The doctor had contacted the consulate in La Paz and they had informed my parents of my grievous state. They were on their way to Macha in the mountains and meanwhile had relayed their permission via the consulate to the doctor in charge of my case to perform any surgery that might save my life. The doctor regularly visited me in the bare hospital ward. Several of the beds were now empty as most of the patients had only suffered minor injuries and in any case couldn’t afford a prolonged stay in hospital. Not so in my case. Even in my semi-delirious state I knew I was critically unwell. It was something to do with my liver. As the hours drifted by I too drifted in and out of consciousness as the morphine waxed and waned in my blood stream. The twilight place I retreated to gave me no repose because it was filled with thoughts of Takako and her promise to me ten years ago.
It was ten years ago that I met Takako on a bumpy bus ride to Lhasa. She was travelling alone and from our first words of conversation I had determined to make her mine. Although we soon struck up a firm friendship it was all together another matter to seduce the demure and detached Japanese woman. She often kept her own counsel and gave off the impression that, while enjoying my company, she never needed it.
And that’s how our relationship developed as we took in the sights of Lhasa. She was happy to allow me to accompany her, but she refused to feel in anyway beholden to me or reliant on my presence. Together we experienced the overwhelming spirituality of the Jokang temple where Buddhist monks wore bizarre Alexandrian hats and made subsonic Om noises on long horns in an open courtyard thick with incense smoke. We visited the forlorn Potala Palace which the Chinese were insidiously undermining by placing a jet fighter outside the entrance and allowing huge billboards to be erected before the entrance leading up the hillside. And most of all, by banning mention of, or image of Tibetan Buddhism’s leader, the Dalai Lama. Everywhere we went in the ancient city we saw signs of Han-ification attempting to gloss over and pervert the true tenor of the city which was a place of holy pilgrimage, a place imbued with traditions dating back to the earliest phase of Buddhism and even further back with the mysterious Bon religion that had somehow incorporated itself into the psyche of Indian Buddhism when it reached the Himalayan plateau.
After a few days in the city we took excursions to more outlying monasteries that gave us a chance to see something of the vastness of the countryside and gave me the chance to sleep next to Takako.
No matter where we went there was always a reminder of the subjugating presence of the Chinese which seemed to be forcing Tibetans onto the margins of their own society. Set against the immense backdrop of the world’s ceiling feelings of pathos coloured our appreciation of the country. We decided to depart. Both of us had come to Tibet with the intention of doing the 4 day overland journey along the Arniko Highway from Lhasa to Kathmandu and Takako raised her perfect eyebrows at my suggestion to do it together but not any strong objections. Up until that point I hadn’t made any moves on her; as I was checked by her gorgeous body that gave off no signals of wanting congress with my bedraggled frame.
It was three months later before the nature of our relationship changed. Plato was a smart dude but he had obviously never slept next to a Japanese siren night after night embroiled in thoughts of carnality. Somehow in my head the pursuit of Takako became connected to my shameful abandonment of Richy in China. To compensate for my willful neglect of a soul in need I wasn’t going to give up on a soul that never seemed to need me. If only I could do something to make her need me.
My opportunity came in India and not in a way that either of us would have anticipated or wanted. India is a melting point of classes, ethnicities and ideas that over the centuries has distilled the chaos into its very essence, wherein they have found a way to live with the madness. We had travelled through Nepal and had made it south onto the great Gangetic plain in northern India. After taking in the bewildering sights and sounds of Varanasi and the profound symmetry of the Taj Mahal we travelled west into the desert region of Rajasthan. After a long and tiring train journey we arrived at the fabled pink city of Jaipur. It was dark and we both just wanted to get a room and a hot meal and go to bed. We soon found a taxi lingering near the station entrance and named a guest house that we found in the Lonely Planet. The driver spoke good English and didn’t put up much of a fight about the price for the fare. That in itself should have alerted me, but tiredness had blunted my sixth sense (a faculty far more valuable than any guide book when it comes to traveling in the subcontinent). After ten minutes of driving through a mass of winding alleys which grew progressively quieter and shabbier I asked in a curt tone where the hell we were going. The next moment the taxi stopped outside a small office and six men appeared and forcibly removed us from the taxi. Takako started to scream. A huge Sikh punched her in the stomach and lifted her light frame off the ground and carried her inside the office. I put up no resistance and followed her. We were bundled into a poorly lit back room and onto a mattress. Our hands and feet were bound and from the shadows appeared a smallish man with a pockmarked complexion and greasy swept back hair. He held a long sheet of paper that he shoved in front of my eyes.
“Hello friend. My name is Ganesh. We don’t want to hurt you or your pretty girlfriend. We simply want your money, acha? Look, ji here is a list of many foreign peoples who come to India.”
I squinted and could just make out a typed list of names and nationalities.
“These foreign peoples are ALL MISSING. They come to India and then disappear. Do you want to join list?” Ganesh’s yellow eyes looked intensely into mine.
“Take our money, just let us go,” I implored the man.
Ganesh did a nod-shake of his head and barked orders at the other men in the room. They soon found our money belts and emptied our backpacks and felt all over our bodies for hidden stashes of cash. Naturally, they relished the opportunity to feel up Takako who squirmed under the licentious groping. She had a manic look of terror on her face.
It took less then three minutes to retrieve our valuables. Ganesh and three of the five henchmen exited the room. The burly Sikh and a wiry teenager in a dirty white shirt and torn grey trousers stood silent guard over our mattress.
From the next room we could hear an argument raging in Hindi. Ganesh and his co-conspirators were obviously unhappy with their meager spoils. Takako and I had used up our traveller cheques and were using our credit cards to withdraw money. We had very few rupees on us as we planned to go to the bank in Jaipur the following day.