They realized soon enough that it would not be easy to leave Srinagar.
"Everyone is trying to leave," Melody said.
"Everyone?" He cocked an eyebrow. "Isn't that an exaggeration?"
"Yeah, but," she fumbled with her paper-mache bracelets, all flowered and shining, "I mean, outsiders. Visitors, tourists."
"It's hard to get flight reservations, the road south is closed...."
"I'll go to the airline office and nail down our exit flight, Okay?"
"I'll go with you...."
"Afraid that the Kashmiri Romeo might take you to his harem..."
"No jokes," she pursed her lips. "I just like being with you."
They discovered quickly enough how difficult it would be to get out of Kashmir by plane. The office was packed with every conceivable representative of a tribe in India, all trying to get flights.
"Yes, Sahib, we can put you on a flight to Delhi in three weeks."
"What did he say?" asked Melody, hanging onto his elbow, trying not to be dislodged by a turbaned Sikh. "Three weeks," he told his shoulder. "Three weeks! We can't.... "I'll take it," he said. "What if there is a cancellation...."
"Ah Cha!" the other said. "That is not too likely. However ... I will put you on the waiting list for two weeks from now"
"You're taking it?" said Melody. "We can"t ... wait ...Be here ....?
"Nothing else to do," he inserted, and back to the whiteshirted clerk with epaulettes. "How can we get on another waiting list...?Il
"You cannot," the other started. The slow movement of the fan swung it about, blowing a slight breeze to stir his dark hair.
"If I buy another--additional ticket?"
The other looked amazed at the suggestion. "That would put your
name on another flight, another day....'
"And?" he asked the clerk, "Onto another earlier waiting list?"
He bought another set of tickets to Delhi. Melody shook her head as they left.
"We'll get out of here one way or another..." he said.
As~ they left the airline office, Melody bumped into a darkhaired young man. "Excuse me.." he smiled, causing dimples in either cheek of the handsome face. He looked into both of their faces. "Are you Americans? So am I... My name is Patrick."
They walked along the river, upon the mall which really was a disguised dirt dam protecting the business area from river floods. Patrick was charming and talkative. They all had lunch together in one of the semi-European restaurants overlooking the river.
"Don't use their ice..." Patrick warned.
"Oh," said Melody.
"Why not?" he asked.
"It's their water," he said, lighting a cigarette. "The bacteria don't die with the freezing. You've got to be careful. Tea is the safest, you know..."
They both found him pleasing to be with, for different reasons. He seemed to be knowledgable about the polyglot cultures of Asia and he seemed very adventurous in an easygoing way.
Twilve just come down from Sonamarg," Patrick started, his brown eyes shining.
"Horseback riding? " he asked. Patrick's nostril sneered down at the teacup.
"No," he said. "I was trying to go up into Ladakh..."
"Ladakh?" asked Melody, looking at him curiously.
"Yes, little Tibet," Patrick supplied. "Closest thing to Tibet around since the Chinese are in Lhasa."
"Is it like Tibet? Really?"
"Yes," said Patrick casually, now flipping his cigarette across the nearby garden wall. "Language, culture, art..."
"Art?" His ears perked up.
"Yes," said Patrick, almost sounding bored now."'Everything is Tibetan Buddhist..."
"Did you...?" asked Melody.
"Army stopped me," his voice clipped. "It's closed. Forbidden since the trouble with China and Pakistan. Only thing going in is the buses..."
"Yeah," he laughed. "I thought I could go in on one, but..."
"Well?" asked Melody.
"They're the army's," he rubbed the side of his nose. "And they're full of potatoes!"
"What do you mean?"
Patrick laughed, looking at them both very quickly, dimples appearing and disappearing. "Potatoes. Food. Supplies. The buses were delivering provisions to the Indian Army."
"Where were they?"
"They're all over," Patrick waved at the valley of Kashmir. "This place is full of them."
"But the potatoes ... ?"
"Oh," looking at Melody and then the river, "that was stuff for the units up in Ladakh. They were facing the Chinese up there ... somewhere in the wastelands of the Himalayas."
"Hmmm," he said. "Too bad."
"Yeah, " said Patrick. "I guess I'll keep on going..."
"Where are you going?"
"Nepal," he said.
"So are we," Melody said, eyes lighting up.
"Where are you staying now ... here in Srinagar...?" he asked Patrick.
Patrick laughed and pointed at his knapsack. "We," he said, "are living at this moment, for this moment, at this stylish restaurant on the mall. Later ... I dunno, I'll find a spot."
A momentary silence.
"Come to our houseboat," he said. "We have lots of rooms. A palace."
Melody looked at him, almost speaking.
"Well," said Patrick, looking back and forth at the couple and then down at his knapsack, "I wouldn't want to crowd you... I couldn't pay you..."
"Don't be silly!" Melody heard him say. "Be our guest. Right, Melody?"
"uh...yes," she said. "Yes, of course."
Patrick changed the feelings on the houseboat. There was more talking at meals and in between as well. The houseboat owner obviously disliked him, but said nothing directly. There was an additional charge for his presence at meals. Patrick did not know this, or if he did, did not care.
It seemed that he had been almost everywhere and most of that in ways that they would have never followed or travelled. Hitchhiking across Afghanistan seemed a very exotic way to travel.
"I don't know if I would do that again," Patrick pointed his finger sharply at the supper table and shook his head. "It got hairy sometimes."
"What do you mean?" asked Melody.
"...just things. Even the way I was travelling, on a shoestring," he said. "I looked like a millionaire to a lot of people. I guess I was..."
"Thieves?" he asked.
Patrick looked at his mutton. "Worse. Murderers, bandits ... Out in the ... well ... It never happened to me." And he stopped talking for a long while, concentrating on eating. Afterwards he concentrated on smoking his cigarette. He glanced at the pipe on the sideboard now and then but said nothing about it.
"I knew some women," Patrick said to Melody, "who travelled through alone. Bad business."
"Bad. It's a different world, oriented to men. Women don't travel without male relatives or male..."
"Were they killed?" Melody asked.
Patrick's brown eyes studied hers and considered his words, half-smiling. "I wouldn't have known them if they had died," he smiled. He then stopped talking about the women.
Melody was slightly annoyed at not hearing any other details.
"I'm going to the fortress ruins," he had said. He had not expected them to join him. He did not ask.
Patrick said to Melody as he thumbed through one of the old magazines, Time or Newsweek, "It's an interesting place. Why don't you go?"
"Are you going?" she asked.
"No," he said, flipping pages. "I'll just stay here and lay about..."
She looked at the sunshine on the water. "I feel like swimming. I'll stay and go swimming."
"I'll see you later." And the dugout took him to the opposite shore of the lake., where he made his way up to the fortress.
The owner of the houseboat frowned at Patrick and Melody sitting in the livingroom.
"You may go," she told him. "I'll call you if you are needed."
"Yes, M'msahib," he nodded, and went to the kitchen boat, clenching and unclenching his jaw-muscles.
"I'm going to change," announced Meldoy, getting up and leaving the room.
"What?" asked Patrick.
She paused in the passageway and looked back into the room. "I'm going to go for a swim. Want to join me?"
He flipped a page past an ancient world-crisis and the faces of the participants. "I don't have a suit."
"You'll be in the water," she said.
His eyes caught hers, right eye on left eye, left eye on right eye. "Okay," he said, getting up.
They went swimming amongst the lotuses. The blue kingfishers dove for their prey elsewhere.
"HA Ha hahahah," she laughed.
"Ha Ha hahahah," he laughed.
When he came back the houseboat was quiet. He called, but no one answered. The dugout paddled away to the other side of the kitchen-boat. He was puzzled by the silence. In the air he caught the odor of that dry smell he had sensed before. But it was stronger. He looked across the livingroom and saw a pile of clothes near the door. He stepped over to them.
"Patrick's," he muttered, and noticed the wet footprints on the rug, but he could not tell whose they were. Some seemed to go to the stairs leading to the roof-deck. Others went through the passageway towards the bedrooms. He followed these. He paused and looked into Patrick's room. It was empty. At the end of the corridor, he came to the wide-open door to their bedroom. On the doorsill was the crumbled wet bundle of Melody's bikini bottom. A foot away was the halter, stretched as if pointing.
Melody was asleep on her bed, nude and uncovered. One hand was curled above her head on the pillow, one leg draped over the edge of the bed. She was a true blonde. And she was still damp, with drops of water covering her torso, larger ones collected in her scar. It could have been perspiration, since the afternoon was just beginning to cool off.
Looking at the other bed, he was relieved to see
that it was empty. Hearing something above him on the roof, he turned to go.
"It must be Patrick," he thought But he paused,. looked at Melody and pursed his lips.
Lifting the dangling leg gently, he put it on the bed. Then he covered her lightly with a sheet. It immediately took moisture from her breasts, abdomen and pubic area, making darker patches on the fabric.
Upstairs he found Patrick in one of the deck chairs, stretched out. He wore nothing and was evenly tanned from head to toe.
"Hello," he said, frowning.
The other lifted a finger of his right hand slightly, but said nothing. His eyes looked sleepily at his host. His lips made little sucking noises on the waterpipe.
"What's the fuss about?" Melody asked, dressing for supper.
"I've just told you!" he snapped. "You both were naked..."
"Yes, but he was upstairs and I was downstairs. It's not the same as..."
"I don't like it ...
"Ah Honey, don't be silly..."
"And you were sprawled over the bed, the door open ...
She looked away as if for something she had misplaced.
"And you were uncovered"
"Uncovered? I awoke with a sheet"
"I covered you," he snapped again. "Anyone, everyone ...could have seen"
"Everyone?" she smiled. "Do you think this is Grand Central Station?"
"I hope not," he said. "But the houseboys
"They were nowhere around."
"They're always around! Like shadows"
He was getting exasperated and felt the conversation slipping into other, unwanted directions. He pulled it back.
"Besides, do you know what Patrick was doing?"
She looked puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"I meanwhat he was doing while you were asleep?"
She looked suddenly somber, as if trying to remember something, then hesitantly asked, "No, what?"
"He was smoking that damned pipe!"
"Where?" she asked, still subdued.
"On cloud nine! Where else!"
"Where?" she insistedl smiling slightly, as if to pull it out of him.
"UPstairs," he answered. "UPstairs on the roof deck."
"Oh," she seemed to be relieved. "I see."
"We've got to tell him to stop that!"
"We?" she asked, looking puzzled.
"Yes, you don't want him to continue, do you?"
"Uh..." she rattled her bracelets. "No, of course not!"
Supper was not very animated that evening until after coffee. "Patrick," he started, "I want to discuss what happened this afternoon."
Patrick looked quickly at Melody, who studied the rim of her coffee cup as she sipped from it.
"Well? about that..." Patrick started. "It wasn't Melody's fault...."
"Of course not," he said. "She was downstairs while you were upstairs. How would she know what you were doing?"
Melody saw the painted rosettes on her bracelet. Patrick caught himself almost smiling.
'I ... er ... yeah ... right."
"I don't want any more use of..."
"You.... ?" asked Patrick, puzzled.
"We..." he corrected. "Melody and I ... we don't want any more smoking on the boat."
Patrick looked at Melody. She stared right into his eyes with an effort.
"Is that true?" Patrick asked.
"Yes," Melody whispered, "We-don't want any more ... We don't want you to smoke on the boat ... anymore."
"What's the fuss about?" Patrick askedl waving his hand at the expanse of lake. "We're in a world of our own. It's not like we're in the States with cops breathing down..."
"No more," he said firmly.
"No more," she echoed.
"I don't know if I agree with that," said Patrick, pushing away his cup.
"You have no choice!" he said, getting quickly to his feet and glaring at the other.
"Really?"Patrick smiled, oozing charm.
"Yes!" he said emphatically, stepping quickly around the table. Melody was startled. She thought he was moving towards Patrick. So did Patrick, whose muscles tightened in preparation for an attack. But they both were wrong. Instead, he went to the sideboard where the pipe was again sitting. Grabbing it, he stepped to the open window.
"Hey!" yelled Patrick. "What are..."
Thought, word and action were almost blended. With a swing of his torso, the pipe went flying out into the darkness. Somewhere there was a splash.
"That'll settle that," he said, clapping his hands together. "No further discussion."
Patrick relaxed and smiled wryly. "That wasn't really necessary. You're my host..." and looking at Melody, "...and hostess. Whatever you want is what I want."
The houseboat owner appeared to clear away the dishes. offhandedly he said, "The pipe will be added to the bill. M'msahib, it must be paid for."
"Of course," he said, wondering why he had addressed her about it.
Good humor slowly returned to the evening conversation.
Later, when they were getting ready for bed, she asked, "Whatdid you mean with that Grand Central Station remark?"
"I didn't say it, you did."
"But you said that you 'hoped not'Hoped not WHAT?"
"I dunno" he remarked. "Open doors, being uncovered
Hell,you remember your remarks about the houseboat owner"
"I don't go parading around!"
"But theythey watch everything They see everything."
"Do they tell you what they see?"
"Of course not! I just guess"
"Don't guess so poorly about meIt makes me think
"It's a foreign country. I just want you to be careful. "
He climbed into his bed. She sat on the edge of hers, quietly.She snapped off the light and still sat there. He could see her shadow against the window.
"Honey," she said.
"Are you angry with me?" she asked plaintively.
"No."He got up on one elbow. "No. You didn't do anything....It was Patrick."
"Yes," she said, looking towards the wall beyond which lay Patrick's bedroom, "it was Patrick."
She still sat in the darkness. He still watched.
"You want company?" she asked.
He smiled. "You bet!"
He saw her shadow stand up and remove its nightgown. Then her shadow crossed the room and joined his. Soon there was perspiration in the cool evening. There were little sounds and little cries.
Even though they were restrained, Patrick could hear them, for he was trying to hear them. At first he was angry in the darkness. Afterwards, he smiled and fell asleep.
Patrick said, "I'm going."
"What do you mean?" Melody asked.
"The road is open and I'm going down to Jammu, while I have the chance."
They both wished him a good journey. "Perhaps we'll see you again in Nepal."
The entire village seemed to hang in the fog, the rain, like a white-speckled serpent. It clung to the ridge far ahead but the wet air distorted the image of where it really sat. Off to either side he could see great zig-zag strokeg of white like perpetuallyphotographed lightningbolts, to the right and to the left. They were waterfallst but they denied their identities with proclamations that they were really otherwise.
However, between where his feet were stepping and that floating image, he had no idea what the distance really was. Within ten feet, the path vanished into cloud-like mists. The village floated beyond. Muddy water poured across the path and he looked off to the left to feel, more than see, the great drop to the river below. On stray occasions, a small rock would come bouncing down from the right and tumble out of sight. A few pebbles were dislodged below. He could hear them tumble. But nothing else. It was enough, for if that rock had struck him, falling as it was from high above....
The clouds moved in and the village, the lightningwaterfalls, almost everything, vanished, except his immediate area of existence and his feet.
It was like bludgeoning. Bludgeoning in the darkness of the houseboat.
"Where are you?"
The right foot moved and then the left foot moved, one after another following the path. But was it the path? He wasn't sure. There was so much water. And his thoughts were burning. One. Two. One. Two. ONE, ONE.
"Stupid," said the voice.
Sri Khatvanga stirred and spoke.
"The stupid idiot. He will destroy the village."
One hundred and twenty thousand, three hundred thirty two.
"He won't know what to do and he will destroy the ...
Two hundred and three thousand, three hundred twenty one.
"He doesn't remember. He doesn't remember anything!"
He missed them.
Who did he miss?
He could not remember.
"And you? What do you hear?"
"What kind!?" His voice was more demanding. "Be specific!"
"Voices.. .ah... saying numbers ... numbers..." She almost dozed off.
"Tell me what they are!"
"Just numbers ... normal...One ... Two-three. One, two, three ......
"One, one, two...
And it was over.
She was asleep.
A piece of glass fell next to him, and broke into smaller pieces in the darkness. He heard it but paid no attention, for the reflected lights caught his eye. First one large flame as it fell. Then a scattering of fragmented bits of orange as the lights went out.
In the bus station, a young lady sat in the waiting room. Her hat caught his attention, floppy and loose. He did not notice her crossed legs, one foot jiggling, shaking, twisting, swivelling at the ankle. He did not see the foot, dangling at the end of the leg, quivering, shivering and agonizing the air in the immediate vicinity. It pointed nowhere.
When he did notice her hovering foot, the moving foot, he gave it little attention. For some reason, however, for a split second he thought of the Himalayas. For some unknown reason, the foot plunged him into images of the great mountains thrusting into the sky, hovering and shimmering in dazzling light, bouncing light of exquisite clarity.
The bus was cold.
"The fools," he thought, "have the air conditioners on ... The weather is too cold..."
"It is too cold," he thought, and wondered what the weather would bring. What would the weather bring him? Not only to him. "We all get it," he thought. "We all get it together--people, cats, dogs--all beings."
He shivered, crossing his legs for warmth. His right foot dangled, swivelling at the ankle.
"All at the same time," he muttered.
The rain began to fall. The momentum of the bus threw the raindrops across his window in disjointed horizontal lines.
"l, 2, 3! Here we go!"
Cig ... Nyi ... Sum!
It was a clear day. There were some patches of snow here and there, but winter really seemed defeated. Brown and brownness still prevailed in the plant life, grasses and trees, but the willows were already hinting at other colors. So recently they had been their golden selves of autumn. Now they were hinting at the oranges which would give life to their greens of spring. Not yet, however. Not yet.
"Sri Khatvanga!" he called.
In the almost-deserted bazaar, next to Ganesh's shrine, he greeted the other.
"Namaste," he said firmly, the gathering twilight making them shadows to each other.
"Namaste," the other replied.
"Who are you?" asked the man with the dark eyebrows. "Do you know me?"
"Ha ha Hahahah," the other laughed. "Of course, of course.11
The speaker's face drew closer and became visible in the light from the lamps of the shrine. He looked Tibetan, with sharp features and the beginnings of a wispy beard. His greygreen eyes squinted.
The other was cautious. "Are you sure?"
"How could one not know the great magician Sri Khatvanga?" the other laughed.
The other spoke through his clenched teeth. "Who says that I am a magician? Who are you? I do not know you..."
Impatiently, he was about to turn and walk away.
"Wait! Wait. I am sorry if I offended... I was merely....
"Who are you?" the other snapped.
"My name is Dharma Dorje."
The dark eyes shone. The orange flames from Ganesha's lamps reflected there. "Ah Cha! I have heard of you... a lama..."
"We have met," the lama corrected, studying the chain which hung about the other's neck and the strangely-torn packet that swung from it.
"We have met long ago," continued the monk. "Perhaps your ... excellency-does not remember?"
Ganeshals lights danced in the darkness.
"Why should I? But it is peculiar ... magical lama... that you of all people address me as Magician..."
"Ha ha hahahah," said Dharma Dorje. "Black and White!"
"Black and Black," whispered the other into his own hand which stroked his full beard.
A silence engulfed them until a bell sounded down the street. A worshipper was "knocking" at the door of Shiva,
about to make an evening ritual before the closed door of the lingam shrine.
Kling Kling Kling ... ng...ng ... ng....
"What can I do for you?" asked the dark-bearded man.
"Nothing," the lama answered. "Nothing will do fine."
"You make no sense!"
"Ah ... Guru Khatvanga! Please hear me out. It is important."
"Do nothing. I am requesting you not to do something..."
"That is very broad..." the other smiled, squinting and reaching for his ear.
"Give up your student Chamba!"
The other did not touch his ear. He paused, smiling and frowning in quick sequence. "Easily done!" he suddenly laughed. "Chamba is dead!"
"But you intend to bring him back to life!" the lama protested.
"Who says such things? No one can do that...."
"It is said that you....
"No, no!" the other shook his head and waved his hands in the space between them. He was backing off from the lama, stepping into darkness. "It is not true..."
Dharma Dorje gazed in surprise. Just a moment before the night swallowed him, he saw them. The golden lines! Three and three. They were shining in Sri Khatvanga's eyes. Then they vanished. The other man was gone, but the lama thought that he heard from the dark alleyway, "Why should I restore ... such a bumbling fool!?"
There was more snow. Tree-covered hills began to appear and in between their growths were rocks and more snow. Cracks, horizontal and vertical, were full and white. one circle hung above another. He looked for signs of life. Smoke, perhaps? Nothing. He looked for signs of Guru Khatvanga in the rocks. Any clue at all--footprint, handprint. Could he see his eyes? Was his face there? No, too much to expect, to find him so visible.
He looked along the upper ridges, balancing huge boulders. They could be so easily pushed. And they were directly above him. What could he do? Was there anything? He walked. He realized that there was nothing that he could do about the balanced boulders.
Where was Drelhu?
He observed carefully the upper edges of the rocky hills. Could he see him? Did he see Drelhu up there? Running along ... parallel to his path? Running and hiding in the trees? Was he watching? Why should he ever think that Drelhu was watching?
Nobody was watching.