"Just call me Shiva - like the god." Not even the most thick-skinned of jaded tourists could hear that without wincing, but it was only beginning.
"Heya! Name's Shivamurthi." Midway through his third Kingfisher, Shiva had stood up and begun to introduce himself to anybody who so much as glanced at him, grabbing hands when possible and shaking them vigorously. As loud as he was talking, he turned a lot of heads. Expatriate Tibetan waiters looked askance at the skinny American bobbing a ponytail with each new introduction. Shiva did not notice and got halfway around the room before Amber coaxed him back to the table, looking as embarrassed as I felt.
Jill and Drake were laughing, and Drake reached a hand up, palm open. "Right on, Shiva-ji! Gimme some skin!" Shiva nearly missed the hand and dropped loudly into his chair. He was normally quiet and easygoing, and seemed to be getting more so as the semester wound down, but you wouldn't know it as he drained the rest of his beer.
His thin face was drawn, almost fierce. He slammed the bottle down on the table. "I'm feeling lucky tonight! Let's go to the casino!"
Both Amber and Jill perked up. Drake grinned broadly. "Where do you want to go, the Crowne Plaza? The Everest? Or..." He was a confirmed gambler and had already won playing twenty-one at the Everest Hotel.
Drake raised an eyebrow. "It's expensive."
"I don't care. The place is swank. Plus," he winked, "I know a guy down there." His voice dropped. "He's got some good stuff."
"What are we waiting for? Let's go!" Drake led the sortie out into the cold and around the stupa to find a cab. I wasn't going, but I told them to come back to the room I shared with Drake when they were finished.
Looming above the prayer wall, the dome of the stupa was set with candles around its lower perimeter. A north wind had blown out some of them, and kept others sputtering, but they burned strongly in the lee of the dome. The warm scent of beeswax perfumed the damp air on that side. Shiva walked with his right hand outstretched, spinning the prayer wheels as he went, making a complete circuit of the stupa before coming again to the street egress. A waning moon illuminated curling omniscient eyes painted on the tower atop the dome. Drake had managed to hail one of the luxurious state-owned cabs and was calling for him. "Hurry up, Shiva! We're goin' in style!" They crowded in next to Jill and Amber, and the car smoothly accelerated down the road into town.
Turning the prayer wheels, treading clockwise circuits around the stupa, was said to bring merit to the humble. Did that hold true even for casino dealers? I imagined jaded middle-aged Nepali men, hiding scorn for their clients underneath their smiles and tuxedos, spinning roulette wheels in the smoky casinos of Kathmandu - but perhaps one of them, slightly younger, or older, travels each week to one of the monasteries behind the stupa to study, completing cycles of prostration around the stupa. He brings Buddha-mind to work, spins his wheel secretly transfixed in meditation - his mind overflowing with emerald, ruby and sapphire beams of light descending from a host of dakinis and yogis, while above all sits Shakyamuni, the Enlightened, unperturbed by the foolish play of the world.
Drake entered our room crowing, just after midnight. He carried the portable heater from the guest house common room. "Man, you should have seen it! I lost a ton, but Shiva ripped the place apart! I've never seen dice rolling like that! Hey, how much did you win?" He called back down the hall to Shiva as he handed me the cord. "Here, plug this in, will you?" The unheated room was barely warmer than outside; I wore a heavy yak-wool sweater against the chill.
Shiva floated in on unsteady legs. Amber supported him on one side. "Yeah..." his voice was a thready whisper, and his eyes glittered. He shrugged and gave a faraway smile. "Dunno how much. More'n'nough to buy this..." He was barely able to stand, but managed to draw two small foil squares from an inside pocket of his vest. He dropped one for the girls on Drake's bed and wobbled across the room to sit down on mine. Unfolding the second square, he dumped about half the powder in his hand, then lifted and tossed it back with his head, snorting with alacrity. Drake took the remainder through a tube of paper, sitting in the room's only chair. Cross-legged on Drake's bed, Jill and Amber opened their packet and did the same. In a moment Jill cried out.
"Oh! Gawd! This is..." Her eyes watered and she sniffed a few times. "Awful! What was that? I've done coke before. It didn't hurt like that."
Amber made a face. "Harsh. Damn it, what the hell did you get, Shiva? Some junkie's leftovers cut with - "
"Never mind," Drake said. "I feel it." He smiled and dug a small candy tin out from under his mattress. He opened it and withdraw a black stick, the end of which he rolled in the flame of his lighter until it smoked. He crumbled the hash into a small pile of tobacco, then began rolling tubes of cigarette paper around the mix, licking the edge of each tube and twisting the ends together. He offered one to Amber and lit up another himself. He took a deep drag and passed it to Shiva, who reached for it in slow motion, inhaled interminably, then passed it back without exhaling. Smoke leaked out of his nose. Without a sound, still in slow motion, Shiva tipped sideways on the bed and closed his eyes. Drake chuckled, kindly. "A little too much to drink, I guess. I told him to go easy on the shots at the casino." He got up to put on an old tape of the Velvet Underground, then relaxed back in the chair. The three of them smoked in silence, listening to Lou Reed's papery croon.
Amber got up to go to the bathroom. When she returned, she stooped next to Shiva, shaking him gently. She suddenly stood up and snapped off the tape player. "Drake." Fear buttoned her voice. "His lips are blue." She bent down again. "I can't hear him breathing. Is he breathing?"
We stretched him flat on his back and tried to wake him. Someone slapped his cheek, tentatively. "Shiva! Shivamurthi! Wake up. Can you hear me?" We felt stupid speaking such words that seemed fit for an afternoon soap opera.
Shiva did not stir. I held my hand before his nostrils, feeling nothing, and then put my ear there. His breath was almost undetectable.
"Somebody better go get Peter. He'll know what to do. Drake?" Drake left the room, his footsteps clattering from the stairs.
"Oh, shit." Jill was almost in tears. "Peter's gonna kill us. He warned us never to do this kind of thing." Amber said nothing but continued trying to wake Shiva, rubbing his hands and patting his face. His face had never been tan, but now it was the color of chalk. Freckles stood out like specks of mud on his face.
Peter burst into the room pulling a sweater on over a white thermal shirt, his curly blond hair pushing through the neck hole, unevenly frizzed. He had evidently been asleep. Without a word he bent over Shiva, felt his pulse with one hand and gently curled up an eyelid with the other. The tissue was the color of cheap bologna. Peter swore and stood up, looking up at us furiously. He was half a head shorter than Drake. "I don't know what in hell you-all thought you were doing. Trying to buy cocaine in Asia! Jesus Christ!"
The door across the hallway opened, and Curt walked out blinking, awakened by the noise. He wore heavy sweats and thick knitted socks. "What's - "
Peter interrupted him. "Curt. Go see if you can find a cab. We've got to get him to the hospital." Curt nodded and ran back to his room, dashing out seconds later with his coat and sandals.
"Shouldn't we - " Amber swallowed nervously. "Can we call an ambulance?"
Peter had his fingers on Shiva's wrist and was looking at his watch, counting under his breath. He gave a short laugh and finished counting, then swore softly. "In the middle of the night? There are no ambulances after dark in Kathmandu. We'll be lucky to find a taxi anywhere in Boudha, at his hour. Keep checking his pulse." He stood up.
Curt appeared at the door, panting. "I flagged down a tourist bus. Only thing in sight. Driver wants twenty bucks." He grimaced. "I've only got rupees and travelers' cheques." Peter opened his wallet and extracted a bill. "Go tell him to wait, then come back and give us a hand." He nodded at Drake and me. "Let's get him to the bus."
Shiva was surprisingly heavy, but carrying him wasn't difficult until we got to the bus. We couldn't all get through the door. Peter hoisted him up by himself, then we got him laid down on a seat. Curt jumped out again and left at a run. The idling motor roared and we started down the empty street, cold air blowing into the open windows. The bus had no other passengers and was dark inside. Peter shouted over the engine as the bus hurtled onto the Ring Road and careened northward.
"Curt went to tell Clay. In case of any trouble Clay will call the embassy. The police may raid our rooms looking for other drugs. Possession of cocaine can be a capital offense here. Prison at the very least. Did you know that? I hope to god that wasn't cocaine." He paused. "If you have anything else in your rooms, I mean anything else, you're going to have to get rid of it before dawn."
Drake looked down. "I already threw it away."
Peter looked around. "Anyone else?"
The bus slammed over a pothole and swayed violently.
No one spoke the rest of the way to Teaching Hospital.
Shiva lay on the only gurney in the dark emergency ward. Pale green light from the EKG monitor played over his face, the phosphorescent traces blipping steadily for a few beats before leaping off the screen, wildly oscillating, then limping back into a jerky rhythm. There were no other patients there, and no doctors. Our arrival had awakened a single nurse who slept on a gurney near the swinging double doors, under a thin blanket. He rolled off the gurney and pushed it outside, yawning, and waited as we maneuvered Shiva out of the bus. He helped wheel Shiva inside and wordlessly attached probes to his wrist and chest, then punched a call button twice. "A doctor will be here soon." He spoke with only a trace of an accent. He proceeded to fill a syringe with fluid, scrubbed Shiva's chest with a swab and injected the fluid, watching the monitor. There was no noticeable response. The doctor entered several minutes later, frowning. The nurse was speaking to him rapidly in a low voice, and he cut off Peter's expostulations with a wave. "I'm sorry. I have other patients in serious condition. We cannot fully staff the ER at night. What is his name?" He took a clipboard from a hook on the wall.
The doctor stared. "What?"
Peter began to spell the name, but the doctor interrupted him angrily. "I know how to spell it!" He did not ask for a last name, but filled out several other spaces on the form. "All right." The doctor took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a moment. "Excuse me. It has been a long night. I am Dr. Deepankar. Obviously your friend is suffering from chemical overdose. Please tell me everything that he ingested. His life depends on it." Drake broke the silence, hesitantly. "Well, he had about six drinks over the course of the night. Three beers, and later on three mixed drinks." Deepankar nodded as he wrote. "Also..." Drake hesitated. "I know he was taking a lot of diazepam. It used to be just a few tabs a day, but ever since he got back from Tibet he's been depressed."
"How long ago was that?"
"A few weeks."
"And how much Valium has he been taking daily? Two, three tablets?"
Drake looked uncomfortable. "I'm not sure. But I think more than that."
The doctor shook his head. "I'm surprised the pharmacies sold him that much." Drake shrugged.
"Well..." Drake looked at Peter, who nodded slightly. "After we left the casino he took us over to Freak Street and went down some alley. He said he knew someone back there. He came back with a little hash and, um, he said he had done some cocaine as well. But I don't think it was that." He ended in a rush.
Deepankar's face bore no reaction to the obvious lie we had concocted. He probably had heard such lame explanations before. Nobody bought hash in an alley at night unless they were too stupid to know you could buy any time of the day it in the back of almost any store that sold to tourists.
"How much?" Deepankar was now a model of clinical dispassion.
"A few grams - I mean, I'm just guessing."
"How much hash did he smoke? Can you estimate? The sticks sold on the street are about twenty grams each."
"Um...maybe ten grams? It's hard to say. I didn't - make the cigarettes, so I'm not sure how much went into them."
"He smokes a half a pack a day. Probably more than that today."
Dr. Deepankar sighed as he finished his notes. "He is breathing with great difficulty, and he has severe cardiac arrythmia. The first injection of adrenaline did nothing. I'm afraid to strain his heart any more. Kishore!" He spoke now to the nurse. "Please get ready to move - Shiva - to the ICU. He will need an IV. Respirator teyyar gareko..." He finished the instructions rapidly in Nepali peppered with recognizable English words, mostly medical terms.
Kishore disconnected the EKG leads and motioned the others to follow him as he wheeled the gurney away. Dr. Deepankar held Peter and me behind for a moment. He spoke quietly.
"I have to warn you that, even if a blood test shows nothing, we are compelled to report to the police any incident involving cocaine or other illegal narcotics. I suggest you be prepared for an investigation. Now, I have to check on my other patients. Kishore will intibate your friend for respiration." He jogged out, looking at his watch.
Peter stood indecisively for a moment, then said, "I'm going to have to call Clay and the embassy. I'll be up there as soon as I can. Make sure nothing happens to him!"
The way to the intensive care unit passed through an interminably long corridor that turned at right angles halfway down its length. Fluorescent tubes lit the corridor starkly, white walls interrupted only by doors to individual recovery wards; in a few places, families slept on the cold tile, huddled near a door. At the end of the corridor, I-C-U was stenciled on double glass doors leading to a small suite of rooms.
Shiva was in 3A. A respiration vent stuck out of his mouth; an IV tube dangled from a clear bag of dextrose solution hanging over his head, terminating in a bandage at his wrist. Kishore had disappeared, and an orderly was on his knees before a dusty metal box on wheels, fiddling with something inside. He forcefully withdrew a long strip of rubber and threw it to the ground. "It is broken. Compressor drive belt chaiyye." He seemed nonplussed and opened a cabinet on the wall, taking out a blue plastic bulb that he fitted to the end of the tube and began squeezing rhythmically. "Do not worry. I have seen many times before like your friend. He will be fine. He is having some too much fun, hmmm?" The orderly smiled.
Drake cleared his throat. "Ah, shouldn't you hook him up to the EKG over there?" He nodded to the monitor standing blank over in the corner.
"Oh, that one does not work. Don't worry, you can feel his pulse. See?" He demonstrated the technique.
Drake paled and immediately sat down, taking Shiva's free wrist and searching for the hollow between the tendons, below the thumb. He nodded slowly.
Peter entered, looking haggard. "Someone from the embassy will be here soon. Clay is getting the rest of the house ready for a raid. How's Shiva?" Drake began filling him in on the state of the machines.
The orderly was looking at the clock. As the hand reached one, he let go of the bulb and stood up to stretch. "I am off duty now. You can take over." He began to walk out of the room.
Peter grabbed his arm. "Wait a minute! You can't just - show us how to do that!" The orderly spoke as though to a dimwitted child. "It's very easy - no more than twenty times per minute, no fewer than fifteen." With a wave, he left.
Peter took the bulb and began squeezing, counting to himself as he watched the second hand. "I can't believe it."
We took turns ventilating Shiva for the next hour and a half, while Drake, Jill and Amber rotated on his pulse. Amber's face was blank, but Jill was crying. "I swear to God, I will never do this again."
Drake looked somber. "We should have seen this coming. I knew I shouldn't have let him have so much."
Peter looked up. "Are the rest of you feeling OK? You took the same shit." The three of them nodded slowly. "A little sleepy." "My head hurts, but I'm OK." Amber said nothing.
Kishore finally entered with a replacement belt, and soon the clank and hiss of the respirator marked time with the clock. Drake stood up as Amber took his place at Shiva's wrist, and we went into the corridor. Drake spoke in a low voice. "I'm having a hard time staying awake. Shiva told me earlier that only one packet was genuine. Whatever it was, it's strong. I just want to lie down and sleep."
"Can you make it?"
"I think so. I'm going outside to find some chai and have a smoke."
"Do you want me to come with you?"
"Better stay in case Peter needs you. No telling what will happen next." He shook his head.
"Narcan." Dr. Deepankar had been taking Shiva's blood pressure every five minutes and didn't like the progression. "Narcotic antagonist - it will arrest the progression of the drugs. It's the standard control for narcotics overdose. We don't keep it on stock here - you'll have to get some from the CIWEC Clinic." He jotted an address on a slip of paper and handed it to me. "It's next to the Yak and Yeti Hotel on Durbar Marg. Hurry!" A lone rickshaw driver slept in his vehicle in front of the hospital. He stirred as I jumped in the back. "CIWEC Clinic. Durbar Marg. Juldi, juldi!" The man kicked the tiny two-stroke to life and twisted open the throttle.
We raced down empty streets, swerving to avoid potholes. Not a single light burned in the squat buildings on either side of the road, and where there were no streetlamps the rickshaw shot forward in darkness. He hammered the back of the light with his hand, but seemed accustomed to driving without it. He finally stopped in front of the clinic house, a two-story brick building behind large rhododendrons.
An older man finally opened to the insistent knocking, and I explained the request. He picked up a telephone, dialed and then handed it to me. "I cannot give without permission. You must speak with the head doctor."
"Hello?" A sleepy voice spoke into my ear.
I explained the situation to her as rapidly as I could.
"They sent you for narcan?" She sounded puzzled. "They should have some at the hospital. Well, hand the phone back to Bhairaj."
Bhairaj listened for a moment, then hung up the receiver and opened a locked case on the wall. He extracted four glass ampoules from the case and handed them to me. His cot stood in the corner, rumpled blanket thrown to one side.
He nodded without smiling and locked the door behind me. I ran for the rickshaw.
After injecting the first ampoule, Deepankar said, "If he doesn't repond to the first dose within fifteen minutes, I'll have to double it. We continue to double until he responds." He looked at the remaining three ampoules. "You'd better go back and get at least another three - more if they have it."
Peter nodded. "Go ahead." For the second time, I ran down the corridor. The same driver was waiting outside.
Halfway to the clinic, the rickshaw plunged into December fog rolling up from the Bagmati river. The driver hammered the headlight again, and a cone of yellow radiance suddenly illuminated the mist, making objects beyond the edge of the cone even harder to see. The corners of cubic, multistory concrete houses drifted in and out of visibility, and the road ahead disappeared into formless murk. The high buzz of the motor seemed muffled, and after a few minutes I could have been sitting forever, hunched forward with cold fog in my nostrils, watching the bright oval of pavement scrolling toward me. Peter had described meditation as dwelling in tranquility, a perception of the duality of awareness and emptiness. What would he call this?
The second time, the CIWEC doctor sounded positively annoyed. "What is it?" "The doctor at Teaching Hospital sent me for more narcan. He says he needs it so he can double the dosage if there's no response."
There was a sound of confusion, as though the handset had been dropped, and then her words came piercing from the receiver. "Listen carefully," she said. "That dosage-doubling procedure is twenty years out of date! If the first dose doesn't work in a case like this, you try something else. Your friend was probably given barbiturates, not cocaine. Narcan in high doses acts like morphine - it will depress his respiration even further. It could kill him! You get back there and stop them from giving any more!"
Deepankar was holding a syringe in one hand and Shiva's arm in the other as I burst into the room. "Did you get it?" he asked. Peter was not in the room. Drake, Jill and Amber were sitting on a bench outside the door.
"No! Look, don't give him any more!" I pulled his arm away from Shiva. "What?" He grew angry.
"The CIWEC doctor refused to give me any more and said you shouldn't administer more than one dose!"
"I gave the second one twenty minutes ago. He still hasn't responded. He needs the third dose! Why didn't you bring more?"
"I'm telling you that dosage doubling is wrong! The American doctor said -"
"The American doctor is not here," Deepankar said coldly. "I have treated many, many overdose cases using narcan this way. Most of them were Americans."
Was he right? If they used narcan so frequently, why didn't they keep any in stock? "Look," I said, trying to placate him. "I don't know what's right. But the CIWEC doctor wouldn't release any more narcan to me. I'm just trying to help my friend there. What would you do if you were me?"
His eyes seemed to cool, and his voice relaxed. "Very well," he said. "If you do not want me to inject the last ampoule, I will not. But you must understand that you are interfering with the attending doctor's prescribed treatment. If he dies, the hospital will not be responsible." He dropped the syringe into a plastic can and walked out of the room. Outside the window, the setting moon shone on dark bodhi and deodar trees. Pale wisps of fog were blowing past, and soon nothing but dim grayness was visible.
Drake and Jill had fallen asleep on the bench, and Amber was dozing in another chair in the lobby. Peter had not returned. The grind and hiss of the respirator filled the room. Shiva's pulse seemed to be stable and slowly strengthening.
A light knock sounded. A slim Nepali man of medium height entered the room and offered his hand. I shook it. His face was round and slightly pockmarked, but not unhandsome. He had a cultivated smile.
"I am Inspector Moktan. I am a doctor, but I work with the police to solve narcotics cases. You see -" He motioned me into a chair. "Many Americans come here and buy marijuana. That's not so bad. Other drugs, too. The police don't care that much about the users, although they must enforce the law. Their concern is with those who sell drugs, especially the hard drugs. Your friend - " He inclined his head toward Shiva - "bought cocaine from someone? Do you know where?"
"Well..." What exactly had Drake told Deepankar? Could they arrest Shiva for use of narcotics? Most certainly, but would they? "I wasn't with them, you understand. I heard after the fact that they stopped at an alley somewhere on Freak Street. I really don't know where or who. I don't think whatever he bought was cocaine." "Did -" he glanced at his notes and raised his eyebrows. "Did... Shiva go often to buy there?"
Probably. "No, of course not. This was the first time he bought any such thing."
"And did anyone else besides Shiva use the drugs?"
Why do you think they didn't stir when you knocked just now? "No, never."
"Do you know who told Shiva where to buy cocaine in Kathmandu?"
"I'm sorry, I have no idea." This was the truth. "We are students here, studying Buddhist meditation and the arts and culture of Nepal." Truth. "Using drugs is against the rules of our program." Truth. "It interferes with the state of awareness we are supposed to reach in meditation." I used to argue with Shiva and the others about that one. "I don't know why Shiva would have gone looking for drugs." But after hearing the bitter fights with his father over the phone, I could guess. "We were all warned against using any kind of narcotics here." Absolutely true. "I'm sure that neither Shiva nor anyone else tried to buy anything before."
Moktan politely ignored the lie, but his tone was grave. "Do you realize that not just possessing, but attempting to buy narcotics in Nepal is a serious offence? If the police decide to arrest him, there is little your embassy will be able to do. Any further information you can give me about this incident will encourage the authorities to treat him... leniently." Or give them further incentive for incarceration.
"I'm sorry, Inspector. There's nothing more I can tell you about it."
We sat in uncomfortable silence for a few minutes. Moktan finally spoke.
"So, you are spending the semester studying in Nepal. Is this your first time outside of the United States?"
"No, I spent some time in Russia earlier."
"Really?" Moktan perked up. "Vy govoritye po-russkiy?"
"Of course," I answered in Russian. It was a relief to speak unconsidered truth, and the new tongue seemed to open a door for both of us, cracking veneers. "When did you live in Russia?" I had just returned from Moscow that summer, and found the Russian words still fresh and well-honed. Their meaning tumbled effortlessly from the syllables we spoke. "I received my medical education in Moscow. I studied there for eight years, so of course I learned to speak Russian fluently."
"Why did you study in Moscow?"
"It was much easier than going to the United States. The Soviet Union educated many doctors from Africa, Nepal, India and other poor countries around her borders. The Russian government provided everything: books, housing, meals, even an allowance to visit our families every year. The first few years were difficult, of course, and some of the other students looked down on us..." Moktan spoke more rapidly as he remembered, and I began to have trouble following him, but the gist of his story was plain.
"...Worked hard to learn medicine, and studied some linguistics and philosophy as well. ...I felt rather lonely at times, the other doctors weren't unkind but you never really had family there. ...Unfortunate the way the Soviet Union dissolved. Of course there were problems, but the dream of a worker's paradise was a good one. I like the United States, too, but the capitalist system can be very harsh. ...Freedom is valuable, but there must also be responsibility. Don't you agree?"
"Oh, absolutely. People these days forget about responsibility. They do whatever they want, as it strikes them.... Children don't spend time with their parents any more...." "...alcohol and drugs to solve their problems..."
"...world is changing so rapidly, it's hard to know what to make of it..."
The conversation rambled on for another half an hour, and by the end of it I could hardly remember a word I had spoken. Finally Moktan stood up. "Well, it was a great pleasure to speak with you. Good luck to your friend. I hope he recovers fully. Do svidaniya!" He walked out past Peter, who was just entering.
Peter hurried over. "Who was that?"
"A police inspector, I think. I was speaking with him in Russian." "What did he say?"
"I'm not sure, but if Shiva survives, I don't think there will be any problem."
Early that morning, Shiva woke, flailing arms. I grabbed one of his hands. Terror shone from his eyes and he gasped through the tube in his mouth. "It's all right. We're all here. Relax." The soothing calm in my voice surprised me with its complete artificiality. Gradually Shiva relaxed, and passed out again.
Later that morning, the embassy representative stopped by. "Don't worry, Peter, they won't arrest him," he was saying. "The worst he may face is deportation. The only American in jail right now was put there for dealing. We bring him food and medicine, that kind of thing."
Later still, Dr. Deepankar came with a chemical analysis of the blood sample he had taken. "No cocaine," he said. "What was sold to him was a strong barbiturate. And he had taken at least thirty-five milligrams of diazepam in addition to the hashish and alcohol. Thirty-five! That's seven times the safe maximum. He needs some professional treatment. It's amazing he survived this, especially" - he glanced at me - "given the circumstances." Deepankar bent to take Shiva's pulse. "He's not out of danger yet," he said. "I want to keep him here at least another twenty-four hours. I won't take him off of the respirator until I know he is awake and can breath on his own. And the police will want to speak with him before he leaves. I suggest you make arrangements for him to leave as soon as he is well. Under no circumstances is he to drink or smoke yet!"
Shiva sat between Drake and me in the small terminal at Tribhuvan International Airport. He had not mentioned the hospital since the closing banquet at the Yak and Yeti, when he quietly thanked everyone for their help and apologized for the trouble he had caused. It was (he had laughed weakly) not the first time, but he meant it to be the last. Now he sat drumming his fingers on his leg and abruptly said, "Wish I could have a smoke or something." His hand strayed to his vest pocket, then fell back.
Peter had gone to make a final call to Mr. Stewart, Shiva's father. "I met him once in Colorado," Drake had told me on the way back from the hospital. He and Shiva had gone to college together in Boulder. "Very successful. I didn't like him." Apparently Steven Sr. had made a fortune on the housing boom in Aspen, selling mansions to the likes of Marty Robbins. He tolerated his only son's interest in meditation with something less than respect. After the latest debacle, he insisted that someone keep an eye on his son at all times.
Shiva kept looking at his watch and tapped his foot nervously. Steven Sr. had refused to hear his pleas to stay an extra week in Thailand, and made sure that Peter would accompany him at least as far as LAX.
Shiva stood up abruptly. "I can stand it. I'm going to get a drink." He strode off towards the lounge. I looked at Drake, who shrugged.
"One won't hurt him, will it? He needs it."
Shiva returned a few minutes later, sipping a large rum and Coke. "This should do it. I hate traveling."
Drake elbowed him gently. "Don't worry, man. It'll be fine."
Shiva shook his head, gulped the drink and coughed, looking to make sure Peter was not in sight. He drained the plastic cup and tossed it under a chair in the next aisle. His lank hair hung straight over his neck, and his eyes were still bloodshot. He gripped the black plastic arms of the seat for several minutes, gradually relaxing until he was slumped back. He smiled, and swept his hand in a graceful ascent away from the side of the chair.
"Just so long as I'm flying before the plane is."
Matthew Davies is currently attending graduate school at Columbia in NYC. This is his first published creative non-fiction piece. He is at work on a novel.