me up, “there is a light out there, I think it is the CA. I froze, I did not know what to do or say, I said a prayer and I told the driver to drive on. As expected we were stopped, and interrogated. I had no legal papers with me, and that alone was enough for them to send me to prison again. They asked us where we were coming from, Nakho Nayok, the driver replied. Where are you heading? they asked again, Siem Reap he replied. What was the purpose of the visit he asked, “ for news report” the driver answered in my behalf.Suddenly a man came running towards us, and asked me, “Are you Momo?” I did not know what to say, should I lie or should I tell the truth? I might be arrested once they knew who I was, and by then I am sure the news had spread about my escape. I took a deep breath and I said, “yes I am,” then he gave me a piece of paper and said, “thank you for all your help, have a safe journey,” then he told me that my two guards had asked him to do letme pass. I couldn’t believe what was happening, but I now knew my God was able. He can do anything, everywhere, and he can use anyone to answer my prayer. Nothing is impossible for him, He can use the worst situation to make himself known to the two guards I met, He can use the most frightening moment to tell me that he is faithful and able to deliver me from such a terrible situation. The only thing He asked of me was my availability. I cried as I thanked the CA. Now, I not only have to cross Thailand but carry an official paper asking the Cambodian Government to help me out. I crossed the border, and the driver was way too kind and promised me to drop till Siem Reap. I went to the police stationand told my story. They connected me to the Indian embassy in Phnom Penh and assured me that I will be in New Delhi by the next flight out.
All my family members were informed and I couldn’t wait to leave. I reached New Delhi on 6th August, 2024, and later that evening I landed in Dimapur airport. I was crying all through my flight from New Delhi to Dimapur. As I stepped down I saw my familieswaiting for me. I had told them not to bring along any church members. They respected that for which I am thankful to them. My dad came running to me, I ran towards him and hugged him, he lifted me up and said, “I am so glad you are alive,” then the rest of the gang came and we group hugged and cried as people watched us, but we didn’t care. I looked older than my dad and my mum. We quickly moved towards the taxi and left for home.
When we reached home, all my church members were waiting for me there. They had prepared a feast for me and it was Pork with Bamboo shoots. We had a time of worshipping God and I shared my experience with them, the whole congregation was brought to tears. I could hear sniffing here and there, eyes red. They were not crying because I went through hell, but they were crying because of the faithfulness of God in my life.
I shaved my beard, trimmed my hair and I met the doctor too, to help me with my medication to recover from the weight I have lost. I also made an appointment with a counsellor who helped me come out from the emotional trauma as a result of the experiences I went through. Six months after my arrival at home I was good as new. Though initially I suffered from nightmares, loud voices in the middle of nights, and sometimes fear of dark,the sound of the whistle and also at the noises made by the people around. I was even scared of strangers visiting me because I thought the CA might have sent them to assassinate me.
One day I was going through my old stuff in my trunk, suddenly my eyes fell on the blue little thing. I picked it up and opened it and it was the empty wrappers of the Chips “ my girl” bought for me almost eight years ago. It was still blue as new. Then another flush of memories rushed through my mind. Suddenly that beautiful face came in front of my eyes and I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I have intentionally not contacted her because it has been a long time and probably she is happily married and I did not want to steal that from her by re-surfacing in her life again. But after I saw the wrappers, I thought what if she is waiting for me, in that case I could never forgive myself again, and whatever the case I knew deep in my heart that she deserved to know what happened to me.
I started asking around for her number through my old friends who were on facebook, she had already de-activated her facebook account, (God knows why) finally I ended up getting her pastor’s contact,who gave me her number. I was shaking as I called her up, “How will I start the conversation?” “shall I sound happy?” shall I be sad?” “Shall I ask her to meet me?” the phone was ringing, “Hello,” I heard from her end, “Who is this?” “Hello, this is Mo,” I replied and she said, “is that really you Mo?” “Yes Atsapfü, it is me,” I replied, she paused for a while and broke down and said, “How have you been?”“It is good to be back home again,” I told her. We talked for some time, she sounded so tired and so I asked if it is a good time to talk, she said she was very busy and will call me later. I quickly asked her if I can come see her some day, to which she said she was very occupied and will let me know when she was free. I waited for her call each day, I texted her and she will reply but was not ready to talk. She was always on the run.
One day I had a terrible headache and no aspirin could give relief, and my sight was becoming blurred too. I was rushed to the hospital but the doctor said it will be wiser to take me down to Dimapur and run a scan and do an MRI of my head. I went down to Referral Hospital and was admitted there. There was a blood clot in my head probably from some serious head injury, which I did not recollect at that moment. When my parents asked me if the CA hit my head anytime during my imprisonment, I remembered my first encounter with them when I was knocked down by the rifle butt that blacked me out, for heavens knows how many days. I had an urgent surgery to remove the clotting before it further infected the other area, and so I had to stay a little longer.
One evening a day before my surgery I decided to meet my friend who worked in the Hospital, and as I was walking through the rooms I heard a very familiar voice, my heart beat stopped, I froze and my mind went blank. I took out my phone and I called a number, and it was ringing inside room No. 204 and I heard the voice, “Hello, Mo can you please call me later, I am in the meeting right now,” before I could say anything, she hung up. I stood there for some time and decided to go and check her out. My heart was beating fast, once again at thirty eight years years I felt like a little boyin front of the girl I was about to meet. I knocked at the door and I heard a voice, “Open the door sweetheart,” my heart stopped, I was shaking ,I wanted to turn and run away but it was too late to turn back. I entered the room and I said, “Hi” there wascomplete silence in the room, she quickly said, “Hi” and introduced me to the people in the room. Her mum, her sisters and her brother and a little boy, who was her sweetheart. She was lying in the bed all pale and weak( she was suffering from stomach cancer and she was in the last stage. Doctors said she had ten percent chance of survival). I told her she looked beautiful and she blushed. “What took you so long Mo?” she asked as she tried to sit up on her bed and I could feel the tension in the room. Slowly her mum and her siblings made their way out saying they needed some fresh air after a long stay in the room. “I am so sorry darling, I know I am already late, I do not have any excuse,” “ I waited for you knowing you would come but you never called nor texted. How am I supposed to know you are alive?” and then she started to cry. I sat next to her and said, “I am sorry, loveand if there is anything I can do to change anything, it will be marrying you,” I said as I choked on my tears. We hugged each other and wept. I kissed her on her cheeks and said, “I love you, more than you know,” she smiled and said, “I can die in peace now.” She reached her hands to her bag and took out the two blue wrappers, “you kept them all these time?” she looked at me and said, “How can I throw the most beautiful part of me?” She gave me the wrappers and asked me to bury all four of them with her, “this is not because I am moving away from you, I can never move away from you in my heart”. I said “ I will”. She talked about her husband whom she met during the time she needed me most and he came along and though she didn’t like him initially, as time went by and he continued to pursue her, she finally gave in and after six months of dating they were married. But their joy was short-lived after the birth of their first son when she was diagnosed with stomach cancer. She told me that if there was any man beside me it will be him she wants to spend her life with. She said she lived a happy life but did miss me sometimes. She told me she kept all my letters and our pictures in her trunk which she wanted me to keep. She said she was not angry with me or bitter with God for taking me away from him. She said she was sorry I went through so much pain and that I should soon find a woman and settle down and become a farmer entrepreneur which I always wanted to become. She made me promise to do all the things we promised to do together and to remember her. It was almost time for the next shot of chemo and she told me she did not want to wake up again. She didn’t look like she was sad about anything, I looked at her, still so beautiful, so young and I wished I could turn back the hands of time. I told her I had surgery next day, she smiled and told me, “ you have to live for both of us darling,” my heart melted when she called me that, “ I will” I assured. Then she said, “ you never kissed me once, I want you to kiss me,” I held her hand then slowly put my right palm on her face and looked into her eyes and kissed her softly, our first and last ever. She whispered in my ears, “We will never have to say goodbye again,” I gently put her on her bed and as I walked away she smiled and said, “ Mo remember me,” and I smiled and replied, “ I will.”
I saw the nurse coming towards the room as I walked away from the room.The next morning after my successful surgery I was told that I can go home in the evening. I went to visit room No.204. It was empty, she had finally found her freedom. I told my parents that I had to go to Kohima, they didn’t stop me. I wept all the way to Kohima and as I reached I could hear the mourning of the people for this beautiful soul. They had not yet buried her, because it was her wish that I should be around before her burial.I went to the casket, I put my hand in my pocket and reached out for the wrappers of the first Chips my girl, my love, bought for me eight years ago on a lovelySeptember evening when I had no change, and for once I smiled as I stood there thanking fate that I didn’t have any change that evening. I bent and kissed her forehead, and whispered, “No more goodbyes, my love, see you again,” and our memories of the war cemetery came rushing in, as I made my exit and walked away from the mourning crowd.
Two years after her funeral I made a trip to Maharashtra, Punjab and Bihar and finally met Raghunath Patel and I told him my love story, and as I took pictures with him I wished she was with me, I knew she would have really enjoyed it, and also because the trip would have been more beautiful if she was around. I am pretty sure if she saw it she might most probably say, “Hu derei, zivi pie ndie?”
– Tamreimung Chüsi,