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29

Im supposed to check out the other hotel at the top of Thamel, where the English girl Mary Smith claims she first made contact with the Thai network run by none other than our very own Colonel Vikorn.

But I cant summon any enthusiasm for another trek around Thamel and decide not to follow up on the other guesthouse that Mary Smith mentioned. I have come to the realization that most of my psychic energy today will be spent resisting the temptation to call Tara on her cell phone, or-worse-go visit her on set at Bakhtapur. Now, wouldnt that be the last word in adolescent needy? Whats really annoying is the tone of genuine compassion when she said, Sexual slavery is the last thing I need-in a motherly tone. It was as if shed dressed me badly for school and now I was going to be uncomfortable all day. Im caught between indignant rage and erotic fascination. I have never known a woman like her. Of course, I want to see her again. Best would be for her to be in the needy mode, but that is too much to hope for in this Himalayan town where the attention is directed skyward. The easiest thing of all would be to go see Tietsin for some kind of confrontation: we really cant have him going around busting our mules to General Zinna. But when I make another visit to Bodnath, and look around the teahouse where he holds his seminars, there is no sign of him. Its starting to look as if I have a day to myself and, strange to relate, my superstitious Asian genes will not let me leave without another three and a half turns of the brass.

So Im halfway through the first round, spinning the wheels like there is no tomorrow-there never is-following behind a couple of nattering Tibetan nuns who are creeping steadily up on some inexpert Scandinavian backpackers who keep stopping to make sure they didnt miss a wheel, when my legs start to feel heavy. It is an extraordinary moment; the strength suddenly leaves my body, and I feel about a hundred years old. Most scary is the way my mental environment starts to change. The white stupa is getting blacker, people disappear. In a moment of extreme physical weakness I lean against the stupa, and my cell phone rings. I had forgotten to turn it off.

Get the hell out of there, right now.

What?

Youre way too weak for this. The stupa is draining you. If you dont believe me, take one good look at it.

I do so and have the impression, suddenly, of being able to look into its interior-the small dingy river, the ghouls taking charge of souls, the pyramid of enlightenment with those of blackest karma at the bottom and the translucent at the top-and I realize how profoundly I am being sucked in.

Theres no point going to the Far Shore if youre never going to come back-whats the use of that? Come away from the stupa.

I have to physically push myself away from the wall of the stupa, and I stagger somewhat until Im a good ten feet away, when my strength starts to return. Im still holding the phone to my ear. Where are you?

Look up; Im standing on top of the stupa.

I look up. There is no one on top of the stupa; its slope toward the top is too steep, and there is no place to stand. It would be quite outlandish to see anyone up there. No youre not, youre just doing my head in.

He adds a note of extreme exasperation when he says, Youre about to be sucked into death without a protest, but you cant see beyond the conventional. Look again.

I make a face at the phone, look up again. Now I see there are white stairs which lead up the breast-shaped mound. And there he is, right on the top, waving his stump just for me. Then, also just for me, he turns, lowers his pants, and moons me. To my own astonishment I find this hilarious and burst out laughing. My laughter is quickly followed by tears.

Youre hysterical, Tietsin says, which is the worst state of mind. Better to be depressed, or even grimly suicidal. I can work with those states. Hysterical is no good. Calm down. Go and have a beer.

Will you tell me where you are? Im suddenly irritated. He is not really on top of the stupa; I just sneaked another look, and there was nobody there. Its some kind of telepathy hes using.

Never mind where I am-youd be too shocked to know. Suppose I tell you Im in bed with Tara -how about that?

I gasp as if Ive been kicked in the gut. So she does work for you?

A tut-tut. She does no such thing. Ive never heard of her before. She called me because she is a responsible yogin who got worried about you after you told her you were one of mine. Shes afraid youre way too open at the moment and that little bout with her last night could kill you. Youre already badly weakened. You need to know, female yogins have something extra we dont have, and theyre not responsible for the effects they have on us. You just dont understand the forces youre working with. You dont have the protection of ordinary people-you lost that when we initiated you-and youre not strong enough to live the dharma all on your own.

I dont understand a word youre saying.

Now youre lying. You dont want to understand because the implications are too great for your fragile worldview. You thought you would take a little sex vacation yesterday, crawl into the first womb that came your way, get all gooey and lovey, just like a wandering ghost in search of a body, any body, to escape the spiritual anguish-and start the whole psychotic process of birth and death all over again. Stop kidding yourself. Youve left a big piece of yourself between her legs. If she wanted, she could crush you like a bug. Instead she comes to me, worried about you. If I were you, I would make amends to her.

But I didnt do anything. She used me.

Up to you. Etiquette can be important, though. The guardians like good manners. And what the hell are you doing in Kathmandu anyway? Do you realize how unprofessional this is, for you and me to be in the same town when the deal is being processed? Were delivering next week.

Well, maybe your behavior is less than professional, too, I mutter. The main reason Im here is I want to know who your informants are, the ones who tell you who is carrying for who in Thailand. Zinna and Vikorn are quite upset.

My informants? Why didnt you ask before? Ones called Narayan, the others Shah.

To my astonishment and rage, he has suddenly closed his phone. I stare at my own for a moment, then go to the phones log to try to find the number he was using, but the log shows it as an anonymous call. Stumped, I close my phone and slide it into my pocket. This has the effect of triggering another bout of paranoia, because I feel diminished without the gadget in my hand.

Now Im recovering from the moment and my energy is returning. I know Tietsin is right: I have to get away from the stupa. Its great, looming, sepulchral whiteness is too much, and when I look at it I start to feel ill all over again. With no doubt in my heart this time, I have a cab drive me to the Thai Airways offices on Durber Marg, where I book myself on the next plane to Bangkok.

When I land at Suvarnabhum Airport, it is about six in the evening. I have no luggage to collect, so I grab a taxi and I sit in the back with my eyes closed, exhausted. When I reach home, I remember to switch my phone back on just before crashing.


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