AN ENCOUNTER IN POKHARA
“Two nights in Kathmandu. That’s it. Two nights while they get over their jet lag and orient themselves,” Arun snarks at me.
It’s true. We joke about it but Pokhara steals the visitors. All the new faces are 90 miles away on Grindr. But this past autumn, when I spent a week in our beautiful lake-city, my energy and attention was elsewhere. Work kept me occupied in the mornings and afternoons. In the evening, I either strolled along Phewa Lake, settled at a cafe capturing story ideas on my laptop or fervently turned pages of a massive work of literature I had committed to finish.
Once in a while though, as I lay on bed trying to relax before bed or when I stumbled into a bored hour or two before dinner, I logged into Grindr, mostly out of habit, to quickly scan through the profiles.
A message popped up during one of those hours, completely catching me off-guard. “Charlie?” He asked. “Charlie Chaulagain?” And without waiting for my response, blurted out. “It’s me! Frankie!” Frankie was about one hundred feet away.
“Oh my god. It’s been so long,” I moved my fingers fast. “What are you upto?”
“I am with my ex, visiting. We are going out for drinks. Join us.”
“Ok. Give me ten minutes. I’ll see you at Hallan Chowk,” I wrote, quickly changed into a fresh T-shirt and walked out merrily wearing yellow flip-flops.
I first met Frankie about twelve years ago during a summer weekend in Boston. He lived there, dividing his time between college and part-time work. I had just completed my sophomore year in a residential college and Frankie, a couple of years older than me, was enjoying a fast-paced life in the American city.
I can’t remember whether we were introduced by a common friend or we found each other online, but that doesn’t matter. I was just happy to meet another gay Nepali. We had gotten along fairly well. Our sensibilities were similar.
So were our backgrounds. And our names. More than once, we laughed out loud. “Frankie Humagain and Charlie Chaulagain. How funny. Hanging out in Boston!”
It was with Frankie that I first experienced the thrills of a big gay nightclub. I wasn’t even twenty-one then. The bouncer strapped my right hand with a maroon band, a label that meant I was under-age and couldn’t drink. But I didn’t care. My heart raced as I made my way into the thick, sweaty warmth of the crowd, grazing past naked arms, charged by the electric air, my pulse trying to match the beats of loud, thumping music.
I spent the night at Frankie’s place. It was a simple, sparsely decorated, ground floor apartment close to Harvard Square. The following morning, he drove me to a college friend’s place and we departed, promising to hang out soon.
We never saw each other after that weekend. Our conversations on MSN Messenger were sporadic. I got more immersed with school work during the final two years and when I moved to New York City, most of my friendships took an about turn. But I do remember the important details from Frankie’s life. At one point, he was in a relationship with an older, white psychologist. It was serious, he said. But then, they had broken up and Frankie had moved to Austin, Texas. Texas! I remember thinking, so far away from New York. Those days, I couldn’t imagine a life anywhere other than in my fantastic, beloved city.
My head was swimming with all these thoughts when I noticed Frankie down the street. He was wearing khaki shorts. His ex, Dave, was the same psychologist he had once dated. Clearly, they were still good friends. It was Dave’s first time in Nepal, a fortieth birthday gift to himself.
“I had heard you moved back to Nepal. How’s that going?” Frankie asked, after we settled into cozy lounge chairs at a restaurant’s balcony.
We caught up, throwing questions at each other that took me back to all the different phases of my life from the past decade – the years right after college, the various jobs I had held in the big city, the struggles, the decision to return to Nepal. And this past year, living in Kathmandu. Frankie was more interested in that. How is it really, he asked more than once, modifying his questions slightly to extract a different aspect of my life in Kathmandu, as if he was examining a forgotten shirt in the late afternoon sun, trying to figure out its quality. Was the shirt really as nice as it looked or was the design passe? Was the colour truly beautiful or was it fit only for an intimate dinner on a dark, winter night?
He had mentioned coming out to his parents. It was his father who had sobbed on the phone. His mother had been more difficult; she had refused to talk to him for a long time.
Dave contributed now and then, asking his own questions, responding to my polite queries. I wanted to make sure he didn’t feel left out. And so we spent a couple of hours, sipping drinks and snacking on vegetable fritters. They were flying to Jomsom the following morning and after a short trek to Muktinath, were returning to Kathmandu in a few days. Frankie visited his family in Kathmandu every couple of years. His parents knew about him, even though they didn’t talk about it all that much. That was another detail I remember from years ago. He had mentioned coming out to his parents. It was his father who had sobbed on the phone. His mother had been more difficult; she had refused to talk to him for a long time.
“I wasn’t planning on settling in Austin,” Frankie said at one point. “I went there for a friend’s wedding but things just fell into place. I love it there. Unlike the rest of the state, Austin is very liberal. University town. Lots of hot boys.” He flashed a bright smile that convinced me that he was happy.
I had given him genuine responses as well. I have adjusted to Kathmandu. Yes, there is no night-life, no scene to speak of. But I don’t really miss it. It’s different. I like it here, I had tried to convey. But I am not sure if Frankie believed me. I know, for a fact, that he couldn’t imagine moving back.
At one point during the evening, as he was describing his Austin life, I let myself wander through the streets of the famous Texan city. I stood at a street corner and watched Frankie stepping out of a shiny black car on a warm Friday evening. I imagined him tired from his workweek but excited about the weekend. I peeked into his perfect little apartment as he showered and picked an outfit for the night. I saw him drive past orderly apartment buildings, along a clean street that sparkled with neon billboards and pull up in front of a bar bustling with people buzzed with happy hour drinks. For a few moments, I imagined myself standing at the bar, next to Frankie. And I missed America. I missed the Friday night parties I looked forward to all week. I missed the life I could have led.
I turned to look at the Lakeside street down below. Apart from distant guitar tunes, it was mostly quiet. We settled our bills, stepped out into the breezy November air and said goodbye at the same Hallan Chowk intersection.
As I walked back to the lodge, the bittersweet, nostalgic feeling was still with me. I felt a strong longing for those flashing lights and shiny cars. Those long weekend nights with happy, drunk boys. The loud music. All the laughter and the lights that seem so out of reach.