I would like to preface this tattletale by admitting that I took my chances choosing such a provocatively controversial novel—Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. It’s the tale (pun) of a thirty-seven-year-old man (pedophile) obsessed with a twelve-year-young nymphette. Let that be a lesson to me.
However, mes cheries! I did give “Almost a Grandfather”—married to Almost a Grandmother!—ample opportunity to respect my boundaries. Let this be a lesson to him.
So after our Annapurna Circuit trekking group is back at Kathmandu Guest House, I ask to be moved as far away from “Almost’s” chamber as is physically possible.
Surprised, the manager behind the desk clerk asks, Did he make inappropriate advances toward you?
Yes, I say matter-of-factly.
Even more surprised to hear my answer but believing me, he further asks, Do you want us to contact the police?
No. No, that won’t be necessary. He’s not dangerous. (I hope.) I just need to avoid him for the next couple days before he leaves.
Which I try to do.
I avoid walking near him to our last group dinner, but it’s dark and he creeps up behind me and whispers in my ear in a self-pitying tone, Soon we’ll all be leaving and we won’t have to see each other again. You’ll be rid of me.
I flinch at his closeness and quicken my pace.
At dinner he sits across from me (coincidence?) and after manages to walk next to me (not coincidence!), despite others’ amongst the group who now discreetly intervene.
Thereafter I go about solo, missing out on further get-togethers. Instead I sneak around every corner of Thamel, the area near our lodging, with senses on high alert for his subtly stalking presence. Oh, Almost, you salacious old dog. You poor puppy.
Let’s take a breather to first describe—
Thamel (neighbourhood), Kathmandu, Nepal:
population: a lot
temperature: tepid, tolerable
streets: dusty, ever-under-construction, exhaust-filled and noisy
traffic: taxis meandering on both sides of the road, buses crowding taxis, rickshaws and motorbikes manoeuvring between them and pedestrians slowly sauntering wherever and everywhere unconcerned
shops: dirty, dusty, pollution-puked-on merchandise in shops with garage-style doors opening to the aforementioned traffic-congested roadways
sounds: honking, beeping, chirping vehicles, Tibetan chanting, pigeons cooing, vendors’ proffers permeating the atmosphere in a thick mixed soup of audible intrusion
people: tourists, trekkers, hippies, mid-life-crisisers (sideways glance) with expressions declaring dates of arrival and determining the price of goods offered them
merchandise: cheap cashmere, trinkets, treasures, knock-off trekking gear, pricy Indian rugs, and tacky souvenirs tempting tourists at every turn. (And every turn appearing similar, bearings are easily lost along with ill-spent rupees!)
food: a veritable smorgasbord of food options, none truly foodie-worthy but good enough, where low prices make up for culinary lack. (The food isn’t awful, not at all. But I’ve had better.)
locals: wanting to assist tourists in the hopes (or outright expectation) of receiving a tip—this is not the case in the mountains where the locals have not learned to covet Westerner’s wealth. Tip: “Don’t play in traffic” does not apply here.
Kathmandu Guest House: a local institution, “The Beetles” [sic] stayed here, lovely courtyard, intermittent (dial-up?) Wi-Fi, accommodating staff (they have to be, they overbook their overpriced rooms), has the Guest House library from which I borrow Lolita for the trek. (Offf course.)
sightseeing: to monkey temples, hidden gardens (with the constant sound of traffic and honking in the background), day trekking in the nearby hills (anything under 5000 meters is considered a hill in Nepal), young monks, and old, active crematoriums (?!) Need I restate: bad smells!
In brief, Almost took a liking to me early on. At first I rationalized an innocent fatherly inclination, but it soon became clear (to me and to our guide, Ram, at least) that his interest wasn’t purely paternal.
After mentioning one morning that he wished he was twenty years younger with a steady, meaningful gaze, his previous suggestion of skipping off to some interesting spot and spending the night there after the trek became a stomach-turning statement to recall. (And not in a pleasant, butterfly-filled way, but more in the I-barf-on-your-loafers kind of way.)
Combined with several other subtle, saucy and outright perniciously naughty quips—Would you date a man twenty years older? (Meaningful gaze.) My reply, Fuck no!… Oh, I thought you said “younger.” But, still, same answer!
I avoided him as much as possible early on. I wore my hair in braids to cover my ta-tas, and I wore layers of clothing (which he mentioned—the layers of clothing, that is, though I’m sure his thoughts were on my hidden nipplets!) to cover the rest—all to avoid offering him any slight temptation. I skipped the hot springs and the river rafting options. I chose to walk alone. I told him it was my bubble of self-reflective reverie.
I stopped accepting chocolate from him, which at first was our little secret, he’d said. I told him to stop touching my hand. I threw out the postcard he’d given me, signed “xo, Love [uncustomary, unabbreviated given name].”
Oh, keep you down, creeping bile! (Sorry, the style of Nabokov’s poetic prose has his influence. Reading Lolita. Perhaps that’s where I did err [?] for I gave no signs of romantic interest because—indeed—there was none! If anything, I filtered my naturally bubbly self. That ought to have sent up my red flag right there!) Oy.
Back to Almost a Grandfather…
Back to Thamel (after the trek)…
I hear from Ginger Bean that he’s cornered her and, “with moist eyes,” has declared his undying love for me (slight AJ exaggeration), or some such similar drama. And though I feel sorry for him, I also feel validated that I wasn’t losing my mind to my self-ascribed narcissism.
During the two days after the trek while he still lingers in town, I hide away in a restaurant that has mediocre Wi-Fi and good cappuccinos (and that also accepts credit cards). I eat and write, and I research alternate travel plans (since I’ve also lacked luck in changing my flights to depart earlier. Asap. Please. Never, never, use flighthub.com. NEVER. It took three hours and three days and multiple streaks of smeared mascara in a public call centre to finally make the change. I’m okay now, thanks.)
The day he leaves, I nonchalantly exit my place of respite at 1:15pm where I’ve been hiding for four hours. Surmising his departure, I take a deep breath, smile openly and lightly, and I see colours again. I stop to look at a pashmina scarf at the first vendor I see.
I have barely asked the words, How much? when beside me he appears. Standing silently, hands in trouser pockets, the whisper of a smile and the red remnants of a saucy lunch on cracked quivering lips.
My shoulders slump, and my head drops backward, my face skyward (or maybe I looked at my dusty feet). I inhale and exhale slowly, deeply and indiscreetly. What else can I do??
And then I laugh maniacally at the absurdity of serendipity and shake my head.
Hello, he says. A scolded, tentative puppy.
And I glance between him and the shopkeeper who is waiting to tell me her price. Fifteen hundred rupees, she says finally but knows it doesn’t matter now.
I’m just leaving, Almost says, I’m on my way to the taxi. He points down the road. I wish we’d met up even half an hour ago.
Life has its plan, I offer. I’ve bristled.
Will you walk with me for five minutes? And his eyes are moist and pathetic. A puppy.
I nod. Sure.
We stumble on words I can’t quite remember, something about his hair cut, No, I shaved, he says indicating his chin. Then he launches into an admission of his amorous feelings and says he’d still liked to have been friends—at least.
It’s the at least that concerned me, and I use it as a ramp to a rant. There’s a difference between being nice and being kind. I should have nipped this in the bud early on, but I wasn’t sure and thought it might be presumptive of me. Then it just became easier to avoid. I’m not good with conflict. I did tell you that you were crowding me. Twice.
He remembers my saying this. He remembers everything I said.
I continue, I don’t think it’s even about me. I think it’s about something else, someone else, a different time in your life. Not me. I think you’re having a late mid-life crisis. (I laugh at the irony.) You need to embrace the next phase of your life.
He disagrees. I should’ve just kept my mouth shut. We would have had some fun. On my jolting reaction he corrects himself, I don’t mean physical… He trails off.
I tell him, Look, I may not be knowledgeable about worldly happenings or classically educated, but I do have a good sense of intuition, and I know when to draw in the reigns. I’m writing about this.
He says something about our having a connection. He’s grasping now.
I had no more of a connection or like of you than I did with of anyone else in our group. I must be blunt here. I was hyper aware of your hyper awareness of me. I could feel you watching me. Others noticed. (True, not just Rammy.)
He acknowledges this. I know. Yes, I did. Yes, my feelings, I realize were stronger… I would never have left [his wife!] though. (Yes, he means for me.)
I try to lighten the mood: It’s not totally your fault; I am charmingly irresistible after all.
You are. Yes. But he’s all serious and trying to walk close enough to brush his arm on me.
Blah blah blah.
Poor poor puppy.
We arrive at his taxi. The driver is waving at him as though to say, Where did you go? (Later I wonder if he’d been out taking a last turn about the town looking for me.)
I give him the same spiel I did back when he’d told me he liked me and wished he was twenty years younger. As I told you from the beginning, enjoy what you can, endure what you must. Not everything is meant to last. You need to practice the art of detachment. For added measure and emphasis, I say, You complained of “having to sleep with a grandmother soon”. Well, she has to sleep with a grandfather. I suggest you embrace this phase of your life and be thankful to have someone who loves you and wants to sleep with you. “A grandfather”.
And I give him a chaste, quick hug. His hands cling to my shoulders and he asks, Can I give you a kiss? I pull away with a No and a stunted chortle and stern admonishment, and I turn and walk away shaking my head. I only look back to make sure I’m not getting mowed down by one of the many old Triumphs or new Enfields motoring my way as I cross the street and disappear.
Silly old bugger.
The second thing I’d like to erase from memory is the sight of said someone in his underwear—old bum in black briefs—next to my cabin one afternoon standing in sub-zero temperatures ostensibly towelling his hairy back after a shower (though he appeared to be completely dry) when he had a perfectly comfortable and private cabin of his own to be undressed in!
Goodbye, Nepal. No memory-stimulating souvenirs required.
What have I (re)learned? Old dogs need love, too? No! Old dogs need self-love, too. Apparently, anyone at any age can have an any-issue life crisis. Perhaps those having a late-life crisis need even more compassion. Love is the answer. (It’s on my business card, after all.) I debated posting this blog because I thought it unkind to Almost, but reality check, perhaps if he reads this, it will jolt him into self-acceptance. And perhaps others will learn from it. And! If he is reading this, he needs to, because it would mean that he’s taken great lengths to find it (me!) #Endjustification.
Homework for me: Be compassionate from a far far away loving distance. Without offering any communication. Whatsoever. Whatsoever, people. (Person1!)
Homework for men: If you’re going to be an old (cheating) man, make sure the object of your affection is a reciprocating and welcoming participant.
Homework for women: If his advances aren’t welcome, nip it in the bud. If unsure, ask! Be careful how you ask… “Do you want to bone me?” can totally be misconstrued! (And, no, I didn’t ask him that. Hashtag: LetOldGrandmotherHubbardGetHerDogsBone!)
No means no, people. No. Means. No. xx
1 To ensure “Almost” wouldn’t find me, I didn’t provide my last name or email address on the group form (or reveal it on the trek) and instead gave my contact info privately to Rammy, our guide, to whom “Almost’s” behaviour was obvious (Rammy misses nothing) with strict instruction not to give it out especially to “Almost.” Well, it turned out Rammy was either disappointed I didn’t want to spend my last days with him or careless (raised eyebrow) because he emailed our whole group and didn’t blind cc our email addresses. “Almost” was the first to send me a private message (followed by a couple more). Innocent enough, perhaps—the written word inspires caution—but unwelcome nonetheless. Tsk tsk.