Building Memories

The wind was raising the hairs on my arm as I pushed the door to the house open. It was nearly nightfall, the last rays of the sun glinting off distant Phewa taal, seen through the hills. Lights were beginning to pop up in the bazaar downhill. The door creaked open, ominously.

Immediately, a rancid smell assaulted my nostrils, the taste of decay in the musty indoor air. The windows of this old house were boarded up, to prevent rainwater leaking in, but that also meant it kept the stink of dead rat inside. I instinctively reached for the switch once inside, but it was not anywhere near where most light switches are in modern houses. I had to turn to the flashlight in my phone, and finally I found the switch, hanging from a twisted wire. It clicked audibly.

The ‘W’ of an old filament bulb tried once, twice, and finally on the third attempt flooded the room with light. To the right of the room were wooden steps and the left was what looked like the entrance to a kitchen. Right in front of me was a small cot. The wall looked cracked in places.

I attempted the stairs, but one of them broke, and I landed on my ass with thud.

I dusted myself off, but some of the mud cover had broken off the floor. My hands smelled of the earth, and of time. This ancient house exuded that, the sense of time standing still, its ghostly inhabitants still expecting to rise each morning and step out into the porch, into a simple world of melapaat and juwataas and deusi-bhailo.

I shivered, and exited quickly. It was best not to disturb ruins and relics.

The sunlight was pushing down on me as I climbed. The asphalt of the road, recently paved, threatened to melt back into a dark and shiny puddle. The air above the surface swayed slightly, or maybe I was just seeing things.

I turned the bend of the zigzagging path. A scooter roared downhill, its rider wearing those oversized goggles and pisspot helmet. It disappeared in a yellow blur. I trudged ahead.

To the side of the road stood a monastery. The hallmark combo of colors were there, of course, in the verandah and the flags over the building. But it was the most utilitarian looking place of worship I had seen. Being in no hurry, and seeking shade, I entered.

The door, barely twice my width, funneled out to a wide entrance, with staircases running upwards to my left and right. I undid my shoes and tossed them into a pigeonhole of the shoerrack. My socks smelled. It felt like heresy even stepping on the inscribed marble. I lost my balance on the third step and nearly fell. My other steps were ginger from then.

The room felt devoid of air. I called out a general greeting. Only the walls listened. The soundscape was dominated by the slow creak of prayer cylinders coming to a halt, and the immolation of spirit lamps. I arrived at the front of the room, and looked at the painting.

At first, the mandala looked symmetric. Divide a circle by four, and cut the quarters into thinner pizza slices and you had the same thing. But one by one, the toppings disagreed with each other. Here a demon had a bow, on the opposite side its counterpart had a saber. A snaky dragon was running through the third quadrant, but oh, in the first it stopped midway. Soon the stationary painting started flowing. The central square fractaled out into smaller and smaller corners. The Buddhas in the four corners swapped places. Concentric circles coiled clockwise. A low hum started from the painting. Or maybe I was humming. It slowly rose in volume, reaching a chant.

My stomach groaned out, and took precedence over any thoughts. I looked around the vacant room, called out one last time, then exited. It was dark outside.

The gates were open today. I had heard this from a senior on the way to the mall. Some doubts had lingered, when I packed my bag and trudged to the main gate. They were soon dispelled when the singular guard let me in, his face impassive. The leaves were starting to rust, highlighted by the evening light.

One lone crow spied on me as I made my way down the path.

I passed the trail leading to the bleachers when I heard a familiar sound. I had always thought of it as a noise made by the generator, in a small shed to right of me. But during one early morning, I had glanced upon the woodpecker. It had been drilling a metal pole. Now, the same sound came from somewhere, the solo percussion of this unseen bird. Did it know it was hitting metal, or had it gone cuckoo?

I walked on ahead, the basketball court receding to my back, conspicuously absent of any movement. The peeling blue shutters of the store greeted me. I neared the entrance to the hostel.

It wasn’t dark quite yet, but the newly installed floodlight was on. Shielding my hand against my eyes, I advanced. The guard stationed there looked at me warily as I pressed my thumb on the machine. It beeped and a Chinese lady permitted me entry.

The three blocks of the three floors that made up this village were deserted. Near my room, a pair of pigeons hiding above the switch enclosure burst out, and left feathers that slowly descended. The lights on the switch were blinking with furious speed, so the internet would be working, hopefully. The room was as I had left it, except a part of the carpet had been gnawed on. I threw my bag on the mat and thumped down on my bed. It looked like I was the first hosteler to return.

I was ruminating on tomorrow when I heard footsteps. I grabbed my phone, took out a pair of slippers and pushed out the door. The lights came in from the far corner of the block. I hurried towards that room, grateful for some company.

Written on 18 June 2020