The International Writers Magazine: Travel Tales in Hacktreks
Bad Mike stranded in Turtuk
Vagitus Uterinus is not a fungal inconvenience suffered by gamine cartoon coyotes on the prowl for yummy road runner snacks. It is the cry uttered by a fetus afloat in the womb. It is an apt metaphor, I think, for the twelve days in September when I was stranded within spitting distance of Pakistan in the high Himalaya. This is a true story of love, lust and heroism. Names, of course, have been changed to protect the sordid and the inexcusable.
Sadly no one has ever died of unhappiness. Many have perished in landslides and rock falls. Some may even have perished from eating rancid cabbage. Extinction, has, in recent year, been unjustly maligned. Extinction is not so bad.
This morning I awake, a mucid parasite peering out with dull, witless eyes from under the cocoon of my blanket, to the dismal prospect of another gray and soggy day snared within a gray and soggy room ensconced in the dark, dank bowels of a gray and soggy guesthouse in Turtuk, a few scantily-clad miles from the irritable Pakistan border. A dribble of water worms a cold path through the roof of my room dribbling onto my soggy bed, marrying and consummating its icy thread, an austere, fundamentalist onanism, a Taliban wet dream, wetting my spent and soggy spirit—that timid, flickering beacon faintly illuminating the nightmare emptiness of unbeing.
For twelve days I have been stranded in this stygian slough of dirt and fallen rock. For almost every hour of each of those twelve days a cracking sound, like the sound granite testicles make when broken upon the rack of Satan's daughters, Desire, Fulfilment and Regret, issued high up in the monstrous peaks of the Himalaya signals another murderous landslide. Sometimes far away, sometimes less than a mile, occasionally a parcel of Turtuk is extinguished.
This morning there will no omelettes for breakfast, or flapjacks, or beavertails to easy entry into this leaden day. For both my meals, breakfast and dinner, there will only be the scrapings of hard clumps of rice that cling to the inner walls of a large cooking pot. These dour remnants of merrier repasts will be topped with vile plops of boiled cabbage that has long ago turned black and now oozes and gathers in a viscous, toxic sludge within the circumference of my dirty plate. I choose instead to starve. Starvation reduces the need for social calls to the grim box that is our shared toilet.
Toilet is a charitable term. Our toilet is a mephitic pit over which the damned hover unsteadily upon two disrespectful planks. A thin cloth covering the entrance feigns at offering a small accommodation of privacy, but it is readily flapped and pinned open by a malevolent wind eager to expose and humiliate its squatting charges. There are no secrets amongst the stranded in a narrow mountain valley.
Be careful of what you wish for is a mantra spouted by spiteful spinsters hosting far too many cats in basement suites. My wish was for a three week permit to explore Ladakh's northern Nubra Valley, the valley of flowers—I also wished for an exceptionally nubile maiden who would eagerly indulge my debauched whims. Such wishes are never granted to the likes of me. I was given a seven day permit. The maximum allotted to foreigners.
A seven day permit begs to be altered and counterfeited. I criminally granted myself an exceedingly generous allowance of four weeks.
Never having acquired the looping eloquence of fine penmanship, my handwriting writhes and twists and spurts upon the virginal page, like the seminal stains that attest to Sunday morning orgies of garden snakes. My cryptic ciphers have served me well in my occasional pursuit of crime and derring-do against opaque bureaucracies that exist only to stamp out proclivities toward the exercise of free will and to foil whatever whiffs of herbal joy that might traipse my way.
Armed with my sheaf of altered permits I steal into the post-moonset night, a bleary eyed Ulysses embarking upon a panty raid, or is that pantry raid? Who can tell at this dismal hour when smirking demons bid their adieus and slink off to pornographic slumber and dogs retire from their moonlit yowling sonatas to curl snugly into gutter dreams of solitary canine disappointment.
Rumor—mine—has it that the first of the local jeeps, dubious, rusting tin cartons apprenticing as coffins, to the Nubra Valley putter forth into the high passes just before 05:00, well before the chapped fingers of icy dawn tremblingly grasp for a cup of tepid coffee.
Unsurprisingly, my rumor is misinformed. The early bird never gets the worm. That is a vengeful spinster's tale. The early bird is often savaged; its delicate virtue sullied by rampaging ogres and PayDay Loan clerks. That is the way of charcoal night.
||The gateway to the Nubra Valley is the
Khardungla pass which shamelessly bills itself as the world's highest motorable roadway at an elevation of 18,380 feet. The true, measured elevation is a mere 17,582 feet but why quibble about a lousy 582 feet when bragging rights are at stake. The Khardung La is a cold place with a forbidding cafe.
The descent into the Nubra Valley is a merry, twisting toss about. There are few flowers to be seen in this valley of flowers. Perhaps I have arrived too late at the prom. This naked valley has been stripped of its knickers and deflowered.
Diskit is the capital of the Nubra Valley. Its charms boast the disorder of a burgled laundry room. Diskit's satellite 'burg, Hundar, has two humped, Bactrian, camels for rent. They shift about a ratty, tattered field much akin to a Vegas union meeting of sour tempered, double humped ladies of much lauded ill repute. There are few buyers of furry gallivanting here.
The approach to Turtuk is increasingly militarized as we lumber north. Pakistan considers this land to be their's. It is occupied by India. It is an occupation that rankles Pakistan. Occasionally Pakistan, after excitedly stirring its pot of innumerable grievances, unleashes an artillery barrage. The Indian invariably respond in kind. It is a lethal version of the innumerable dog poop wars fought in many American suburbs until the day arrives that Fido relieves his last onto Martha's bed of blue ribbon petunias and is dispatched heavenward with a well aimed bullet.
The Nubra Valley narrows until it is cradled by towering gray, labial cliffs. The jeep deposits me into the excited and eager arms of Alee who regales me with the many wonders of his guesthouse. And at a very reasonable price. As a coquettish trollop, slumped against a lamp post and nursing her throbbing bunions—it isn't easy swirling lascivious hips and blowing steamy kisses at startled pedestrians while hobbled by a busted stiletto on your favorite pair of ruby red pumps—would I immediately accept Alee's importuning offer.
Being Alee's only guest I command a small kingdom of spartan rooms and select a very suitable abode with a view of ice capped Himalaya peaks, peaks where yeti surely frolic in nude abandon sodomizing marmots and other timid alpine creatures before swallowing them whole for a pre-dinner snack.
Feeling smugger than a buggered bug at having acquired a very fine accommodation, complete with a meal plan (an acquisition I would come to rue) I leap onto my double bed with glee and swat a bastard mosquito that has the temerity to trespass into my bargain kingdom.
A welcome cup of tea is royally served by ever-obliging Alee and no sooner do I sip at its enervating heat than a troupe of four lusty women clatter into the hallway outside my wondrous perch. A harem! A multi-national task force to attend my now quivering excitement. Two Israelis—dear God, please, O please and pretty please let them be as licentious as biblical, olive hued Sidonian harlots. Like ripe, pluck-me-big-boy Jezebels—and a sultry Spaniard with tongue wetted, pillow puffed lips and a Nordic princess whose unwashed golden tresses repose with post-coital languor upon salacious shoulders. Pink panties and lacy brassieres will soon be tappeting in the mountain breeze come laundry day.
A vivid, throbbing, fevered hour later, in from out of the darkness, a tall, strapping Israeli youth, all muscles and gonorrhoea, trespasses into my cupidinous realm enquiring if a room is available. With glee and a barely suppressed chortle I overhear Alee tell this unwelcome interloper that there are no more rooms. No vacancy at this inn. Begone with ye! ... cheesedick.
See how I dance and boogie woogie to visions of anticipated boom boom and bang bang merriment. I whistle Dixie. I hum what might be a Tin Pan Alley tune. No blues issue from my pursed lips. Hark! Do I hear angels singing?
I tune my lustful ear toward my awaiting concubines' room eager to hear what undoubtedly will be a most requitable melody.
'He can stay with us. There's plenty of room on the bed.'
The Hebrew accent is unmistakable. My Jezebels!
His name: Nir. A recently discharged Israeli intelligence officer. A master of deceit. He knows what he wants. And how to get it. He has gotten my Jezebels—a bird in a hand and a bird in the bush. Visions of braided Zionist limbs and caterwauling exhalations of hot, spittle laden breath torment me.
With no offer forthcoming to share the Spaniard's and Valkyrian princess' bed of candied, libidinous delights, I settle upon a succubus who skipped the light fantastic with wanton abandon about my maypole of loneliness and despair.
Ahava is Hebrew for love. A tall, Sephardic Jewess, Ahava would have been a Sultan's cherished love bunny in an earlier, Ottoman, time.
Rine is joy: Fair skinned, like hot, velvety vanilla pudding, and cerebrally cool, stand offish with perky breasts bristling with curiosity and pellucid green eyes that shine with popsicle disdain, Rine holds most men in contempt. Except Nir. Nir the interloper. Nir the hormone. Nir the tumescent swain of snatch.
Nir means plowed field. How appropriate. How ironic.
For three days the ménage-a-yum-yum skip gaily upon Himalaya mountain peaks singing silly love songs to frightened goats and yaks.
For three nights I wonder at what circus acts of incredible, astounding, darling-please-do, must surely be wrought upon their promiscuous and sweat soaked bed.
On the fourth day, Nir, the priapic cur, begs for my audience. He pleads with teary eyes if he could move into my room. I have an extra bed. I wonder why. Perchance his rod is chafed and his seed fully spent and he is seeking a small reprieve from the insatiable animal demands of his ripe, tomato juicy Jezebels.
'No. Not all,' Nir protests. 'It's nothing like you think. They're bossy. I can't do anything right.'
O joy! My black heart leaps like an electro-shocked frog snapping at flies. Hark! I hear angels singing!
Later that wondrous day of golden rays, with cherubim and cupids fluttering about with restrung bows and little stiffies prodding fluffy clouds, Ahava, my darling, my sultry concubine-to-be, enquires if Nir has talked to me.
'You know,' Ahava informs me, 'all Nir does is talk about you. It's Mike this. Mike that. He has a big time crush on you.'
Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to war we go. We: a quartet of merry pranksters gaily skipping and toting a picnic basket of epicurean yum yums up and up a mountain path, toward the line of control where Pakistan and India growl and utter threats at each other.
Ahava is walking ahead of me; I study and admire the casual, jaunty jalopy bounce of her buttocks. Nir takes up the rear behind me. We are seeking an alpine meadow, an alpine meadow carpeted with little blue flowers where Ahava and I shall frolic as naked as web cam [female cherubim] crushing those pretty little flowers like pretty little Palestinians under the thrusts and throbs of splayed and sweaty limbs.
Life is beautiful. Life is grand. The sound of music and little mountain birds going tweet, tweet, tweet gladden my black, black heart.
As we clomp heavenward we pass young girls—bright eyed and bushy tailed little women yet to be stomped by life's vicarious disappointments—and old women—sere, Allah's promise of relief their near future joy—hunched under heavy thatched baskets crowded with vegetables bound for market, supported by tump lines pressed into their foreheads. Goats and sheep, contently chewing cud like chubby cowboys, stare stupidly at us like chubby New Jersey cowboys. Squat, stone buildings that I assume are shepherds' shelters are scattered helter skelter here, there and pretty much everywhere.
By and by, a little more by than soon, we are no longer passing worn out women humping their wares down the mountain or sheep or goats. Even the birds have twittered away. Well, good riddance to them.
In my rucksack is packed my painting supplies. I envision perhaps an ode to Manet's Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe with not one monkey faced Parisienne tart slurping discount Beaujolais in the buff, but two mighty fine Jewesses, my Jezebels. Alas, the alpine air is chilly. Far too chilly for carnal romping. ... sigh.
Ahava, my ripe, juicy temptress, as sweet and lush as a late summer mango, selects an alpine meadow with a mighty fine view of the Siachen Glacier. A blanket is unfurled and fluttered over lupine pansies, smothering them. Nir clatters and roots in the picnic basket and sets about the routine of preparing lunch: hummus and falafels and ?ak?uka, a tarty aubergine and tomato meze; excellent for dipping slender fingers and naughty toes into and licking them clean.
Ahava and Rive wander off to tip toe daintily through Taliban poppy fields while I, an ever studious and exceptionally well-disciplined bard, beetle purposefully over a hillock in search of a subject to paint.
I encounter a shepherd's stone hut that would make for a lovely oil sketch, but perchance something better might be yonder. I venture a little yonder and as I crest the cusp of a steep slope I spy a convoy of military trucks and a tank all spruced up in blue camouflage paint. 'That's interesting,' I think, 'I'm pretty sure the Indian Army uses green camouflage.' And a moment later, as the Rupee drops, I also think: 'Perhaps they are Pakistani troops.' Oh well, it is no concern of mine. I am a tourist.
Perched atop a large boulder, a squint eyed lizard lording over a splendorous territory of crunchy insect snacks, I squeeze out my paints onto my faithful palette, plug in my ear phones, select The Doors' Greatest Hits on my iPod, and embark on a toe tapping frenzy of pushing color.
Mine is an additive-subtractive process revealing greater meaning with successive layers of paint, like fluttering veils falling from the loins of shy belly dancers onto the laps of meditating bhikkus, that are scraped, flued and otherwise tortured until a mystic connection with the cosmic gluepot, the sticky ether that unites all the flitting quarks of the Universe into a singular harmonic correspondence with that Godhead that twists and binds our energies together with people we would rather not know. Om Mani Pahdme Hum. Amen the Thunderbolt in the Dark Void.
An hour or so boogie woogies and cha cha cha's with the timid, wall flower minutes. The seconds step outside for cigarettes. Dark, bullying cumulus clouds gather in sullen, delinquent packs, flexing their tattooed biceps, readying to clobber the bejesus out of fluffy cirrus wisps that cavort freely and carelessly in the cerulean heavens, goosed now and then by sparkling peaks of Himalaya joy boys, while James Douglas Morrison ululates, for the umpteenth time, on and on about eternal bluesy lives of woe nourished by greasy fried chicken steaks betrothed to hard, unyielding corn bread.
A shadow soughs over me and my scattered tubes of paint and brushes. Has Ahava stolen upon me to bestow syrupy kisses onto the tingling nape of my neck? A sharp CLICK! reports behind me. ... O' Ahava, you naughty wench, is that the liberating snap of your trousers? I turn with flickering serpent's tongue licking forth from puckered lips, tasting the air for honey dew drops ... hello ... what's this?
Captain Singh, bristling with commando indignation, and four baby faced soldiers with levelled rifles, eager to unleash the Republic's fury, demand to know what in the name of Kali I am doing.
'Painting a picture,' I, perhaps too testily, reply.
'This is a restricted area,' Captain Singh retorts. 'What is that?'
'I'm painting that shepherd's hut. It intrigues me, you miserable philistine.'
'Your composition is all wrong and the color is weak and ineffectual. I'm a graduate of the Mumbai School of Fine Art,' Captain Singh declares while hooking his thumbs in his grenade laden belt. 'And,' he continues with the beaming pride of an art school graduate with a job, 'that is an army bunker.' He sweeps his hand airily over the rubbled landscape like an imperious Caesar assigning hard labor to an indentured servant. 'Indian soldiers spend the night on guard in these bunkers ever ready to blast sneaking Pakistani bastards back into the foul, stinking wombs of their rutting, hyena mommies!' Captain Singh trembles with patriotic ardour. 'They will shoot you, you know. The Pakistani army is everywhere here.'
'?ak?uka cannot boil! It will be ruined! You have to let me go ... please release me!' Nir's indignant protests can be heard well before he, delicious Ahava and sultry Rive appear, captured and frog marched, by another company of Indian soldiers and presented for the summary judgment of Captain Singh.
'Shoot them,' Captain Singh commands. 'Tee hee,' he giggles, 'I am only kidding.' Captain Singh's eyes narrow and harden like orphaned oatmeal porridge as he appraises his collection of prisoners. 'You are Israeli, yes? We always know Israelis when we see them. And so do those Pakistani bastards born of filthy whores who copulate with packs of mongrel dogs!' Captain Singh trembles and gestures wildly. 'You are foolish. Very, very foolish Israelis. Nobody likes you. The Pakistanis certainly do not like you.'
'I'm not Israeli,' I helpfully chirp. 'I'm a ...'
'Quiet. You delinquent.' Captain Singh pauses; a delightfully fragrant scent borne by the Himalaya wind entices and tickles his wrinkling nose. 'Is that ?ak?uka? I love ?ak?uka.'
'It's ruined, you know. You can't let ?ak?uka boil!' Tears of culinary tragedy stream down Nir's pallid cheeks.
'Perhaps it might still be saved. Quickly! Quickly!' Captain Singh commands, 'To the ?ak?uka!'
Released from human bondage, Nir bounces like a Gaza bunny wabbit, Taliban poppies and minefields be damned, to salvage what might remain of the ?ak?uka.
'It's gone! All gone!,' Nir wails, piercing the ancient melancholy air with the haunting loneliness of the deathbed ridden who only now realize that it is too late to be what once they could have been.
'It is those Pakistanis. They are scurrilous blighters! Always sneaking into India to do mischief. We shall hunt them down and save the ?ak?uka.' Captain Singh strikes a handsome pose, backlit by the dim yellow ghost of the midafternoon sun. A thunderbolt, scripted by a harried and savagely underpaid writer (um, donations are always welcome. 'Tis the Season, ya know. See below.). A fat cold rain drop splashes upon my forehead, anointing me.
'Before I let you go I must insist upon your honor that you will not speak about what you have seen here. These ...,' again, Captain Singh imperiously sweeps his hand gathering all of the decrepit, dank bunkers, 'are secret. We are the northern guard of India.
'I promise,' we mumble in incoherent unison.
'You are free. Now go.'
We hesitate. Freedom is a frightening spectre.
'Go!' Captain Singh commands. It is an impolite final farewell; a lousy way to end a cheerful camaraderie.
We clomp down the mountain trail, evicted from the light, back into the mournful vale of petty humanness, toting the secrets of India's might. I turn and look back, the heavens have lowered in dark boding furls; the Himalaya peaks, sharp and unforgiving, are scratching the asses of angels.
Are we fallen angels who didn't want to believe that nothing is nothing and so were born to lose our loved ones and dear friends one by one and finally our own life, to see it proved? Jack Kerouac
The Dharma Bums
And it rained. And it rained and it rained and it rained and it rained and it rained. And, verily, very very verily, it rained. And then the mountains, lolloping like the Tuesday night pyjama party at the Sorority of the Fun Loving Sisters of All Things Concupiscent, dropped their wet panties with lusty roars and many a cheeky thud. It was the All Pro Cosmic Bowling Championship pitting the baddest of Heaven's angels, who had greased their wings black for the occasion, against Satan's horned and horny praetorian guard—mixed metaphors and similes be damned—furiously tossing boulders the size of jelly bellied Chicago blues singers, smashing them into the trembling village of Turtuk, knocking asunder houses and sheds with the crashing crack of bowling pins. If Turtuk peed its pants you couldn't tell; everything here is soaking wet. And God, the magnificent cosmic jokester, lay his judgment upon us and thought it a splendid prank to obliterate the only road linking His soggy and skittish lambs to the rest of His broken and dispirited world, with a five kilometre landslide. The cosmic jokester—king of the whoopee cushion, the joy buzzer, and promises of eternal happiness if only you would buy His book—severed our internet connection plunging us backward into the medieval, trickle down years of the Reagan Administration, that bleak time before wifi and Facebook. Forsaken of our virtual, pixelled lives we are forced to live corporeal reality. It is ugly indeed.
The honey hued Valkyrie and her steadfast companion, the sanguine Catalonian tomato, as fulsome and savory as Momma's paella (yummy!) take refuge in their room. Once a romper room of frivolously strewn delicates—socks, bras, leggings and stockings and, oh boy! oh boy! panties casually plopped like maraschino cherries atop a chaotic sundae of estrogens saturated sundries—it is now a sullen, sickly lit cell. Their panties, their verve wrung out by the cold and damp, droop limply. Soggy panties hold no joy.
Ahava and Rive, too, surrender to the gray, shivering misery and bury themselves in their animal den, rolling a stone across the tomb of my desires, sealing my satyr ambitions with an iron padlock. Nir is happy. He whistles the whole day through. He shares my bed; but only a third of it; a thin strip of no-man's land ensures that there will be no ill-forward caresses.
It is only at our meal times, breakfast and dinner, served by an increasingly apologetic Alee, that we gather and pensively contemplate the moribund offering of rice and boiled cabbage slopped onto greasy plates that shimmer with bacterial orgies of dysentery and cholera with a brooding typhus looking on and struggling to screw up the nerve to lie down with that alluring enteritis babe. We used to have cookies for dessert.
I steal a loving glance at Ahava. Her face is ashen; the exuberant bounce of her bosom has collapsed. She twirls a string of acid green cabbage onto her fork and lifts it to her pale, demoralized mouth before thinking better of it and dropping the putrid string back onto her plate to rejoin its slithering brethren.
Something must be done. A hero must be summoned to save the day. A hero of erect moral certitude, with a sparkling gleam to his smile and a glint in his eye. A hero to save Ahava. To gladden the cockles of her discouraged heart and to win her gamine favors. That hero will be me. I, alone, shall venture into death's reeking maw. And perhaps, perhaps, I can evict Nir from my bed as a grateful, compliant Ahava assumes tenancy beneath my soiled sheets to nibble my toes.
As the sun, a shy creamy lollipop, veiled within a heavy burqa of leaden sky, painfully claws upward to its noon zenith before tumbling back down the stairs like an elderly and arthritic starlet taking that final pratfall to amuse a disinterested audience, I venture into the maelstrom to find something heroic to do. The sodden earth sucks at the tread of my boots like—well, let's skip this one. Plock ... plock ... plock. The steep path leading down, down into town has been ravaged and torn asunder. Demons and angels have consorted here and rudely violated the mountain's steep pudendae; they have hurled their heavy seed with murderous rage deep into Turtuk's bruised womb.
A crowd is gathered at the base of the spent path. A small car, Turtuk's only taxi, has been flattened like a grape rolled under Pan's prancing hoof by a boulder the size of a refrigerator. The driver's eyes are popped open, agog at the sudden splendor of infinity; his mouth is puckered like a hooked trout; a pink fizz dribbles down his chin.
With eyes cast upward and ears pricked, scanning the cliff tops for teetering rocks that might bear me a grudge and aspire to release me from my myriad sorrows, I wander among shell shocked ghosts looking for that something special, something heroic to buy. Perhaps a provocative Burgundy to sip and savor the thin line of heat as it draws down into eager bellies. Alas Turtuk is gripped by the Prophet's severe hand and ruby wine's contemplative comfort is forbidden. What to do? What to do? Delightful, heart touching baubles that might endear me to my Sidonian sprite are limited to a miserly selection of house wares, flaccid vegetables and potato chips. Potato chips? Perhaps. But sharp crumbs in the bed sheets often prove distracting and can cool a grateful ardor. Toilet paper would be a thoughtful touch. It is utilitarian, always in demand by the ladies, and supplies are running dreadfully low. Yet there is something about a man triumphantly bearing triple-ply, pillowy soft and delicately perfumed rolls of scat swipe that lacks a heroic virility.
A half hour of trying the patience of Durga, the ill-tempered bad boy demon of the Himalaya abyss, I spot a prize. The perfect gift for my melancholy, woe begone ... shall I say, prize? Yes! A prize for my prize!
Three! Count 'em ... one! two! three! boxes of Snickers chocolate bars loiter, winking naughty come hithers, betraying mischievous gambolling gamine eagerness in a dark, seedy corner of a shop window. Thirty Nubian nymphettes wrapped in cloying paper lingerie, their girlish bosoms aquiver with anticipation, eager to be revealed and gobbled. They whisper salacious possibilities: tender nougat for nibbling; playful caressing of surrendering caramel; delightful probing of peanut bits; the murmuring ecstasy of melting chocolate commingling with hot saliva; and a firm tongue pricking molars, greedily savoring the lingering traces of sudden exuberance before collapsing in an orgasmic heap and slipping into dreams of Kit Kats.
However this harem's price is dear and my Rupees must be carefully allotted. The gatekeeper of this succulent, melt in your mouth, brothel of sugary delight demands a thousand Rupees for the lot. That works out to an outrageous thirty dollars! A usurious fee for momentary, transient pleasures. Imagine my dismay at being obscenely overcharged by a carpet bagging, profiteering crone. Profiteering ... hmmm. I owe nothing to the Valkyrie and the Spaniard—both are distant and unresponsive to my charming wit—and irksome Nir. I am the one risking my life for this noble cause. I have cornered the Turtuk Snickers market. A reasonable surcharge can be justifiably applied. And with the profits I shall soon cha cha cha the moon lit fantastic with a bespoken for and Snickers bound Ahava, my desert queen cum my concubine.
Alas the triumphant return I have envisioned is not to be. There are no triumphator's laurels to crown my regal pate, no yelps of female joy: I am hailed with dour grunts. Undaunted I lovingly arrange my Nubian lovelies on the dining table and purring with the velvet patter of a velvet draped pimp hawking his bevy of skittish wares, announce that business is open. On the honor system. My mark-up, given the many dangers faced to procure my gamine nymphettes, is fair: Only two dollars apiece. Get 'em while their luscious!
A blur of grubby fingers attached to grubby hands savage the first box of nougaty, caramelly ebony joys with the gleeful thoroughness of skin head Vandals sacking the Holy Roman Emperor's cathouse. A single payment has yet to be made; I tally the total due: one thousand eight hundred Rupees. I try not to worry; vibrant economies thrive on credit. Soon it will be all milk and honey.
Later that lead hued afternoon Nir ponies up two hundred Rupees. I note the balance due. Rive, also, advances a paltry sum toward her tab. By evening's end accounts remain in serious arrears. The following day shows no improvement in collections despite the continuing depletion of my stock. To stem the hemorrhaging of my precious capital I withdraw the sole surviving box of Snickers from offer, glumly acceding that this confectionary venture has soured. It is doubtful that my investment will be recouped. My faith in humanity's honor is irreparably dimmed. Now only Ahava will be privy to the favors of my succulent Nubian consorts.*
Perfidy! Outrageous perfidy! A lowly scrofulous, scurrilous, scabrous scallywag has purloined my Snickers! Malefic scum! O' the sorrow. My ebony queens are abducted.
It is a universal wisdom that the complaints of the sorely aggrieved are never to be reckoned lightly. All within my accusing view are foul, stinking criminals until proved otherwise. Except delicious Ahava, she is above my reproach.
Unjustly burdened by unholy avarice the day unfolds as painfully and as slowly as a constipated turtle bellying up to a feeding trough. I remain camped in my bed nursing and cradling the aching emptiness of sudden loss. In the next room the lilting gurgles of womanly camaraderie trespass into the dank, heavy air of my sullen, sulking cell. I prick my ears, attuning them to possible (probable) crinkles of candy wrapper. But this thief is cunning; no crinkling sounds jar the monotonous pittering rhythm of falling rain. I fear that my caramel lovelies have been stripped of their thin attire and now lay shivering, their nougats rudely exposed to the elements, upon a sacrificial alter, dolled and spiffed up as virginal offerings to appease the iniquitous desires of hot, fetid maws.
Eight days have passed since the rains began. Punched in the nose, staggered and cross-eyed, Turtuk lies entombed within the forbidding, crenulated labial folds of the high Himalaya. Our meals have transcended the vile; din din is an onramp onto the expressway to bubbling bowels.
While glumly pondering the mucid, mephitic slop plopped before me a dark ray of suspicion pierces my occasionally nimble mind and I cast a gimlet eye upon the Valkyrie and her confederate in Snickers crime. They look suspiciously sated. They lack the wolfish severity of the tiffin deprived. I study the Valkyrie: this pale, ice-eyed felon, this sticky fingered handmaiden of Odin's rent souls, this, this candy felon has a pale, sickly pallor; she is a bit green about the gills; a hypoglycemic twitch pulls at her lips; an ill, yellowish hue clouds the eager gleam in her eyes ... an upset tummy? She senses my piercing inquisitor's glare, the cold righteousness of my baleful eye, and shrinks into her chair.
She stands and casually—an obvious, futile, counterfeit attempt at playing the innocent—slips out of the dining room and into the hallway. I hear her fall to her knees. She groans as the drawn, gurgling report of her bowel discharges the tattered, watery corpses of my beloved queens. She wails.
I am alone with my alluring, enticing, luscious, soul percolating, cockles cooking Ahava. Sitting beside her, as the others attend to the collapsed heap in the hallway, I know this is my singular opportune moment to profess my squirming desire. Our fingers touch, achingly lightly, digit to digit, phalange to phalange, pinkie to pinkie. Zap! Zappity Zap! and Zap! again. Ooooooooo my pinkie quivers.
Ahava withdraws her pinkie and motions to move away. Now. Now is the moment to confess my lust. I leap to my feet and with a mangled and incoherent verbal ejaculate commit to the deed. Ahava is motionless. Dumbstruck. The cat has taken her tongue and buried it in the verdant sandbox of ripe desire. The desert heat of her breath washes upon my eager, manly chest. A singular, mono-syllabic word issues forth from my bouncy love bunny's wet licked lips: 'Eeeew.' And then: 'Yuck.'*
I lay awake in this cold, damp bed thinking of the few months ago in Pai, Thailand when I laid in a dead woman's bed (a hairpin curve taken too quickly on an Enfield motorcycle, the kaleidoscopic terror of tearing flesh and shattering bone, the insect hum of eternity) that whatever wanton spirit had taken hold of her now infects me. I am confused; unsure if my perpetual travel is an embrace of life or a timid stalking of death. My sum is that I am a coward, fearful of fully embracing life, fearful of taking death. Death is a proud woman and she does not want me for a boyfriend.
Nir is sleeping well. He snores. He does not leap for joy on paper trampolines.
Hi ho, hi ho, I'm a prisoner in the house of wo, wo, woe, snared in the slough of despond. A humiliated outcast. The rain is easing now and sometimes at night the cloud's part revealing sharp edged, icy peaks illumined against the merciless indigo void—it is beautiful in a disembowelling hari-kari sort of way.
Thankfully Ahava is sick and stays in her room. I do not have to endure seeing her and reliving that excruciating moment of confessing my lust. To while away the lugubrious, never ending minutes of the long cold grey day, I ponder that mad myth, postulated by Nietzsche of eternal return whereby we are doomed to repeat every moment of every one of our lives, again and again, into eternity: the same nails, the same hammer blows will affix us to the same worn cross over and over again. This unrelenting repetition is what grounds and gives our comic lives meaning. It is a horrifying thought.
This dismal myth continues: a life that breaks free from the inanity of eternal return is rendered meaningless and possesses no more substance than a bird's shadow flitting over barren ground. I want to be a bird's shadow, untethered to the crushing burden of being.
Nir is solemn too. Although it is only nearing mid-September he worries about the onset of winter. Another ridiculous thought (for now).
There is an army base seven, maybe ten, miles south of Turtuk. Nir and I decide to hike there in the morning to scope what avenue of escape might be available.
Turtuk is as disarrayed as a party girl's bathroom. It is a toilette at war. The mountain slopes are stripped, their knickers cling tentatively about their knees, unsure of what to do. A dead cow is crumpled at the side of the road. The sky is a gloomy as cold oatmeal porridge dished up by a bitter matron in a po' boy high school cafeteria. It is the kind of sky that clumps to the roof of your mouth and refuses to slide down the gullet. It is the kind of sky that attends strangers' funerals and bemoans the mournful state of the wake's munchies. It is the kind of sky that droops like an old man's buttocks; the kind of sky that shows up for work unwashed and unshaved. It is the kind of sky that pisses gleefully on two stranded travelers: one melancholic and shamed (me), the other whistling bouncy happy tunes (Nir).
Rocks continually shoot down from the cliffs; some are very near misses. Most crash and roll head-over-heels like stoned birds targeting St. Francis of Assisi's delicate shoulders to flit and chirp upon, but instead forget their angelic missions and resort to suicide attacks with hot murder in their little beating hearts.
Alongside the road, thwarting any possibility of dodging the madding assaults of the mountains, the Shyok River, swollen and as crazed as a troupe of turgid pink pricked monkeys partying in a Tijuana bordello, like an amphetamine charged kitty kat on a nocturnal frenzy, frothing like a rabid Alabama holy roller preaching the furies of the Good Book to a congregation of penitent penitentiary sodomites, rages and rages.
At around the four mile mark a mountain has given up its ghost and collapsed in a despondent heap burying and rendering insuperable the road with a massive expunging of mud and broken rock. The only way back into the world of disappointments will be on foot playing dodge 'em with extinction's missives.
We return to the unhappy house of woe to report our glum finding to our gloomy gaggle of bleary eyed and dishevelled confederates. Ahava retreats to her panty strewn cell. I feel the chill Siberian wind of her disdain.
Satellite telephones and other accoutrements of high tech survival on the front lines of the Indo-Pakistan stand-off, a half century and more of excited Russian roulette with all the chambers loaded, are banned. A decision is made to report ourselves to the local police who might have a satellite telephone and to notify our respective embassies of our soggy absence.
The Israeli embassy immediately swings into action to rescue its wayward children by dispatching a helicopter. No Israeli is ever abandoned to perish in the anti-Semitic wilds. That neurotic and high strung nation always gathers its prodigal progeny to its heavy motherly bosom. My embassy opened a file after some bureaucratic grumbling about the moral imperative of personal responsibility and sleeping in the rumpled sheets of the bed you forgot to make.
Alas the bespoken whirly-bird of Jehovah is denied permission to enter the precarious tenders of the front line by an Indian army fearful of smoking kosher embers littering the Kashmir landscape, shot down by the wrath of Mohammed's vengeful missiles, and the international incident that would be sure to follow. I, however, am confident that my file will be duly shuffled from inbox to outbox to litter box. Instead a formal evacuation (perhaps a black tie affair?) is arranged. The Indian army will meet us on the far side of the mountain's extirpated entrails and deliver us into the embrace of Diskit.
It is agreed that at the peep of dawn, when the drool stained satin sheets of night are tossed aside and puffy cheeked realities revealed, an errant pubic hair spat out and plaque coated incisors licked clean, we shall mince forth into the wanton wild of broken Himalaya with pallid smiles on our unkissed lips and the syrupy warmth of a long absent sun, now returned and cracking a loopy buck toothed grin, splashing upon our shell shocked faces.
With heavy backpacks hoisted high and strapped on our shoulders a scornful Ahava, a resentful Rive, a Snickers besotted Valkyrie, a cayenne Spanish tomato and eager beaver Nir, trace my sodden foot steps through the sopping valley of despond.
The broken slopes, seething and mumbling threats, frighten us. Despite my sage advice to keep a distance of at least ten yards apart from each other, less we all be smote by a single lucky strike thrown by a celestial prankster, we huddle together for false comfort, tempting fate's avarice. The Valkyrie stumbles and claws at her swollen tummy. My purloined Snickers, my foully masticated nubile Nubian nymphettes also demand emancipation. She squats, vulnerable and humiliated. There are no secrets in barren landscapes.
On and on, and on and on, we trudge, sometimes tripping over our crest fallen hearts, warily eyeing the cliff tops for death's plummeting warrants, while to our left the river rages with the hormonal fury of a thousand suicide bombers eager to taste the delicate favours of some very frightened black eyed virgins.
In the near distance, shimmering like crocodile bikinied belly dancers idly lounging and chatting about last night's sweaty escapades, a small convoy of military trucks wait. Stepping high, our spirits aflutter with renewed hope and yelping Hallelujah! Yippy! and Holy Moly! we beetle hurriedly toward our khaki clad saviours.
Major Singh, newly promoted and resplendent with shiny brass buttons greets us with a cheery Howdy-Do and what might be either an Irish jig or the wicked Watusi but could also be a spastic allergic reaction.
Orders are barked. Hot tea, spicy chai and sugar cookies are served. Photographs are snapped, both group shots and singly, passport particulars are noted and our trekking permits examined. My counterfeit permit elicits a frown and is passed to Major Singh for further inspection.
'Shoot him!' Major Singh commands.
I am dragged and thrown up against the side of a truck.
'Me! Me! Let me shoot him!' Ahava volunteers with both an alarming and dismaying excitement.
I am shot. Many times. A bullet pierces my black heart extinguishing the lambent flames of unrequited love. My riddled corpse is lumped into the back of a truck.
The Valkyrie places a small morsel of Snickers on my flopped tongue, a tasty token to pay Charon to ferry me across the River Styx, and utters a heart felt epitaph: 'Creep.'
Bad Mike is a loose cannon on the good ship Lollipop and the author of Spanking the Children of Paradise and other travel tales of cosmic despair available at your favourite online bookseller.
© Michael Britton January 2015
Last Call for Mercy
Hsuen frightens me. I guess it is the way she takes care of the rat problem in the Step Down Guesthouse in Kuala Lumpur.
Michael Britton is a perpetual travelling painter and writer of comic stories.