The Urn

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Chapter 14

June, 1990

Orville’s trip took him across Europe and into Asia where he spent more time than he had anticipated in both Nepal and then the southeast, especially Cambodia and Thailand. It had been enlightening in many regards particularly his sojourn in Nepal. He had been drawn to the country primarily for his interest in the high Himalayan ranges which dwarfed anything he had ever seen with his own eyes before. Even at some of the higher elevations at which he had found himself with a group trek he signed up to take, he sat one night, bundled in his thick down jacket outside a small tea house with two of his Sherpa guides mesmerized by as he looked across the open field where they sat. They had gotten delayed by an unexpected snow squall from a scheduled summit climb and as Orville stared in amazement upward it seemed hard to comprehend that even at his current altitude, the highest peaks here still rose another vertical mile further upward.

But his real and totally unexpected revelation had come while in Kathmandu, not up in the high peaks near Lukla, the starting point for most treks into the mountains above. He was walking around Kathmandu one afternoon just browsing the various shops and temples and cafes when the nature and character of the Nepali people started him thinking. Orville had done a bit of travel to several third world countries prior to his arrival in Nepal, but the feeling and vibe that was surrounding him there was unique. In a lot of the other places he had been there was a real sense of having to be wary of his surroundings at all times…even danger if you saw it that way, he supposed.

But in Kathmandu, ever since his first step in town, this had not been the case. The people here, just as poor and wanting as any he had known in previous encounters in his travels to such environs made him feel nothing but peace and at ease and never once did he fret over his personal safety. For a couple days, Orville pondered this disconnect until it finally dawned on him that perhaps it was the high degree of spirituality in the region that was the difference. There was a pleasant mix of both Hinduism and Buddhism in Kathmandu and though not a religious person himself, Orville came to the conclusion this was what was different here. It was curious based on his mostly agnostic belief system that had carried him his entire adult life and though not really enough to sway him out of that consciousness, it made him wonder if maybe there was more out there than he had been so sure of all his life.

When he was preparing for the trip, Orville had consulted with all his medical contacts to make sure he might not be taking on a bit too much with parts of his journey that would present more of a physical challenge that he had done in a while. The treks in Nepal were of particular concern. Orville had not had any recurrences of a TIA or anything even remotely related to them since separating himself from RMD, but all the same he figured checking in with everyone would be a good idea anyway. The combination of his previous attack plus the altitude gave him pause, but both Ben Rodden and Bill Everett had pronounced a clean bill of health…neither saw any reason for him to avoid trying this based on where he was now physically.

As well, Emily Fote aligned with the medical men, seeming to feel that his previous incident had been directly relate to the stress of RMD. And now that Orville was leaving Nepal for Latin America, he had to agree. He had kept close tabs on his body and mind so far, but there had been zero indicators of any problems. In fact, Orville had to admit he had never felt better. There had been some adjustments in Nepal as he left Kathmandu for higher climes, but in the end it was just the acclimatization to the altitude that many flat landers like himself experienced, he found out from his guides. He had a few brief moments of panic early on, but he followed what his guides told him to do and soon he adjusted to the demands of the area.

Much like some of his experiences in Latin America that had impacted him so strongly, Orville left Nepal with the knowledge he had come away with a gift he would never ever have expected prior to his arrival. And much like those countries south of the US border, Orville made a mental note to put Nepal high on his list of places to return to one day. It was with this flood of gratitude that Orville set his sights on his return to Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico. Without any time constraints hanging over his head this time around, Orville toured up and down the Belizean strip from the beaches of Placencia in the south to the magical and relaxing cays east off the northern mainland from Belize City. It was just as beautiful as he had seen in photos and videos and once he had had his fill of them he made his way west toward San Ignacio to find the man he had met years earlier that knew the route into Guatemala and the village near El Zapote where Francisco lived.

The jungles of Belize were as invigorating and refreshing to Orville as had been the beaches, and he was reminded of Francisco’s home as he somehow located the same driver, Carlos, from his previous trip here. Carlos remembered Orville as well and welcomed him warmly as they set out for El Zapote. Orville had brushed up on his rough comprehension of Spanish and chatted as well as he could between his mangled attempts combined with his driver’s broken English. Both did their best as they went and it seemed to Orville that by the time he had reached the spot where he had to drop Orville off to a foot path, that they had both picked up a few more words of each other’s languages. Orville waved farewell as Carlos drove away and he hefted his backpack as he began the short jaunt through the thick impinging trees and bush that led to Francisco’s home.

He would have loved to have let Francisco know he was coming to visit, but there was no real way to do so based on the lack of any internet or even a reliable mail service in the village. Orville hoped he would not be intruding, showing up unannounced, and that he would not be breaching some cultural tenet he was not aware of. After walking for about a half an hour, Orville began to recognize the small-town square where Francisco had taken him that night long ago to listen to Sergio Vásquez, El Zapote’s elder keeper of the flame, when he had told of the legend of La Mala Hora. The square was empty and quiet as Orville walked across the dusty opening, but he figure that it was mostly like this unless there was an event of some type going on.

But as he passed through the square and went back into the jungle along the trail that Francisco had led him on where his family lived, Orville sensed that something was amiss. It was nothing he saw or heard or even smelled, but more what he did not see or hear. He emerged from the jungle and into the spot he recalled where Francisco and a few of his friends lived but it sure was not what he had remembered from his previous visit. There were still the same simple but functional thatched homes scattered about, but though he could not say why, Orville detected that something was just not quite right. There were people about, but from what he recalled it seemed that it was far less populated than he had remembered.

He stood and looked on from a distance scanning the faces present, but he did not see Francisco among them. In fact, most of the people here now seemed foreign to him, though he supposed that could just be that he had not been here for sometime and was just not remembering anyone too well. He had after all been pretty focused with Francisco and his family at the time and had not really melded into the main village all that much. Orville was baffled as he had recalled the little village being generally alive with activity and this was just not the situation now. Several men and women walked by looking at the strange white man who stood at the perimeter of their home as if lost. Some looked on him suspiciously, which Orville could certainly understand based on how the people here had most likely been taken advantage of or exploited over the years by gringos.

However, some just smiled and waved pleasantly even though Orville was sure he had not ever met them before. He returned their gesture as he slowly moved closer to the houses and everyone just went about their business. Orville hitched up his pack and kept moving until he spotted Francisco’s house. He sighed with relief as he picked up his pace sure he would soon run into his old friend and his family. He reached the door of the house and rapped lightly on the door frame, but no one came out. Orville tried again, but still there was no response from within. He sighed with disappointment before calling out using his limited Spanish vocabulary in case Francisco was not here. He remembered that Marta, his wife, spoke little if any English.

“Hola? Francisco? Marta? Soy yo, Orville de América. Alguien en casa?”

But there was no reply. Orville felt like an intruder, but he stuck his head inside to have a look. The main room where he had shared meals with them and spent so many wonderful, memorable hours before was dark and empty. It appeared as clean and tidy as he had remembered Marta keeping the place, but it was like someone had picked up the small house and shaken it free of all its contents. It was just bare walls and floors. Orville did not know what to do. Had they moved on? Or had maybe something unfortunate befallen his old friend? Just as Orville was removing his head from the interior of the house, he spun, gasping in surprise when he heard his name.

“Senor Orville? Is it really you?”

Orville immediately recognized Alejandro, who had been one of the few friends in El Zapote that Francisco had introduced him to when he had been here before.

“Alejandro?” Orville replied.

“Si, Senor Orville…what a surprise!”

Orville relaxed and exhaled finally glad to find a familiar face. And one that spoke some English as well. Alejandro rushed and embraced Orville warmly.

“How have you been?” Orville asked.

“Very well…yourself?”

“I am fine. I came back to see Francisco. Is he around?”

The broad smile on Alejandro’s face fell away and his body shrunk in stature.

“Let us sit, Senor Orville…”

Orville was not sure what was going on, but from Alejandro’s reaction it sure did not look like good news.

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