Jeremy Allen is a student on Life Writing. The following is an exert from a longer piece on his unusual and difficult love story.
Purnima will go to her village this weekend with a case full of watches and of clothes made by women earning 20p an hour, worn once by the unimaginably rich women of England, given away and now returning as gifts to their country of origin. There is no need for Purnima to take her own clothes. She will wear tribal clothes in her village and when she goes out of the village she must be fully covered so as not to distract the preying, leering eyes of the capitalists in the bazaar.
The watches will be novel. The women of the jungle Hills don’t need to be told when it is time to wake, do their morning chores and walk to the steep fields to start work before the sun rises. The children don’t need to be told when it is time to go to school, because there are no teachers. The women don’t need to be told when to return. They know that as soon as the light dims they have half an hour to get home before dark. They must then bath in the ponds and have the meals ready for when the men return from hunting or drinking.
In the Hills, people know when it is time to kill a chicken to prepare the land for growing rice and they know when it is time to kill a pig to celebrate harvest. They know which fields will be next to cultivate to maintain the 11-year cycle and sustain the jungle that sustains them.
They know the year when the bamboo flowers blossom and the rats will come and they will starve.
A girl knows when it is time to start covering her chest when she goes to the edges of the village. She knows when the soldiers and settlers will start to size her up with their air of entitlement. She knows when her parents will worry about where she baths and goes to the toilet.
The girl’s male cousins know when it is time to invite in boys of her nation from other villages. They will show the invited boys the hut where she will be sitting, giggling and waiting with her girl friends. Her parents will respectfully retire to the back room of the hut. The boys will know when it is time to leave and go back through the dark jungle to their village. But she will know which boy she wants to stay a little longer. She knows that there must be three moons and three long, drink fuelled negotiations with the people of her village and the boy’s village before they can marry.
A man knows that when he gets weak and his skin turn yellowish time is drawing in. The Hill people know the time span for malaria, diarrhoea and typhoid. There is no need for care homes in the Hills.
I will watch every second on every timepiece available while Purnima is travelling through a country at war with itself. I will watch the news counting the bombs, riots and killings that happen each day. I will only rest when her brothers have escorted her to her peaceful village in the jungle to give out the watches and hug our children. I will watch every hour until she returns with ginger, chillies, dried fish, turmeric, tamarind and new, but smelly clothes.
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