Of banana trees and bolinis


There is probably little that sounds more grey or mundane than an eight hour coach trip between two cities. That is until you mention 'July' and 'Nepal' in the same sentence. Then the mundane bursts with colourful possibilities.

The rocky sheer cut walls above the highway flushed off the rain in dark torrents. A road sheer with water, mud and boulders was never going to be an easy one to drive. The time passed , measured by the retching -into- bag sounds of other passengers and the cheerful rhythms punched out by the horn. For the first 4 hours at least everything was quite predictable. The trundling pace then slowed to a muddy stop as our blue bus joined the fumey snake of traffic stuck behind a bungalow of boulder slappity bang in the middle of the road. No one was going anywhere.

Looking on the bright side I couldn't help but see that the rain had stopped and there was a mirrory brightness to the rocky wall above the bus. The emerald colour of river below and the trees above was dazzling. All that water rushing along in the gorge and trickling down the rocks can play havoc with your bladder and it's prudent to take the chance while you can on such a journey.
You have to plan these things , so after watching men from scores of coaches and trucks lining up against the cliff and making rainbows, I couldn't wait. The jump down from the step was long and it was from the step that I noticed how the cliff petered out further along and was replaced by jungly looking banana trees. It looked a great place for a bit of watering, even if they were drippy and wet. Quickly checking with the driver that that was indeed the 'ladies toilets', I picked my way through buses, cars and people to the fringe of the trees.
As I stepped in amongst the wet leaves I heard a strange shout starting up from the bus crowds. Sounded like 'bolini, hahahahaha', and I naturally decided that the men were having a laugh at my expense. I (proud and stupid!) was not going to give them the satisfaction of turning to face them. Pushing my way up the overgrown slope I could hear them shouting as I spotted ahead of me, a sort of clearing, ideal for my needs.
Elastic hadn't quite found it's way into the store cupboard of the little tailor in my village. That's why it took me a while to pick open the knotty bow which held up my Asian baggy trousers. Concentration was needed. That's probably why I didn't notice the flash of orange behind the tree opposite. In a multicoloured split second I was protecting my head with my arms as half a red brick whistled past me into the trees. Then another which was accompanied by bloodcurdling screams and the appearance of a wild eyed, tangle haired creature wrapped in a torn orange sari. Thin arms raised, mouth open, bricks flying and me, crouching down fumbling and grabbing at the trousers round my ankles. There was nothing for it, unless I wanted to have a hospital experience (which I definitely did not). I launched up, bunching as much fabric as I could into my hands and jerked, shuffled, plunged and hopped down through the trees to a raucaus chorus of cheers from the 'Wembley' stadium crowd waiting below.
It was like a street party. People slapping each others backs, bent double with laughter as I tripped on my trousers and landed in front of them all like a creature from a some deep swamp. I had now ascertained what bolini meant. I did have on my very best Marks and Spencers underwear and shockingly this seemed a relief to me as I tied up the strings and skulked back to the blue bus. Looking back I'm glad that mobile phones hadn't reached Nepal then as I'm sure I'd have have beaten Kate Middleton for shots that day.

The rest of the journey was unremarkable in every way, although three days later a leather jacketted man approached me in a restaurant in Kathmandu and asked me if I was the girl who had met the bolini in the banana plantation. His response was simply to smile a twinkling smile and a chuckle as I said yes.
And I do the same when I retell it.

S Bottomley

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