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It was the man from the road. His jacket and pants still bore traces of the water and sand thrown up by Max's jeep.

"I'm sorry about what happened back there," Trager said. �The driver is a major jerk."

"No problem, man. Hey, you're the one who climbed the hotel at Kawapatri, right? I just wanted to say I went down and looked at that wall. It was far out. I couldn't get off the ground."

"You have to have the right shoes," Trager said. He tried to lift a foot to show off his boots, but the people were pressed too close to him. "Jesus, I've got to get on this plane," he said. "I could lose my job."

"Oh, yeah? What do you do?"

It took him a moment. "I'm a . . . trek leader. At least I am if I can get on this plane."

Trager began to move toward the left, where he detected motion at the edge of the crowd. He was relieved when the other man went right. He did not want to be saddled with anyone slower than he was. At the margin of the driveway, a stream of people emerged from a parked bus and wound python-like around the mob. As he got closer, he saw the members of the group carried new rucksacks, and wore jackets similar to his own. Trekkers. A grinning, nervous man hurried them on.

"Komm, komm, komm! Steig ab! Steig ab! Acht, neun, zehn, elf . . . ."

Trager edged closer to the line, hoping to be sucked along in its wake.

. . . zwanzig, einundzwanzig . . . ." The leader paused for only a fraction of a second as he regarded Trager, then called out, "Zweiundzwanzig! Also, Flugkarten! Flugkarten, bitte! "

Springtime in Kashmir ©Talbot Bielefeldt 2020.

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