The sun awoke me early the next morning.
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!”
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.
I had just been accosted by a stranger on the streets of Pokhara, Nepal. This man was no tout though, and his offer intrigued me.
“Do you like chess?!” The man had yelled at me, from the stoop of a nearby cafe.
“Love it!” I’d responded.
“Would you like to play??” He asked.
Before I had even given it a second thought, my legs were taking me across the potholed street and up the steps, where I shook hands with my new friend: an old Malaysian man with an impressively white beard.
Having finally escaped Kathmandu (and escaped is the right word), I was able to turn my attention to the only question that really mattered:
What was I doing in Nepal?
To even begin probing that question, I needed to go back to the start of this trip. I needed to go back to Holly and myself.