When we got there it was cloudy and cold and our driver stood next to us and smelled the air and said that the night would be the clearest they’d had in ages. I said, “Oh really?” and Nadia said. “Mhmm,” and we both put on our backpacks and began walking in single file towards a trail we were told went down to the valley and the lake.
“What do you think it will look like?” She asked as she walked ahead of me. Her backpack was black and a dark bottle green. She could’ve been talking to herself or someone ahead of her but I still replied.
“Like a lake surrounded by mountains,” I said as the guy walking behind me went, “Kya?” and I shook my head and turned around and told him I was speaking to the person walking in front of me.
When we turned round a bend in the path we came face to face with the lake and went, “Aah.” The only question in my mind then was what the fuck did I come here for, basically, not because it wasn’t breathtaking but because at that point I’d actually forgotten everything I’d ever thought about. It was grey and there were mountains all around our camping spot which was right next to the lake and already housed one rectangular building with a triangular roof and a couple of windows which could have been a prop in a horror movie, but which we were told served as a storage room in the winter. The lake was still and so still that it had upside down white mountains inside of it that I really wanted to climb.
“You were right,” said Nadia, and we didn’t speak another word and just stared and stared till we got to the spot where our guide yelled “STOP!” and put our bags down and helped set up our respective male and female tents with our randomly chosen male and female tent mates respectively. We would trek the next day because now it was getting dark and probably close to rain.
That night it was still cloudy and I went to sleep in the three-man tent hugging the flab of the man next to me because it was bloody cold and even he said, “Why the fuck didn’t they tell us to bring more clothing? It’s not still spring here bhainchod!” and asked me to hug him more tightly.
I slept for a couple of hours and woke up shivering and checked the time on my phone. It was four a.m., so I said what the heck and climbed over legs and arms and unzipped the tent and crept outside.
If I’d been looking for death and not drama I would’ve walked on into the lake with a smile on my face. I’d even have happily left my inhaler behind. The sky was clear and the moon was out and bright and yellow and the stars—the fucking stars—were in the lake and up in the sky, and the mountains were glowing blue and I forgot everything once again and went and sat by the remnants of the fire someone had made hours ago. Then I shivered till I didn’t.
I sat staring at the lake and getting confused as to what was up and what was down and then trying to stand on my head and forgetting that I was doing so and then falling to the ground again with a major rush of blood to the head and some dizziness. Everyone was still sleeping and I thought of waking Nadia up but she might have changed her mind about running away if she saw this so I didn’t and I didn’t tell her about it later either. I also had no idea what tent she was in.
The next morning the campsite was full of people in colorful jackets and day packs full of water and canned fruit and Tuc biscuits, and we all walked around the lake to get to the other one that looked like a teardrop which was over some mountains in front of us. There was snow on the ground and where there wasn’t snow there was brown rock or an ice cold stream and sludge. We walked through a corridor with mountains pretending to be walls.
“Why do you want to run?” I asked her.
“I don’t want to get married.”
I told her I understood perfectly.
“Why? Are they getting you married off too?” she said.
“What? No. I have no one.”
“Not really. Her getting married off was sadder,” I told her because I was now sure.
“Who was she?”
“We had lots of phone conversations and fought a lot.”
She said she understood perfectly.
“Is that why you’re here?”
“I want something that won’t go away with an inhaler.” I wanted desperately to tell her about the stars last night but I did not. I couldn’t do that to her. She seemed stronger than I was. She could probably do it.
So we walked on. I stepped in a stream and wet my boots. We got to the base of Malika Parbat and made Maggi Noodles and chai in a black metal pot that two of the local children were carrying. The water was already bubbling by the time we got to the spot; these kids moved over rock and snow like gazelles on walkalators and had gotten there a half hour before us. We ate the noodles with plastic forks out of steel mugs and then rinsed the mugs with boiling water and had chai in them. The chai had leaves in it.
We ate and it began to snow, falling slush from the sky, really. We were told there were three more hours to the lake, but the weather was getting bad, we should turn back. I said, “What?” and Nadia said, “What?” and I said, “No way, bro, I paid to get to Aansoo Lake, I’m going.” Then she said something in the same vain. Besides, it was only slush, and I could drink all of it up if I opened my mouth at the sky, just a little. Everyone else stayed back. The two of us went forward.
The slush kept falling but the weather didn’t get worse.
“You know you’re going to have to go back home soon? We’re almost there,” I said as we ascended, following a trail that was slippery with ice.
“Yes, I know.”
“Cool.” I just wanted to make sure she knew she had little time.
The ground crunched all the way there.
The lake was, yes, more or less, in the shape of a tear, but there was snow all around and the water looked like it wanted to freeze, so it wasn’t really dramatic and only slightly beautiful.
“So,” Nadia said.
“So,” I said.
We tried to talk, really, but we were there for different purposes, and I’d already failed in mine.
When I returned to the camp and the guide asked me if I knew where Nadia was I went “Who?” and made a confused face and walked on.
Zain Saeed grew up in Pakistan and is currently studying linguistics in Freiburg, Germany. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, The Freiburg Review, Bird’s Thumb, FLAPPERHOUSE, Gravel, Cease, Cows, Third Point Press, Bahamut Journal and others.