They said the fog was made of the tears of the old soldiers, those who left the town to make long journeys to god-knew-where. The soldiers grieved, those who stayed back said, for the homes they had left behind, and for the memories that were forced to linger. After all, if you left the fog behind you, there was nothing left of your past. You left your memories at the brink of the cliff, and started anew.
The fog covered the town in its entirety. There were days the thumb-shaped hill across the river would disappear in the mist, then there were days when the fog sneaked into bedrooms. It had a peculiar taste which everybody said was the taste of longing—a taste of the tears of the men who had left.
Husbands and wives had learnt to use their other senses than their sight. The children would play with the mist, sometimes twirling it around their fingers as they did with fireflies that ventured into the town, drawing shapes as one would on a fogged-out glass pane. Or they would play hide and seek in the fog, even though everybody warned them not to trust it as they would their dogs, or their cows, or the goats. The fog was not a pet, the women whose faces had wrinkles of sadness said, it had been here since forever, even before they settled in this bowl near the river.
But why would anyone live in a place that was perpetually hidden by a sheet of clouds? The children would ask. For that, you’d have to ask those who came before and spoke from the mist, the women would reply, and leave it at that. This would encourage the children to pose their questions to the mist. “Where do we come from?” one would ask, and shush all the others. Or, “Why are you here?”
The fog rarely answered, but it didn’t stop them from asking. The fog had a voice. Not one, but many. That much they knew. Sometimes, these voices guided them away if they walked too near the edge of the cliff. It came as a whisper, a cold shiver, a goose bump, like a long-lost memory that suddenly came back to them. Then at other times, the voices played havoc. Cows would stumble down paths they had grazed on all their lives. Even the goats— sure-footed as they were—would slip from the cliff as if in a hallucinatory daze, imbibing the narcotic fog like the pleasures of raksi, the home-brew made from millet.
No child had ever been harmed, but the fog was not to be made an enemy of. The women warned the children with the story of old Tulku from man yeons ago, who made it his mission to make the fog go away. Tulku had been a powerful shaman in his own right, and even managed to make the sun glimpse through the mist, but that night, the fog returned with a vengeance, swallowing Tulku’s home. The next morning, the women said, there was nothing left of Tulku or his home. The land where his home had once been was now barren, and nothing grew on it, not even weeds. Cows refused to graze on it, and the dogs pissed and shat everywhere else but on Tulku’s land.
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