I could have hugged that kid. He must have been no more than 15. It was midnight, we’d been delayed by a whole hour, I’d never confirmed my booking or put down any deposit on my room, but still: there he was, standing in the rain. Waiting for me.
I walked up and introduced myself to the kid with the sign and his friend, who offered to take my bag. Exhausted from my journey, I let him, although I usually wouldn’t. He carried it over to a cramped sedan, threw it in the back, then held out his hand to me. Sleep-deprived and still washing off the anxiety of the last few hours, I didn’t comprehend. I made to get in the back seat, and he kind of made a move to stop me. Our driver, the 15-year-old, chastised his friend, and he backed off and let me get in. Only as we started driving away did I understand that he was angling for a tip.
I didn’t even have money. All I had was the 200 Indian rupees the clerk in Delhi had shortchanged me with.
The boys asked me if it was my first time in Nepal, and I said yes. They proceeded to welcome me by blasting Hindi hip-hop as we drove away.
I was too tired to talk much, so the conversation didn’t progress very far past that. Instead, I stared blankly out the window while the two kids up front chattered away in Hindi, or Nepali, or whatever it is.
To me, the scene outside the car looked like something from a war movie. The streets of Kathmandu were dusty, pockmarked, and shuttered tight. Rubble and refuse was strewn everywhere, and packs of stray dogs had to be chased out of the streets with the car horn. My drivers took turn after turn after turn, down windy streets and through impossibly small alleys. I would have been absolutely lost within the first three minutes, but these kids obviously spent their days roaming and romping around these streets. To them, the maze was nothing.
As the streets got narrower and we approached what I assumed was a more commercial area, shadowy figures started appearing on the streets. These people stumbled left and right, moving slowly, jerkily. In the otherwise abandoned streets, they looked eerily like zombies.
At about this time, I started wondering if I’d made a terrible mistake.
The streets of Kathmandu looked like they could just as easily be Baghdad, or Aleppo. Why was I here, in this bombed-out city? The shops were all shuttered with fierce iron shades, bricks and collapsed buildings lined the streets, and drug addicts were wandering the unlit streets like zombies. Why had I thrown away a great love of my life to come here?
Asked why, exactly, he needed to be the first to climb Mount Everest, pioneering mountaineer George Mallory offered just three words in explanation: “Because it’s there.”
As we pulled up to the Annapurna Guest House, that was all the explanation I could muster for myself. We ducked under a half-closed steel shutter, and entered the guesthouse. I met the owner, a genial older man, thanked the driver– the son, I presumed– and headed for my room.
The shutter slammed shut like a bullet.
The bed was tiny, rock-hard, and I felt all-too-cold sleeping alone.
Using the wi-fi, I sent Holly a text, saying I’d arrived safely. I looked at the phone, and thought about crying.
I didn’t have the energy.