-Not enough, madam-. I was defeated again. I reached for all the pockets in my bag and found that one was full of the coins I had hordered from previous trips: Euros, Rubles, Yens and Yuans. I took a handful and spread it on the counter. To my surprise, the tall man reached for the coins. Him and his buddy started debating; like chicken picking for grains, they had their faces very close to the coins. They separated two Yens and five Rubles.
-OK miss, OK.
Now my bag just looked odd; no bags or people around, it stood alone in the middle of an empty hall. I took it and went outside. The driver was halfway through another cigarette. The smoke shone against the light of the only lamp in the street. He opened the door for me and handed me a card. It had pictures of a fancy hotel with big rooms. I didn’t want to disappoint him.
-Yes, please, take me there.
We drove away from the airport along an empty, dark highway. I could not see a thing other than the black shape of the driver’s head against the front lights of the car. After a while, we slowed down and I knew we were in the city although there were no lights in the streets. We drove blindly through a labyrinth. My guy seemed to know exactly what he was doing.
-No lights? - I asked.
-No electricity at night in Kathmandu, madam -. He was silent for the rest of the drive. I kept wondering if he would take me to the hotel.
Memories flee my mind like birds with the pass of time. I know you need me to be as accurate as possible, but some of the events I am telling you about have already started to become blurry, as significant as they are. I remember we got to the hotel, there was an ATM there and I took enough money to pay for my ride. I am sure I had to spell my last name at reception, this I’ve had to do every time. But that’s it.
My next memory of Kathmandu is me crawling into bed with the side lamp on. I shivered once I was inside the cold sheets. I stretched my arm out of the bed and into my bag in search for my book. I was on page 218 of The Tartar Steppe. No Tartars so far.
The same day, the same things, had repeated themselves hundreds of times without taking a step forward. The river of time flowed over the Fort, crumbled the walls, swept down dust and fragments of stone…
That night, I dreamt I was flying a plane on my own. The machine moved at the will of my hands: I was the giant condor crossing the sky. At first I looked out the windshields and saw the top of the highest trees of a dense jungle: here live the birds of paradise, I thought with pleasure. Almost at the same time, thick red feathers started popping up between the green leaves. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in dreams.
The plane then abruptly took a life of its own and turned up, drawing a vertical line across the sky. I felt all the weight of my flesh hanging from my bones as we ascended through the clouds into a black void where dust bombs of red, blue and yellow exploded, releasing millions of tiny orange rocks as they went. It was all so slow.
The whole dream became a distant memory. I knew what I was scared about, I only wanted to stay in Kathmandu for a couple of days before going inland and my grandmother´s voice repeated in my head, telling me the story of what I had to do.
-I flew over Everest, that’s where it all really begun-. She said she had found a guy with a small plane that could fly her to see the top. And so they did. She kept going on about the importance of seeing the highest peak in the world because it was literally as far as your feet could take you. And she said that you had to see as much as you could in life. Apparently seeing is not the same as being told.
She said on the way back they stopped to have lunch at a small restaurant made of mud. There was nothing but dried forest around. She ate lentil soup, which was the best she ever had, and then saw how the waiter took her plate, sunk it into a barrel of dirty water with soap, filled it again with a big spoonful of soup and served it to the next customer. She told me this story many times. She liked to remember her days in Nepal.
That morning I could see the sacred peaks of the Himalayas through a big window in my room. It was a beautiful sight, yet I didn’t feel any desire to see it from another angle than that one. I did not yearn to be closer to those cold, high places. I thought for a second if what she was looking for up there was the corpses of all those who died trying to reach the peak. They say there are thousands of them: bodies and body parts frozen between the earth and the sky. I was determined to follow every step of her trip, I just had to.