Fiction Park

Kha-leh Shu

- Eric Crockett

Apr 14, 2019-

She passed below going to milk the cow as I came up the rickety metal stair to the top floor of the village guest house and I grinned and waved. She grinned back, shy and surprised. The forested hillside rose behind where monks lived alone in stone huts below the snow crusted ridge.

Shy silver langurs came down to the terraces in fall as lammergeier and kite circled above and a mongoose hunted by the stream. This teenager, probably too poor to finish school like her gregarious friend who lived nearby, was the light of the village. She was always working, pounding laundry on the cement pad by her house below or coming up the paved path followed by a comical goat, and no one noticed her. At the end of winter in the Himalayan village, going down three times a week to tutor a tall young Buddhist monk, I passed her hoeing a terrace barefoot preparing it for spring potatoes, and while I returned, I brought her a coke and she looked at me amazed before accepting. “See you,” I said; “Bye,” she replied grinning. Next day all the men of the household were there helping in the terrace patch.

I never saw her again as I left next day, returning home to the West after a winter in the village and fall trekking in Nepal.

Savion was lighthearted. He was a young Frenchman traveling from Quebec and I invited him along on a trek with me and my friend Pasang, a guide who I  tutored in English.

On a day long bus ride with five flat tyres, at a lunch stop and trading in the old tires for equally old ones, they both inhaled seconds of dal bhat as I could only eat a little. We ended sitting on top of the bus with the local farmers and singing French songs in the dark. At park headquarters, the guards with casually slung rifles looked on confused as Savion taught Pasang a tap dancing routine and we waited for our permits to be stamped. Next morning we passed up the new road and into the forest climbing towards the long glacier sculpted valley beneath the high peaks. I was walking slowly and was out of breath and the second time he asked if I was okay, I was short with Savion and said he should hike ahead since he was so much faster.

Pasang, who was twice as fast as him, stayed behind to keep an eye on me though he was responsible for both of us on the trail that could be dangerous. We were bad clients.

Savion had come to Nepal to visit Lumbini, the birthplace of Buddha, wanting to reset his life. He had money and had just bought a condo in Montreal. He wore new bright orange Gore-Tex and stretch black hiking pants next to our baggy North Face knock-offs. I had forgotten my fleece vest on the bus and all I had was a sweater but the weather in early November was warm. That night we squatted on the floor as guests of the crowded temple of a small hilltop village and drank from buckets of tea passed around at the ceremony for a villager who had passed away. Next day, we hiked up past Lama Hotel and stopped for the night in the next village. Savion was nowhere around and Pasang went up to the top village checking guesthouses and returned not finding him. Across the wood stove from us in the small dining room a couple of men overheard our conversation and one told a story about some Westerners who had gone swimming and drowned in the river below.

That night it snowed and in the morning we set out as the day warmed. After a long day dodging Dzos like bulldozers coming down the trail, which Pasang had done in a couple hours the night before, we crested a rise and spied Savion in his bright orange jacket on the ridge above, happily waving both arms at us. He had met a group of French girls trekking and they animatedly spoke French together by the stove in the cold evening. He fell in love with one of the Nepali family’s daughters that owned the lodge but we left the next day as Pasang and he went up the nearby hill and I hiked down the trail alone. Pasang didn’t want me out of his sight but I pulled the blunt nosed water knife out of my waist band and said: “Do you think there will be bad guys?” He jumped back and said: “No, slipping!” Two years later the village where we stayed was destroyed in the earthquake with tragic loss of life and dislocation. In his first climbing guide job Pasang had been to Camp 2 on Everest and felt he could go to the top but was caught in the tail of the avalanche at base camp when the quake hit and though mostly unhurt, his kids made him give up climbing. Returning to Kathmandu, I took the overnight bus alone to India. Instead of going to Lumbini, Savion went to Pokhara to take up paragliding.

Sonam, the tall young Tibetan monk turn and said, “They too enjoy life,” as I eat my chicken momo and I replied: “Chickens don’t enjoy life!” He has taken me out to a restaurant in town for Christmas. When we meet for tutoring, I have to eat lunch before hand or he would insist on buying. Our sessions are often funny, parsing appropriate words for bodily functions or his descriptions of a happy childhood in his village. He told the story of grazing the animals in the mountains one day and, peeking in the window of a hermit monk’s hut, was astonished to see him floating near the ceiling in meditation. He ran home and told his beloved mother who only said: “That is Buddhism.” One day he surprised me by suddenly saying in flawless English: “I am my mother’s instrument.”  He said he became a monk because monks are happy. One day sitting at the cafe with him, I turned and gazed out the window, across the muddy potholed lane and up the slope of clustered and smudged houses, perfectly at peace. Kha-leh Phe, I said, “Stay Slowly”, as we waved goodbye; Kha-leh Shu, he replied: “Go Slowly”.

Published: 14-04-2019 09:19

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