Drinking tea, smoking hash and playing chess, our afternoon whiled away in the most pleasant fashion. We did nothing, worked towards nothing, and simply spent our afternoon enjoying the simple pleasures of drinks, conversation, and each other’s company. I had to agree with the Malaysian: I didn’t know what day of the week it was, but it certainly felt like a Sunday morning.
[this is an installment in an ongoing series about my travels in Nepal. The story starts here. It’ll make a good deal more sense if you start there, but feel free to make your own decisions]
Dusk fell, and a chill set in on the open-air cafe. The Spaniard had taken his leave late in the afternoon, off to enjoy a siesta. I was wearing only a t-shirt, all I had needed when I set forth that sunny morning. Now though, the cold was cutting at my bones, and my teeth were on the verge of chattering. I conceded the chess game—the hash was doing my play no favors— and bid the Malaysian adieu.
“Will you be here tomorrow?” I asked, as I settled my bill with the owner.
“Of course,” the Malaysian answered with a gracious smile. “I am here every day.”
“I’ll be back,” I promised with a pointed finger. “And I’m going to win some more games next time!”
I set a brisk pace back towards the Hotel Snow Leopard. I was freezing cold, the cool mountain air was getting deep into my bones. Although Kathmandu had held a chill at night, the wind whipping across the lake in Pokhara kept things extra cold up here, at the foot of the Annapurna range. Unfortunately for me, I had to walk several kilometers, from one end of Lakeside clear to the other end. In a t-shirt and shorts, in a chilly Nepal night.
As I walked from the north end of Lakeside to the south side, I began noticing signs of life. Where the neighborhood had seemed sad and dead earlier in the day—perhaps we can attribute that judgement to my preoccupied state of mind—now it seemed happy and alive.
Groups of young Nepali men—and the occasional woman—lounged on the streets, between the bars or simply out for a smoke. Contrary to some of the people I’d encountered so far in Pokhara—the man with no shoes, the man by the lakethe man by the lake—these Nepali looked happy, healthy, and well-fed. Here and there one laughed a little too loud to be sober—but then again, maybe not.
A long-haired American busked on the street, his guitar singing through a heavy amplifier, his eyes hiding under scruffy long bangs. He was crooning a passable imitation of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah.’ I stopped and joined the small crowd listening to his music. He had just started; he strummed quietly and murmured:
Well I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don’t really care for music, do you?
Emotion overcame me.
Two years ago, I had seen the most beautiful dance performance set to this piece at the Vail International Dance Festival. Holly and I had just moved to Vail, a Colorado ski town where high art mingles with scruffy ski-bum aesthetic.
For a week, Holly and I had taken a blanket, snacks, and a bottle of wine to the Gerald Ford Ampitheatre, where we paid $20 for lawn seats, cuddled up, and watched the dancers until they made us leave. Holly, a dancer all her life, was enthralled. I was enthralled by the look of passion in her eyes when she watched the ballerinas; the little gasps and twitches she’d give off that let me know something extra-special had just been done.
I didn’t need to pay attention to her when the dancers performed ‘Hallelujah’ though: their performance cut right through my chest, deep to my soul. Next to a beautiful woman; the love of my life; in a gorgeous natural setting; watching great art—I knew I would remember this moment forever.
Back on the street, alone, in Pokhara, Nepal, I remembered.
You know, I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
The song was almost too painful to stand and listen to, as the shiver of emotion ran through my body. Despite the shiver, physically, I noticed, I was overheating. I stood there in shorts and a t-shirt, the nightlife of Pokhara popping all around me, and I was burning up inside.
Well there was a time when you let me know
What’s really going on below
But now you never show that to me do ya
I felt the silent tears well in my eyes. I inconspicuously daubed them away. There was no need to be melodramatic. After all, I’d been the one who ended things.
Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah
The busker droned off into silent contemplation, and his audience gave a few polite claps. I wanted to erupt into a standing ovation for this man. This quiet, downtrodden traveler who had simply cast his gaze at the ground, and strummed a few strings, had just shaken me to my core.
He turned his gaze up and flashed a loose smile—the carefree grin of a musician doing what he loves. It was nothing more than a song, a smile, a dollar for him. I tossed him whatever rupees I had left in my pocket, and continued on my way, images of ballerinas tapping across my mind.