Pokhara in Love
“You don’t have to do this,” Cathy said across three locals coming the other way as she dodged around them and a large pothole in the path between the dirty clay-brick buildings. It had rained hard earlier in the night, so the potholes in the cobbles were filled with murky water, and the smell of sewage was seeping up from below. The potholes, like the city, hid things, and if you were patient, reminded you of the benefits of ignorance.
Cathy ran ahead and stood in front of the tea house entrance, blocking Nora’s access, and shaking her head with a painful look on her face.
“I just want a golden milk.” Nora said.
“Okay, lets go to the next street.” Cathy grabbed Nora’s elbow. “There’s a place there that makes the best golden milk.”
Cathy stood on the side of the road and people watched, waiting for Nora to engage. The local women wore trousers of purple or green, and on top of the trousers they wore short skirts in reds or light purples or dark blues. Their long-sleeved shirts and saris didn’t necessarily go with the trousers or skirts, but were brightly colors too. The old men wore grey duara suits, hanging off them like scarecrows, and the young guys wore grey trousers and darker grey puff jackets, full of life and thoughtlessness. Everyone wore a hat and dirty flip flops, and the simplicity and the toughness brought a smile to Cathy’s face. The tourists, besides looking out of place, wore tie-dies and flowers.
“C’mon, let’s go there,” Cathy said and took Nora’s elbow. She was concerned with her gortex hiking boots, thinking of privilege versus comfort.
Nora let Cathy slowly pull her along, and when Cathy loosened her grip, Nora spun and bolted towards the tea house entrance.
“No,” Cathy yelled across the street and the people passing by, then held a hand to her mouth like she said something offensive. Nora brushed aside the strands of beads at the entrance and ran up the stairs.
“I won’t do anything stupid,” Nora said as she heard Cathy coming up the stairs behind her. Nora plunged through another set of beads, leaving them to rattle against each other.
Cathy raced after Nora, trying to walk calmly but as fast as possible without looking panicked. She hated this as she hated making a scene, but it’d be better than a shouting match between to women. She reached for Cathy’s elbow, but Nora jerked it away.
“I could care less about her,” Cathy whispered.
“I just want to see her,” Nora said as she turned her head to the side but kept walking.
There were five other patrons in the tea house. It was early by traveller time. Most of the tourists in this district were young and sleeping it off. Nora looked for the server, but not seeing any she went past the sign “Wait Here,” nodded to the Nepali man behind the bar, and took a seat on one of the pillows under the front windows. She looked at Cathy and patted the pillow next to her. “My treat,” she smiled.
“Why,” Cathy said as she plopped down.
The two women stared at each other.
“Your attorney filed for divorce.” Cathy said. “You got the element of surprise on Bruce, and you’re in the right. Why bother? Nothing good will come from this.”
“I like sitting with my back to the wall, and the restaurant in front of me.” Nora spread her hands out in front of her, framing the seating area. “Besides, since when does being in the right matter?”
“You and you’re gangsta movies. Got make scene.”
“No, I don’t. I just want to see her.”
“And then make a scene,” Cathy said.
“I spend over twenty some years with Bruce, he’s the father of your kids, and now I have to start over because of her.”
“Of course I do. You saw his face when we surprised him at the tea house in Pokhara. It was like he saw a ghost.”
“Okay, so what, you have to start over? Being married for life is a thing of the distant past.”
“Yeah, so what did you do to start over,” Nora asked.
Cathy looked out the window, wanting to say something, and wanting to avoid her own scene. Across the street was a cashmere store, selling scarves and sweaters. The bored owner hunched over, watching the locals go by, but sitting up and addressing a tourist when one sauntered past. Next door was a store selling cheap pottery and carved wood trinkets nobody wanted as a gift, with another bored guy who out of habit addressed the tourists. Even though the window was open, she couldn’t hear what they said. Where they speaking Nepali or another language? For a quiet street, it had bursts of noisy construction with the undulating sounds of friends chatting in Nepali, and soft Indian pop.
The tourist twins, wearing in blue jeans, blue puff jackets and blue ski hats were walking by. She had seen them before and at first few times she saw them she thought them cute because they were identical, dressed the same, and even had the same two-day stubble on their faces. Now she noticed they never smiled, and this sense of nothing making sense, of nothing being easy, opened and loneliness flowed in again.
She closed her eyes and leaned hard against the wall behind her, wanting to anchor herself in a sea of suppressed emotions. Nothing, upon nothing, sounded the same here. Even the laughs seemed different. She never thought of missing the smell of melted cheese, or hamburgers or coffee and cream, but the smell of tea or curry brought those longings forward. She liked the way the women dressed in bright colors, and their clothes had this sense of work and utility, but it didn’t make her feel comfortable. She missed the way certain touches felt, the physical closeness to another person, and she had been missing them since before her divorce, so she was surprised how strongly she felt the missing touch now as the chance for closeness seemed impossible so far from home.
“What did you do to start over,” Nora said. “Tell me, because I’m not going to just dry up and blow away.”
“I get your point.” Nora kept her eyes closed.
They sat in silence, together but apart. Nora looking for someone and Cathy keep her eyes closed to keep watch over the memories of her ex, her kids and living alone.
“I’m sorry.” Nora slid her hand on Cathy’s knee. “Sometimes you got to smash those things that prop up the past, right?”
“You’re right. Just don’t do anything stupid.”
“Sometimes you got to make an ass of yourself to feel better. Hit rock bottom.”
“Stop.” Cathy opened her eyes and looked at Nora. “I’m not the one who had to fly all the way to Nepal. Not for this?”
“Then stop acting like you know all about how to get over this.”
“I’m not saying its easy, but confronting someone …”
“Shh, there she is,” Nora nudged Cathy.
A tall women came out of an office in the back and went to talk to the person behind the bar. She was wearing jeans, and a local sari, so it was hard to see her well, but she looked young and fit.
“Of course, a fake blond.” Nora said.
“You don’t know that. It could be her natural color.” Cathy said,
“No, she’s a fake blond,”
The waitress went to a table close to the bar, made some comments in fluent English, and the couple began laughing. Then she went to the next table, where three guys had questions for her.
“What do you have to do to get service around here.” Nora asked as she studied the waitress conversing with the three men, telling them what she liked on the menu on what to order before returning to the bar to explain something to the barman about their order. She seemed to speak Nepali well.
“Those guys are practically drooling over her,” Cathy said.
Nora elbowed Cathy.
As the waitress approached their floor table, both women saw her face straight on.
“She’s beautiful,” Cathy whispered, and Nora elbowed her again,
“Hello,” the waitress said when she reached their table and held out two menus. “I’m Mandy, do you guys need menus?” They both recognized an American accent, which annoyed Nora. Cathy wanted to ask her which state, but decided to wait.
“Yes,” Nora said.
“Do you have any recommendations,” Cathy asked.
“It depends on what you’re looking for. We’re known for our golden drinks, you know coconut milk with curcuma, cinnamon, and some other spices. All are excellent, especially with local tea.”
“I’ll take one of those,” Cathy said.
The waitress looked at Nora, and said, “if you’re looking for something to eat, the date bars are heavenly. The special is lentils with a cannabis seed achaar. It’s excellent. Wonderful flavor.”
“Do I look like I want to eat,” Nora asked. The waitress was confused by the question.
“Thank you.” Cathy took the two menus. “Give us a few minutes.”
“Do you know Bruce Babbit,” Nora asked.
“Yes, of course. He’s a wonderful guy.”
“Not if you’re married to him. I’m divorcing him, so he’s all yours now, but only half his income.” Nora gave her a fake smile with a slight wiggle in her head.
The waitress shifted her feet, hesitated, and then said, “I’m Mandy. Not Angie.” Then she sat down cross-legged on a pillow like a yoga instructor. “I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m not dating, seeing, or whatever you want to call it, with anyone right now.”
Nora moved slightly away from the waitress. Cathy set the menus down on the table, and the three women looked at each other.
“This happens a lot out here. Some executive sells a company and thinks he’s a big deal, or a family man who beats cancer, and now he needs to climb mountains and share his special sauce with women half his age. And none of them wear a ring or admit they’re married.”
Both Nora and Cathy looked at the woman, with Cathy nodding.
“I came out here over ten years ago, with the man I was sure I was going to marry. He ran off with a French woman who was in our hiking group. Left before we reached the summit. I mean, how the hell did I miss those signs?”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Cathy said.
Nora shot a look at Cathy.
“I’m not,” the waitress said. “It gave me the chance to see things differently. Otherwise, I’d be back in Michigan, wondering what to do with my life. I love the mountains, the people, the way the culture has such a hold on life here. I’m between two cultures here, and I like it because neither culture can make a claim on me. I can be myself. It’s not always easy, but I only have to rely on myself.”
“Who’s Angie,” Nora asked.
“She is someone who had no idea Bruce was married. I know because I hired her, and I keep close to her.”
“So why did she do it,” Nora asked.
“I know this is hard, but Angie wasn’t chasing Bruce,” the waitress said. “She’s almost half his age.”
The three women looked back and forth between each other, and Cathy reached across and squeezed the hands of both Nora and the waitress, and Nora pulled her hand away.
“I have to deliver those drinks. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
The waitress left, and Nora leaned into Cathy and began to cry. Cathy wanted to say something meaningful, but rubbed Nora’s back and held her. She felt useful being here with Nora, but she also wished she was somewhere else, doing something else. The women who helped Cathy get through divorce, were on it when all the messiness and name calling was going down, but now she barely spoke to them now. Pity was news, people gravitate towards it, then get bored with it.
There was the pungent smell of garlic, ginger and chilis cooking, and Cathy thought of red curry with coconut. Her stomach was beginning to talk to her, but she didn’t think Nora would want to eat. She rocked slowly back and forth with Nora, and listened to the noise in the street. Nepali was a sing-song language, but fast with a happy lilt to it. There was shrill laughter from women as they walking by, then quiet with no yelling or sense of urgency, just soft chatter. How could so many people, walking and riding past each other on a rundown, narrow road be so calm? How could the old men on bikes, arching around people and pot holes, pedalling at an ancient pace, not fall down?
The sun had come out from behind the clouds and she watched women laughing together, or men joking and being happy in each other’s presence. The happy ones were all friends of the same sex. No couples laughing or kissing or holding hands. She continued to watch, and it continued to be true. This must be the culture the waitress was talking about, which brought up feeling calm without having men pestering you, but also images of arranged marriages and being relegated to a defined roll. Strangely, it gave her confidence that she’d be intimate again, doing the things that only lovers do, in and out of the bed. She’d have a partner again. You needed friends too. It gave her hope for Nora too, and she hugged Nora tight before closing her eyes and loosening her embrace.
“Thanks for coming here with me,” Nora whispered, and tightened her embrace. Cathy felt Nora’s moist breath on the base of her neck. She rubbed Nora’s back, then trailed her index finger up and down her spine. She wanted to say something precise, but there were no markers for moving from married to single when you didn’t want to be single.
“The house special, on the house,” the waitress whispered as she set two drinks on the table. The smell of coconut and cinnamon drifted around them, and there was a hint of tea underneath the spices. There was another spice she couldn’t place before she thought of nutmeg.
Cathy opened her right eye and saw steam coming off the drinks. There were cardamom pods and a dusting of dark spice dust floating on the golden, yellow drink. She wrinkled her nose, before reminding herself that nothing was perfect. She was warmth and calm, like she was sitting in the sun. Be patient with Nora, be patient with myself. Accept, and maybe come to embrace it.