THE WAY IT WENT DOWN: INTO THE WEST

When there was nowhere left to go, I went west. Twenty-six days before, I saw my last road — nothing more than a dirt track, really — and I went past it, and up. Two mountains. A river so large I didn't think I'd be able to cross it, and a field of yellowed grass as far as I could see. Now, here is here. And still the world goes west. My sat-phone stopped working somewhere before Rikaze, and I threw it away, after all, I hadn't seen an outlet since Lhasa.

I haven't eaten since the road, but I feel fine. The map said as much.


Seven years ago today I received the book about the hidden plateau. It was written in 1903 by an Englishman whose name escapes me. A colonel in Nepal. Inside was a handwritten map with instructions. Go here, smoke this weed. Go here, drink from this stream. Sleep here, dream about the world. I did it all.  

I should be in Kashmir by now, but I know I'm not. I know because at the second peak, the mountains stretched in all directions for as far as I could see. Endless. So I keep wandering west, certain I have slipped from the world of men forever. 

Then, smoke on the far side of the valley.

The buildings there are clustered on the side of a mountain like goats gathered for warmth. The streets are empty, laid with rolling, perfectly colored stones. The sun is shining. I smell jasmine tea.

In the tea room, dozens cluster near to their ceramic cups, sipping. No one looks to me, as I sit, and tea is brought. Money is never spoken of, but I don't imagine the US dollar would go very far here. No words are exchanged. I lose myself to the warmth of the tea, for awhile.

It is the first drink I have had in twenty-three days, but somehow, it feels unnecessary. 

The owner is a thin, prematurely old man with a wide smile, who goes table to table, pouring liquid and steam. At each, he stops, and exchanges pleasantries in a language I can't identify.

"Abso elat, tende," he says to me, smiling. "Tende? Tende?" He pours more tea.

At the last table, the one farthest from me, he places the kettle on the wood and bows deeply at the hips, and mumbles something.

The figure there, covered in leather bib, low and wide and in the dark, stirs, and I think I see red hair somewhere in there. Then blue eyes. A white hand from beneath the dark leather waves the tea man off.

"Colonel," the tea man says, very clearly, and turns to the next table.