I took a few more games from the Malaysian. Either he had gotten too stoned, or I was starting to understand his playing style.
“Tomorrow, we will play again?” he asked me as I stepped back from the board.
“Nah, I have to go trekking tomorrow,” I said. “Need to redeem your reputation, losing against this youngster?” I say, half-joking. He had handily taken the majority of games from me. I knew he was the better player.
“Don’t flatter yourself,” the Malaysian said, looking down. “You are not that young.”
“I’m only 23!” I protested.
“Exactly,” he said. “That is not that young.”
I stepped back, slightly offended. He was probably right. He seemed like the sort of man who was usually right about things.
Some photos from Pokhara.
I shook hands with my opponent across the chess board. Beams of early-afternoon sunlight broke through the roof of the Pokhara cafe where we were sitting.
My opponent grinned a toothy grin. He was dark-skinned, freckled, missing one of his front teeth, and had a big, bushy white beard. He wore a light scarf wrapped around his head. This was the Malaysian.
Fifty-one years old, professional itinerant, and damned good chess player.
He’d just taken four out of five games from me, smoking hash almost the entire time.
I was sitting alone on terrace in Pokhara, Nepal, sipping coffee. My eyes stared out across a serene lake, looking but not seeing. My mind was far away, across the ocean.
Instinctively, I looked to the hills above the lake. The mountains behind the hills still remained shrouded in haze. I’d been in Pokhara for a few days now, and still not caught a glimpse of the famous Annapurna Range; the towering Himalayan massif I’d come to Pokhara to see.
The Lonely Planet guidebook I had plundered from the Hotel Snow Leopard suggested catching a sunrise from the high hill of Sarankot was the best way to see the mountains. So as I sat on the terrace, I looked to Sarankot.
Above the promontory, a swarm of paragliders circled.
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…