Little Red Lentil
You've just spent four days in the Himalaya. Not a Herculean task by any stretch of the imagination. Still, you're sore and happy to be so. After a few week of solo travel around Nepal you've begun to feel at home. Father gave you a 1 out 10 chance of survival. Mother cried a few days before departure. Brother told you he loved you...just in case. But you've done it. The pinnacle of your journey is complete. You've seen the snow-crested peaks of the Himalaya at sunrise. And they have seen you.
The hot water pours out of the hotel shower as a testament to civilization. A rarified glass of scotch and a cheeseburger await you at Moondance. The indulgent expat bar fills the senses with a mix of exoticism and luxury. An oasis of Western crunchiness that uses words like "organic", "craft-brew", and "homemade kombucha". The Dhaal Bhaat and momos of local tea-houses have been fantastic. But this sacred bovine flesh tastes so good. You saunter home, full of spirits and lactic acid. A little reading seems in order.
Two hours later as you read Lonely Planet on the bed you notice it. A little red lentil. It's crawling across your guidebook. As it traverses the Rapti River on page 64 you snap the book shut for a second and open it to a streak of red. Blood. Your own. You look down to find your ankle with a few "lentil" bites. Like one of those war films where the main characters' ears finally tune in after a grenade sets off a long ringing, it dawns on you. Bed bugs.
"The Dhaal Bhaat and momos of local tea-houses have been fantastic. But..."
And so it begins
12:42am. Curfew ends at sunrise. Bags are packed. Examination of the rest of the room takes place with Holmesian attention to detail. It's not an infestation, but certainly whoever stayed in this room previously had brought a few friends along. But alas, it's past midnight and past curfew. The rest of the hotel is booked and management isn't familiar with the concept of bed bugs.
You resolve to spend the night in the lobby. With hushed footfalls you stealthily place yourself next to the front door so as not to disturb the slumbering receptionist just a few feet away. In the pale light of rationed fluorescent you lock your backpack around the base of a chair, slip off your shoes and place your head gingerly onto the cold tile. "A little sleep is better than none".
At that moment, the phone rings at the desk. Slumber is banished from the receptionist's existence. Likewise, you find yourself banished from the lobby. Ostensibly the lobby is not a suitable replacement for a room.
3am. Thank Brahma that the Wi-Fi is functional. You viber your girlfriend in the U.S. and she keeps you company as you wait for sunrise. The hours crawl slowly, but you're thankful for her digital presence. Traveling alone was a way to get in touch with solitude. Yet you've found it has actually drawn you ever closer into an intimate bond of family, friend, and romance. Facebook tells you that a friend met in Namobuddha just got food poisoning in Varanasi. You bond over your discomfort. The boasts you made of survival and comfort a few hours ago play back in your mind. Humility fills the 6x5 lavatory and you petition the Divine for forgiveness for your #firstworldproblems horning in on His more serious work. You vow to never let the pride of imperialist superiority overcome your self-awareness ever again. Almost as if an answer to prayer, the sun sends its first rays through the little bathroom window and send you out the door like a flash.
Beauty and breakfast
7am. You chew a Pain Au Chocolate at Cafe 17. Licking your existential wounds with a masala tea. The sun shines and you can see a football game beginning in the distance. Regulars begin to stop by for their morning coffee. No one is aware of the travails of the night before. In the light of day, you realize what a tremendous story this will be someday. How you singlehandedly overcame the horrors of red lentil invasion...
But wait. Your prayer at dawn is recalled. Your heart softens. You remember your family. Your girlfriend. And the sky opens up fully as if to say...
"This is why you came here. This is what you sought. Now, go...and sin no more.
You smile and chuckle at your foolishness. As the last sip of masala touches your lips you rise from your seat and head for the bus depot.