She hands me a chunk of betel nut
I place it in my mouth.
My teeth test its strength.
My tongue knocks the nut
across the roof of my mouth
down the inside of my cheek.
Saliva washes over its bitter surface,
slowly softening the outer layer
till its skin peels back
and the next hard layer is revealed.
Bitter, long lasting, slow to dissolve.
I left Mulgavan to talk with a widow who has been sharing her story with me for an upcoming book that the non-profit Voice of Witness is putting out. This is the third time I’ve interviewed her and the first time she tells me she wants to die.
Her husband, a cotton farmer, killed himself two years ago. The pressures of his mounting debt were too much for him to handle. He slowly slipped from being a loving father and ideal husband to an irritated and anxious man, increasingly dependent on loans from private moneylenders. Her son, 15, hates to see his mother so sad. He leaves when I come to talk with her. He doesn’t want to hear about his father.
Six months ago she slipped and broke her hip. A doctor fixed her up with a metal rod and a screw and told her she can’t work for 2 years. She can barely get across her house–the house that her husband took a loan on in 2007 for his farm. Last month the bank officials came to tell her that if she didn’t pay the loan they would force her out of her house and board it up. Left with no other choice, she pleaded her mother to tell her brothers to give her the 3 lakh rupees (about $5,500 USD) that she needed to pay off the loan. Her brothers did not willingly give her the money. And although things are settled now and she doesn’t have to worry about the house, the tension that she feels she has caused her family adds weight to the burdens she has been bearing for the last 2 years. At least before she could work hard and try her best to support her children. Now she sits in her house, thinking about the things that she has told me, waiting for the day when she’ll be able to walk and work.
This work is slow and bitter. Like supari.