As we were queuing up for another game of chess, a young Spaniard came up the steps and into the cafe. He saw the Malaysian and broke out into a big smile.
“Ah good, you’re still here!” he said.
“Of course,” the Malaysian answered with a single nod. “I am here every afternoon. I have nothing else to do.”
He turned to me, and said: “You know how I describe traveling? I say: traveling… is like Sunday afternoon.” We both laughed.
I sipped my tea and thought: Sunday afternoon…
The Malaysian and I played two more games of chess. I eked out a thin win in the second game after he sacrificed his queen in a risky gambit that never paid off, and we played an onerous game of pawns-and-king for the third that should have gone to a stalemate, but ended with an unforced error on my part that allowed him to back me into a corner and checkmate me.
Although the Malaysian took the series 2-1, I felt I had represented myself well, especially considering I hadn’t played serious chess in a year or more.
While we were playing, a small group of spectators had gathered around us. Some of this group were patrons of the cafe, perusing menus and asking questions of the hostess, while others were clearly here just for the chess.
[The featured image will make sense if you read the whole entry. Photo was taken in Feb 2014, two years before I was in Nepal. If you are new to this story, I suggest starting at chapter 1].
When I returned to my room, the gratitude turned to sadness.
The high had faded, and I was alone again.
I sat down at the smoking table, slumping in the chair. I laid the joint down, and looked across the tiny table. A second chair sat empty. No one to smoke with.
I checked my email.
An Austrian company, Runtastic, was trying to recruit me.
We had been going back and forth ever since I lost my job in Bali, sending work samples and writing pieces, discussing the logistics of potentially moving to Austria, obtaining a red-white-red card, learning German. It was an exciting opportunity which had colored the tail end of my trip; an optimistic pallor hanging over a cold and dreary month in Taipei.
The streets of Thamel were even more menacing by night.
The shoppers, for the most part, had retreated to their guesthouses and hostels, but the touts and drug dealers remained.
With the reduced foot traffic, this made me a much more attractive target. A young male, traveling alone, I must have looked like a golden goose to these shady figures. With the coming of night, the offers had gotten a little more adventurous, too.
“Black tar, brother?”
“Cocaine, my friend?”
“Women? Young girls? Good price.”
I told the agent thanks, and I’d think on it. I folded up the piece of paper with his budget calculations on it, and stuffed it in the back pocket of my slacks. We shook hands and he must have committed my face to memory, because for the next week, every time I passed his office, he would call out to me and ask about my plans.
But today, we simply said goodbye. I left his office, and headed for the main streets of Thamel.
The sensory overload was immediate, and total.