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Lions Roar : November 2016
stocked a few foreign magazines. It was my one tiny moment of connection with the world I had abandoned. I forked over 700 yen, collected the week’s edition of Time magazine and con- sulted it, as I always did, while ambling back through the quiet, sunlit lanes to my tiny room. As I was paging through the magazine, from the back, something caught the edge of my gaze that looked like a mis- print—or, more likely, a projection of an over-eager imagina- tion. There, in the Books pages, was a picture of someone who looked a bit like me—or, rather, like me in my previous life, in button-down shirt and striped tie. I knew the magazine was eager never to take notice of books written by its staff—even former members of the staff—but I looked again and there, among the eminences, was a small, friendly review of my book about whirlwinding across Asia, accompanied by a visa-sized picture. I had any number of other projects I’d been chafing to complete, and now, I felt, I could try to be a writer at last. “Diligence” and “social work” indeed! The Royal Astrologer didn’t know a thing. THAT WAS HALF A LIFETIME AGO, almost to the day, and more than a hundred seasons have passed. A few years after our visit, the palace in Kathmandu was torn apart by a crazy massacre and I had no doubt that the Royal Astrologer was no longer in service (if only because he would have been in trouble if he had predicted such a bloody coup—or if he hadn’t. Telling futures for the powerful has never been a reliable source of income). As for Kristin, her path of double sixes had continued, almost impossibly, for quite a while. Her boyfriend in the Vil- lage, like so many, was a committed Star Trek fan and, like thou- sands of Trekkies, no doubt, had sent in a script on spec to the program’s showrunners in Hollywood. Unlike most such fans, though, he’d seen his script accepted. He’d been flown out to L.A. and offered a full-time job with the program. He’d taken up a big house with Kristin in the Holly- wood Hills, a chief architect of the universe he’d once wor- shipped from afar. Few couples of my acquaintance had found such lustrous futures in their twenties. When I visited, Kristin and her beau seemed to have exceeded anything they might have hoped for, with their Spanish-style villa above the canyons, the red, open- top sports car, publishers and TV executives waiting to turn their words into pictures. But Kristin had always had a restless soul—perhaps the same soul that had brought her to Nepal and sent her out into the streets every evening—and somewhere along the way, in flight from stability but not sure exactly of what she wanted instead, she’d burned the life she’d found and lost it all. Now, in her early fifties, she lives alone with a beloved cat, tending to every lost animal, still writing, but in a world that doesn’t seem very interested in novels, especially from the not so young. Her strongest quality, though, remains her fierce attachment to her friends. She lives through them and with them, the centers of her universe, and keeps up with pals from high school in Tokyo and Delhi on a sometimes daily basis. She sends me warm and mischievous messages on my birthday and remembers every last detail of 1985. As the years have passed without bringing all the adventures that once seemed inevitable, she tells me that the trip to Kathmandu was one of the highlights of her life. And me? A couple of years after my first book came out, I sat in a car just under the yellow house above the clouds and watched a wildfire take it apart, every inch of it, so that every- thing I and my parents owned—not least the notes and outlines I’d drawn up for my next three books—was reduced to ash. In any case, I’d fallen under the spell of Japan and silence by then and decided to take on a wife and two kids, giving up my thoughts of becoming a writer, and simply turning out several articles a week to support an expanding household. Writing, I’d seen, demands a ferocious, all-consuming com- mitment, a refusal to be distracted—or, sometimes, even to be responsible. That would never be my gift. I smile when I hear people say that the young are too cred- ulous, too open, too ready to be transformed. I and my school friends were so much the opposite. It was only travel—being propelled beyond the world we thought we knew and could anticipate—that stripped us of our petty certainties, our flimsy defenses, our boyish confidence. It was only figures such as the Royal Astrologer who showed us that we didn’t know a thing. We sit on opposite sides of the world now—Kristin essen- tially a model of social work, with the passionate attention she brings to her friends, while I steadily meet my daily deadlines, the very picture of diligence—and see that life has much wiser plans for us than we ever could have come up with. The only one who really was exercising a writer’s imagination, the kind that sees the future as easily as the past, was the well-mean- ing man I had mocked as he tried to nudge us toward a truer understanding of who we really are—and were. ♦ From The Lonely Planet Travel Anthology 2016. © 2016 Lonely Planet (lonelyplanet.com) For a price, this mage who consulted with the palace on even its most import- ant decisions—When was the right day to pass some edict? Which time boded well for a royal birth?—was available to anyone who wished to see him. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2016 40