Ten thousand trekkers seem to pass by in the street, their parkas and backpacks and laughter mingling together like an enormous, cackling chorus of mediocre singers who think they’re really good.
The racket crescendos, then fades, and I watch it all through eyes that begin to swim deeper, deeper into the pleasant numbness of this dreadful wine I’m drinking.
A shadow side steps into my vision, a flash of dark denim and tendril-like fingers. Narrow hips face me like two tom cats ready to pounce.
These hips are in my space, they’re blocking my view of my own misery in the street below, they’re…attached to the thinnest waist I’ve ever seen on a man, the broadest shoulders, the longest flower stem-neck, the wettest lips, the darkest eyes….
He rotates his hips in perfect time with the slightest tilt of my head. As my eyes meet his, he reverses the aggressive sidle and backtracks a few feet, taking me in, grinning at my obvious inebriation.
We regard each other, two warriors ready to do battle, one joyfully and one dragged onto the field kicking and screaming. I wanted some company with a normal person, not with this weird skinny guy. Ugh.
“You were here last night. With the glass.”
I have no clue what he’s talking about. With what glass? Is this complete stranger commenting on my drinking habits? Yes, I had a few drinks last night, maybe a glass too many, but who the fuck are YOU to be asking about my –
“The glass, the glass. I don’t recognize you today.”
He compresses his long, marsupial-like fingers into compact claws, and gestures toward his eyes.
He means he doesn’t recognize me tonight because last night, I was wearing my glasses.
I can’t help but grin. “Yes,” I say. “I was here last night, wearing my glasses.”
He’s terribly embarrassed by his mistake.
“GlassES! Yes. You were here with the glassES, over there.”
All he needs to gauge the success of the entire conversation is a single response from me, and I’ve just given it to him.
He becomes gleeful, giddy even, and sidles back into the space directly in front of me as if he’s approached me a thousand times, as if we are continuing a conversation that’s been evolving over centuries.
It’s easy to sidle when you’re that compact a person – he could casually tuck himself into my jacket pocket and we could continue the conversation from there, were he so inclined.
“You were with that guy. Tonight though, tonight you are alone.”
Yap. Thanks for pointing that out.
“Is your first time Nepal?”
Uh-oh. I’m savvy enough to know by now that that question is code for “give me all your money, rich Westerner.” I’m seriously ready to get up from the table, pay my bill and leave. Why does everyone in this country want to be your guide?!
Flower stem either has no idea he’s pissing me off or is having a ball of a time pissing me off, because he continues smiling, giggling, and talking with his hands like a delighted Italian.
Doesn’t he have a bunch of equally offensive Nepalese friends to get back to?
“Is very quiet tonight” he says, gesturing around the dining room. “Last night you here, last night more busy.”
My eyes travel down his neck to the worn collar of his maroon polo shirt and rest upon a tiny, embroidered insignia on his chest…oh my. Oh dear. It seems to be…it is!
A tiny lemon tree.
“You work here?” I ask, astonished that the thought hadn’t occurred to me before.
His chest inflates like a proud pelican, his eyes become a deeper shade of chocolate brown, and the marsupial palm presents the room again with the flourish of a King in his Court:
“I am manager.”
He’s so proud, in fact, that I’m very impressed with his position, and assume it must be one of the noblest professions in all of Nepal to be the manager of a fancy restaurant like The Lemon Tree.
I relax completely – he’s not trying to insult my glasses or chide me for dining alone or get money from me or be my guide – dude is just bored at work.
I order another drink, the few remaining customers leave, and I slip into the conversation like it’s a freshly drawn bath.
On and on we parlay, ping pong balls of delight bouncing back and forth between his pallid, chestnut skin and my flush, fragrant smile.
Wait a second, are we flirting?!
We dance around the topic of getting together outside the restaurant, and what’s left of my guard goes up again. Maybe this whole flirtation is all an elaborate seduction to take my money.
I have to let him know I’m no sucker. This is the second time in 48 hours someone has tried to be my guide, I think, and I really didn’t like it the first time.
“What is your name?” I ask suddenly, boldly, not taking my eyes from his.
He smiles warmly, kindly, enjoying the challenge of speaking with such a brash, rude, sassy foreign girl.
“My name is Deepak” he says, almost forgetting to put “is” in the right place but catching himself at the last minute.
The guy who already tried to be my guide, and who hasn’t stopped calling me since I idiotically gave him my new Nepalese telephone number, is also named Deepak.
I tell Deepak #2 that I’m already wary of that name, and relay the story of Deepak #1. He shakes his head, sympathetic but not surprised.
“Yeah, he try to get the money.”
“But how?” I ask.
Was he going to rob me after hiking up the mountain with me? Invite me to dinner with his family then get my bank account details at gun point?
And does Deepak #2 want to do the same thing?
“No no no, I not want” says Deepak, giggling at my inability to tell a story without acting it out, cartoon-character style.
In a sudden surge of boldness (read: too much Gorkha), I say “Deepak, do you want to be my guide, or do you want to be my date?”
He laughs uproariously at the question, absolutely tickled by it.
“I don’t know!” he giggles, eyes shining with mirth. “Both?”
I instantly trust him. Deepak #1 had insisted, over and over again, that he didn’t want to be my guide, and that he wasn’t looking for money. Deepak #2 didn’t try and fake it – hell, if I wanted to pay him to show me around, great. And if I wanted to sleep with him too, even better.
“How much do you charge?” I ask, pressing him further into this refreshing truth.
“I don’t know, I don’t know” he shakes his head, seemingly a bit overwhelmed with where the conversation has headed.
And somehow, in what may very well end up being the biggest mistake of my life, I am pulling out my phone and taking his number, and even – Jesus Christ – giving him mine.
Hadn’t I learned my lesson from Deepak #1?
Apparently not. I show him how I already have a Deepak listed in my phone, and that I’ll need to find a way to differentiate between him and the guy who’d been harassing me nonstop for the past two days.
“He is the bad Deepak” I say in translator English. “You will be Deepak the Good.
“Yes” he nods, smiling as I enter his number – and that noble name complete with Knight-like title – into my iPhone
We regard each other, a bit giddy. I try to be cool but he doesn’t care, openly letting me see that his heart is racing and he’s so excited and he can’t believe we’ve been talking and he really can’t believe he just got my number.
I feel beautiful, and young, and float out of the restaurant onto the darkened street below, my path lit by a few small fires smoldering in metal barrels.
He may never call, or he may call 1000 times and end up creepier than Deepak #1. But for a few precious minutes, I feel warm, hopeful, and finally at home.
This post is an excerpt from My Week With Deepak: A memoir of Nepal, available February 2015 from THP Publishing. To pre-order your copy, click here!
photo credit: media-cdn.tripadvisor.com
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1. If someone in Nepal says they're not trying to be your guide, they are most definitely trying to be your guide.
2. Not all Deepaks are created equal
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