Left behind

The room was immaculate, with three low beds arranged in a C formation. The bed sheets in leopard prints and dancing sunrays were tucked in tight, and the ‘Korean’ blankets neatly stacked against the wall. One of those beds had cylindrical cushions, one at each end like arms of a chair. The walls too were speckless, painted in happy green and purple without cobwebs or a dash of sweat marks. A warm, yellow carpet blanketed the floor throughout and a tea table rested firmly on the carpet. Outside, the view dropped to a little vale of fields, green with ageing wheat. We entered the silent room.

Anita Lama sat across the table on the bed next to the door, her feet touching the carpet, her hands cradling an infant. The child, mercifully unaware of the father’s death, played with a baby bottle and babbled ‘mamama’. The sounds broke the silence. A little while later, she rolled on the ground and farted, sending everyone to nervous laughter except the mother who remained detached. Her plain face and

loosely tied hair bore the marks of a heart unconsoled.

She met Ashman Tamang through a friend. She was 19; he was 22. She had just finished her +2; he had already guided trekkers around Pokhara and Chitwan. Both had descended from the eastern slopes of the country. She from Bakkachaul, Khotang; he from Sotang, Solukhumbhu. District neighbours fated to fall in love under the sleeping eyes of Budhanilkantha. Three years ago, Ashman climbed up the stairs of the same house she now retreated to and asked for her hand in marriage. They rented a room close by, but further north near the sleeping god and gave birth to the baby girl, who now at 11 months old, tumbled around on the carpet holding fast on to a necklace. A married woman’s necklace.

They did talk about Everest. Its slopes were dangerous, they knew. But Ashman who grew up in its shadows harboured an ambition to scale the peak. The ambition aside, camaraderie with fellow guides banished fear. Besides, no one plans tomorrow with death in mind. Somehow it always seems to strike others until it knocks on our front door. Ashman and Anita dreamt beyond Everest, beyond avalanches, beyond April 18. Of Hong Kong and Switzerland. Until the night before his ghastly death, he was sending emails to former clients, who had turned into friends, about visiting the East and working in the West.

On Thursday, April 17, before he went to bed, Ashman called her. I need to wake up at 2 in the morning and start climbing, he had said. Climbing is easier in mornings than afternoons. Take care of yourself and the daughter. At noon the next day, the phone rang again. It was an officer from Himalayan Ecstasy Nepal, a trekking company Ashman worked for. An avalanche had struck climbing guides that morning. Twenty-five of them were hit; sixteen had died. Ashman’s body was one of the firsts to be pulled from the debris.

The body was flown into the Valley on Saturday and cremated on Monday in Swoyambhu, along with three other dead guides. A hundred and fifty thousand rupees was spent. A ghewa on the thirteenth day will cost another Rs 250,000. The life insurance Ashman had talked about and the officers at Himalayan Ecstasy had assured her of will not last long. Anita will have to start working again. She used to once upon a time in supermarkets and schools before the daughter arrived. Until she finds a job, any job, she will have this house and her brother. Later, she will have to drag herself back to the room she shared with Ashman, mend her heart and live for their girl. The worst has come to pass.

Published: 26-04-2014, The Kathmandu Post