The Fog House (A Short Story)

>> Sunday, January 10, 2010

By Ajay Pradhan | January 10, 2010

The early October morning air in Begnas Park was crisp and foggy. The park landscape was a riot of autumn colors. Trees were starting to shed the colorful leaves to the ground. The understory bushes were still thick and covered the ground and bottom of tall sal, sissoo and pine trees. The ground vegetation was moist with a thin coat of autumnal frost. The fallen leaves rustled and wafted in the gentle morning breeze. The morning atmosphere was filled with chirping of sparrows and tweets of other birds, intercepted by distant bleating of goats and sheep and blunt chiseling and pecking sounds of woodpeckers. Adding to this mix of nature's mellifluous music was the rustling sound of torrent of water flowing in the deep ravine nearby.

A few early Saturday morning joggers and others who came to enjoy a morning walk in the park were going about their daily ritual. They were mostly unaware of a group of cops who were congregating near the edge of the ravine, largely shielded by a thicket of tall shrubs.

Peter Serchan and his fiancée Zoë Rosenthal were among the early morning joggers. Unlike most of the brisk walkers who had warm jackets on, Peter and Zoë had lycra-spandex body suit on, defying the nippy morning weather. Peter was a forester by profession and Zoë an anthropologist. They had met while they both went to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

Peter's family was from the village of Kusma. He was born in Hong Kong thirty-three years ago, spent first eight years of his life in the British Gorkha cantonment in Hong Kong, where his father was a soldier. His father took an early retirement from the British Gorkha Brigade, earned a reasonably comfortable pension, and returned to Nepal with the family that included Peter's father, mother, an older brother and a younger sister. In Nepal, the family mostly lived in Pokhara, but Peter and his siblings later went to Kathmandu to go to college.

Peter was born into an extended family of soldiers. Almost all male members of the Serchan clan joined British Gorkha. Peter’s brother Nirmal joined the brigade right after finishing college. Peter’s sister Kirti married a British Gorkha soldier and was already raising two future soldiers. Peter's father expected him to follow the family tradition, but Peter cut a rather different personality and had a distinctly different ambition. From an early age, he found that he enjoyed the nature, the wildlife, the forests, the rivers. He knew that when he grew up, he'd want to pursue a career dealing with the nature.

Peter’s parents grudgingly accepted his decision not to go into army. His uncles and aunts, however, openly questioned his wisdom and taunted him for being weak hearted to shy away from the family tradition. When he announced to the family that he was going to study forestry in the U.S., they laughed at him, chortling and hissing and hurling insults at him: “And what exactly do you think you’re going to do after you get the degree, go into the jungle and cut trees with American axe? You’re ruining the reputation for bravery of our martial race.”

While growing up in Pokhara and on their family vacations to their ancestral home in Kusma, Peter usually gave his parents their share of scare. The year after the family returned from Hong Kong, an adventurous nine-year old Peter got lost in the nearby forest in Kusma for nearly fifteen hours. On another occasion, a young Peter was gored by a wild buffalo on their trip to Chitwan. Luckily, Peter survived with only a few minor injuries. He learned swimming even before he came to Nepal. But he once nearly drowned in Phewa Lake when one of his legs got snagged in the strong tendrils of underwater vegetation. None of these incidents ever dissuaded him from exploring outdoor activities.

His other passion was music. He played acoustic guitar. Zoë taught him to play piano when they were at Yale. Peter met Zoë at a dinner party at the house of an ethnobotany professor during his undergraduate years. That professor, who conducted field research in Pokhara area, had encouraged Peter to apply to Yale. Peter was intelligent, cut a handsome figure, had a clean-cut appearance, a shy smile, and was a little shy and quiet—the traits that Zoë found rather cute and attractive.

Zoë, who was two years younger than Peter, was from Connecticut, the daughter of a German immigrant father who worked at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City and a Greek-American mother who taught South Asian culture and history at Columbia University in the same city.

That evening at their professor’s house, in a crowd of over two dozen graduate and undergraduate students, research associates and professors, Zoë struck a conversation with Peter and gave him her phone number. Almost a month after the dinner when Peter still hadn’t called her, she thought he wasn’t interested in her. But she just had to take the initiative just one more time. She called him and they set a date to go out. Even though their first date went quite awkward, the mutual attraction was quite unmistakable. Soon they fell in love and that summer, they purchased air tickets to visit Nepal. They haven’t looked back since. That was nine years ago. They were planning for a spring wedding five months later in March of next year. They had already mailed wedding invitations to friends and families. Simple ceremonies were planned in Connecticut as well as Pokhara. Everything was going great for them.

Peter and Zoë both worked for UNDP Headquarters in New York. They frequently went to Nepal for vacation. That Saturday morning at Begnas Park was their last morning of their vacation in Pokhara before their departure to Kathmandu by an evening flight that day. They were to leave Kathmandu for their journey back to New York two days later. Little did they know that their travel plans were going to be ruined and their future was to take a different direction than planned.

[To be continued...]

Note: This is a work of fiction. The characters are all fictitious and some of the setting is imagined. Please visit again for the next part of this short story.


Puru January 10, 2010 at 8:14 PM  

Thanks Ajayji for an entertaining and appetizing piece of fiction with a mix of suspense and thrill; after a loong interval. Puru.

chari January 12, 2010 at 6:08 AM  

hie Ajay!
Peter Serchan!
the name reminds me of sooooooo many a things U are trying to relate to...

i am Awaiting the Next chapter...

Anonymous July 15, 2010 at 2:19 PM  

What a coincidence ... i had read your articles on sajha long time back. I stumbled into your blog today and recognized the article posted on sajha. I really enjoyed reading Jenny jamarkhatel's story. I wish you would continue with the "as the file turns" story. Looking forward for more stories.

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