The English Student

Krishna was waiting outside the old city walls of Bhaktapur.

A small boy, all smiles and curiosity, he could have passed for twelve but was probably a lot older.

As I waited at the gate to pay the entry fee to the city he approached me.

“Can I show you around?”

“Err, no it’s okay I don’t need a guide. Thanks though.”

“No, I’m not a guide, I’m an English student. I just want to practice my English. Is that okay?”

I laughed a little inside at this. With my Scottish accent I thought perhaps he’d be better off with some other companion – someone who could enunciate better. Then again, maybe I could teach him some slang …

“Sure, what the hey!”

So it was that I gained a companion on my tour of Bhaktapur.

Considering he wasn’t a guide, he sure was knowledgable when it came to explaining the history of his city.

Energetic and beaming, Krishna stuck to me like a limpet throughout my stay, carefully responding, in immaculate English, to my every question.

I was quite getting to like him actually. He was kinda quirky.

I think it was his hair. He had this Duran Duran haircut – all dark and tumbling with golden highlights through it. Just like John Taylor had around 1985 or so.

I kept looking at his hair and wondering how he had come to possess such a style. This flamboyant, retro-chic haircut seemed strange on a child. In fact it made me wonder just how old he really was. I mean, if he was a student, how come he wasn’t in school?

Still, never mind, he was good company.

“Hey! Come to my school! I study art too. Let me show you my school – it’s close by. You can see some of our paubha paintings. They’re cheaper if you buy them from the students! Please, come!”

“Maybe …”

“I don’t want to buy a painting” I was thinking “In fact I don’t really want to buy anything …”

“Okay. Later then? Later we can go to my school, okay?”

“Maybe …”

We wandered around some more and the conversation turned to that most universal and ubiqiutous of all topics – David Beckham.

What did I think of David Beckham?

“Gee he’s okay I suppose. I don’t really follow football.”

“Yes but David Beckham, everybody likes David Beckham in England, no?”

“They do indeed! I prefer Roy Keane though.”

“Roy Keane …..? ”

I don’t know if this bemused pause was due to the fact that he hadn’t heard of the phenomenon that is Roy Keane or if he simply didn’t believe that it was possible that any woman could opt for the rebellious (okay then “temperamental”) Keane over the “clean cut” Beckham – even jokingly.

“He plays for Manchester United. Irish. A bit … well he’s his own man, shall we say.”

“I like David Beckham.”

“Yeah, everyone likes David Beckham ….”

No point in taking this one further and besides Krishna was now on a mission to take me into every shop in Bhaktapur and ensure that I parted with some of my cash.

It was an effective ploy. I succumbed and the money parted company from my pocket faster than an expletive from Roy Keane’s lips.

T-shirts, calendars, handmade greetings cards, wooden buddha eyes, I’m afraid I bought them all – and, even worse, I failed to bargain during any of the transactions, just accepting the first price mentioned.

Bargaining is not my strong point. I get so embarrassed, even if I know I’m getting ripped off, even if I know that not to bargain is almost distasteful.

And here, I kept calculating from rupees back to euros and thinking “Gee, well that’s not too bad …” which is really not the strategy to deploy in Asia and certainly not when all of this rampant spending is being witnessed by an increasingly disbelieving local travel companion.

With every purchase Krishna was looking at me wide eyed and confused. I felt a little silly.

“I should bargain huh?”

“Yes, you should. Those buddha eyes? 100 rupees” he laughed.

Shit. I’m not even going to mention what I paid, because I was that stupid.

“Gee!” was all I could muster when confronted with this revelation.

“Maybe we should just stay away from the shops for now then, eh?”

“Okay. We can go to my school!”

Damn! The school. Right.

We started walking and Krishna started talking.

A tale unfurled. A tale of a father gone, abandoning his home and family, the mother left to fend as best she could.

The oldest son, Krishna (for, yes, it was he) left to help out and take on adult responsibilities early in life.

It was hard. Really hard. Some things were so difficult, like buying school books. For example, he needed a dictionary for his English lessons. A better one than the small, cheap pocket version he has, but at 500 rupees it was impossible.

How was he to come upon such a sum?

“Well you can always ask a dumb tourist like myself” I thought, finally cottoning on to his line, my hand sinking deep into my pocket once more.

And okay, so the money, more likely than not will never be spent on a school book – perhaps not even on helping support a fatherless family.

But the way I see it is that for a few bucks I had the company of a fun and cheeky guide for a day, a guide who is now pretty well versed in the finer aspects of the Scottish vernacular! Och aye!

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