The Washing Machine
Aagrika Neupane, Division 2, 12th grade #ws17e-s2d2

My fingers tapped along the sun-heated surface, adjusting to the searing temperature. My fingers dug in, and I heaved myself on top of the water tank. The tank serves as a reserve for Kathmandu, Nepal’s failing water supply, and perched on the rooftop of my grandmother’s four-story house, the tank also offers an eagle’s eye view of the cramped city.

In the alley below, a group of boys rolled their footballs down to the field, laughter and kites trailing behind them. To my left lay rows of corn stretching to a mass of mud bricks, remnants of a once-proud home that succumbed to the recent earthquake. To my right, the house where my grandmother’s housekeeper, Sushmita Aunty, rented a flat. The house was pressed against ours, a small railing separating the two rooftops.

I breathed in the nostalgia and turned my gaze upwards, expecting to be lost in the pull of the sky. The water tank is one of my favorite corners of the world. When I was a child, the height made me feel empowered, as if gravity’s hold had weakened. Seeing the world beneath my feet sparked a burning need to soar above the mundane world towards the sun. I fancied my life to be a ladder of clouds, and I reached out to every book, lecture, and new experience to elevate my knowledge. At the age of sixteen, however, that flame began to flicker. I doubted. I realized my drive to excel was propelling me upwards, albeit blindly. My goals were as intangible as the clouds upon which they hung. Where did I want to end up? Higher than my parents? But how could I compare myself to my mother who grew up in a world where marriage, not education, was a girl’s wings?

A loud thud interrupted my thoughts.

Turning, I saw Sushmita Aunty standing on her terrace next to her tearful daughter, Prakriti. A bucket of laundry was in her hands, and a textbook lay at her feet. When Prakriti bent to reach for the book, Sushmita Aunty shoved the laundry at her direction and headed towards the stairs. But as her foot hovered above the first step, she turned and reminded Prakriti of her “kartabya”— her duty.

Prakriti wiped away her tears before resigning herself to scrubbing the clothes. Cursing Nepal’s lack of indoor plumbing and privacy, I began to plan an escape route, but my feet headed towards the shared railing.
""Ke Bho?” What happened?

Prakriti told me that she could not go to the internet café to finish her math homework because she had to wash her brothers’ school uniforms in time for them to dry in the afternoon heat.

I looked back towards my grandmother’s washroom and the washing machine within, undertaking the mundane work that I needed done so I could focus on my aspirations. When my eyes met Prakriti’s tear-brimmed ones once again, a subtle reminder of my privilege cursed my thoughts. While access is not always easy, moving to America has offered me a platform from which to reach for opportunity. When my newly-immigrant parents could not afford babysitters, I retreated to libraries and churches as my refuge. When I did not feel challenged at my local school, I sought admission to a college-level boarding school. I cannot imagine a bucket of laundry stopping me from pursuing my dreams in a world where anything is possible.

Later, as the school uniforms cycled in my grandmother’s washer and Prakriti and I reached the last problem from her assignment, my role in life finally clicked. For the first time, I had torn my gaze away from the sky and onto the people below. Just like that washing machine, the most important piece of technology to me and Prakriti at the time, I want my mark to be woven into the nooks and crannies of peoples’ lives, offering them access to opportunities they rightly deserve.
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