It was the eve of the trek to Chandrapal Pokhari, the bajay’s holy lake. Hamish, Frank’s trekking companion, had turned up for the night so they could get off to an early start the following morning.
Frank was leaving Nepal a week after their trek, so many of the possessions he had accumulated over his two years in Kathmandu had been distributed to Sunita and her sisters and others. Apart from the double bed, and the kitchen-ware which Hira, his maid, would inherit, only the thin mattress under the window remained, and performed its last duty by providing Hamish with somewhere reasonably soft to lay his sleeping bag on.
They needed to wake up at half past five for a six o’clock start, but had to rely on an old alarm-clock with an alarm hand that they couldn't shift from the seven o'clock position. Hamish reckoned that to get the clock to wake them at the correct time, the main hands would have to be turned back one and a half hours. Frank felt uneasy about this, but couldn't pin down the logical flaw. But then, as he was dozing off, the answer suddenly popped into his head, as solutions often do when the keeper of the mind’s menagerie has clocked off for the day: the hands should be moved forwards one and a half hours, not back. He lay awake for some time wondering how they could expect to arrive at a complex truth if they, two reasonably intelligent people, found such a simple logical problem so difficult to work out. He hoped that the bajay's
'truth' would just reveal itself without any effort on his part.
In the event, the alarm was redundant. They were woken in the early hours of the morning by a clap of thunder, and flashes of lightning. Heavy monsoon rain was falling, and they peered out of the window in the hope of witnessing some more natural pyrotechnics. Suddenly, a large, shockingly bright, ball of fire appeared to fall to the ground, and rolled alarmingly around the perimeter of the garden for what seemed like a full minute, turning the night into day. They ducked instinctively as it passed their veranda and then disappeared. Neither of them had seen a thunderbolt before, and they stood looking at each other opened mouthed.
“Is that an omen, I wonder?” asked Hamish in a slow, spooky voice.“The gods are not pleased with our mission. Maybe they want to keep the truth to themselves.”
“I didn't realise you were so superstitious, Hamish,” said Frank briskly.
“Well, you never know!” he said in his wavery voice.At which point the alarm rang, making them jump, and then laugh at their jumpiness, and at the waste of effort they had expended in working out how to get it to go off at the right time.
“At least we got it right,” said Hamish looking at his watch.
“You mean I got it right.”
They picked up Ungel, their young bargain-priced porter, in the bazaar and set off in a jeep on the half-day journey to the road head, Ramchap, from where they would need to go on foot to search for the lake, and the truth it was reputed to be the guardian of.
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