The Mountain's Bride
In the early morning mist of Delhi bus station, Felicity watched as her backpack was hoisted up to the roof of the bus to Nepal. Reaching into her shoulder bag she fingered the plane ticket which guaranteed her return home for the start of her Polytech course.
The bus driver tooted and the ticket boy shouted, ' Pokharapokharapokhara.' Felicity got in, scooting over to the window to make room for a woman who cradled her baby and nestled a small girl among the folds of her sari. The husband slid onto the outside edge of the seat.
The bus groaned out the gate, past the chai stalls and bullock carts. Concrete buildings gave way to rice fields and Felicity saw a line of brightly-sari'd women backing through the mud, setting green filaments of seedling rice deftly into the ground. The hours passed.
On the other side of the border, the family beside her seemed excited. At the food stop, their delight at the plain cuisine – 'Dal bhat!' said the woman, scooping rice and dal efficiently with her right hand and popping it into her daughter's mouth - made Felicity realise that for them this was not a holiday but a home-coming.
The road wound on through fields and villages as Felicity dozed in the afternoon heat. When she woke it was dusk and the little girl was leaning over her to look out the window. Every sill and verandah held flickering lights.
'Diwali!' said the girl, happily. 'Diwali,' agreed her father, and to Felicity, 'Festival of Light – like a Christmas.'
They reached the bus station in the dark and before Felicity could shoulder her pack, a man seized it and began forcing his way through the crowd. 'Hey!' yelled Felicity. 'Hotel,' he called over his shoulder. The man from the bus shouted something in Nepali and then said to Felicity, 'Is ok, I told him good hotel. Follow!' Felicity put her hands together, 'Namaste' and scurried after her pack.
It was a good hotel. In its restaurant, she opened the menu, expecting curry, and laughed. There was pizza, fried rice, lemon meringue pie.
In the morning, when she stepped out on to the balcony, she gasped. Towering above the village, its snow-covered flanks gleaming against the blue sky, was Machapuchare, the Fishtail. Beautiful and formidable, it looked like one of the moving mountains from Maori myth, come into town in search of a bride.
For the next two days Felicity explored the Lakeside shops and cafes where, by the second day, she was recognised and greeted like an old friend. By the third day, she felt like part of the hotel's family and on the fourth she scribbled columns of figures in her notebook, puzzling over her finances. Then she found an Internet cafe and emailed the Polytech: 'I would like to withdraw...'
Clicking 'send', she started another email. 'Dear Mum, I'll be staying on a bit longer...'