The Thiefdoor

Michael Kabir

For how long did I try to get out of the swamps? I've forgotten. But suddenly one morning there is this dry area and the village. Slowly as if to make sure that it's not an illusion I come closer and enter between the huts. Some people there, chatting, laughing and quarreling with each other. There is even a coffee-house, and my last dirty dollar note buys me a Cuba Libre. I have a cigarette, relax my feet on a chair and watch the others...

Everybody is wearing some mountain-climbing stuff, heavy boots, big knappsacks, long ropes hang over many a shoulder. Obviously mountaineers who came down the flanks from the Himalayas or are on their way up. They must come from far away, because there is no single hill higher than 15 meters in the swamps around as far as I know. Maps and cards are studied, in one corner a loud discussion is going on wether "the Northwest cut" is safer than the "direct McMillan route" or if one should make four, five or even six camps up to the K2.

Whow! I'm impressed. I wouldn't even know wether to go North, West or South from here to reach the montains (East is out of question, because there are the swamps where I just came from...) I am curious, and ask a group of tough looking climbers, whether they are coming down or on their way up, but they just look at me, as if they wanted to say "what do you want to know?", laugh at each other and turn around to continue their discussion about "the Fuji steel carbines are really great, but 20% heavier than the simple Karakorum".

The waitress smiles at me and says:

 "They are never going and seldomly coming"

and an old, barefooted drunkard in the corner farts and laughes and wakes up just enough to mumble something like

 "They never went any higher than into the waitress' bedroom since I am here"

and then finishes my Cuba Libre and fells asleep again...

Not enough money to buy a second Cuba Libre, so I get up and wander through the village. At the central place there is a big shop for "Mountaineering Equipment and Trainings", but when I go in to ask for a job the owner says

"No beggars in here, please. Haven't you read the sign at the entrance?"

and two of his sportive, good looking salesmen help me out of the shop.

I'm not interested in what the sign at the entrance might say, this business has too many salesmen anyway...

Two or three people on the streets ask me, wether I know the "Way" or "The Way to the Himalayas", one is even waving with an old 100 $ bill at my face. I could really use the money, but I don't know what to answer. While I'm thinking it over wether to say "North" or "I'll tell you for 200" he is allready asking a mule standing in the shade at the side of a shop:

"Will you bring me up the Himalayas for 100 Dollars?".

 The Mule makes "Eeeeh-Aaaah" and eats his 100 $ bill. Now I recognize the big sign at the entrance of the shop

 "Easy-Way-Up Satsangs".

The owner is waving me to come inside: "We are allways interested in new faces". But I hate eating dollar bills for breakfast and my ears seem not long enough for that employment.

The mule smiles friendly at me and twinkles one eye. I smile back and turn around to get going on. Really a nice mule. Even warned me with an eye-twinkle before using his back hoof...

But this "Way" business might be an idea. Should be not too complicated to gather some information about it, any public library has those world maps. For the two black stones I had found in the swamps some kids show me the way to an expensive looking house within a large park - the "Neo Himalaya Library©".

Here it is! Cool entrance hall, marble floor. A really sweet girl at the info desk asks me, wether I have an Aids test. I turn the same color as her blouse and stammer something like

"I just wanted to buy a book how to come to the Hi ... Hi ... Hills ... ah ... Himalayas".

She smiles. It's rather difficult to breath here.

"Beloved." My heart stops. What a nice place to die.

"We have hundreds of books about that theme. You may even take all kinds of training sessions or some introductory courses with us."

Oh, I would, I would love to do any training under these circumstances.

"But you can as well just hang out here, read some books in the free public library and relax among us other mountaineers from your strenuous work.

But first you need an Aids test, my dear.

Selling my swiss army knife I can pay for the Aids test and hang out in the library, pretending to read one of the many books, while waiting for the angel from the info desk to drop in. That's a mistake - I mean: reading the books. They are full of talks and beautiful pictures about mountaineering, which carbines to use, what is the difference beween taking the "Natural Exit" or the "Direct Route to Nothingness". Exactly the same words as are being used in the coffee-house. Second book - same words. Third book, fourth book - same pictures (laughing and smiling mountaineers) and the same words. I see myself ending in the coffee-house and laughing about newcomers when it's obvious from their stupid questions that they have not spent their obligatory 10 years in the library. So I manage to watch© myself walking out of the Neo Himalaya Library© into the village again...

Although I search the whole day I somehow manage to reach the evening without money, a job or a place to sleep. On sunset I give up and leave the village to find me a place in the woods. Circling the whole village I see nothing appropriate. Towards the swamps someone has put up signs with warnings like "Keep away, dark energy" or "Beware of Snakes", but under the bushes there is a tiny hut, perhaps I might find a place for the night there.

To my astonishment the hut is already occupied. A Chinese of undeterminable age is leaning in the door and blocking the entrance.

"What ya want hea? Wanna steal something? No, I donna have nothing. Is me pool ol' Chinese. Goa ya back to village!"...

"Listen," I tell him, "just show me a place to sleep, I'm fed up with this damned village anyway."

You never know whether these slit-eyes smile at you or plan to kill you with a poison-needle. "Oho!" he answered, "No place sleep hele. But can show way out!"

"The Way? The Way to the Himalayas?"

For some moments he is looking at me as if considering to throw me out, but then he makes up his mind.

"No. No mountain way. Way out of jungle. Want go out jungle?"

These yellow brothers are not so bad as it seems sometimes.

"Yes" I say. I smile at him, but he doesn't smile back.

"You follow, I show. Will do?"

"Of course, I will follow you." strange guy, strange questions. I just had told him, I'd love to leave the jungle, hadn't I?

"No," he says, "follow my wolds. Do what I say." The logs in the fireplace are making cracking sounds. Outside the hut a little animal is on it's nightly business.

"Oh." I say to him. It's not possible to look anywhere else than into these dark eyes where the reflections of the fire dance their own dance.

"Oho." But on the other hand, if I let him show me a way, I'll have to trust him anyway. And while the whole village had been full of ways up to the Himalaya, no one had given even an hint how to leave the village.

"Well, yes", deep breath, "OK."

These Chinese faces are unreadable in bright sunshine, what about understanding their intentions in the night?

"Let's go then", he says.

"But," I continue, "Not now - in the middle of the night. Let me sleep here and show me tomorrow."

He is giggling now: "now time - only time" and "dalkest time - best time!"

and with swift, snakelike movements pulls out a small canoe from behind the hut. A canoe too small for two people.

But with encoraging words like "canoe fol one is less than canoe fol nothing" and wisteling a tune from Earth Wind and Fire (I think it's "What comes up, must come down") he places me into the canoe, jumps into the water and pulls me out into the dark canals of the swamp, before I can change my mind. I am totally at his mercy. The canoe turns right and left and left and right, and within minutes the hut where we started from is lost in the night together with the rest of my orientation...

I should have known before: at midnight we change places. I have to take off my boots and go into the water, while he sits in the canoe directing me here and there and left and right. Once I ask him

"What about the Snakes?" and he laughs.

"No ploblem" he says, "Filst snake eats you then you snake". Shaking and trembling I continue through the dark waters.

Better not to ask such stupid questions again... The night seems endless, but slowly, slowly I recognize, that my feet seem to find the right places automatically. And where to turn can be felt by the current of the water.

For some hours now the old friend in the canoe has not said much, lately he is even giving wrong orders, saying "light" although the current leads to the left and such things. Probably he's as tired as I am, I just follow the current. This seems to amuse him, but he is not insisting on his orders and falls asleep again, so I continue following my own feelings.

Then suddenly the old Chinese breaks the silence and says

"you go alone from here"

 and disappears with the canoe and my shoes in the darkness. This bastard, when it comes to business he's even folgetting his wlong plonounciation...

There is a little more light now, dawn is approaching. It's getting colder, but I can manage it and the ground seems to be rising anyway. When the sun comes up, I'm already walking through woods on dry ground. In some small clearings the sunrays are warming me up a little. I run up the next hill and sit down for a while watching the little movements around me and in my body.

The nightly trembling has turned into a silent hum. Some geese flying north greet me with their cry and my breast answers with a loud shout at precisely the same moment - as if we both responded to the sign of an invisible conductor.

A town is not far away, fields, vallies, woods and mountains. Indeed - this way through the swamps has really led me out of the jungle. Far away in the mists one could even imagine the Himalayas. Do you know that feeling when you have longed for something soo long and soo intense that you had to forget it altogether?

The way back through the swamps is easier than the first time, but I understand now, that "dalkest time - best time". You see too many things moving in the swamps during the day.

The old Chinese has burned my boots in his fireplace, "no shoes - feet feel" he says. He is working on a beautiful large boat with comfortable cushions. It looks like as if he is drilling little holes into it, filling them with mud and using red and yellow colorspots to hide them. Behind the hut two Chinese kids are hammering and painting on a large sign reading "To Tantric Boat-Party".

"Nevel folget the malketing!", he smiles for a good-bye.

While leaving I recognize, that he has replaced the snake-warning signs with lampions and pictures of beautiful and barely dressed women and men.

In the village nobody seems to have noticed that I was away. At the coffee-house somebody asks me wether I know the way up to the Himalayas. I say "No," but before I can continue with "but I know the way through the swamps", he turns around and chats with a friend about his new mountain boots.

The old drunkard says

"Who would be interested in a way through the swamps, anyway?"

and lights himself one of my cigarettes - again without asking permission. How the fuck did he come to know?

"Someone has stolen your shoes, did you notice?",

the drunkard laughes. As if that was an explanation to my unspoken question.

So I make up my mind and finally happen to say

"You know what? Keep the rest of the packet, I'll stop smoking anyway."

What a uncommon feeling it is, to meet a stranger and no one wants anything from the other. Except, perhaps a cigarette and some fire. Two hobos to be exact - it's easier not to want something when you don't have much to lose, I think.

The noise from the coffeehouse becomes part of everything. We are both watching the hips of the waitress dancing between the tables. Finally he gets up, takes my water-proof army lighter together with the cigarettes and leaves.

That was the story how I quit smoking.


The Thief Door

As usual M.Q. enjoys it to receive the negotiated dollar for his next story to be told when we meet again and  puts it carefully aside into the small box of dark wood standing just behind the Encyclopaedia Britannica. We don't speak, but I know it's time to leave him alone again.

Tea cups rattle on tray through the house when I bring them back into the kitchen and make sure that windows and real doors are closed and everything is ok for the night. The thief door creaks a little on the way out, and I step back and oil the hings. When nothing more is to be done, I step out, pretend to lock the door carefully and start on my way home.

The evening's dark and warm - looks like it might rain in the early morning. Moonlady is not yet out, she will show her slim rightside not before midnight. It's difficult to walk the woods in the darkness, but I've gone it so many times and today the ground is dry after all. Finally I make it to the village and climb up the stairs to my little room above Mrs. Sedar's store in the first, faint moonlight after midnight. Fast teeth brushing, snug quilt, cosy body shivering, Home.