Two Lines Journal
Share
| All Journal Posts >
placeholder

The Illusion of a Day

ཉིན་གཅིག་གི་ཆོ་འཕྲུལ།
by Takbum Gyel
Translated from Tibetan by
Christopher Peacock

ནམ་གསལ་ལ་ཉེ།  སྐྱ་རེངས་ཀྱི་འོད་སྣང་མག་མོག་པོ་དེ་སྦྲའི་ཁ་ཚུབས་བརྒྱུད་ནས་ཁྱིམ་ནང་དུ་འཕྲོས་འདུག   ནམ་རྒྱུན་སྐབས་འདི་ཙམ་ལ་ཁྱིམ་ཕུག་གི་སློག་གདན་བཏིང་བའི་མལ་སའི་ནང་ཉལ་བའི་གཡང་འབུམ་གཉིད་ལས་སད་པ་རེད།    གཡང་འབུམ་ཡང་ཁོའི་ན་ཚོད་དང་མཉམ་པའི་སྡེ་བའི་ནང་གི་བྱིས་པ་གཞན་དག་དང་འདྲ་བར་མལ་སའི་ནང་ནས་གཅེར་བུ་ཡར་ལངས་ཏེ་ཨ་མའི་སྔས་འོག་ཏུ་བཞག་པའི་སློག་ཧྲུལ་དེ་དྲད་མ་དྲུད་ཀྱིས་གོ་ཁར་ཡོང༌།     ཁོ་དལ་དལ་ངང་ཚུར་ཡོང་སྟེ་དྲེག་ནག་ཆགས་པའི་རྐང་བ་གཉིས་ཀ་གོ་ཁའི་ཐལ་འདབས་ལ་བསྲིངས་ཤིང་སྒྱིད་ལུག་ལུག་གིས་ཙོག་བྱུང༌།   ཨ་མ་སྔ་མོ་ནས་ལངས་ཟིན། ཨ་མ་སྔ་མོ་ནས་ལངས་ཏེ་མེ་ཁ་གསོས་ཤིང་ཟངས་དེམ་ནང་དུ་ཆུ་བླུགས་ནས་ཐབ་ལ་བསྐྱོན་རྗེས་བཞོ་ཟེའུ་ཁྱེར་ནས་ལྷས་དཀྱིལ་དུ་འབྲི་རྒན་ཚོ་བ་རུ་སོང་ཟིན།     གཡང་འབུམ་གྱིས་གླལ་རྒྱངས་ཤིག་བྱས་རྗེས་ལག་པ་ཆུང་ངུ་གཉིས་ཀྱི་ཕྱི་རྒྱབ་ཀྱིས་མིག་གཉིས་ཀ་ཕུར་ཕུར་ཙམ་བྱས་ཤིང་ཐབ་ཁེས་ན་ཤུགས་གླུ་“ཀི་    ཁུ་    ”གྱེར་བཞིན་པའི་ཟངས་དེམ་ལ་ལྟ་བཞིན་སླར་ཡང་གཉིད་ལོས་འགྲོ་སྙམ་པའི་ལྡབ་ལྡིབ་ཀྱི་ཉམས་ཤིག་མངོན་འདུག   ཟངས་དེམ་གྱི་ཤུགས་གླུ་དེ་རྒྱུན་ཆད་མེད་པར་གྱེར་འོང་ལ་དེ་ནི་ཧ་ཅང་རྒྱང་རིང་བའི་གནས་ཤིག་ནས་མི་ཞིག་གིས་ཀི་འདེབས་པ་དང་ཡང་ཧ་ཅང་མཚུངས།  ཐབ་ཀའི་ནང་གི་མེ་ལྕེ་སྔར་བཞིན་ལྷེམ་ལྷེམ་དུ་འབར་གྱིན་འདུག…

 

It was getting light.

The hazy dawn rays pierced the flap of the tent and illuminated their home. It was always at this time that Yangbum, asleep on the sheepskin-covered bed, woke up. Yangbum, like all the other kids of his age in the camp, dragged his naked backside out of bed. He pulled on the tattered fleece he kept under his mother’s pillow as he plopped down by the hearth, drowsily stretching his dirty feet toward the warmth. His mother had been up for some time. She was up and she’d gotten the fire going, filled the kettle and put it on the stove, grabbed her bucket, and gone to the pen to milk the yaks. Yangbum yawned and rubbed his eyes with the backs of his little hands. Bleary-eyed and looking like he was about to fall back asleep, he watched the kettle sing its song from atop the hearth: ki–! khu–! The kettle sang its song ceaselessly, sounding just like a man calling out from afar. The tongue of flame in the hearth burned brightly. Yangbum watched the kettle and listened to its song. Only now did he notice that the kettle was covered with a layer of black soot. His mother always made their milk tea in this kettle. He had grown up drinking his mother’s tea. Yangbum’s mother finished milking the yaks and went to clean out the pen. She spread out the dung on the grass where it would dry better under the sun. Naturally, Yangbum knew that there was a different name for dried dung. Ki–! khu–! the kettle sang its song ceaselessly. Yangbum found the secrets sung by the kettle wondrous and fascinating. Its song started out quiet, timid, and gradually grew in volume and intensity until finally it came to an abrupt halt, signaling that the tea was ready. His mother entered, took a ladleful of water, and went outside to wash her hands. When she replaced the ladle, the kettle’s ki–khu song suddenly ceased. His mother poured the fresh milk into the kettle with a practiced hand and the tea turned white. Yangbum loved tea. That was probably because of his father. His father used to drink tea while he was tanning hides. Sometimes he could drink three whole pots of it. And the wooden teacup Yangbum used was inherited from his father, wasn’t it? His father had received it from a lama that time he went to the monastery, before Yangbum was born. Yangbum liked to drink tea from his father’s cup. But his father had passed away when Yangbum was young. He had had to take up his father’s mantle, and in the process, Yangbum had grown up. It was getting light out. It was getting lighter moment by moment. As it got light, the outside world was gradually revealed in its entirety. It was just as though a black curtain had been slowly pulled back. When the water boiled, Yangbum’s mother poured the tea into his cup and handed it to him. A lump of butter bobbed gently on the surface. Yangbum dipped his fingers into the buttery layer on top; he smeared it on his hands, then on his face. This was a sign that a new day had begun. Yangbum’s mother handed him a flatbread for him to dip in his tea, then picked up the bucket and went off to fetch water. Yangbum sat and sipped his tea, unconcerned with his mother’s comings and goings. Bread dipped in tea was delicious. Yangbum loved bread, and he loved tsamba. Tsamba, bread, meat, yogurt—he loved them all, just like every nomad boy.

When his mother came back with the water, Yangbum was done eating. He rose and picked up a small pair of boots that lay like corpses on either side of his satchel. First he put one on his right foot, then he put one on his left foot. He then retrieved a lined black chuba from under the satchel, gave it a shake, and donned it in his habitual manner: first he put his arms in the sleeves, then he crossed the right hem over his body, crossed the left hem over that, and with a short piece of rope that functioned as his belt, tied the whole thing tightly. While Yangbum fastened his chuba, his mother put half a piece of flatbread and a bottle of milk tea in a bag and pressed it into his hands as she instructed Yangbum not to get in any fights with the other children. Yangbum put the provisions in his pocket, flung back the tent flap, and made his way to the sheep pen. The sheep pen was directly in front of their tent; Yangbum felt that that way it was easier to keep an eye on the sheep at night. Using his sleeve to cover his hand, he gave the willow branch that bound the gate a forceful shove and it swung open. Baa-aa—from the sheep pen there came the feeble bleating of a lamb. A lamb had been born last night. Ah, and the mother was Gyatoma—the hornless, speckled ewe. As always, the first thing Yangbum did was put mother and baby together so the lamb could suckle. He took care of all the newborns like this. Baa-aa—the little lamb’s bleating accompanied him as he drove the flock out of the pen. Because newborns fell behind the flock, the ewes were always busy running this way and that in pursuit of them. In the end, Yangbum picked up the straggling lamb and held it in his arms as he followed the flock. Because he had her lamb, the ewe circled him, baaing.

Baa-aa—when Yangbum was little, he liked to listen to the bleating of the lambs. Yangbum had also enjoyed crawling around on the floor and imitating their sounds. His dad said that meant Yangbum was sure to grow up to be a good shepherd. Yangbum’s father had been a good shepherd, too. He used to take the flock out to graze early in the morning and wouldn’t be back until after dark. Baa-aa—the lamb’s bleating was so frail! Yangbum placed the little life that had just come into this world in the bag he carried on his back, and the lamb continued to bleat. The sun was almost fully up, the tips of its golden rays illuminating the earth. When the sunlight fell on the white winter steppe it turned bright yellow, like it was painted with liquid gold, and when the sunlight hit the ground, an icy wind started to whip up. The winter wind was piercing, like the tip of a needle. Yangbum knew that in summer it wouldn’t be like this at all—it would be warm and green all over. Yangbum sometimes thought about how cruel it would be if there were no summer and only winter in the world. He drove the flock past the edge of their camp and they came upon a small hill. This was the route he always took to the pastures, and he knew the land like the back of his hand. Every land has its peaks and canyons—that’s the way of the world. It seemed to him that if there were no valleys and hills on the land, it would be as dull as a flat stone, wouldn’t it? Once they passed the hill, he stood watching the flock, wondering which pasture he should take them to. He suddenly thought of Yangtso. Where would Yangtso take them? Yangbum thought about this for a while. He loved being with Yangtso. And Yangtso loved grazing her flock with Yangbum. Yangbum didn’t know why they loved each other’s company so much. Whenever his mother said it would be good for him to marry Yangtso, Yangbum always felt embarrassed and didn’t dare say a word. It was Yangtso’s turn to water the sheep that day, so they wouldn’t see each other. Yangbum pursued the flock.

Yangbum herded the sheep past the hill and they slowly headed toward the mountainside in the distance. The mountain was not far. There were several shepherds who took their flocks to the mountainside. Yangbum had arrived before all of them, so he would get his pick of the best grass and water. First come, first served—this was the precedent they had established. Yangbum slowly circled the flock as he ushered them on. The sheep’s coats were thin in winter and spring, so he couldn’t push them too hard. The most important thing was to set off early. When Yangbum was little, he didn’t know any of this; he gathered all the sheep together and drove them as fast as he could, scrambling to get to the grazing pastures. His mother taught him to herd the sheep slowly. Ever since then, Yangbum had risen early to herd his flock, earlier than any of the others. He herded them slowly, and by the time the sun’s rays shone over the mountaintops down into the ravines, Yangbum had already reached the shady side of the valley. Yangbum got to the shady side early because the grass was good there. The sun didn’t hit that part of the valley until later. When it did, the morning wind in the valleys was extremely cold. Exactly how cold probably couldn’t be expressed in words. But Yangbum knew that after some time the piercing wind always died down. Baa-aa—the lamb continued to bleat in the felt bag at his back. Yangbum plucked the lamb from his bag and placed it in front of its mother. Baa-aa—Gyatoma, the ewe, ran over and nuzzled and circled her lamb, bleating. The morning wind was freezing, and the lamb shivered, taking uncertain steps. The lamb was even colder because it was still wet with the amniotic fluid its mother hadn’t licked clean. After a while, the cold morning wind in the valley gradually died down, as it usually does. Yangbum’s mood lifted slightly with the fading of the wind. He thought that this must be heaven’s way of protecting the little lambs.

Baa-aa—the lamb’s bleating was growing stronger. Yangbum and the lamb’s bleating were friends. The lamb’s bleating was the joy of a growing life. It was a good thing, that the little lamb was growing up. But Yangbum was unsure about just how joyful this process was. Whatever grows up will get old. Whatever gets old will die. When you die you go to hell. In hell you must suffer the endless torments of freezing and burning. Without bodhicitta you can’t get to the pure land. This is what the lama from the monastery had explained to his father, then Yangbum’s mother had told it to him. And Yangbum believed it. But on the other hand, if no living things grew up, these newborn lambs would be sent on the road to death at the first sign of a storm. Baa-aa—the lamb’s bleating filled Yangbum’s ears. Baa-aa—the lamb’s bleating was also growing up. And because it was growing up, the glory of Yangtso and Yangbum’s youth was flourishing. And yet Yangbum could not marry her. Before she was yet fifteen, Yangtso had already been married off to a man from another camp. But on these grasslands a fate like this was by no means his alone.

His flock was the only thing that belonged to him. But since Yangbum was the first to arrive at the pasture, that victory belonged to him today, too. Beneath the gentle sun, Yangbum slowly herded his flock up the mountainside. When he got to the top and looked back, he saw that the other shepherds were only just now arriving in the lower end of the valley. Yangbum smiled, glorious and proud, his arrival at the summit giving him the feeling of being distinctly above all the others. Climbing the mountain then turning back to see the view was interesting indeed. From up there, everything was laid out before him, like a picture in the palm of his hand. There were many yaks at the lower end of the valley, so there was also a lot of dung. The women who collected dung were gradually gathering down in the valley. Seeing his flock roaming free on the grass, Yangbum felt satisfied, and he sat down on the mountainside. He drew in his left leg, stretched out his right, and watched the women collecting dung down in the valley. He could identify each and every one of them. If Yangtso hadn’t left to get married, she would have been among them. Yangbum had his regrets, but there was nothing he could do now. Yangtso was gone and she wouldn’t come back. Hers was an arranged marriage. To a certain extent, there was no difference between an arranged marriage and being someone’s servant. It’s just like the saying: even an expensive bride has to do the housework.

Yangbum’s hopes were nothing but foolishness. He counted off on his fingers each of the young women among those collecting dung that he had spoken to before. The dung collectors shuffled back and forth, never stopping. The ones carrying empty bags under their arms were heading straight in Yangbum’s direction. The ones with full sacks on their backs were bent at the waist, showing their rear ends to Yangbum as they headed in the opposite direction. Yangbum’s wife was surely among them, clutching a sack and collecting dung. Cooking, cleaning, fetching water, milking the animals, gathering dung—that was women’s work. Yangbum knew that it was inappropriate for men to do women’s work. It just shouldn’t be done, he thought, and you’d be inviting the scorn of others if you did. It was his opinion that all of this had been ordained by the Old Man of the Earth. It was entirely natural that you had to earn your keep with your own two hands. So Yangbum’s wife, too, went with the other women of the camp to collect dung, and as soon as she was done, she would carry her full sack home, make the dinner, then await Yangbum’s return in the evening. Baa-aa—the frail bleating of the lamb reverberated throughout the flock. Yangbum stood up, stretched, and checked to see if the lamb had separated from its mother; it hadn’t, and he sat back down, feeling reassured. At that moment, a handful of little shepherds appeared before Yangbum. He knew these kids well. They were the ones always competing with him to see who could get to the pastures first. The little shepherds sat in front of Yangbum and started playing chess, trying to see who was smartest. The kids fetched a flat, level rock and scratched a pebble across it to mark their board, then they gathered a handful of different colored stones to serve as pieces. When Yangbum was little he loved to play chess. He would sit himself in front of the old folks and show off his skills. He’d told the kids about this as well, since none of them were a match for him either. But he didn’t have time to play chess anymore. There are too many things to take care of at home once you’re older. He took a piece of lambskin from his pocket and rubbed it with his hands as he watched the kids play. Yangbum had such strong hands that he could tan a piece of hide with just a few rubs. For nomads, lambskin is an excellent material for clothes. It’s great for making everyday items for the old folks since it is both light and warm. Yangbum’s mother parted from this world without ever having had the chance to wear a lambskin coat. She’d made a coat for Yangbum and, for his wife, two outfits to wear on special occasions. But she passed away without ever making a new coat for herself. Yangbum felt terrible about this. All mothers in the world sacrifice themselves and think only of their children, he thought.

Baa-aa—the lamb’s bleating again. There was nothing unusual about a lamb’s bleating emanating from a flock of sheep. When he’d finished tanning the lambskin, he rose again to check on his flock and saw that a few sheep were wandering into the woods to the left. Yangbum felt a sudden pain in his heart. When a sheep goes into a forest the wool gets caught on the tree branches. Yangbum ran toward the woods, shouting in anguish. When there’s no path through the woods, it’s tough going, and when there are dry willow and juniper branches everywhere poking out like horns, of course the wool is going to get damaged. Yangbum thought: What is a nomad’s livelihood if not wool and hides? Without wool, they had no income. How else could they possibly get by? Whenever he had such thoughts, Yangbum felt a pain in his heart. Such worries had caused his hair to start graying and fine wrinkles to creep up on his forehead and around his eyes. Yangbum ran, panting, and by the time he reached the edge of the forest, his mouth tasted like blood. How different from when he was young, he thought. He continued to holler as he went to rescue the stragglers from the woods, and only after they were safe did he calm down a little.

He drove the flock around the ridge, then sat facing the sun. In the mornings the wind comes from the southeast, and as soon as it gets to midday, it always switches directions and comes from the northwest. Yangbum knew that this was the direction the wind came from when the sky cleared up. But in the afternoon the wind becomes a bit colder up on the mountains. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and admired the distant scenery. From a high vantage point you can see all below you, as is known. That’s what the Old Man of the Earth had said, wasn’t it? “If you can’t see into the distance, then climb up the mountain.”

The world was completely still. Yangbum thought about how they say this world he inhabited was round, like an egg, and how it kept turning day and night, like a wheel. He couldn’t help but laugh. No matter what, he still believed that a formless power watched over the people of this world. When Yangbum explained the karmic principle of cause and effect to the kids, he employed an analogy that others had explained to him: if you sow barley, barley will grow. Yangbum looked into the distance again, and the distance was still so unfathomable, so mysterious. Yangtso must be somewhere off in the distance now, he thought. From the day he was born, Yangbum had never set foot outside this little land of his. Before his mother passed, her only wish was to make a pilgrimage to Lhasa, but she died before Yangbum could help her fulfill that wish. As her only son, Yangbum had failed her, and he still felt ashamed. Yangbum’s expression darkened. Why, just like his parents, did he only have one son? A family should have at least two sons. If you had enemies then you needed allies, people to consult with. But this was all heaven’s plan, so what could he do? Yangbum’s mind was still filled with doubts. After a moment, it occurred to him that they were out of tea. Yangbum and his wife loved to drink tea. It’s always nice to have tea after you eat. If there was no tea, Yangbum became restless. How was he going to buy tea? Yangbum’s family couldn’t even afford it anymore, and he couldn’t just sell off the sheep. If it were summertime, he could shear off a bit of wool and run straight out to buy some. Yangbum was again reminded that, without wool, nomads had no means of survival. The money they’d earned from selling last year’s yield was all gone. Provisions from the National Grain and Oil Company had cost them seven hundred yuan, they’d donated two hundred for the new assembly hall at the monastery, they’d paid tw0 thousand for the pasture tax…the money was all gone. Sometimes Yangbum hated money. However much you had, that’s how much you ended up spending. But he loved money, too, because money could land his son a wife in the future. To get a wife you had to have money. To get money you had to do a good job tending the sheep. Who could deny that Yangbum was a good shepherd? As he sat on the hillside sunning himself, young shepherds gathered at his feet and made him tell stories. The kids loved Yangbum’s stories. They were completely captivated by them. He told them the stories of “Rabbit and Mother Bear,” “Wolf Rescues Horse from the Swamp,” and that sort of thing. The kids listened to him raptly, not even blinking. This gave Yangbum a sense of pride and joy. When he’d finished telling his stories, he asked the kids where the good grazing spots were, and they answered him truthfully because they wanted to hear more stories. If he heard about a good pasture he hadn’t been to before, he felt he should take his flock there the very next day. But in front of the kids he feigned indifference and played down their suggestions, telling them that he’d been to that bit of land and there was no grass, or the quality of the grass was poor, and so on. As Yangbum had aged, this was the kind of man he had become.

Yangbum left the kids and headed back to his flock, plying his prayer beads and chanting manis as he went. After his mother died, Yangbum vowed to recite one hundred million manis for her. This was the only way he could show his gratitude. He was constantly praying that his beloved mother would be reborn in the pure land. Baa-aa—a lamb’s bleating suddenly came from afar. Yangbum looked up startled and saw a lamb being carried away in the talons of an eagle. Kiii—Yangbum yelled, but his voice had no power. He panicked, running around in circles and looking up into the sky, no idea what to do. The eagle soared to a height of a thousand-odd meters, then suddenly released the lamb from its grasp. Yangbum raced to the spot, stumbling and panting for breath. Everything became blurry, and he felt as if the earth were shaking. He staggered up to the little lamb, but it was too late, it was lifeless. It was the ewe, Gyatoma’s, the one that had been born that morning. The mother charged about the flock, bleating. This, of course, was a mother’s anxiety at not being able to find her child. No doubt, Yangbum would respond with a sudden cry of anguish. He gathered the lamb’s body in his arms and examined it, furrowing his brow. With trembling hands, he placed the lamb in the bag and carried it on his back. Baa-aa—the ceaseless sound ringing in his ears was the bleating of the ewe, Gyatoma. The bleating filled the entire valley.

Yangbum herded his flock down the slope, utterly despondent.

A handful of grown lambs gamboled about on the ridge and their little race agitated a corner of the flock. The just-grown lambs were adorable. They bumped into one another, butting heads and playing around just like fully grown adults. Though the lambs were grown, there was no guarantee they’d live. The arrival of spring is a tough time for many sheep, adults and young alike. In Yangbum’s opinion, there were two crucial junctures when it came to a lamb’s survival. The first was the time just after their birth. Many lambs die at that time, most from starvation due to the young, inexperienced ewes not taking care of their offspring, and some because they can’t properly digest their mother’s milk. The second crucial juncture was their first spring, as all sheep suffer from the shortage of grass and the snowstorms that come in springtime. Yangbum worried about the lambs as he directed his enmity toward the spring. But if there were no spring, the world would be in eternal winter, and how brutal and terrifying a prospect that was. Yangbum had thought about this many times, and he thought about it again now. His mind was filled with contradictions that he wouldn’t be able to resolve for his whole life. Thinking like this made him tired. He sighed, brought his hand to his forehead to look down the mountain, and saw the sun shivering as it raced toward the western peaks. It was time now to take the flock back. The sunlight from the west flooded the mountains and valleys with gold, lending a little warmth to this late winter season. Yangbum drove the flock down off the slope and into the valley. The grassy meadow in the valley was soft and pleasant, like a carpet, and it gave him a sense of calm. As soon as he reached this spot, Yangbum undid his belt as usual, and after a quick look around, squatted down to relieve himself. The sheep, as though they could read his thoughts, began to make their way slowly homeward. Baa-aa—the ewes bleated as they trotted to and fro at the back of the flock, ushering on their lambs. Yangbum hunched over as he herded the flock on, furrowing his brows and sighing. It’s the same for everyone when they get to this age, no matter what they do—the mind might be willing, but the body isn’t. At least that’s what Yangbum thought. Baa-aa—the ewes bleated nonstop, running around their lambs and nuzzling them. When Yangbum headed home in the evening, he circled the flock slowly, just as he did in the morning. The sheep wandered freely back toward home, munching on grass as they went, their pace matching Yangbum’s tired gait. Eventually, the flock reached the small hill near home. Before, that hill had seemed huge, but now it had gotten smaller. Yangbum was so young back then. People’s perceptions change as they get older. That’s why everyone in the camp called him grandpa now and sought his advice on things. The flock slowly passed the hill. Baa-aa—the languid bleating of the ewes and the lambs was a magnificent music accompanying the dusk landscape. Once they passed the hill, his black yak-hair tent, his home, materialized clearly before him, and Yangbum found some strength. At that point, he left the flock and headed for home, hunched over and plying his prayer beads. As he walked, Yangbum’s gaze was fixed solely on the ground in front of him, and not toward his tent. When he arrived a short distance from his tent, his daughter-in-law came to welcome him. Yangbum responded to his daughter-in-law’s greetings in his usual manner. Not only was his daughter-in-law good at taking care of things at home, she honored his son and she always showed genuine respect for Yangbum himself, and Yangbum thought that this was exactly how a daughter-in-law should be.

Yangbum entered his home, sat on the sheepskin rug by the door, and couldn’t help but heave a deep sigh. As he stoked the fire in the hearth he noticed that his son still wasn’t back from the yak pen. His son was always urging Yangbum to take it easy and let him look after the sheep, but Yangbum didn’t dare to place the flock in his son’s care. He thought that his son didn’t have enough experience. Seeing that his daughter-in-law had prepared dinner for him, he felt deeply satisfied. His son and his daughter-in-law were starting to stand on their own two feet, he thought to himself. Yangbum undid his belt, draped his lambskin coat over his shoulders, and sat down gently to mull some things over. There’s never any end to the affairs of man.

Yangbum thought about how great it would be if his wife were still alive. After Yangbum had gotten married, his mother didn’t need to go dung collecting anymore, and in the same way, when his daughter-in-law arrived, his wife didn’t need to do all the housework anymore. All he and his wife had needed to worry about was making their food; milking the yaks, churning the butter, cleaning out the pen, gathering dung, spinning yarn, weaving—these were hard tasks. Yangbum would never forget just how hard his wife had worked for this family when she was alive. Yangbum still thought that his wife was superior to all the other wives in the world, and now he felt a greater affection for her than ever. But he would never see his wife again, and Yangbum knew very well that, at this age, he wasn’t long for this world either. Now that he was in his twilight years, he felt that it was time to make a pilgrimage and acquire some merit for the good of his next life. Every time the lama told him he should do it before it was too late, Yangbum felt a wave of panic. He ate the evening meal his daughter-in-law had made for him, and he knew that the time had come when he no longer needed to give advice to his son and daughter-in-law. It was time for his son to take over the flock. Yangbum could never forget his lifelong experience as a shepherd. Now, not only was his son a grown man, he had given him a grandson, so there was no need to worry about whether or not he could look after the sheep. After reaching this conclusion, Yangbum finally felt content. He was so frail now and his vision was failing. It had gotten so bad that, when he looked out of the tent, he couldn’t even make out the little lambs in their pen anymore. Yangbum thought that one day his son would have to pass the flock on to his own son, just like this. Sometimes Yangbum was worried. What kind of shepherd would his grandson be? Would he take good care of the sheep? And like that, like that, it slowly got dark. It got dark.

placeholder
Author
Takbum Gyel is one of the most prominent Tibetan authors working today and has published numerous novels and collections of short fiction since he began writing in the 1980s. His work has been translated into several languages, including Chinese, Japanese, English, German, and French.
Translator
Christopher Peacock is a scholar of Chinese and Tibetan literatures. His translations have appeared in journals including Chinese Literature Today, Pathlight, and Ploughshares Solos. He is the translator of Tsering Döndrup’s The Handsome Monk and Other Stories, published by Columbia University Press.