A Nepali Tale
The Coat of Arms of Nepal. (WikiCommons)

A Nepali Tale
by James Coburn

Tea pot whistles
with steam sent flying
in a sarangi hiss.
An old gray shopkeeper’s eyes
take aim as dim as they be.
His Nepali mind is tone deaf.
Steam fogs window panes
in droplets falling to floor;
the shopkeeper’s sweat dribbles
down his unshaven cheeks.
Tea tastes flat at high noon
as a young stranger
wearing a rudraksha bead
walks through the door.
A bright Nepali student asks for rice.
Nothing more.
Hunger faces greed to pay a price.
“Three pounds, is the price for life
with three months to pay.
I will watch for you every day,”
the shopkeeper demands; his hands sway.
Spring nods and buys books for study
and shares rice with his friend.
He whispers, “The day is not lost.
I am on the mend.”
Spring looks for work without relent,
but his fortune grows numb
at three months’ end.
Miles away, the shopkeeper sips his tea,
breaks his bread, not a note
of compassion in his head.
“Breach of contract,” he murmurs
after 90 days.
He grinds his teeth demanding
that Spring be arrested.
A night in jail, the young man spends.
“I’ll confiscate his inheritance,”
the shopkeeper says.
Only a glimmer of hope
lifts Spring to prevail
as his meager farm land is taken
for a bill not paid.
The old man schemes to make Spring his slave.
“Breach of contract,” the shopkeeper repeats.
Steam whistles beyond the door.
Not a moment of pleasure,
the shopkeeper’s fingers curl.
More inheritance comes Spring’s way.
He goes to court to buy back his land.
With hard work he has a bumper crop.
Five years pass and the shopkeeper
continues his life alone
without a soul to care for him,
he sits left rigid as stone.
Karma catches him as his body constricts
with no more threats from his tightening lips.
In a panic he feels weary and faints at the door.
When he awakens, medical bills
brew at his store.
His money depleted with nothing
left but dust as a cold reminder
of his lack of trust.
Out on the streets the shopkeeper
begs with eyes full of lust.
One day Spring sees him,
brings him rice and more.
His life is pure kindness,
nothing less in store.
The shopkeeper’s face loosens
as tight creases relax.
“But I was so cruel to you
and you repay me with this.”
Spring smiles as the shopkeeper’s
eyes spark and kindness transcends greed.
Hard winter changes to spring.
He pays for the shopkeepers’ debts,
plants tomatoes and flowers
Spring buys the old man’s shop,
seized at auction,
repairs dry wooden door
and paints it a warm color of the sun.
He gives the old man the key.
“Accept my gift,” he says.
The shopkeeper’s feels his redeemed.
He whispers,
“My life is not lost.”
He makes his shop a welcome place
for all men he sent to disgrace.
He provides hot tea for travelers
and those without a cent.
The old man gives money
and food to those budding lives
he had never met.

James Coburn is an Oklahoma poet, photographer and journalist. His first book of poetry, "Words of Rain," was a 2015 finalist for the Oklahoma Book Awards. His work has appeared numerous anthologies. A long­time journalist for The Edmond Sun, Coburn is a 2013 inductee of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.