Short story about a few days in the mountains of Nepal
|I stood under a canopy to escape a torrential downpour on a Kathmandu backstreet. A caucasian woman and an Indian boy ducked under with me. “Hey, welcome home,” I joked.
“Haha,” the woman laughed, “Thanks, I’m Beatrice.” She smiled at the boy, “And this is Badel, we’ve just come from Mother Theresa’s in Calcutta.”
“Glad to meet you,” I said, “I’m Peter.”
The mud began to erode from beneath us. Beatrice slipped and caught her balance, ” We’re going to get washed away here, we need a boat now,” she said.
“Good,” Badel said, “I want to go now.”
The street had become a churning river. We stepped carefully into the edge of it. Most of the houses and shops around us were flooded. People had moved to a raised platform that seemed to be some kind of a meeting place. They beckoned to us to join them.
Nobody spoke English so Beatrice and I had a hard time. “I understand a little bit,” Badel piped up.
“Ok, what are they saying,” I said.
Badel translated, “This often happens at this time of year but the government never gives us help, all our money goes on repairs and we don’t have much left to give our families up in the mountains around here.” His eyes lit up, “Hey, let’s go and see them.” he seemed to have forgotten that the only thing that most of us wanted was to be dry and warm.
“Ok Badel,” Beatrice said, “let’s wait a bit, ha?”
The rain subsided. We bid farewell to our saviors found a coffee shop and talked.
The next morning I was glad to see Beatrice and Badel walking towards me,”Hey, how you doing?” I said.
” Yeah, good,” replied Beatrice, “are you ready to go into the unknown.”
“Absolutely,” I said, and we set off. Walking towards the mountains, the dull smog of the city gave way to the cool serenity of the mountains. The drab street became a path.
The trail wound up the mountain. As we climbed, the landscape became green and lush. The sound of cicadas hummed in our ears. The route was gradually becoming more tricky. I heard the sound of flowing water. We had reached an oasis in the mountains. A waterfall poured over a precipice fifty feet above into a deep pool. The rock formations looked like a giant staircase set on a diagonal which a rhodedendron lazily climbed. Dragonflies zigzagged around and a woodpecker knocked.
“Hey, come here,” Badel yelled and dove deep, Beatrice and I followed. The water felt crisp and cool but Badel had not come up. I swam to the area he’d dived into, and found nothing. Beatrice screamed directions. I felt afraid and suddenly he surfaced. “Tik hain,” he said gleefully. Beatrice laughed.
We dried off and found a narrow path leading up a steep gorge. At the top we saw snow-capped mountains in the distance. I could feel that the air was thinner. We continued on. Houses seemed scattered on the slopes around the gorge.
Badel told me his story. “We were very poor and had a little tent in a slum in Calcutta and when father died we had to go to the dump and find things to sell.”
“When did your father die,” I asked.
“About five years ago, he was very sick. Mama couldn’t work and then she died in a train wreck with my sisters and my brother and I ended up on the street.”
“How long were you on the street?” I said.
“About a year, then some of us went to the orphanage and that’s where I found my new mama,” Badel beamed at Beatrice.
“There’s been loads of paperwork,” said Beatrice, “but here we are.”
We stopped. Ate a few snacks and drank water from a spring. The buzz of the cicadas signaled the imminent setting of the sun and we knew that it was time to seek refuge, “Hey,” Badel said, “Let’s find somewhere, I’m tired.”
As the evening light faded, fires glimmered inside the houses that speckled the landscape, growing more inviting with our loss of light and warmth. A girl was chasing chickens around her garden and when she spotted us, called to her family who all came to see what the commotion was. Their faces, at first stern, softened into welcoming smiles when they saw that we posed no threat, and the father came to us and led us into his sanctuary.
A cow sat in the entrance way nonchalantly chewing it’s cud. On the far side of the single room was an old woman making chapatis. She beamed as we entered and stood up, her back bent to a 90 degree angle, caused, I guessed by a lifetime of bending. After our host introduced us to his mother, Beatrice, Badel and I sat on a small carpet made from straw, since our host was concerned that we might end up like his mother if we continued to attempt to negotiate the low ceilings.
“Khana,” the father, whose name I cannot recall, moved his hand to his mouth. We understood we had been invited for dinner. The aroma of bread and wood and curry was irresistible. With banana leaves as plates, these people prepared the most sumptuous feast right there and then.
After food, we were ushered to a cozy space in the eaves, where our host made sure that we had all necessities for a good night’s rest. He left us with a candle flickering dangerously close to the thatch, and a feeling of providence.
The next two days continued similarly.
Coming down from the mountain, the green changed to grey and the solitude became society. Although a part of me wanted to turn around I knew that we should continue into this melee because that was from where we had come, the wheel must keep on turning. In four days we had gone from being strangers to the closest of friends and as we bade farewell I was left wondering how many experiences I had just let slip by.