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I first met Kunja at the Suit Kake restaurant in Freek Street, Kathmandu. I did not know her name then. I glanced up at her as she brought over my order of coffee and cake and placed them neatly before me on the table, which was clear and clean. A good omen I thought. Perhaps I wont suffer a delhi-belly. There was a light smile on her face as she hummed a tune going about her work at the tables and behind the counter.
That morning I had flown in from Delhi, to be met by my younger sister, Sarah, who was married to a Nepali business man. She took me to her home and gave me a typical Nepali meal.
Afterwards, I excused myself, saying
"I think I will take a wee wander up town, Sarah, and get my bearings."
So off I went by taxi from Balaju, over the Ring Road, and into the city, saw an oxen being killed in the street and then butchered at the shop front, bought some silver earrings for my mother, and then when I looked around for a likely restaurant, looked in at a few and then finally chose the Suit Kake, and saw Kunja.
Arriving back later at my sister Sarah's place in Balaju, I was about to briefly say "Namaste" to whoever was around, and then creep to my allotted bedroom and drop, for a much needed kip. But Sarah took me through to meet her husband, Ram and his younger brother Rukesh who were quietly drinking local beer labelled 'Eagle', and talking about their younger sister Kunja who was getting married soon to a young Nepali army sergeant.
They placed a bottle of Eagle in front of me, and a glass, and Ram said"Sarah has told me you want to do some white-water rafting and trekking while you are here. So I have picked up some brochures for you of these adventure trips, and with your agreement we could go and make the bookings for you, in the evening."
I agreed wholeheartedly and so it was arranged and two days later I was off to do rafting for a week and then trekking. But that is a story in itself, so I will just say I had a great time and came back a lot fitter than when I left.
When I got off the bus in Kathmandu, from Pokhara where the trek ended, I went to the Suit Kake restaurant. . But this time the same girl was not smiling or singing. She came and took my order quietly, and left. I wondered what was wrong with her. I shrugged, drank my coffee, thanked her with a smile, and grabbed a taxi. I thought about the girl and wondered about her mood, as the taxi took me through the crowded streets and on to Sarah's.
When I got in the door, I headed for my room, as I was dog-tired and needed some kip. But it was not to be. Again little sister, grabbed my arm and led me to the kitchen where Ram and Rukesh were again talking business over a bottle of Eagle. They told me they were discussing their sister Kunja's wedding and had run into a bit of a problem.
"Kunja has had to make a number of trips back from Kathmandu where she works, to Calcutta, where her parents live and where the wedding will be held, for various things like dress fittings. She will go by bus and train, but she cannot go alone, it would not be correct and possibly not safe, and her sister who has accompanied her before, is away in Delhi at present."
Ram then paused and looked at me and continued, "Sarah said that before you went away on your rafting and trekking that you were thinking of travelling to Calcutta overland, to see a bit more of Nepal and India. Would you accompany Kunja?"
I took a swig of beer and thought about it for about the time it took me to swallow.
Ram and Rukesh had been good to me while I had been in Nepal, especially setting me up so well with a good guide company, and it would be nice to have female company, not realising I had already met Kunja at the Suit Kake. So I answered them,
"Aye, I would be glad to help you and Kunja. Will she be ready to go, in a about a week's time, as I have to get back to Scotland to work?"
Rukesh said, "No difficulty, that will suit her fine. Would you like me to arrange bus and train bookings and tickets?"
I thanked him, finished my beer, said my goodbyes and sloped off to bed and sleep.
All details were settled within the week, and I duly arrived at the bus depot with Sarah. Ram and Rukesh had come separately, and with them was, presumably, Kunja, but to me, this girl, was the girl in the Suit Kake restaurant.
It was dawn and pea-soup foggy, the bus depot yard was teeming with people, the ground was spattered with betel nut stains from people chewing and then spitting it out, and the aromatic smell of Bidi herbal tobacco. Kunja disappeared before I was introduced and the brothers seemed over-wrought at her disappearance, but she appeared again a few minutes later, smiling and saying she had gone to freshen up. The driver for our bus appeared suddenly from the depot, and hustled passengers, to board. I was hastily introduced to Kunja, and we said our goodbyes.We crushed into the bus, along with other passengers, and commandeered seats.
The bus trip was uneventful apart from the usual stops for toilet trips and food. Kunja and I, almost at the same moment said,
"I saw you at the Suit Kake restaurant? And we laughed at the simultaneity of our speaking the same thoughts. More time and miles went by and then I said,
"You know, when I first saw you, you seemed so happy, as if you were in love. Then the next time about three weeks later, when I came again to the restaurant, you were so downcast and obviously unhappy. Do you mind me asking why or what happened?"
Her face seemed to go through a gamut of emotions, and she hesitated for some moments before she replied.
"Ben, I don't love Roshan , the man I am to marry. My mother and father insist I marry a Nepali and because both families have known each other and been good friends for many years, and indeed Roshan and I are good friends but I do not love him. I love Phillipe. When you first saw me I had just been with Phillipe, and he makes me so happy!"
"Who is Phillipe", I asked, guessing he was not a Nepali.
"No he is not a Nepali, she had read my face. He is a Frenchman. I met him at the Alliance Francaise, where he was giving a course in French, and I was a student."
She told me more about her times with Phillipe, and her eyes and face and gestures told me how much she loved him. I felt sad for her, but did not know what more to say. So I just listened and nodded, bought food and drink, and looked after her.
After the bus, we caught the train to Calcutta and arrived in the early morning of the next day, at Howrah Station, Calcutta. We got our luggage, and caught a rickshaw to take us to her parent's place. I had a meal with them and then left for the airport. My trip back to Scotland was uneventful and I was met by my wife, Mourag, and we drove home and back to married life.
About a week later, when I got back from my office one evening, Mourag told me there was an email for me from Kathmandu. I thought it was probably from Sarah checking I had got home safely. It was from Sarah to say that, Roshan, while his unit was over in west Nepal, had been killed by Maoist rebels.
Another week went by, and then I got another email from Sarah, “Good news! Kunja's family have, under the circumstances, relented, and let her see Phillipe again. The wedding preparations were not in vain, because now, Kunja and Phillipe, are going to get married! Cool! Love, Sarah.
Notes. I originally ended the story with 'cool eh?" but after some research, felt that the 'eh' part was more Kiwi than Scots, and that just 'cool!' was more modern Scots.
I also decided to not try using , patois, or accent, mostly because I do not feel experienced enough to do it convincingly.