There are many places to go, many things to do when winter draws by.
The cold enveloped our little house and the world had already begun to sink from sight. Hunching over the kitchen sink, my son held the tip of a paperclip over the flame, watching it blacken clean. The light burnt across his winter cheeks, but his eyes seemed nothing, but marbles of sole darkness. I knew he was upset about the morning’s conversation, but this lady had made up her mind. I could see the blueberry cake rise up in the oven.
“What are you thinking about, Jane?” The man tightened his grip on the steering, smoothly swerving to our right.
“Oh, you know, just my son,” I replied. My hands felt cold and insensate but I could still feel the rough edges. My left hand went up to adjust the red velvet scarf, a gift from my boy. It was a present for my forty-fifth birthday. I came home late that evening, my aching back constantly reminding me of retirement. It was the biggest surprise I had ever received. My whole house had been decorated like a bride, with balloons and ribbons hanging down every ceiling. My entire family, even the ones living in the western states of America were there; cheering and jumping in excitement.
“Oh, your son eh? Is that him?” He shifted his eyeballs towards the picture in my hand. “What’s his name?”
“Oliver” The words rolled out bitterly than intended.
I bent forward and turned the music up. My elbow slid across the window as the cold currents began to mess with my hair.
Oliver had always been a shy kid. The only thing he felt comfortable around, was music. He’d usually stay at home during Halloweens, and play his favourite mixtape, dragging me along and we’d stupidly shake our hands and limbs (considering the matter of fact, neither of us knew how to dance). We’d have cushion fights until the feathers would drift around the whole room.
I still remember the frown on his face when I told him my decision. It took me weeks of research and a lot of courage to finally tell him. I recall when I was just fifteen, there were these large bulky boxes, that if we go by the present names, we called television. Five or so channels would play in a loop as I'd turn the button knob. What caught my eye, was one particular channel that showed an interview of a twenty-year-old girl who climbed Mount Atlas. And that’s when I made up my mind.
We reached the camp at seven. A man dressed in layers of thick jackets with a round sloppy hat, was giving off some last-minute instructions on stage. We would start our expedition at five in the morning, climb our way to Camp-1 at the height of six thousand metres. The man beside me must’ve noticed how awfully I had been shivering, as he lent me his jacket. My hands had frozen white; my lips torn and dry.
The man on stage kept on repeating that just above the hard snow, a road had been cleared. Through little red flags and wooden sticks, the path had been marked and all the possible difficulties had been assessed. He also focused on how the glaciers were still melting, leading to chunks of ice toppling down and asked the team leaders to be really careful. The man who drove me here, Richard, was our team leader. He had been climbing since he was eighteen.
Blue tents with white lights on top, scattered across the whole area; brightening up like constellations against the gloomy sky. As I entered my assigned tent, I could feel their eyes synchronizing with my every step. There were Amelia, Julie; both around twenty-three, and Isabelle, a bit older than both of them. And then there was me, a grey-haired fifty-year-old woman, blind without thick glasses. Ignoring in the best possible way, I stuffed my duffle bag on the shelf and swarmed into the coziness of blankets. The indistinct chattering evoked an image of them, whispering about me. Insane - crazy grandma - psycho. I turned to my left.
I felt shame not telling Oliver. I didn’t have the courage. A few weeks ago, it had gotten worse. The lump in my chest had grown bigger and more painful. Almost unbearable. Little red stains on my shirt were enough the shove my feet to the doctor’s door. How could I forget the pity creased on his forehead? The way he softly patted on my left shoulder, told me to be calm and gripped my hands into his. He said it could still be treated, but the cost was more than I could have dreamt. I was dying, I knew that.
The sky seemed like a palette of gloomy colours, carelessly painted over the blue. I woke up to the sound of hustle, people carrying wooden piles from one camp to another; the camp leaders standing in a circle, talking in whispers. I saw the three girls sitting on tree chairs, laughing and chatting with other tent girls. A voice in the back of my head urged me to go talk to them, but I suppressed all, for the sake of the consequences. I carefully pulled out the blue-red pills and gulped them in one go.
Richard was standing alone when I stepped out.
“How are you now?” He asked offering me a chair beside him.
“Better. The pills help.”
“I am just a call away if you need anything. The doctor is in tent-11. If anything feels wrong-”
I gently placed my hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay, Rich. I am fine. Thanks.”
With lips stretched in a smile, he told me to put on the suit and get ready. The oxygen masks and carry bags were being distributed in tent-15.
Thirty minutes later, the whole crew was standing in a single line, dressed in heavily blue and red suits with black belts slinging across their waist, a bulky bag lumped on their shoulders with two oxygen cylinders and a mask. Wrinkled sun rays were tearing the sky as we guarded our steps on the snow. It had already been two hours when we reached Camp-1. Two teams were ahead of us yet Richard allowed us to soothe our backs.
Meanwhile, the doctor came to check on my situation and gave me some pills to temporarily reduce the pain.
Oliver was not ready to let me go. Even though he still didn’t know about my cancer, he was concerned about my age. Learning mountaineering could be really dangerous, and he wasn’t ready for me to take such risk. He had never screamed at me that way before, neither had I been so stubborn. Plates had been shattered and yells echoed for days. After the storm shook our house, a deep silence floated as aftermath.
No one spoke a word throughout the day. I remained confined to my room with handcuffs and fetters of anxious guilt curbing my soul. The days that came, brought a little glitter to the dark dungeons as the time allowed itself to heal the cracks. Starting from short words, conversations grew. I never missed a chance to bring a smile to his face; baking him pies, allowing him to hang out late and even took him out to concerts.
One hour ticked by fast and we were on our way to camp-2 at a height of 7500 metres. The sun was blaring up in the mid sky, shining across the seamless lengths. The snow shone up like pearls beneath us.
“We can still send you back if you want,” Richard asked for the third time.
“No,” I replied as firmly as before. He was holding my hand, helping me walk across; in case I slipped. I could hear my breath as I deeply inhaled from the big mask. Once in a while, I had brought my gloved fingers up to clean the glasses.
Richard had taught us how to use a harness correctly and secure ourselves. He showed us how to tie a firm rope by twisting the ropes around our fingers then weaving and pulling them tightly. For belaying and rappelling, we were supposed to first tie a stopper knot at the end of the rappel rope then fix the blue rope by tying a clove hitch or butterfly knot and clipping it to the anchor with a locking carabiner. We had to put the rappeler on belay with the red rope and redirect the belay through the anchor.
‘Just a little more while, Jane. Hold on. You can do this' I kept on assuring myself. My bones felt weak under my skin, my limbs as if torn apart. We stopped in the middle for a cup of tea. Richard had been awfully nice to me; every time he is around, I felt confident in my decision and my stance against Oliver somehow felt stronger.
Exhausted and broken down, we finally reached Camp-2. Richard brought in a hot cup of tea and a thermometer. I was lying cold on the mattress, dumped under a pile of thick blankets. Fever 103. He sat beside me with sad swollen eyes, gently pulling a streak of grey hair behind my ear.
“I can do this, Rich. I have been too far to go back.” I pleaded, clasping his hands into mine. I knew what he was about to say.
“I am sorry, Jane. I can’t let you. If something happens to you, I-” He stopped himself in time.
“Please. Please, Richard, I beg you. I can do this. It-It’s my last wish. Before I die.” The last words left a sour taste in my mouth.
“It’s all upon you.” That was all he could say and left the room.
Just as we were about to leave for our final trek, a man came up and informed me that there was a call waiting on line. I pressed the phone against my ear.
“Hello?” A voice called out from the other side. The world stopped. A layer of warmth embraced my soul leaving spots of tears around my eyes. I wasn’t shivering anymore.
"Oliver! What happened? Are you okay?"
"I-I wanted to tell you how sorry I am. I didn’t mean to upset you. I am so sorry, mom.” The sniffs were clearly audible. He must’ve been crying for long.
“Shh shh, it’s okay, child. I am sorry too. I shouldn’t have been so…stubborn.”
“I miss you, mom. How are you keeping up?”
“I am pretty great here. Looks like I’ve found myself a great friend. I gotta go now but yes, eat your meal properly and no outside food, got it?”
The sob now shaped into a light-hearted chuckle. “Sure, mom. Bye. Take care.”
“Bye,” The small talk pasted a lifelong smile on my face. I hadn’t been happier before.
Richard and two other mates helped me carry the weight, as we dragged our feet across the snow. It had been difficult but not enough to stop me.
“We are almost here,” Richard whispered beside me. A smile was all I could return. I was now taking huge gasps of air, my breath fogging around the mask. I could see the peak now, holding its head high up against the clouds. All of a sudden, the world began to spin. The urge to close my eyelids heaving upon me. I fell on my knees. The colours were draining out. I could hear a faint noise calling out my name. I collapsed.
Opening my eyes, I found myself in someone’s arms. Someone familiar. The sky above me was growing dark. The man looked down at me and whispered something. I fell asleep.
People were cheering when I woke up again. I was lying on a big yellow sheet of cloth. I tried to stand up but felt too weak in myself.
“You did it.” I turned around to trace the voice. His brown eyes were filled with warmth and comfort.
“We did it,” I replied back, lunging forward to hug Richard.
“You fainted only a few miles before.” He said as he helped me stand on my knees.
I walked up to the edge. The whole view sparkled in front of me. The snow blanketed the whole world, mountains swinging together. The mesmerizing sight left me wordless, I had never felt this way before. My soul screamed inside, each part of my body jumping in excitement. I could’ve spent hours yet not been able to capture what laid in front of me. An indescribable feeling of pride and satisfaction poured into my heart.
I had done it
“I have done it!” I screamed, letting it echo across every corner of the world.
I had done it.