Gurkhaland

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Charlie and his wife Rachel are on a vacation in Nepal to forget a horrible incident that occured in the past.

Submitted: June 23, 2015

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Submitted: June 23, 2015

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I

  “This is a perfect place” I said preemptively as I glanced sideways at my wife, “it looks very serene, it’s a perfect getaway”. I held on to her hand as the plane touched the tarmac and swerved perceptibly to avoid one of the many sand beds that extended in different directions around the runway. The airport itself was not much more than an archaic territory in the open Himalayan air, where old jetliners crept by soundlessly, and neon lit brick and glass terminals stood like abandoned ships with sedated sailors inside. Darkness has descended upon the ancient sparsely lit city some hours ago and I could see the stars on the distant surface of the sky. My wife, seated next to me, was sifting through things on her cell phone. “Isn’t it a bit too early to be checking your phone baby” I asked in a cautious note. She looked up and at me quite listlessly, then looked down at the phone again, “no it’s not” she responded, “I’m just checking on Abi”. She later said something through the blustering air and above the metallic din the travelers made with their feet on the stairs as they descended the plane, I couldn’t hear it at first, but when we boarded the shabby airport bus she repeated it again. “I miss Milwaukee” she said, more quietly this time. The long traveling hours have understandably taken their toll on her, and it was my duty as always to keep her happy. That’s why I brought her half a world away to Kathmandu; to keep her happy and draw us both away from whatever that was trying to push us closer to the brink. We strolled along the terminal under the feeble lights and I was teased again by something beneath her mild scowl, it was the view of the girl I met and fell in love with in Milwaukee some years ago. I began at that moment, as I have many times before, to see things with her eyes and feel the surroundings with her senses, and I started to miss Milwaukee myself.

There was a mild stir around the small arrival lounge as the travelers paced about on the ceramic floor and made reflections of themselves in the brick-framed windows. Many of them stood in queues that pointed toward the dark brown Formica counters where slight native officers sat, while others stood at identically fashioned pillars, filling out forms and feeling for things in their touristy pouches. The irregularity of the scene bothered my wife and made her wonder what we should do and which forms to fill out. “Come--- let me help you” a voice flanked us as the owner’s hand touched my shoulder. It was some sort of an official, a somewhat creepy bald middle-aged fellow dressed in a white shirt and jeans with a badge hanging from his neck. He directed us to an automated visa machine, where my wife and I stood for a while afterward, tapping the touch-screen until a small token emerged from the side. The fellow came back soon after with another man and asked for the tokens we had sticking from our hands. “He get you visa, twenty five dollars each” he said pointing at his associate, “give him tip after ok?” It all seemed odd and underhanded to my wife, who stood there whisking the foremost tufts of her tweedy blonde hair.

Out on the pavement, in the cool dry air outside the reddish brick building, my wife and I scampered back and forth not really knowing where to head. “Wasn’t the hotel suppose to send us a car” she asked and then pointed me to the row of natives who stood a few feet away holding name placards against their chests. She was disappointed when I came back unaccompanied and suggested that we take a regular cab. A conspicuous looking native in a ragged leather jacket slinked up to me and gently pulled me aside. “You want chill out stuff” he whispered in a raspy voice that came from somewhere underneath fierce yellowish eyes, “whatever you want I have”. I declined his offer but he insisted and told me that he knew exactly what kind of people required his services and I was just one of those people. I checked my wife’s face for signs of disturbance but she was busy pressing away on her phone. “Who was that guy” she asked as we bowed one after the other to get inside the cab, I told her it was no one important then cracked a joke and she smiled in the glow the phone cast on her face. I leapt over her and tickled her wildly and in the suddenness of it she laughed. Notes from her undulating laughter filled the cab and her movement under me was dainty and full of life. It was the first time since we boarded the plane in Milwaukee that I saw her wiggle with such joy. She laughed harder at some point, and drew a hand up in the air to flick away the curly locks of her hair that fell on her reddening face and her lilac lips and her deliciously delicate skin. She repeated my name through her laughter and asked me, as melodically as children ask their daddies, to stop. When I finally did, our fingers were intertwined and her naked body was under mine on an old hotel bed, and her ocean-blue eyes were finding joyful moments from our past everywhere on my face. “I love you Charlie” she whispered, we were both, for a moment, past the disappointment with the uncleanliness of the room and with whatever it is we attempted to escape. I kissed her lips and drew closer to where her heart beat faster under her skin and inhaled the scent of Milwaukee in her breath.

Our hotel was located on the lively Thamel square, but by the time we were done making love, midnight fell upon the city like a curtain on an unpopular play and stirred the nearby cats into pained caterwauls and the dogs into furious barks. My wife’s body tossed under the sheets and her exposed arms stretched and folded while her dried lips whispered ‘Abi Abi’ into the darkness. I woke up at some point during the night to the sight of her upper body perched upright against the bedpost, she managed to slip into one of her loose t-shirts earlier and was presently scrawling up and down an array of Abi’s pictures on her phone, a gloomy expression flickering on her face. I sat quietly by her side as she looked deeper and deeper into her child’s photographs, and thought about all the wounds that were presently opening up in her heart. “Do you want her to come live with us?” I asked, looking at her profile and stroking her hair. She looked sideways at me without a word, then turned and hung her head over the phone again. The strength she relied upon to hold her back in the interim failed her and her hanging head sunk deeper with the weight of a lone teardrop that seeped from her eye and coursed down her cheek and finally fell on her phone screen; shortly thereafter, she was shaking in the throes of a cruel weep. I reached over her and gathered her body, “I’m sorry, I am so sorry---my God” she screamed as she resisted my embrace at first, then fell sideways like an nonsentient lump into my arms. There was an expression of remorse visible on her face when she woke up a few hours later, something the rising sun reflected on and exposed as irrelevant to her nightly cries. “I’m so sorry baby, I must have kept you up all night” she said as she settled herself on my declined body. She leaned closer to where my face was and kissed my lips and wiggled her body on mine. She shed her clothes somewhat stiffly and reached down to undress me with half sad eyes. I took her stirred skin on a voyage to the couch where we twisted and rolled a little bit more and sought each other’s breath, but something in her resisted the occasion and kept her turning away toward where the sun was pouring its light generously through the window. Suddenly she was made aware of how ugly and old the room was, so she dismounted me before it was complete and hurried toward the bathroom where she remained for a while weeping again. About an hour later she emerged from the bathroom and settled on the couch next to me, she stared at me for a moment then turned away to look absently at the television screen, it was hours before she turned toward me and spoke again.

II

The American couple we met two days later had a tour guide with them who was supposed to take them to another city in Nepal the following day. My wife and I met the three at the trendy ‘one jazz note’ bar and grill in the heart of Thamel, during the time when they were taking a break from their night out around Kathmandu. The tour guide, whose name was Siddhartha, spoke with a severe stutter that earned him the sympathy and trust of the couple. Like all Americans traveling abroad to a strikingly new place, Ray and Carla carried some of the protective elements of America with them and spoke with guarded admiration and anticipation about whatever that awaited them in the strange land of Nepal. They displayed all manners of American affectation in the way they treated their private little Gurkha; they listened to him intently as he struggled to speak and were painfully keen to turn the conversation back to him every time they felt he was left out. My wife and I too found Siddhartha to be quite impressive for a guy whose powerful stutter made his entire face wrinkle every time he opened his mouth. He spoke passionately about his country and how well he knew it and we were all impressed by how well he sold it to tourists. Siddhartha knew his business as a tour guide and certainly loved it. It was the sort of distinction that poor people in poor countries always need to set themselves above the rest of the toiling lot. The fact that he had to have been to that bar many times before with numerous other tourists was evident in how easily he commanded the bar crew and warded them off whenever their presence at our table was uncalled for. Siddhartha used his skill and tokenism to elevate himself to the center of our conversation, he pretended to understand all of our American jokes and references and seemed to tie it all to whatever he attempted to lead us into. Siddhartha’s tame features and small stature were strangely conspicuous in the large outdoor bar, amidst the wooden tables and chairs, and against the squiggly occidental tunes that issued from all directions. He ordered our drinks and recommended what we should drink, he directed our conversations and planned the rest of the evening, “I I nnow ddis nice pplace” he blurted painfully, “llets ggo ddere”.

Siddhartha later guided us along a maze of ravaged roads and shuttered shops and dark wet allies, to a small noisy rooftop shisha club. We were asked to take off our shoes shortly after we entered through the door. Ray made a sarcastic comment about the exercise and so did Carla, who took forever to take off her shoes and had to grab a hold of my wife’s hand when she tripped over an unseen carpeted step. It was the first time I saw my wife laugh in nearly two days, she looked amazing in her beige fleece jacket, her white blouse and her checkered red scarf, her blonde hair reflected the glow from the candles that stood on every table around the place. She looked like some sort of a journalist reporting on the state of the world, waiting and wanting for her messages to be understood. We stood over the low tables for a while contemplating where we should sit, Siddhartha leapt like a pet leopard and made suggestions on the seating arrangements. He seated the two women on one side, their husband and boyfriend next to them on the ground against the hard cylindrical pillows, and seated himself alone on the opposite side. The women, in lotus positions touching one another at the knee, spoke about America longingly and shared stories about the towns where they were born and raised. Carla is a Houston native who spun around the USA and ended up spinning out of it to Shanghai where she met Ray and almost immediately fell in love with him. My wife spoke about her native Wisconsin, about her father and mother, and about me and how we met and fell in love. I was leaning over past Ray's burliness to look at her and see my mention on her wine-colored lips. She spoke and gesticulated gently in the shadows the flailing candle flames threw in numerous directions and seemed comforted by the presence of her kinfolk halfway across the world. Then her eyes fell suddenly on a reflection on the table and she was quiet, it must have been a memory forming within her like a storm.

My wife then looked up again and stared searchingly at the slight Nepalese waiter who brought the items to our table; two hookas for Ray and Carla, and two glasses of wine for us. Shortly thereafter, the already smoky room was drowning deeper under clouds of smoke and the ciderish smell of local beer. Siddhartha reached for a tightly rolled joint he had in his pocket, lit it and passed it to Ray who took a deep drag from it then grinned widely under his regent moustache. My wife and I listened to the couple as they described their lives and the coincidences that brought them together the way astronauts would describe strange lifeforms on other planets. We looked at each other and smiled and realized how temporarily distracted we were by the American couple from our troubled thoughts. “Can you believe it” Ray said as his presently drooping eyes wandered about, “although we are both from Houston, we never met until we both were in Shanghai--- isn’t that strange? We were both members of this committee that our company put together to solve a major logistical issue, we didn’t even meet in Shanghai before that, isn’t that just bizarre”

“Science brought us together” Carla chimed in and reached for her lover’s hand

“Yes yes it’s science” Ray concurred, “the magic of science brought us together”

“I guess you guys were made for each other then” my wife said

“Oh yes” Carla replied, “I think you and Charlie are too”

“I suppose we are yes” my wife said after a brief pause she used to look to her side and politely decline, on both of our behalf, the joint Carla offered.

From the window at my wife’s side, the moon was a bright metallic plate with grayish smoke static on its surface, calmly eyeing the patches of fluffy cloud that sailed across the dark sky to where it hung. Sitting across from us, Siddhartha looked like a worm that was entering into a mound of sand, little by little until none of it except its tip was visible. He was now at the end of his game, high on the local beer he warned us against and the joint he lit with his own hands. He had plenty to warn us about then, one of which was Indians. “You can trust everyone in this city except Indians” he said laboriously after a pause and a wince, “those thieves who migrate to this country to steal our jobs”. The beautiful Nepal of moments ago disappeared from his speech, there were no more words left in his mouth, just teeth ready to bite and snatch meat from the jaws of migrant Indians. He later sunk deeper into a somewhat comical lapse and began winking at me and raising a thumb up in the air. “Oh my God what’s the matter bro” Ray exclaimed and chuckled after noting the gesture, “are you gay or something bro---that’s funny”. We all laughed uncontrollably and elbowed each other and tapped on the table. Siddhartha himself laughed and shuddered and proclaimed "no I’m not a gay I’m not a gay". My wife laughed and leaned over Carla and hiccupped on a sip of wine; red wine is her favorite, it always makes her giggle and produce this ruddy effect on her cheeks. I realized then, amidst the laughter and the temporary joy the wandering Americans brought, somewhere between the dark patches and those shapelessly lit by the dancing candle flames, how much I loved her and how beautiful she is. I realized how much I needed this trip to disconnect from everything I knew back home, just so that I can focus the entirety of my attention on her and swallow everything she is and savor it without a chaser.

We bid the American couple a cheerful farewell on the calm cool street, a few feet below where the golden candle lights still danced and reflected on the dark slight outlines of the few natives who sat by windows. Siddhartha, firm on his own two feet, apologized for his previous conduct and, with the fluidity he acquired from alcohol and hash, made us all promise to meet again in Nepal and choose him as our tour guide. We parted as joyfully as we met, the clouds that were flimsy and scattered a while ago were now bright orange and thick, gathering and hurrying toward the moon and intermittently obscuring its silvery eye. Then, at pace with the clouds above, my wife and I drifted into the darkness down the narrow rocky road, the outline of the American couple darkening in our wake. We walked for a while stumbling over rocks and skidding over mud while holding each other’s hands and whispering and giggling. A lone silvery strand of moonlight escaped the forming cloud cover and reflected on the puddles on the road, and exposed pieces of the clustered brick buildings and the shuttered shops. I heard my wife’s sigh precede a drum beat, a sweet conga-like rhythm in the dark distance… then I felt a few cool droplets of rain on my face. It reminded me of the time my wife and I were in Austin. A vision of a man came before my eyes; a tall blonde and blue-eyed man carrying a baby in his arms, I tripped and fell noisily on the misty gravel.

The next morning I woke up to the sight of my wife tending to the wounds on my arm, “we have to get a tour guide” she said as she glided a wet piece of cotton down to my elbow, “we can’t just roam aimlessly around the place without knowing where to go, we’ve been here for five days and we still haven’t seen anything, we haven’t even left Kathmandu, let’s get a tour guide and go around”. The tour guide I got up early that morning to hire turned out to be a crook with bad breath that I did not notice at first and a golden tooth my wife just couldn’t agree with. We parted ways with him sooner than we hired him and ended up being alone once again on the streets of Kathmandu. I walked behind my wife for miles and watched her from the distance as she squeezed past cars and motorcycles and dogs, through the bustling maze of neon-color brick buildings and the cluttered shops that were itched deep into their structures. She looked behind her every now and then to see how far I was, and smiled every time our eyes met in the distance. She then stopped on the verge of one of the shops and began to feel the cashmere scarfs that hung outside and swung in the wind. She bought one scarf for herself, one for me, and another shorter one for Abi, which she stared at almost the entire time that afternoon. We stepped out of the store and I watched her walk ahead of me once again in the greying glitter of high noon, stiffly swinging her arms like a child lost on the way back from school, fulfilling her secret wish to be abandoned by the whole world at once. In the evening we stopped at a bar and got high on wine, and on the way back to the hotel we discharged its effect in the form of passionate kisses that squeaked and filled the night. In the darkness I saw the moon in her eyes. She started to undress me on the threshold of the hotel room, her passion rose like a burning wisp as she led the way to the bed. She spent hours on top of me then hours beneath, moaning and swaying like a boat in a rain storm. “I love you Charlie” she whispered for the fourth time during the trip. We stayed on the bed side-by-side throughout the night like new lovers, but then, bit by bit, the feel of her body disappeared. When I woke up in the morning she was gone, she took all her belongings and left without a trace. She left nothing behind except a letter she carefully placed on her now empty side of the bed. The letter was brief and the paper on which it was written was dotted with drops of something.

‘Dear Charlie’ the letter began,‘When I left the room the streets were still dark, I thought that would be the perfect time to do such a dreadful thing. I didn’t want to be seen by anyone, I was so heavy with sadness that I thought a glance at my own reflection would send me tumbling down to the ground. There are no words that I could find to explain or justify what I had done, but I just couldn’t stay away from Abi anymore and I didn’t want us to return to Milwaukee together again. I didn’t just leave Kathmandu, but I have decided to leave the life we have together. I thought leaving while we are in a strange place will be easier than leaving our home and that is the reason why I agreed to go with you to Nepal, though I cannot say for certain that I had planned for this all along. I cannot live without Abi and I don’t expect you to raise a child who’s not your own. You are the kindest and gentlest man I have ever known but I am certain that you will not love Abi as much as her father will, despite the way he brought her into this world. Kevin is not a great man, but I know he loves Abi and I must return to him because I do not wish for Abi to grow up in some sort of brokenness. I need to be with her so that she grows up whole, I want to spare her the knowledge about how she came into this world. I hope you can find it in your infinite heart to forgive me someday and I hope that I can find the strength within me to live without you. As I am writing this letter I am already missing you and thinking about the pain of being without you. I waited until you turned the other way so that I don’t have to see your beautiful face and be overwhelmed. I will miss you, I will miss your voice and your face and the beautiful jazz music you play during the day, I will never love anyone as much as I love you…goodbye.

Love,

Rachel

I stopped counting the days or telling them apart for a long time after that morning. I stayed locked in my hotel room for what seemed like an eternity, rolling on the bed and thinking about Rachel in the interrelatedness of sensation and the limitlessness of emotion. I made numerous frantic calls to Wisconsin, hoping to catch her at a moment when she may have stopped by the house to pick up her stuff, but the calls rang endlessly without anyone ever picking them up. Then I called Ashok, the facilitator I met at the airport, and asked him if he had any hash for sale, and he did. I waited for him in the dark at the foot of the stairs that led from the hotel entrance. It was the first time in days that I leave my room so the air felt heavy and strange. He arrived at about midnight on a motorcycle and skidded slickly into a pitch black spot in the corner of the street, the sounds he made roiled the nearby dogs into bouts of dry huffy barks. “I usually sell large amounts to tourists but for you I’ll give you whatever I have for a special price” he said to me twice in a muffled tone from behind his helmet. I carried the black brick deep inside my pocket and flipped it between my fingers all the while as I climbed the stairs to my room. I had no extensive experience with hash so I struggled a bit at first and rolled a joint that fell from my hands many times and didn’t quite light up. Then I remembered what a friend of mine told me once about hash and broke off a few pieces and surrounded them with golden flames from a lighter one by one. One of the bigger pieces caught fire and stayed aflame for a while. I sank into the couch like a stone and gazed at it as it burnt. I got high on the strands of smoke it cast about and upwards toward the ceiling, and thought endlessly about Rachel. I saw her ghost pass through our now abandoned house in Milwaukee then slip out into an unfamiliar street, never to return again. Then I pictured Ashok standing over a table dropping hits of poison on the little brick before selling it to me, then I wistfully watched a cockroach dart from a place in the darkness and swim along the table across from me and seek refuge behind the ashtray. The room wiggled in a colorless fog and swallowed every remaining trace of Rachel’s presence, “what a miserable vacation this has been that couldn’t distract my wife from the one mistake she made” I whispered to myself in a stifled tone, “what a miserable man I am”. I plodded toward the bed where Rachel’s letter was and picked it up and read it again, line by line. I couldn’t stop thinking about how she may have looked when she wrote it and I cursed myself for not waking up in time to stop her from leaving. My life with her played like a reel before my eyes, starting from the day when we first met at the ‘Decibel Deep’ in Milwaukee, moving through the thick and thin of her instability, until that fateful day in Austin, and beyond to when she nearly forgave herself. The reel ended with a sepia-like burn out when I surrendered to sleep an hour or so before sunrise.

III

There was a form of crispness in the following morning, and despite its transience it prompted me to do things quite spontaneously and prevented the thoughts of Rachel, that still hung from my mind like a cobweb, from keeping me in bed. I realized my self and my own physical presence under the cold water that gushed from the showerhead in the sun-licked bathroom. There was a scent of something herbal in the air, it blended with the morning bustle that came from somewhere below the window. I slipped into a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and headed to the hotel’s rooftop for breakfast. Five floors above the stir of rickshaw handlers and artisans in the small littered alley, I stood with my arms on the ledge, between two flower pots, and gazed at the magnificent view of the thousand multi-colored brick houses perched within the endless embrace of the city’s lushness at the foot of the Himalayas. The same fellow who brought me and Rachel breakfast came around again, but with only one plate this time. He had a twinkle in his eyes and a warm constant smile on whatever was left of his face. He made a vague reference to Rachel and I told him that she had to leave and go back home on an urgent matter. He didn’t quite understand me but he kept his smile as he turned around and walked back to where he emerged from. At the lobby downstairs, tourists bustled excitedly at the onset of their journey to the new and strange place. Elderly Western couples in shorts and baseball caps holding on amorously to each other's wrinkled hands, and soldier-like Chinese folks bent under the weight of their hiking gear. Among the hotel employees who were helping these tourists settle down was a young exotic looking Nepalese, with black curly hair tied into a ponytail and a chiseled glistening face and lime-green eyes. I watched him as he deftly directed the tourists around and helped them with their luggage and their check-in forms. When he was done with all of it, he stepped outside on the ledge at the top of the stairs and settled down with a plump Balkan-looking girl into a much anticipated cigarette break. They sat there for a long while, arms intertwined, chatting away in a strange tongue and looking into each other’s eyes. The girl then rested her head on his shoulder and they both drifted away, far from the city, toward where the Himalayan peaks stood silent and snowcapped. I turned my head a few times to look at them while I journeyed farther away from the hotel, they were still in each other’s embrace, fading into the goldenness of the new day.

I listened carefully to the sound my sandals made on the gravel and gazed with wide open eyes at the day as it dressed the sky above the ancient street with a brisk hue. A smiling stray dog emerged from the heap of rubbish it was scavenging through and passed by me. I chased it for a while until it stopped, then I petted it and watched its smile grow wider on its dirtied face. When I lifted my hand and began to walk away, it abruptly shut its mouth and stared at me from a tilted head and a pair of pleading brown eyes. There were hundreds of people on that tributary of Thamel square at the time; natives and tourists huddled to the side, and cars and motorcycles passing by in between. The vendors, who rose at dawn, stood by their stores, and the fruit sellers and rickshaw handlers and drug peddlers cackled away and invited passersby. The ghost of Rachel appeared again, it walked ahead of me and led me to the shop where she bought her last memories of Kathmandu. I stood on its verge and felt the scarves that hung outside the way she did and tried to find a place in her mind. The thought ended when a hand landed softly on my shoulder and a voice cried out “heeey amigo”, it was Ray. He stood in a row with Carla and Siddhartha and they all had big bright smiles on their faces. We chatted for a while and they asked me about Rachel and I told them that she had to return home on an urgent matter. We then cracked a few jokes and laughed heartily before I held Carla’s hand and danced with her to music I made with my mouth in the middle of the road. I bid them a farewell that was full of glad surprise and proceeded down the road, looking back and waving at them several times as I did.

At the junction to my right, the only paved street i knew in Thamel unfurled far into the distance. I walked leisurely along it and cared little for the vehicles that were now speeding up and down their own space. Mesmerizing native music issued from a small record store on the other side of the road called ‘Nepal music center’, it followed me steadily as I traveled farther down. A red brick wall stretched wide and high on the same side a few blocks away, it looked as if it was erected along the outermost boundary of a presidential palace. I crossed the road and walked alongside it for a while until I got to a framed entrance at the center of it where a small plaque on the side read ‘dream garden’. I followed a small winding path to a dark wooden ticket office, where a thin native man sat rummaging through things behind a glass barrier. “Two hundred rupees” he named the entry fee when he finally took notice of me. The place appeared before me like magic after that; a lush green expanse dotted with lovers and friends lying by softly burbling fountains, surrounded by spotless white colonial villa-like structures and gazebos built on winding passageways. A handful of cozy palatial buildings stood in different directions embracing those who sat at tables on the front lawns and on rooftops, drinking and giggling away in the invisible hue of the rising floral scent. A sign that appeared on many walls led me to a quiet sun-kissed bar on the other end of the garden. The bartender greeted me with glad dignity and served me a bottle of local beer. I sat on the veranda outside the bar and stared at the people who wandered by and bathed in the golden light of the afternoon. I thought for a moment, as I looked at the bottle of ‘Gurkha’, about the thousands of brave soldiers who died in wars and ended up unwillingly lending the name of their regiment to the locally brewed beer tourists consumed to forget their trouble back home. I remembered the faces of the natives who stared at me and Rachel and all the other tourists with resigned indignation, like monuments on the lip of a harbor eyeing wayward sailors as they float through time to their quiet corner of the world. I had the liquefied essence of a Gurkha flowing through the bottle’s neck to my mouth.

“Are you sure you want another one sir? You already had six” the waiter cautioned me politely. When I looked above him at the sky, it was already beginning to darken and drive the visitors away and turn the once bright green grass below into grey ash. I settled the bill and left the dream garden before it turned into a nightmare. I followed along on meandering paths amidst the dying traffic, and listened to the sounds of shutters coming down until I got to a stretch on Thamel square that was bustling with nocturnal life. Rock music and dancing lights emanated from almost every window and shot from the surface of every rooftop. I hopped from bar to bar and had a few more Gurkhas, then I settled at a table in a bar close to the 'one jazz note' bar. I was in the company of three Britons who drove from London to Kathmandu where they planned to stay for months, trekking and discovering life and drinking the essence of Gurkhas. George was an architect, Dave was a barber and Paul was some sort of an agnostic missionary. They’ve known each other forever and at some point during their adult life they realized, like the rest of the westerners who flock to Nepal, just how disillusioned they are with life in the lonesome cold West. So they got into a van and headed to the land of the Gurkhas their grandfathers once pouched for her majesty’s service. On their way from London to Kathmandu, the trio drove through the most desolate and exotic regions on earth, they resisted every inkling to search for semblances of western life and chose instead to drive through deserts and prairies, taking naked pictures of themselves and playing crazy games in the open wilderness along the way. We chatted for long and gulped tequila shots and behaved like sailors do on a Saturday night. We screamed and howled and riverdanced on the stage to classic rock tunes. It was a true pleasure to meet such great individuals in the haze of drunkenness and to feel as though Marco Polo himself was there at that bar, talking about Ninjas and drinking Gurkhas and describing mountains made of glass. At the end of it all under the dying light we, in the typical manner of euphoric tourists, promised to meet again.

Under the light of the moon that had climbed the back of the Himalaya a few hours prior, I stumbled on the gravel and struggled to remember the way back to the hotel. I heard that drum beat in the far distance once again. It approached me without changing my direction and got more intense until I began to sway under its influence. On a ledge above a flight of stairs sat a middle-aged white man with long hair and grizzled beard and rags, a woman his age and a little girl were by his side. He was chanting something and beating somewhat irregularly on the drum. The woman by his side looked somewhat Tibetan, she was smiling and looking at nothing in particular. The girl was an adorable little blonde thing of three or so in a pair of blue shorts and a bluish flowery blouse. She was wiggling her torso without leaving her spot under the frail light bulb. The moon’s silver hits reflected on the cherubic waving of her hand and on her golden little head, and then disappeared somewhere behind the tiny blueness of her iris as she smiled. What brought that man and that little girl from the west to such an isolated corner of the world was a mystery that stuck to my head for a long time after that. Maybe her mother died tragically while she was giving birth to her and her father had to take her away from where the tragedy had taken place, or maybe her mother deserted her or did something that Rachel could never do to Abi. I sat on the ground and watched the father and his little girl like television, then I hung my head between my mounted knees and cried like I never cried before. In the crescendo of the drumbeat and the father’s voice, I thought about that night in Austin when Rachel disappeared for a few hours after we got drunk then returned to our hotel room with a random stranger’s seed in her womb; a seed we discovered months later and is now a fully formed child of seven.

When I returned to Milwaukee I sold the house and moved to a small apartment close to downtown, where I still live with Rachel’s pictures. I miss Rachel tremendously and I am always wondering about how her life has turned out. I hope that both of us find the strength the Gurkhas consumed to fight their battles, to brave our misfortunes. I always think about Rachel in the right context, in light of the kindness and love she has always shown me even in my darkest days; the love and kindness I now think about in order to forgive her. I met a new group of friends and we all plan to go to Nepal someday soon. I would love to see Ray and Carla and Siddhartha and the British trio and the drummer and his little angel. I would love to see and drink Gurkhas again. I want to feel everything and nothing at the same time, I want to feel alone and infinite once again. I want to stare into the warm faces of the natives and follow paper dragons as they drift down the Everest and sail across the narrow streets. I want to be made keen as the air itself to pet smiling stray dogs and listen to the angelic giggles of little toddlers by their washing pots. Then at nightfall I want to watch history come of age and undress the ground in the mystic silvery light of the moon. I want to chance upon likeminded travelers on an escape route from homegrown trouble and take naked pictures with them. I want to sing storyteller songs and swim like a lost shark in the riverlike taverns and among the huddled neon-color brick houses. We all are like sharks, moving even as we sleep.

 


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