The boat began to bobble. In the distance, I heard rushing water.
“Row,” said, Vinod, with more urgency than he had before.
Keir immediately stuck his oar in the water and started paddling with vigor. In front of me, the others were doing the same. I wanted to turn around to check the children. But I was already a stroke behind and I didn’t want to tip the whole boat.
Dear God. Here it was. White Water. What the hell was I doing here? I wasn’t trained. None of us were, except maybe Keir. If one of us popped out of the boat and smashed our lifeless body against a boulder after being tossed around from jagged rock to jagged rock like a sea lion being flung by orcas before he was devoured, I would never forgive myself. Why hadn’t I thought this through? I had been seeing myself as Meryl Streep in that river movie that I never saw because I knew it would scare the shit out of me. But I knew what she’d be like in it anyway, because she’s always sensitive and oh-so-strong with flawless skin. I wasn’t Meryl Steep, I was a D-list actor -- one of the first idiots to be hacked to death in a slasher movie because I’d gone into the basement without thinking anything through! Why hadn’t I thought this through? What was I doing in the fucking basement?
We reached water that was swirling around rocks. Somehow we rowed between them. Water sprayed into our faces. We crashed up and down. Up and down. How were we hanging on? I didn’t know. I couldn’t feel my ass. But I was still on the boat. The children must be too, unless no one wanted to scream bad news at me over the pounding surf.
And, very soon – calm.
“Stop,” I heard Vinod say. We all lifted our oars out of the water.
That was it?
“Whoo hoo,” whooped Spencer behind me. “That was fun! Let’s do some more!”
“Yeah!” shouted Murphy.
The boat drifted. The two men in the banana boat up ahead smiled back at us. I turned around to see the kids beaming, barely damp from the spray. Pat and Keir smiled like they’d just finished a satisfying meal.
I had clearly been in an entirely different movie. “You see,” said Vinod, “Difficulty, zero.”
We bobbed and I tried to make out what had just happened. I looked back at the water we had just navigated. It would qualify as a very wide babbling brook. How could I have so misjudged the experience? Had my inherent fear about anything more physically challenging than leaning over to pick up a dropped potato chip altered my perception that radically?
Apparently, it had. Which is how, I supposed, fear could convince an entire population it was so threatened that allowing any ol' guy to carry a semi-automatic glock was a reasonable response.
“Row,” I heard Vinod say. I dipped my oar into the rippling water and reached and pulled with the others until we touched shore. Vinod told us that this was simply a stop on the way back to the campsite. He wanted to show us the ruins of a seventeenth century hunting lodge. A couple of guides helped us out of the boat and we followed Vinod up a hill. The path was overgrown and we had to push aside tall grasses and twigs as we progressed. At the top of the hill, we came upon the ruins. A couple of turrets flanked a small room. There was a fire pit in front and to one side, we saw a shrine to the god Ram, newly painted red orange. Clearly the lodge was still occasionally used by campers or hunters. I was impressed again, by what seemed to be a Hindu blending of the quotidian with worship.
“Up here,” Vinod called down from what appeared to be a concrete or stone mound. I looked up at him. “You can see the river.”
Murphy scrambled up to join him. I glanced at Spencer. Ever since he was a toddler, I’ve anticipated his fear of heights. I’ve looked at play structures and thought, “He’s never going to make that.” My heart has skipped a protective beat as I’ve struggled with how to soften his disappointment with himself for not being able to overcome his apprehension. This is where I found myself. Poised to comfort, as Spencer stepped onto the rock, timidly reaching out one hand to guide himself. His ascent wasn’t graceful. It was clearly difficult. But he continued, gingerly placing one foot then another.
“You can totally see the river, Spence,” Murphy crowed from the top, hanging onto Vinod’s hand.
As I watched Spencer ascend, I felt Pat and Keir beside me.
“He’s doing it,” Pat said.
“By himself,” I whispered, proud and only slightly wistful that he didn’t need me.
As Spence reached the top of what was probably a mere twelve-foot high monolith, Vinod reached out a hand and pulled him up to the summit. Pat, Murphy, and I erupted into cheers and applause. Teetering, Spencer turned to look down at Pat and me with a goofy grin. If our guides were confused by our familial enthusiasm for such a simple act, they didn’t betray it. Perhaps they had children too.
Pat and I scrambled up to meet the boys and Vinod. We gazed over the Betwa river, aglow with triumph. It was an invisible victory. But the four of us savored it. Spence had climbed a mountain and in a year when almost everything that could go wrong, had -- we had made it to India.
-- Yes, there's more. To be continued...
|Spencer and Murphy with Vinod|