It was impossible. That is what he thought.
"How can I get through the ravine?"
The stone staircase that had been carved to bypass rock-slides was gone. It had become a victim of the collapsing mountainside. He looked upwards in the downpour. Up there!
"Up there!" he said. "Miles up there!"
More rocks and more mountain. Up there. Snow and rain. Up there. And it came down. Down!
"It keeps coming down!" he shuddered, stepping about the debris of the staircase, looking down at the river. Noises were everywhere in his ears.
"Too early," the voice of Drelhu.
"Too late," the voice of Dharma Dorje.
Hiss of wind, the rattle of pebbles when his foot hit a rock and sent it tumbling downwards. He stared.
The river moved and moved. It did not wait or pause. But it waited, yet. It tumbled and sprang, gigantic splashes reaching upwards, flowing over boulders as big as houses, muddy and threatening.
"It is eating the landscape," he thought, working his way closer to it all the time. "Those boulders, as big as cities, have come from..."
Above the mountains were lost in the enclosing, encroaching clouds. "...eroding..." he said, inevitably working his way amongst the shattered paths to the level of the river,
"washing out, washing away ... all the paths..."
Rain poured down his face. He tilted his head, one way and another. "I'm so wet! I'm so cold!"
Water poured past him in riverlets, racing towards the mother river, the drinker of mountains, the consumer of trails and staircases. "Was anyone..." he thought, "walking on it? When it collapsed? I don't want to think of it!"
Now it was a dead-end. He was at the river. A huge rock jutted into the swirling water. The turmoil was only a few feet away. It ebbed and flowed. Surprisingly like a quick little tide. Like a quick heartbeat. At the very edge, it became transparent and opaque, pulsing. He looked out farther.
"The mother of all serpents," he said softly, seeing it leap and toss itself over the boulders, as large as galaxies, wearing them down. Bringing them down. Bringing them down from the mountain heights, from all higher air and spaces.
When it pulsed, he could see in the transparency a shallow area, worn into the rock.
"A shelf?" he asked in disbelief. "Only a foot deep?"
It pulsed and it became deeper. Then it became shallow again.
He stared at it, his path that came and went. "is it an illusion? An optical illusion?"
"Can it really be ten feet deep?" He looked upwards to see if there was an alternative choice.
He stared at the mother river. the consumer, the annihilator of ...
"Step into her!?" he asked. "I must be sure I know what I'm doing..."
A small rock came tumbling past him. It looked red.
"Semi-precious," he muttered. "Semi-rinpoche ......
Moist spray from the river struck him. It was colder than the rain.
"I'll have to..."
"Step... into... "
He tasted his lower lip.
Pulse. And pulse.
He stepped into the water. He stepped into the river.
The mother-goddess. Drinker of mountains. Drinker of
Melody had left Nepal. She had left without waiting for him to return from the mountains. The rain had been pouring and pouring. The smell of mold grew. She could not wait. She had nothing to wait for. Where was he? Would he ever
come back? They could not even ask for help. Patrick made that clear.
"We can't say anything," he said, holding her shoulders. "They'd want to know when and where we saw him last. And how come we...."
She stared at him with green-grey eyes.
"...lost track of him. How we got out without hitting those army checkpoints..."
"He's gone?" she asked.
"We don't know that," he said, stepping to the window and looking down at the courtyard of the hotel.
"But..." she hesitated. "It is possible?"
He was silent for too long a moment before he answered, "He'll show up," unconvincingly.
"Oh, Patrick!" she burst into tears. His arms embraced her, comforted her. First they gently patted her shoulder. Then they squeezed her breathless. She twisted in his arms, turning her tearstained face to his. He kissed her warmly on the mouth. They swam in each other's moisture, lips and tongues.
"Oh, Patrick..." she said, as he unbuttoned her blouse.
"Let's..." he said, leading her to the bed. She did not resist.
"Again... ?" she said, half-asking, half-stating, "...and again!"
She sobbed and cried, thinking of her friend lost in the mountains. And she cried in a different way when Patrick
made his way into, and lost himself within, the embrace of her thighs.
He did not know. He did not know that they had left him. He did not know that they had left him for dead. Amongst the mountains. Alone.
Beyond the river's pulsing edge, he found the remnants of the staircase. He climbed up to this connecting section, heart beating quickly, partially from exertion and partially from excitement. "The continuation of the path!" he thought. "It could still..." And he found it. A mere scratch on the steep ravine wall, six inches of horizontal area. It wound and undulated around the cliff-side. It was a foothold! A place to stand! To the right, the mountain reared up, too substantial, too steep to support him. To the left, everything fell away, non-existing, of no help to him. The narrow path, wet and slippery, was a treasure. A blessing. The road to paradise. Paradise itself. He laughed and cried. Shifting his pack, he stepped forward. One foot after another.
"Watch your step," he said.
"Don't worry, I will!" he answered, smiling, looking at the collapsing world about him. The river slowly sank out of sight, as the path wound itself higher along the cliff face. Hundreds of feet. Thousands of feet.
Sometimes a pebble bounced past him on its way to the mother river, a part of her meal, of the mountain's homage. "Watch your step, watch your step," he began to recite, to sing. It changed into the other song.
"It's a gift ... to be..." with his right foot, his left foot, "It's a gift to be free..."
But he did not sing it loudly, for cracks and rocks and balanced boulders were all poised above. He thought of them, but did not look up. That is why he did not see Drelhu, moving above him, watching. Watching the small moving man on the ribbon of a path, watching the opposite side of the gorge, upstream and downstream.
The thin-faced, dark-haired woman cursed to herself. Joseph watched her face cautiously as he broke his omelet into pieces.
"Take it easy, Dee," he said, lifting some food to his mouth. She looked up and glared.
"But they've left! Melody and Patrick have left..."
"Yes," he said calmly, shifting his eyes around the little restaurant. No one at the Globe Restaurant was paying the slightest attention to them.
" ... and they've taken..." she lowered her voice, "everything with them?"
"Everything, " he said, continuing to eat, watching the young woman, her agitation, and the shaking of her breasts beneath her thin shirt.
"Damn them! We all risk..." she looked about the room, "and they ... take it all."
"Yes," said Joseph, looking past her, through the doorway and the street, full of people and bicycles.
"What are we going to do?" she asked, leaning forward. He patted her hand on the table with his own callused hand.
"There, there," in mock tones. "We'll catch up to them, never fear."
Her eyes ran back and forth and fear entered them.
"Unless the pilot's friends catch up to us first!"
He stopped suddenly, his expression freezing into a grimace. "Uh ... Hadn't thought of that..
"We'd better make plans...fast!"
"Shush!" he said, pointing.
"What is it?"
"Our friend, the crazy Quaker..
"Hello," said the bearded man. "Can I join you?"
Dee smiled. "of course."
"Sure, sit down," said Joseph. "We'd like to hear about some Quaker miracles..."
The other smiled, his blue eyes glancing from one to the other. "I don't perform miracles..."
"You want to save all the beings in the world., don't you?" asked Dee, buttoning a button on her left sleeve.
"Only Tibetans," he answered. "Only the Tibetan refugees..."
Joseph restrained a smile. "And how many have you saved today?"
"None," he said.
"And yesterday?" asked Dee, smiling broadly, looking at
"None," laughed the Quaker.
Ha ha hahahah. The couple laughed.
"But tomorrow," he continued, "all of them."
Ha ha hahahah. The couple laughed.
"We'd like a miracle," smiled Dee, leaning towards him.
"Hmmmm. I told you that .... "
"Just one..." she teased. "A little one...."
The blue-eyed man shook his head and smiled. "Okay. What do you want?"
"We..." she started, and Joseph interrupted, "...want to get out. Get out of this country..." He looked at Dee apprehensively.
"Safely, " she added.
"Granted," said the blue eyes, his finger touching his ear. "You have safe-passage out!"
Dee was suddenly solemn. Joseph did not speak.
"Thank you," she said.
"Don't mention it!" he laughed. "Glad to do it, anytime. But please don't tell ... I don't want a rush-order for miracles...." Ha ha hahahah. But only he laughed.
The path rose in the mist before him like a ladder. The rain was quieter, but the wind was not. It came from below, like a hand, pulling.
"From the pit..." he said, not looking, not singing. He saved all his attention for his feet, where he put them. Right, then left.
Beyond the mist, the path seemed to change, becoming white as a waterfall. It was a waterfall! Rising straight up, cold, in the distance was the waterfall. The other end of the gorge, he sighed.
Soon the path widened, and in the midst of luxurious 16-foot marijuana plants he found a tall flat rock upon which to rest. But not for long. The leeches were searching, swaying, working their way up the rock, looking, reaching. For him? No ... blindly for any being, any blooded creature. Or any warmth, any warmth at all. He saw one inching eternally up his trouser-leg. With a finger, he flicked it off.
"Goodbye, sir," he said politely and pushed himself away from the rock. "I have my food waiting."
He moved faster on the wide path, without fear of falling. It sloped gently on the river side for a hundred feet before it still made its inevitable plunge down to the mountain-eating river. But that was off that way ... and out of his eyesight.
Ahead, he saw a single house, near the sparkling plunge of bouncing water. The sun broke through, became covered, and broke through. Smoke rose from the ramshackle bundle of lumber. Outside, a chicken pecked at the ground.
"Namaste," said the young woman, putting her palms together and nodding. She was as greasy-looking as before. She smiled with one gold tooth dominating her flat face. He entered the small house, smoke smarting his eyes. There were a few large bundles near the fire. One of them moved, becoming the skeletal grandmother. She jabbered toothlessly, pointing at him, now in Tibetan-style clothes and boots. She laughed back and forth with the younger woman who was preparing him some food. He ignored them both, leaning against his pack near the fire, squinting red-eyed in the warmth and smoke. He dozed and woke, wondering how long it would take them to cook the rice. They jabbered on the edge of dreams.
He remembered this place. They had stopped here for a long time. melody and Dee had washed in a pool out back, near the waterfall. He had watched them, but not joined them, puzzled by the looks which they gave each other, girlish giggles and games of splashing. As if. As if... He thought they were nymphs in some other landscape and some other century. All yellow hair was Melody, with only remnants of her tan revealed, fading fast, it seemed. And Dee, all dark, with long black hair glued to her back by the mountain water, all pale, bleached-looking except for her face and arms, up to her elbows. The light one is dark.
The dark one is light.
"Come on in," they called. He shook his head. "Two of you," he said, "would be too much for me..."
Dee looked at Melody, smiling. "What makes you think we'd give you any?" she laughed, and dove under the water, her image rippling and folding in the agitated surface.
"Yes," laughed Melody, and also sank beneath the water, entering a quivering reality of multiple limbs, torsos, and spreading hair.
When they surfaced, he was gone. Returning to the hut, he saw Joseph and the gold-toothed woman walking upwards off the path, into the trees. Puzzled, he asked, "Where are they going?"
Patrick laughed. "Sit down. Rice is ready...."
The grandmother was serving it in a heaping dishfull.
Patrick looked up. "He won't be long. He and the girl took a liking to each other...."
"Eat your food. At least they stopped fondling each
"Fondling? He took a mouthful of rice.
"Well," said Patrick, not looking up. "She kept gig
giggling and petting his hairy arm He chewed and swallowed,
then continued. "Thought he was pretty....
"Yes, how do you like that?"
Grandmother looked up when Melody and Dee appeared, wetheaded but completely dressed.
"So I guess she propositioned him. I dunno. Didn't hear too well."
"What's this?" asked Melody.
"Joseph," answered Dee. "Gone off with the young one, I would guess. Right?"
"Right," said Patrick, smirking.
"He likes them dark and slippery...." Dee laughed.
Melody said nothing.
Grandmother gave them two dishes of rice, steaming.
"Ja?" she asked.
"Yes," said Patrick. "We'd all like some tea ... yes..."
It was longer than they expected for Joseph to return. "Where the hell is he?"
"Relax, he'll come back."
"Maybe," Dee said, "he fell into...."
Melody looked at the fire.
"The ravine..." Patrick said.
"Ravine?" he asked.
"Yes, there's a big one up ahead..."
Melody sipped her tea. "Won't we need daylight for that?" she asked.
"Yes," Dee said, combing her long black hair by the fire. "But Joseph will come through ......
"He knows every inch..." started Patrick.
Suddenly the light from the doorway was cut off. The shadow of Joseph stood there. "I know every inch," he said, every twist, every turn-the pitfalls ... and the abyss!"
They smiled at the lanky man. But he laughed in self enjoyment.
Ha ha hahahah.
He ate the rice with his fingers.
The gold-toothed woman squatted near him, her skirt tucked between her legs, her eyes watching him. He wondered if she wanted to pet his arm.
"Chamba," she finally said.
He glared at her.
"No. I am not Chamba."
But she did not understand. Turning to the old woman who was now almost half-dozing, she said in the midst of a waterfall of her own words.
"Chamba. Chamba! "
Pointing at him, at the trail, and up the mountain.
"No!" he snapped loudly. "Not Chamba! CHADMA MA RED!"
The woman frowned and was silenced by his outburst.
He paid them and left, taking the clear trail south. But before he was beyond the hut, he could hear their two voices raised loudly to each other. "Chamba ... Chamba!" came fragments.
He cursed. And he cursed again when the sun vanished and the rain began to f all.
on the bushes, overflowing onto the path, the leeches swayed and danced, hovered and reached.
He moved quickly, ignoring those that were climbing his legs, reaching for the sky. "The hell with them... 11 he muttered to the trees and to the rocks above the forest.
"To hell with... "
And the rain began to fall with such an intensity that it caught his breath. "To Hell..."
The leeches swayed and reached. He shivered and screamed aloud, "Curses on you! Curses on you all!"
The cracks and lines in the cliff-side moved, as if in response. "...on you!" he said, pulling off a leach, IV ... on you!" pulling off another. "All of you living things! Leave me alone!"
The village appeared. It had ten houses, perhaps nine. No less than eight, in any case. A man was whipping an ox across the path into a pen. He stared. "CHAMBA!" he exclaimed. The wet man shook his head in slow protest. "Sri Khatvanga is not here," the man said, palms together, bowing his head.
"Who is Sri Khatvanga?" he asked, his irritation at being addressed as Chamba side-tracked.
"He left continued the man. "He could not wait
any longer.. . "
"AHHHH...." he tried to interrupt, but the man began to babble.
"Please understand! It was his own choice .... not the village's ......
"Who are you talking about?" he blurted out, stepping out of the fine drizzle of rain onto a clay-built porch. The man joined him, eyes averted, hands clasping and unclasping.
"Sri Khatvanga! Your great Guru ... and Dolma, your wife ... and ... and...
A woman appeared in the doorway and it started again.
"Chamba! Oh! You are back! he started.
"Sri Khatvanga has left, and Dolma...."
if ... and the baby..." said the man.
He shook his head. "Be still! All I want is some tea.... 11
They froze for a moment and he looked at them as if they were in a wax museum. "Two hill-people, preserved," he sneered.
She vanished into the house to start a fire. The man stumbled on the doorsill, gesturing and bowing, imitating
court manners which he did not know.
"Yes, yes," he said, stumbling.
He sat waiting. The woman blew on some sparks, then blew on some small flames. She was getting a harvest of smoke.
It stung his eyes. He wiped them and, squinting, saw that they had company. The doorway was filled with young men, young girls, and an assortment of children. They were all anxious to look but none were willing to enter.
"Chamba Chamba he heard, to his growing
"Go away!" he shouted, waving his hands in their direction. They moved, but came back, like seeping water.
"Here is your tea..." the woman said politely. The faces appeared at the doorway.
"Who is Sri Khatvanga?" he asked, sipping his tea.
"You wish to pretend..." she began.
He snapped, "I wish to know!"
"Ah Cha," she said, falling silent.
"Your guru," she said. "The teacher of skills ... the magician ... master of life and..."
"Death," said the man in the doorway. He looked up.
A dark-bearded figure filled it. No children were in sight.
"Oh! " exclaimed the woman.
"Sri Khatvanga! Maha-Guru-ji!"
The man smiled, his nostrils flaring, testing the air, tasting the smoke.
"Well!" the dark eyes said, looking through him, "Chamba."
The eyebrows almost joined each other, with a little whirlpool of hairs separating them. He felt no irritation at being so addressed. However, he still did not accept the designation. He felt danger exude from the figure and did not wish to precipitate it needlessly, if at all. He remained silent, looking at the man step into the room. It was like a thundercloud approaching, like the dark towering of a thundercloud. The doorway remained empty, the children did not come back.
The man made no signal, for his hands were hidden in his long robe made of heavy and coarse material. The woman quickly got him a cup, placing it on a saucer and offering it to him with two hands, lowering her head almost to his waist level. He glanced at it, but did not take it. The woman remained motionless. The man looked petrified, as if he had seen his own corpse.
"Chamba," he said again, as if expecting a reply.
Again he did not reply. The tension grew as the seconds were stretched.
He felt his lips tighten and his eyes narrow, open and narrow again, never leaving the face of the other.
"Chamba," said the voice a third time, a little more firmly, with an edge of irritation. The woman was quivering in her position with the. teacup. No one paid her any attention. Time was stretching further, closer still to the breaking point, yet....
He had held it together this far. Now he knew it was time. he started, looking into the darkly-bearded face, whose lips began an almost imperceptible smile when the other began to speak. "I .... am not Chamba."
The smile was stillborn and cracked itself into a scowl, into the ice of an icefall, the collapsing of a glacier. All silently.
This passed quickly, and the black guru shifted his eyes to the rattling teacup held by the woman. Looking at the tilt of the fluid, he smiled. Reaching out, a hand reaching out, out of the folds of robe, a hand reached out and lifted the cup alone.
"Take that away!" he said, indicating the dish, but in a tone as if it were some vile rotten carcass. The woman obeyed with a gasp of fear, almost leaping backwards away from him. The man edged towards the doorway.
with one quick movement, the cup was emptied. Then the other hidden hand came out to wipe the mustache of the remaining few drops. Sri Khatvanga seemed to look down at the back of that hand, to study its veins, to check its tendons, or for signs of age. He held the cup out at arm's length. Just as he dropped it, the woman was there to catch it.
"Get out!" he said, looking at the seated man but addressing the woman and man. They obeyed with incredible speed.
Turning, he stepped closer to the fire, staring down at it. "Fire," he said, looking at the other.
Silence and welling anger.
"I will not..." thought the seated man.
"Chamba...." he began.
"I am not," the other said, softly but firmly.
"Chamba," he said again.
"No..." he answered.
"Chamba!" the other glared, revealing white, a great deal of white, in his eyes. He noticed the guru's hands now clench, whitening the knuckles.
Smiling to himself, pausing to relish the now-changing tone. A weakening on one side, weakening into anger. A strengthening on the other side, a growing self-assurance. He decided to milk the moment and waited as long as possible before finally speaking. He finally spoke just in time, interrupting the other in an inhalation of breath.
"It is useless," he smiled. "It is useless, Sri Khatvanga!"
"Ah cha!" the other returned. "Then you do know me?"
"No, of course not!" And he laughed at the other's crestfallen expression. "I do not know you, Sri Khatvanga!
Why should I know you?"
"But ... you call me by name!"
"It is just a name..." he laughed, more confident, the feeling and tension of the dramatic entrance fading fast, "that I heard from these people!"
"I do not know you!" He gloried in the words, as if he were twisting them like a blade into the other's torso.
"You lie! You remember!" And darkness gathered again, the eyes flashing, the hands vanishing into the robe, as if ... as if ....
The sense of confidence was shaken and beginning to dissolve.
"Chamba! Don't be a fool!" And the hands remained hidden, fumbling as if for a weapon.
"I am not Chamba..." he insisted, hanging onto that fact for strength.
Sri Khatvanga brought his hands out slowly, palms upwards as if presenting a gift. But his hands were empty. Was it a supplication? He looked at the dark eyes, but there was nothing to support that thought there. The hands stretched out further, as if holding a heavy weight.
"What," cracked the hoarse voice, "did you find?"
"Find? He was puzzled. "Find where?"
The eyes shifted to the left and upwards. "Up there," and then to the left and downwards, "down there?"
He was confused by the question and began to believe
he was facing a madman. He carefully answered, "Mud and rain...
The other glared and his hands shook. "Do not evade me! You understand, Chamba...."
"I am not...."
"What did you learn?" The hands now shifted into clenched hammers, thrust at arms-length away from the dark man towards where he sat.
"A madman," he thought. "A madman!" he said aloud.
"Madman! Sri Khatvanga addressed him. "You madman! Did you die for nothing?" The fists were quivering, glancing off each other lightly.
"Die!" he exclaimed, his temper flaring. "I did not die! I am not dead! You group of damn...."
"You died!" shrieked the other, his face reddening. "You jumped! You killed yourself!"
He was confused by these words and began to think of a way to escape from the room.
"You jumped!" came this roaring voice, almost in his skull, but coming from the shaking bearded man in front of him. "Into the river! Into the Mother Goddess!"
"Damn," he thought. "Damn!"
"What did you learn? On the way down, on the way down the other ranted, perspiration pouring out of his forehead, his mouth open and hanging strangely, "on the way down!"
" Damn!" muttered the other, quieter and quieter. "Damn."
Now the laughter began, from the perspiring man, just as the sounds of cracking joined them.
"Ha Ha Hahahah!"
"Answer me! Tell me! Ha ha hahahah!"
He had had enough. "To hell with you! To hell with you all! This village ... the people ... to hell with them, too!"
"Chamba! the other exclaimed. "What have you done!"
He started to say, "I am not Chamba," but it could not be heard amidst the sounds of the cracking and falling mountain.
"How long has Dolma been dead?" he asked.
"The lama said you should consider her alive," Drelhu answered.
"I know," he answered., looking down to the flat, deserted farmland. "But ... the other ... the first ... when?"
Drelhu shook his head at first, then answered slowly,
"Very long ago. Perhaps three hundred...."
" .... years..." Drelhu finished.
"And the village near the gorge...when...."
"Was that destroyed?"
"Yesterday? But Sri Khatvanga was there!" "Yes."
"Was he...an illusion?"
Drelhu sniffed and squinted. "I don't think so.'
"And the people ... the people who died?"
"They were not an illusion."
He scratched his ear.
"They really died?"
"As real as real can be..." said Drelhu, squinting and rubbing his nose.
"And..."He hesitated. "Did I do it?" Did I cause the rock-slides?"
Red eyes squinting, pursing lips. "Chamba," he started. "Rocks fall because of natural causes. A great deal of rain, water undercutting ... ah ... "
"Did I do it with magic?"
"Is magic natural?"
"Please answer me. What caused the destruction of the village?"
Drelhu remained silent.
"Drelhu! You must answer me."
Absentmindedly, the monkey-man looked at him. "What answer do you wish?"
"What caused it?"
"The weather..." began Drelhu.
He interrupted before he could finish the sentence. "Am I responsible for what happened?"
Drelhu stared at him unblinkingly. "Are you responsible for the weather of the world?"
The house was shaking as rocks began to strike its walls. They hammered on the rooftop like giant hailstones.
"Chamba!" cried Sri Khatvanga, gesturing wildly at the doorway. "Stop it!"
The floor began to shake.
"You're crazy! I'm not doing this!"
"Chamba! You are! Your anger!"
He bit his lower lip. "I'm not Chamba!"
"Save the village!" Sri Khatvanga shrieked, robe flying about him. The sounds of the stones grew steadily.
"Save it yourself!" he answered, feeling no concern or fear for himself. "You're the magician!"
"No! Chamba...this is yours ... You must stop it!"
"I am not..." he began, and suddenly felt the house tilting.
"Admit it! You'll save the people..."
"To hell with .... " The walls began to crack. He could hear screams beyond them. Sri Khatvanga stared a moment and said, "Then ... Goodbye!" There was a wrenching sound, and an intrusion of radiant dust. The guru vanished.
He did not stop to consider any of this, leaping through the doorway while it was still there. The ground was moving and the house was sliding. Outside, the landscape was becoming a blur of catapulting forms--trees, boulders, a man, a child... the ox! He fixed his eyes upward to the right and moved in that direction. He grabbed and touched shifting forms, stepping upon them, gripping them and leaving them. As soon as he was free of them, he let them fall. Off to the river below. He scrambled to save himself, calm and cool. Rumble and scream accompanied him. But they fell away. He stepped on something soft. It cried "Chamba!" and gripped at him. They both began to slide in the rubble and mud. Downwards. Without looking, he struggled with the figure, finally tearing loose, escaping upwards. The other screamed "Chamba!" and was swept way by the debris. He did not think of anything except upward movement, upward to the right.
The turmoil quieted.
He was on a slippery section of the hillside, looking back at where the village had been. It was somewhere down below in the river. Boulders and stones continued to tumble, settling upon the mass of mud and trees below. He thought he heard, "Chamba!" But he shook his head, and it was gone.
Tentatively, he stood up, checking the solidity of the dirt beneath him. It quivered and he held his breath, looking about for something solid. A few yards away was a tall marijuana bush, rooted in the hillside. He tried inching towards it. The ground was cracking, cracking in slow motion. He inhaled and did not exhale. He did not move. The cracks paused. Where the village had been was a huge cavity, a great scoop, as if it had been taken away by some cosmic steam shovel. He exhaled, and the cracks began to crawl.
Still calm, he knew he had to do something fast, before
it was too late!
He made a leaping dive for the marijuana bush. The earth fell away from beneath him, sliding. He got it! He clutched it at its base. The firmness of the stalks felt good. But that feeling ended quickly when the ground beneath him began to slip and soon he was struggling with his feet on soil which grew steeper by the second. He watched the giant plant sway before him. He saw its leaves, the walls of the gorge, the grey sky above. Then it gave way. And he went tumbling head-over-heels downwards, cascading on the muddy slope, striking objects and falling, falling faster and faster.
Suddenly everything was water and mud. He was in the river! He could not see but he could feel the coldness of the tumbling water. Water and mud got in his eyes, in his mouth ... in his nostrils! He was drowning.
"Chamba! Chamba!" someone was calling him.
"I am not Chamba," he thought in anger. "I will not answer."
"Chamba! It seemed farther away. "Where are you?"
"I am not..." And the water tumbled him, lifted him. He felt himself sinking in the turmoil of leaping whirlpools.
"Chamba! You must ... before it is too late...."
"Too late .... " he thought. "Even if I'm Chamba ... too late ......
His eyes opened. He was pressed against a huge boulder. But he was still under water. But parts of him were in the air-his arm, his leg. Light seemed to jump and scamper about him.
"How pretty!" he thought. "I did not realize
"Chamba!" It was closer.
"When I leaped.....into.......the river
"Where are you?" It was right at hand.
"I am here," thought Chamba.
Hairy arms reached into the water and pulled him out.
The young boy Chamba ran down the street pulling a string with a kite. It did not fly, but skimmed the ground only. There was not enough wind in the alleyways of Khatmandu. Other children screamed him on, but that did nothing for the tiny square kite.
How Chamba managed to preserve the kite amidst the people and animals was a miracle. However, miracle or not, it did not fly. He stopped, held the red and white paper kite and wound up the string. The other children were lost somewhere far behind, amidst merchants, monks, and warriors. He looked at the kite, the alleyway, and scratched his ear.
"Perhaps I am doing it wrong," he thought, walking past
the shrines, past the vegetable sellers and towards the shop of his friend the kite-seller.
It was some distance from where he had been running but that did not matter, since if there was something he should know about kite-sailing, he was sure that the kite maker would know the answer. After all, wasn't he the wisest friend that any small boy could have?
The shop was extremely tiny, but quite normal for establishments on the side-streets, three feet deep, six feet long, as well as six feet high, perhaps. It was open to the street, with no doors. On the exterior wooden beams hung a multitude of tiny paper kites, like a shimmering curtain of colors, red, white, green, some in solids, but most in geometric patterns. Golden ones hung by the so-called entrance. Peeking between them was a snow white haired head. It was whiter than the mountains visible to the north, northwest and northeast. The hair was joined by a beard, as full as it was white. White eyebrows almost joined together, being separated by a little whirlpool of twisting hairs. The dark eyes looked up when Chamba approached. The accompanying smile was soft and genuine.
"Ah cha!" the bearded kite maker said. "Chamba! What can I do for you?"
"I need a miracle," said Chamba. "My kite will not fly. Can you help me, Sri Khatvanga?"
The other's eyes twinkled with affection for the boy. "We shall see what we can do," he said.