Dan Yokum

Eric walked slowly into the village of Marpha, convinced he had reached somewhere truly unique and magical. The dirt and cobble of the wide path transitioned to an ancient walkway made of flat stone rectangles of various sizes and formats. On his right was a stone wall that held a long line of prayer wheels and he carefully touched each one with his index finger, flicking it into a gentle spin. He marveled at the white-washed stacked stone buildings, tall and tight against the main thoroughfare—only an alleyway—the elaborate roof overhangs, the doors and windows trimmed with reddish wood. He greeted each person he met with a smile and a namaste, and usually received the same in return. He walked through the length of the town until the buildings ended, there was a new wall of prayer wheels, and the stone walkway again turned back to dirt. After a few hundred feet, he veered onto a small steep side trail and, in minutes, found a perch high enough above the village that he could examine the elaborate roofs, also constructed from flat stones; he wondered what sort of labor or technique was involved in clearing them off when it snowed. He looked past the village and, although from where he sat he couldn’t see the nearby Himalayan giant peaks, Dhaulagiri in back of him and Annapurna hidden from view behind the mountains across the river valley in front of him, he was excited just knowing they were out there. He could stay here, at least for a few days.

Although it was late in the day, he was not concerned that he hadn’t eaten since much earlier and didn’t know where he was going to sleep. Something would work out, it always did. At the very least, he had a jar filled with cold rice and lentils from earlier in the day and he could always sleep outside in a field. He had done that the night before, not so much by choice, but because he had gotten mixed in with a large Spanish expedition heading to Annapurna who had taken over any inside places to sleep in the small village he had stopped at. He ended up on the floor of a smoky room with about twenty of the Spanish plus a dozen or so trekkers, shoulder to shoulder, lights out early, the door locked with some kind of wooden bar that could somehow be lifted to get out—which he did later that night. Lying next to him was an itinerant holy man (sadhu) from India Eric had walked with for a few hours who was going past Jomosom—the farthest point Westerners were allowed to trek at that time without a special permit—to a Hindu holy shrine in a tiny village high up in the clouds called Muktinath, where he said he was going to have a conversation with Shiva. Eric had almost argued with the building’s owner because he objected to an Indian sadhu with no money mooching off him and told him to sleep outside. But Eric had kept it together for once, much easier for him when it wasn’t a Westerner pissing him off. He paid double for the sadhu and hinted that, if it wasn’t OK, he would leave and talk many of the others into also leaving. The upside was that, before the room went dark, the sadhu produced a chillum, ground a little hashish into it, took a hit, and handed it to Eric, who did the same. When Eric passed it back, the sadhu snuffed it out and said, “A little bit, mind control. Too much, no mind control.” Eric kicked back with that one, so relieved that it wasn’t going to be a visit like the one he’d had with the Parvati Charas (hashish) he still had in his pack—even one hit of that was way too much, absolutely no mind control going on there and, although Parvati is the consort—something like a wife—of Shiva, he vetoed his original idea to give it away to the sadhu. Even so, he’d woken up in the middle of the night in a claustrophobic panic, crawled over sleeping grumpy bodies to the barred door, which took a loud minute in the dark to figure out how to get open, and slept on the side of the trail in the widest open space he could blessedly imagine. The distant howling of some large beasts disturbed him only so much before he fell deeply asleep.

He had bought the hashish the day he’d arrived in Kathmandu a week earlier, at the government run Eden Hashish Centre in the center of Kathmandu. It was the first thing he did when he got off the bus he’d taken from the Nepal/Indian border. He had shown the Nepalese man behind the counter a menu-card he’d gotten from an American friend that had “Parvati Charas” listed in the “strong hashish” category, and wasn’t at all concerned when the man laughed and said, “You sure you want this? Very strong.”

All this was happening to Eric, small items, while, at the same time, far reaching deals were being made and much bigger changes were on the horizon. It was 1972, the same year Nixon went to China, met with Mao and made an assortment of Realpolitic agreements—an historic event on a global scale but with a lot of fallout in local places that most people around the world would never know about or care about. Due to its strategic location between India and China, Nepal was swept into the various concerns. For starters, because Vice-President Spiro Agnew had visited Kathmandu and was shocked by the blatant disregard among the western hippies, many of them Americans, for Nixon’s war on drugs, demands for change were placed on the Nepalese government. A year later the Hashish Centre was forced to change its name to the Eden Hotel and could only sell cannabis derived products literally under the table—they were no longer on display but, if you asked for something specific, it appeared from a cabinet under the counter.

Of much greater import was the betrayal and abandonment of the CIA backed Tibetan freedom fighters who lived and assembled mostly north of Marpha in the upper parts of the Mustang Province and for years had conducted border raids into Chinese-occupied Tibet. They were no longer needed, no longer part of the much larger chess game being played by the superpowers, and Nepal was given the in-no-uncertain-terms command to disband them. This was an order that the freedom fighters were not going to agree to and, two years later, when the inevitable shoving match was about to begin, they threatened to storm out of Mustang and into the southern region—the small Nepali villages and countryside where trekkers and mountaineers were allowed to roam—and tear it all up. It was only the intervention of the Dalai Lama that diffused the situation.

After buying the hashish, Eric wandered the streets, checking out the scene. It was as had been described to him: filled with freaks and hippies from around the world, the majority white kids from Europe, the US, and Australia, buying a few things, eating in the restaurants or on the street, but mostly hanging out. “Doing not much” was his thought and his attitude popped up, just like it had when he’d first landed in Bombay a few months earlier—the starting point of his South Asian backpack circuit—and saw the homeless European junkies sleeping on the streets. Followed a few weeks later by the naked or nearly naked beautiful people, showing no respect for local mores, crowding the very “in” beaches in coastal Goa. And now this. It didn’t occur to him that he looked and was dressed exactly like every other Western male on the street: messy hair to his shoulders, face not shaven for a month or more, sandals, cotton drawstring pants, tank top, a wooden bead necklace. And he’d just bought a big chunk of the best hashish. But he was different because he had plans, had specific things he wanted to see and do including a meeting back in India in a few weeks, to meet Sharab, his Tibetan correspondent, a monk in training who he hoped was going to help him. And that’s how it always was with him: something else to do, someplace else to go, someone else to meet. He could tell himself he didn’t want to be around the Westerners’ entitled laziness but the truth was, if he stopped for too long, hung out doing not much, he couldn’t stay ahead of himself, and the perpetual unease he felt these days would catch up with him.

He ran into two Australians he had met in India and they got a room together a block off the main street and, with an American girl from Long Island, immediately attacked the hash. Two hits, three hits, four hits, my God it was insane! They crossed the street and stumbled into a Tibetan restaurant for momos and chang (Tibetan barley beer) which they could barely order. He examined his cohorts and couldn’t help himself, he thought they were hysterical. He’d forgotten the Aussies were surfers, laid back types, and they played the role, with their heads propped in their hands, eyes half shut, laughing at anything. The girl was pure New York, at first also funny until she thought she’d lost her passport somewhere. His mood quickly shifted and he felt terrible for getting her so high and spent hours—or minutes—clawing through her paisley cotton bag until he triumphantly dug out the passport and laid it on the table. But what about his own state of mind? He was now not enjoying any of it: the mental scramble, the smiling knowing stares from the restaurant workers and other patrons. When his food came, he powered it down and said, “I’m outta here.” He went to his room and slept dead through the night, aware of nothing until the street volume amped up the next morning. He stayed another day in Kathmandu, then took a bus to Pokhara, where the roads ended and the trekking trails began, Himalayan high peaks already towering in the distance and, instead of taking the standard week or more to leisurely hike to Marpha, hurried there in four days.

He decided he wasn’t going to sleep outside that night, he would find one of those bed, dinner, and breakfast guesthouses he had heard about that were not much more than a few rooms in somebody’s home—still a few years from becoming more formal lodging with signs on the doors. As he reached the prayer wheels on the way back into the village, a boy about ten years old rushed up to him, took his hand and said in passable English, “You come with me and I take you to the best restaurant and hotel.” It was endearing—he loved it and happily went along. A minute later he was back on the main walkway and was led through one of the wooden doors and into a small room with a couch and a desk.

A Nepali man rushed into the room, introduced himself as Sharma, and said, “We have one bed in room with others. That OK?” He smiled and seemed excited.

“Yes, that’s fine.”

“All other rooms taken tonight. We have,” he searched for the English word, “reunion.”

“Is it Tibetans?”

“Yes! Yes! Two brothers. One living here and one only now escaping from China, not seeing for many years.”

“That’s wonderful!”

“Very happy. We celebrate tonight. Come. I will take you to the room.”

They walked down a short hall with two doors on either side. Sharma knocked on one and said, “Hello, hello,” and a young Western man opened it.

“Hello, I have other person for your room. Now all full it will be cheaper.”

“Oh, sure, thank you.” He looked at Eric and said, “Come on in. Your bed’s right over there.”

Eric laid his pack on the bed. There were two other people, a young man and a woman, sitting close together on another bed. He introduced himself, “My name’s Eric. Eric Hoffman.”

The woman said, “I’m Gisella and this is Hans” and the one who answered the door said, “I’m Fritz.” Even without the names, Eric would have known by the accents that he was going to be sharing the room with three Germans. He was mostly OK with that—because of who he was, he’d been especially careful about attitudes towards Germans he’d met and actually found them to be a little less ostentatious, less flaunting, more reserved as they moved around the South Asian circuit.

He said, “I hear there is going to be a reunion tonight. Two Tibetan brothers.”

“One of them is already here,” Gisella said. “Next door. It will probably be quite a party.”

“I hope they’re not too loud,” Hans said. “I’d like to get some sleep.”

They sat on the beds and talked about where they’d traveled in the last month, where they were going next, their most and least favorite places. Mostly it was Eric and Fritz with Gisella adding a few comments and Hans not saying much at all. Eric learned that they had been on the  circuit for two months and gone to many of the same places he had, that Gisella and Hans were a couple, going into their third year together, and Fritz was Gisella’s brother. After a half-hour, Hans said he was hungry and they should find food. They went out to the stone walkway and the same young boy was there who had brought Eric to his lodging.

“Someplace to eat?” Eric asked.

“Yes, you come. Follow me!”

There was no sign, just another door, and the boy led them into a simple room with not much else in it but two tables, each with four plain wooden chairs. And no other customers. A woman sitting on a stool in the corner hopped up when they entered and said, “Five rupees each. I bring food and to drink.” She came back a few minutes later with plates of rice and lentils with a few potato pieces mixed in, left and came back again with four glasses and a large bottle of chang (barley beer). The food was far from great but warm and filling and, with a few glasses of chang, Eric felt pretty good, happy to be there. The others, not so much.

Hans mumbled, “I am so sick of this food. This is not good.” Gisella nodded in agreement and Eric and Fritz didn’t comment. The three switched to German and Eric could somewhat follow the conversation: more complaining.

They finished eating and bought two more bottles of chang to bring back to their room. When they went through the door to their lodging, the little reception room was crowded, with Sharma, the two Tibetan brothers, and two other young Tibetan men. They were laughing, hugging, crying, and, after a small attempt at introductions, Sharma gave up and subtly motioned Eric and the Germans toward the hallway.

“This is going to be a rough night,” Gisella said.

And it was. Among them they had three cups and filled each of them full with the chang—Fritz said he didn’t mind drinking directly from the bottle. Eric briefly considered breaking out the hashish but decided it would be a bad idea. An hour later, he had a hazy thought that it was like there were two chang parties, competing for some kind of dominance or right to presence, but his party was surely the invader, on turf they had no right to inhabit. Fortunately, he was certain the other party hardly knew his existed—at least not yet.

An hour after that, the Germans were passed out or nearly so and Eric was following right behind, drifting into a half-sleep space where the Tibetan noise next door was a happy dream. Until it was shattered by a banging on the wall and a loud, German accented English, yelling, “It’s time to stop! We’re trying to sleep over here!”

“What the hell?” Eric bolted upright, turned to Hans at the wall. “What the hell are you doing?”

“It’s too late. We need to sleep. We paid for this room.”

They were all sitting up now. Eric said, “What, a Deutchmark each? And that entitles you to something?” He was furious, couldn’t stop, “These are refugees. They’ve been separated by the Chinese and most of their relatives were probably…” He stopped and then, much quieter, just above a whisper, a nasty hiss, he had to say it. “I would think you, of all people, would understand that.” He laid back down and turned over with his back to them.

For the next few minutes, they argued in German, mostly Fritz and Hans, and Eric listened, picking up enough by the tones and even many of the words, the gist of what they were saying. Finally, he’d had enough and he sat up again, got their full attention and said in his mother’s Yiddish, “I can understand you,” knowing that the translation was close enough that they would, in fact, know what he was saying.

He slept a few hours and, when he woke, saw that Fritz was gone and Gisella and Hans were still asleep. He quickly packed up his stuff and left the room. He had planned on hiking the few hours to Jomosom, the end of the trek, and then coming back and spending another night in Marpha but instead went the other direction back toward Pokhara. He passed the prayer wheels on the edge of the village and there was Fritz, somewhat blocking his way.

“Morning,” Eric said and walked around him.

“Wait. Please.”

“What?” He stopped, turned around.

“Why are you leaving so soon? I thought we would go to Jomosom today.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

Fritz didn’t like that. “Do you really think it’s OK to make judgements about a whole people from your own version of what reality is?”

“How do you know I’m doing that? Hans was a real asshole last night.”

“Americans can be assholes, too.”

“You’re certainly right about that.”

“And you’re an American. Should I think you’re an asshole?”

“You can think whatever you want.” He started off but stopped and came back. He took the hashish from his pocket and handed it to Fritz. “Here, no hard feelings. You might like this.” And then he was gone.


Five days later, he was back in Kathmandu trying to figure out the easiest and fastest way to get to Mussoorie, an Indian hill station, also in the Himalayan foothills but at the eastern end, in a direct line somewhat close, but many days away by ground travel. The decider was that it was now the end of March and he knew that once he got to the low northern Indian plains, the hot season would be ramping up. He booked a direct flight from Kathmandu to Delhi, and a day later, was back in India. The hot season had already arrived, and he treated himself to a somewhat upscale hotel room with air-conditioning. He spent the next day walking around, seeing the big city sights, but he couldn’t shake a bad feeling that had been growing, slowly, slowly, since he’d left Marpha, a new level of unease taking on a bigger life. At first, he blamed the heat, the dirty city, the noise, but he knew what had started it: the Germans, the refugees, that whole incident. It wasn’t as if he’d never experienced this before, but here, now, in this setting with every manner of distraction, it was somehow far more disturbing. That night he lay in bed and clung to Sharab, the coming meeting with Sharab, the idea that Sharab would have some kind of knowledge, some wisdom, that could help him feel better. The next morning, he checked out early from the hotel and began the journey, first by train and then by bus, to Mussoorie.

He was two days earlier than when he and Sharab had planned to meet and he hoped it would be OK. They had been corresponding for nearly two years, each sending a letter once a month, a relationship Eric had begun by responding to a request in a newsletter, put out by a Buddhist organization he was involved with, to help fund the education of Tibetan monks in training. The asking donation was fifteen dollars a month, such a small amount to Eric that he gladly offered and slowly developed what he regarded as a meaningful relationship. At first, Sharab’s English was strained and it was obvious he was receiving help with the writing, but it quickly improved. Eric wasn’t a devoted practitioner but he was deeply curious about Sharab’s education and often asked him questions about what he had read in his English translations of the texts Sharab was studying.

When he exited the bus and walked down Mussorrie’s main street, he felt an enormous sense of relief—the heat and noise had disappeared and he was certain he was going to figure out some new strategies to settle himself. He had no idea if he was expected to stay somewhere with Sharab or what other arrangements there might be so he checked into another hotel, this time a sparse and simple affair, sprawled out on the metal framed bed, and fell asleep for an hour. When he woke, he went out to find the address Sharab had sent him. Mussoorie was not as edgy as Kathmandu or as wild as Marpha, but was still spectacular, with steep streets, ancient architecture, and more of the stunning mountain views. It was perfect, he thought, even with the growing influx of those pouring in who were escaping the heat of the Indian plains. He approached a policeman and showed him the slip of paper he’d scrawled the address on and was directed to a side road that led to a group of small brick and mud houses a few hundred yards outside of the town. He caught the attention of two older Tibetan women standing outside one of the houses and repeated the address to them as a question. At first, they shook their heads like they didn’t understand but, he asked, “Sharab? Is Sharab here?” They both smiled and one said, “Sharab come tomorrow. Tashi come.”

Tashi. Who was that? He had no idea. He smiled back, thanked the women, and walked back into the town. He had read about a trail leading out of the north end and further into the mountains that eventually ended with a spectacular view of the southern panorama. He played a game with himself that involved finding the trail without asking anyone for directions, going up one street, then another and another and, and found it on the fourth try. He walked hard and fast, not at all slowed by the steep and slippery gravel and rocks. He sat on the edge of a small cliff and looked out into the haze on the plains far below. Out there, so much out there, and then a pin prick of more unease, of doubt. Only a slight rattle. He closed his eyes and breathed in and out like he’d been taught, following each breath, but ignored the part of the instruction that suggested staying present to whatever emotion would arise, be with what is. He wanted to avoid all that, only wanted to stay with calm and safety.

The next morning, as he walked down the street looking for somewhere to eat breakfast, he felt a tap on his shoulder. He spun around and there he was, a young Tibetan man dressed in a traditional maroon monk’s robe, hair cut short. “Sharab?”

“Yes, yes! So you are Eric.”

“Yes. I am.”

Eric was surprised at how short Sharab was, tiny actually, and how young he looked. Delicate, maybe even vulnerable. Next to him was another young man, also Tibetan, a full six or eight inches taller, at least a few years older, longish straight black hair, handsome, confident, wearing jeans, a tee-shirt, sneakers. He extended his hand, which Eric took, and said, “My name is Tashi. I’m Sharab’s cousin.” Another surprise. His accent was a mix but more British than anything else.

Sharab said, “When I am not doing study, I always come here to stay with his family. Aunt, uncle, cousins.”

But no parents. Of course. Eric knew that.

Tashi said, “Should we go get some tea to celebrate you being here?”

“Yes, we go,” Sharab said. “But I pay. For our guest.”

Eric was about to object but caught himself. This would surely bring Sharab great pleasure to “treat” his guest.

They sat at a table outside a small shop and an Indian waiter brought them cups of chai in clay mugs and and a plate of sweets. Sharab reached into an inside pocket in his robe, took out a a few rupee bills, handed them to the waiter, and turned to Eric, bowed his head slightly and said, “Thank you.”

Eric was confused for a moment but then said, “Oh, yes. You’re welcome. For everything.”

They spent the rest of the morning walking on trails outside the town, stopping to look at the views or to sit and talk. Tashi often walked ahead or wondered off when they were sitting so Sharab and Eric could have time to chat. They mostly talked about Eric’s travels and Sharab’s schooling. Eric also learned that Tashi was involved with refugee resettlement in India, mostly helping the younger ones adjust to their new lives. And deal with what happened to their old lives? Eric wondered about that but didn’t ask.

Later in the day, they went back to the same group of houses just outside the town that Eric had gone to the day before. This time it was a slightly festive occasion, friends and relatives gathered outside, and Eric realized that it was a welcoming of sorts for him. Tashi’s father tried his little bit of English and laughed when it emerged, slightly ridiculous. His mother came out of the tiny house with a large pot and plates, filled the plates with a version of the usual rice and lentils, and insisted Eric be served first. He hadn’t had much meat in the last year and none in the last few months and there were a few sizable chunks of mutton mixed in that he would have preferred not to eat. But, in this setting with these people, he was determined to graciously consume it and enjoy it. Some of the elders sat in chairs and the rest were on blankets on the ground. When everyone was done eating and the plates taken away, a large jar of chang appeared and glasses were passed around. Someone handed Eric one and he quickly drank half of it down but caught himself and slowly sipped the rest. He looked around at the whole group and had a few moments of contentment, happiness even. He liked these people.

When the gathering began to disperse, Tashi said to Eric, “Sharab needs some time to talk to my parents about some things but he’s too polite to ask you. Maybe you and I could go somewhere.”

“Yeah, sure.”

First they walked to a Tibetan temple and then to a soft waterfall. When they got back on the main street, they decided on another tea stop. When the tea was served, Tashi said, “You’ve been so helpful to Sharab. When he first got here, things weren’t so good and nobody had any money. So what you send has allowed him to do his training.”

“I guess I wasn’t aware that it made that much difference. I’m glad it’s helped so much.” They were quiet for a few moments and then he asked, “What was it like when he first got here? Can I ask that? I’m wondering about all of you but, if that’s rude…”

“No, no. It’s not rude at all. Not to me, anyway. These stories need to be told. That’s why I’ve learned to speak English. That’s why…” There was a flash of anguish, just a hint. “That’s why I do what I do. People need help here. We need money, we need housing, we need teachers for the young ones. And English is the language that the most people understand. So I made sure I learned it well. My story, yes, it’s bad. My family made it across. We lost a few friends on the trip but we were blessed in most ways. Sharab didn’t get here until a few years later. He was with a friend of his parents. And his parents, my aunt and uncle…”

“I understand.”

They sat for another hour, sometimes silent, sometimes sharing. Eventually Eric asked, “Did you ever consider becoming a monk like Sharab?”

“Not really. Maybe briefly. I know the teachings. It was a big part of my upbringing and always will be. And I learn a lot from Sharab when he’s here. But what I’m doing now, this is my work.”

“And Sharab?”

“He’s doing what he needs to do.”

That night he lay in his hotel bed, absorbing the day, thinking he would never be able to fall asleep. His room was on the first floor and facing the street and it was still early enough that tourists, Indian and a few Western, were out making their noise. He didn’t mind it much, thankful for the humanity so close by. Eventually he drifted but, a few hours later, woke unsettled again. The streets were quiet and there was no escaping the thoughts that began pouring in. He remembered when he was young, looking for something in his father’s home office and finding a magazine in one of the drawers, like it was hidden from somebody—he quickly figured out who that would be. It was 1962, shortly after the Israeli’s captured Hitler’s man, Adolf Eichmann, and put him on trial, and the lead article was one of the accounts. It became Eric’s introduction to the power of the under-current that had always been so influential in his life. He read some of it, put it back in the drawer, but came back to it a few more times when his parents weren’t around. He couldn’t leave it, needed more, needed to understand, and he scoured the public library until he found another history of the worst of it. He was just thirteen and he snuck the book into his room and hid it under his mattress like it was his first Playboy, except that it was the far opposite of sexy, of desire, of anything related to something a young teen would aspire to experience. It described a tightly closed family subject—not a secret, because it was too unwieldy to be hidden away in some desk drawer or shoved under a bed—only something that was never to be discussed. He knew his father had stayed on after the war ended, helping to reconstruct the postwar world, had met his mother, married her and brought her back to America. But there were no aunts and uncles from her side of the family, no grandparents, no cousins, not even friends. Was she a survivor or a refugee? Maybe both. Or maybe the distinction didn’t matter because, whatever she was, the collective darkness continued to live inside her. He had come to think of six million as the wrong number, not because it was too large or not real at all like the deniers claimed, but because it was not large enough. It didn’t nearly account for all the ones like his mother who somehow got away, whose hearts still beat, whose breath still moved, but whose souls were crushed and maimed and eventually had to flee to join the others.

He finally slept and, when he woke, his first thought was that he needed going to get moving, leave all this behind. But he didn’t. He did a quick cleanup and nearly ran to Sharab’s parents’ house. This time Tashi was not there and he asked Sharab—nearly insisted—that they go for tea and sweets again. And this time it was his turn to pay.

They literally talked about the weather for a minute and then Eric asked, “How do you live with it? Your own suffering?” As soon as he spoke he regretted it. Why would he ask such a loaded question? “I’m sorry. That’s not my business.”

But Sharab said, “It is OK,” and, for the next half hour or so, in his slightly broken English, launched into a lesson on the basics of his study: the Four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Path, impermanence, compassion, kindness, and much more. Eric was familiar with most of it, had studied it himself, but was delighted to hear it from Sharab’s voice, giving it deeper meaning.

Sharab paused and then took it much further. “There are stories I hear about monks, lamas, the old ones who are hurt by Chinese, terrible things. And they only have compassion for the ones who do the hurt. They want the best for these ones who do the hurt.”

Eric did not expect this. It bothered him, made him feel sick. It showed.

Sharab looked down at the floor. “Now my turn to say sorry.”

Eric caught himself. “No, no, it’s OK. I guess it’s like Jesus on the cross saying, “Forgive them Lord for they know not what they do.” Like my father’s Jesus, he

Sharab smiled, his young face turning sweet, kind, almost angelic, but it quickly passed to sadness and he said, “Yes. But very difficult, very very difficult to have that.”

Impossible to have that, Eric thought.

They sat quietly, sipping the remains of their tea.

“Where do you go next when all done here?” Sherab asked.

“I don’t know.” He had no idea.

“Tashi wants me to ask you. Thinks I have better luck.”

“What?” He was confused.

“Tashi needs help. Wants volunteer. Can you?”

This was unexpected. Eric stared down at the table and, when he looked back up, Sharab met his gaze. The vulnerability was gone. Still gentle, kind, but determined, forceful.

“Stay here. Become quiet. Become happy. It is good for Tashi. It is good for you.”

Emotions cycled through Eric: anger, panic, settling on relief.

“I…yes, yes, I will stay.