- Disaster in Kashmir, Part 1: Love in Ladakh
- Disaster in Kashmir, Part 2: The Northern Guard of India
- Disaster in Kashmir, Part 3: Of Rain, Floods, and Landslides
- Disaster in Kashmir, Part 4: Rescue
Are we fallen angels who didn’t want to believe that nothing is nothing and so were born to lose our loved ones and dear friends one by one and finally our own life, to see it proved? -Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
And it rained. And it rained and it rained and it rained and it rained and it rained. And, verily, very very verily, it rained. And then the mountains, lolloping like the Tuesday night pyjama party at the Sorority of the Fun Loving Sisters of All Things Concupiscent, dropped their wet panties with lusty roars and many a cheeky thud. It was the All Pro Cosmic Bowling Championship pitting the baddest of Heaven’s angels, who had greased their wings black for the occasion, against Satan’s horned and horny praetorian guard—mixed metaphors and similes be damned—furiously tossing boulders the size of jelly bellied Chicago blues singers, smashing them into the trembling village of Turtuk, knocking asunder houses and sheds with the crashing crack of bowling pins.
If Turtuk peed its pants you couldn’t tell; everything here is soaking wet. And God, the magnificent cosmic jokester, lay his judgment upon us and thought it a splendid prank to obliterate the only road linking His soggy and skittish lambs to the rest of His broken and dispirited world with a five kilometer landslide. The cosmic jokester—king of the whoopee cushion, the joy buzzer, and promises of eternal happiness if only you would buy His book—severed our internet connection plunging us backward into the medieval, trickle down years of the Reagan Administration, that bleak time before wifi and Facebook. Forsaken of our virtual, pixelled lives we are forced to live corporeal reality. It is ugly indeed.
The honey hued Valkyrie and her steadfast companion, the sanguine Catalonian tomato, as fulsome and savory as Momma’s paella, take refuge in their room — which is now a sullen, sickly lit cell.
Ahava and Rive, too, surrender to the gray, shivering misery and bury themselves in their animal den, rolling a stone across the tomb of my desires, sealing my satyr ambitions with an iron padlock. Nir is happy. He whistles the whole day through. He shares my bed; but only a third of it — a thin strip of no-man’s land ensures that there will be no ill-forward caresses.
It is only at our meal times, breakfast and dinner, served by an increasingly apologetic Alee, that we gather and pensively contemplate the moribund offering of rice and boiled cabbage slopped onto greasy plates that shimmer with bacterial orgies of dysentery and cholera with a brooding typhus looking on. We used to have cookies for dessert.
I steal a loving glance at Ahava. Her face is ashen; the exuberant bounce of her bosom has collapsed. She twirls a string of acid green cabbage onto her fork and lifts it to her pale, demoralized mouth before thinking better of it and dropping the putrid string back onto her plate to rejoin its slithering brethren.
Something must be done. A hero must be summoned to save the day. A hero of erect moral certitude, with a sparkling gleam to his smile and a glint in his eye. A hero to save Ahava. To gladden the cockles of her discouraged heart and to win her gamine favors.
That hero will be me.
I, alone, shall venture into death’s reeking maw. And perhaps, perhaps, I can evict Nir from my bed as a grateful, compliant Ahava assumes tenancy beneath my soiled sheets to nibble my toes.
As the sun, a shy creamy lollipop, veiled within a heavy burqa of leaden sky, painfully claws upward to its noon zenith before tumbling back down the stairs like an elderly and arthritic starlet taking that final pratfall to amuse a disinterested audience, I venture into the maelstrom to find something heroic to do. The sodden earth sucks at the tread of my boots like—well, let’s skip this one. Plock … plock … plock. The steep path leading down, down into town has been ravaged and torn asunder. Demons and angels have consorted here and rudely violated the mountain’s steep pudendae; they have hurled their heavy seed with murderous rage deep into Turtuk’s bruised womb.
A crowd is gathered at the base of the spent path. A small car, Turtuk’s only taxi, has been flattened like a grape rolled under Pan’s prancing hoof by a boulder the size of a refrigerator. The driver’s eyes are popped open, agog at the sudden splendor of infinity; his mouth is puckered like a hooked trout; a pink fizz dribbles down his chin.
With eyes cast upward and ears pricked, scanning the cliff tops for teetering rocks that might bear me a grudge and aspire to release me from my myriad sorrows, I wander among shell shocked ghosts looking for that something special, something heroic to buy. Perhaps a provocative Burgundy to sip and savor the thin line of heat as it draws down into eager bellies? Alas, Turtuk is gripped by the Prophet’s severe hand and ruby wine’s contemplative comfort is forbidden. What to do? What to do?
Delightful, heart touching baubles that might endear me to my Sidonian sprite are limited to a miserly selection of house wares, flaccid vegetables, and potato chips. Potato chips? Perhaps. But sharp crumbs in the bed sheets often prove distracting and can cool a grateful ardor. Toilet paper would be a thoughtful touch. It is utilitarian, always in demand by the ladies, and supplies are running dreadfully low. Yet there is something about a man triumphantly bearing triple-ply, pillowy soft, and delicately perfumed rolls of scat swipe that lacks a heroic virility.
A half hour of trying the patience of Durga, the ill-tempered bad boy demon of the Himalaya abyss, I spot a prize. The perfect gift for my melancholy, woe begone … shall I say, prize? Yes! A prize for my prize!
Three! Count ’em … one! two! three! boxes of Snickers chocolate bars loiter, winking naughty come hithers, betraying mischievous gambolling gamine eagerness in a dark, seedy corner of a shop window. Thirty Nubian nymphettes wrapped in cloying paper lingerie, their girlish bosoms aquiver with anticipation, eager to be revealed and gobbled. They whisper salacious possibilities: tender nougat for nibbling; playful caressing of surrendering caramel; delightful probing of peanut bits; the murmuring ecstasy of melting chocolate commingling with hot saliva; and a firm tongue pricking molars, greedily savoring the lingering traces of sudden exuberance before collapsing in an orgasmic heap and slipping into dreams of Kit Kats.
However, this harem’s price is dear and my Rupees must be carefully allotted. The gatekeeper of this succulent, melt in your mouth, brothel of sugary delight demands a thousand Rupees for the lot. That works out to an outrageous thirty dollars! A usurious fee for momentary, transient pleasures. Imagine my dismay at being obscenely overcharged by a carpet bagging, profiteering crone. Profiteering … hmmm. I owe nothing to the Valkyrie and the Spaniard—both are distant and unresponsive to my charming wit—and irksome Nir. I am the one risking my life for this noble cause. I have cornered the Turtuk Snickers market. A reasonable surcharge can be justifiably applied. And with the profits I shall soon cha cha cha the moon lit fantastic with a bespoken for and Snickers bound Ahava, my desert queen cum concubine.
Alas the triumphant return I have envisioned is not to be. There are no triumphator’s laurels to crown my regal pate, no yelps of female joy: I am hailed with dour grunts. Undaunted, I lovingly arrange my Nubian lovelies on the dining table and purring with the velvet patter of a velvet draped pimp hawking his bevy of skittish wares, announce that business is open. On the honor system. My mark-up, given the many dangers faced to procure my gamine nymphettes, is fair: Only two dollars apiece. Get ’em while their luscious!
A blur of grubby fingers attached to grubby hands savage the first box of nougaty, caramelly ebony joys with the gleeful thoroughness of skin head Vandals sacking the Holy Roman Emperor’s cathouse. A single payment has yet to be made; I tally the total due: one thousand eight hundred Rupees. I try not to worry; vibrant economies thrive on credit. Soon it will be all milk and honey.
Later that lead hued afternoon Nir ponies up two hundred Rupees. I note the balance due. Rive, also, advances a paltry sum toward her tab. By evening’s end accounts remain in serious arrears. The following day shows no improvement in collections despite the continuing depletion of my stock. To stem the hemorrhaging of my precious capital I withdraw the sole surviving box of Snickers from offer, glumly acceding that this confectionary venture has soured. It is doubtful that my investment will be recouped. My faith in humanity’s honor is irreparably dimmed. Now only Ahava will be privy to the favors of my succulent Nubian consorts.
Perfidy! Outrageous perfidy! A lowly scrofulous, scurrilous, scabrous scallywag has purloined my Snickers! Malefic scum! O’ the sorrow. My ebony queens are abducted.
It is a universal wisdom that the complaints of the sorely aggrieved are never to be reckoned lightly. All within my accusing view are foul, stinking criminals until proven otherwise. Except delicious Ahava, she is above my reproach.
Unjustly burdened by unholy avarice, the day unfolds as painfully and as slowly as a constipated turtle bellying up to a feeding trough. I remain camped in my bed nursing and cradling the aching emptiness of sudden loss. In the next room the lilting gurgles of womanly camaraderie trespass into the dank, heavy air of my sullen, sulking cell. I prick my ears, attuning them to possible (probable) crinkles of candy wrappers. But this thief is cunning; no crinkling sounds jar the monotonous pittering rhythm of falling rain. I fear that my caramel lovelies have been stripped of their thin attire and now lay shivering, their nougats rudely exposed to the elements, upon a sacrificial alter, dolled and spiffed up as virginal offerings to appease the iniquitous desires of hot, fetid maws.
Eight days have passed since the rains began. Punched in the nose, staggered and cross-eyed, Turtuk lies entombed within the forbidding, crenulated labial folds of the high Himalaya. Our meals have transcended the vile; din din is an onramp onto the expressway to bubbling bowels.
While glumly pondering the mucid, mephitic slop plopped before me, a dark ray of suspicion pierces my occasionally nimble mind and I cast a gimlet eye upon the Valkyrie and her confederate in Snickers crime. They look suspiciously sated. They lack the wolfish severity of the tiffin deprived. I study the Valkyrie: this pale, ice-eyed felon, this sticky fingered handmaiden of Odin’s rent souls, this, this candy felon has a pale, sickly pallor; she is a bit green about the gills; a hypoglycemic twitch pulls at her lips; an ill, yellowish hue clouds the eager gleam in her eyes … an upset tummy? She senses my piercing inquisitor’s glare, the cold righteousness of my baleful eye, and shrinks into her chair.
She stands and casually—an obvious, futile, counterfeit attempt at playing the innocent—slips out of the dining room and into the hallway. I hear her fall to her knees. She groans as the drawn, gurgling report of her bowel discharges the tattered, watery corpses of my beloved queens. She wails.
I am alone with my alluring, enticing, luscious, soul percolating, cockles cooking Ahava. Sitting beside her, as the others attend to the collapsed heap in the hallway, I know this is my singular opportune moment to profess my squirming desire. Our fingers touch, achingly lightly, digit to digit, phalange to phalange, pinkie to pinkie. Zap! Zappity Zap! and Zap! again. Ooooooooo my pinkie quivers.
Ahava withdraws her pinkie and motions to move away. Now. Now is the moment to confess my lust. I leap to my feet and with a mangled and incoherent verbal ejaculate commit to the deed. Ahava is motionless. Dumbstruck. The cat has taken her tongue and buried it in the verdant sandbox of ripe desire. The desert heat of her breath washes upon my eager, manly chest. A singular, mono-syllabic word issues forth from my bouncy love bunny’s wet licked lips: ‘Eeeew.’ And then: ‘Yuck.’
I lay awake in this cold, damp bed thinking of the few months ago in Pai, Thailand when I laid in a dead woman’s bed (a hairpin curve taken too quickly on an Enfield motorcycle, the kaleidoscopic terror of tearing flesh and shattering bone, the insect hum of eternity) that whatever wanton spirit had taken hold of her now infects me. I am confused; unsure if my perpetual travel is an embrace of life or a timid stalking of death. My sum is that I am a coward, fearful of fully embracing life, fearful of taking death. Death is a proud woman and she does not want me for a boyfriend.
Nir is sleeping well. He snores. He does not leap for joy on paper trampolines.