It was October and we had left the blazing Kathmandu sunlight of Durbar Square, surrounded on all sides by roads and rickety Nepalese buildings some with bending bamboo scaffolding supporting builders in dirty vests shouting to one another. We had seen the wooden flute seller every day as we left the relative calm of Freak Street, to venture out to perform some chore or other; a trip to the airline office, a walk to the Post Office to check for any mail we may have received, some mundane shopping or a trip to a bar somewhere to write our diaries, letters or just to meet up with friends.
My friend had brought a flute from the chirpy flute seller on day one or two, thinking that would be the last of it all but he accosted us everyday. He was friendly enough but still tried to push more flutes onto us, as if being westerners who had (possibly foolishly) showed an interest in the world of the flute early on and so maybe we would like to buy a job lot to take back to the UK and sell on, start an orchestra of flutes or whatever. This day we were slightly stoned and late out so he asked us why we were so late, business in the flute world was slow today and he wanted to show us his flute HQ, the nerve centre of all operations Flute. For reasons unknown we agreed and so he took one last look around for potential customers (no James Galways to be seen) and off we walked, him with a bag of flutes over his shoulder back up into Freak Street .Half way up we turned off into a covered alleyway ducking our heads as the ceilings became increasingly lower, then opened out into a white washed courtyard with a small gnarly tree in the centre, lazy Nepalis sat chewing the fat on these walls, women washed clothes and children ran from doorway into alleyway. The brief respite of sunlight then was quashed and we ducked down low again through a rabbit warren of narrow corridors, another square, past a machinist’s workshop, curls of metal swarf littered the ground and got entangled in my flip flops. Then we went up the stairs and around a balcony overlooking a sadder darker atrium with some dogs resting in the shade. More corridors and then through a doorway with a tired sheet hanging from the frame to provide privacy. There was a lady there preparing some food, the flute seller shouted at her and beckoned us into a darker back room. He looked back at us, a grin on his face and as our eyes adjusted to the dim light of the room we were in, we could see lots and lots of canvas bags leaning up against the walls all full and at their tops poked out the familiar mouthpieces of the wooden flutes. There must have been hundreds if not over a thousand flutes here of all shapes and sizes and varying wood shades. Just then the lady walked in with 2 bottles of Thumbs Up Cola, a really foul type of the foul drink but cold, beads of moisture dripping from the bottom. We sat down on a rug and he proceeded to unwrap canvas bag after canvas bag of flutes, laying them out on the floor, onto the table, looking at some and handing them to us, principally my friend as he was the main Flute buyer of our pair.
“Very Good, very expense, but to you cheap price. You buy many flutes I give very good price. And Ganja? You want Ganja? Cheap Price, put in flutes, send to Manchester. You make good money”
Oh Christ, we looked at each other and restrained from sniggering, this was not really what we expected, but then again what the hell had we expected? A very nice chap had taken us into his house, given us some ice cold cola, showed us his life work and we were sat here, stoned, and communicating telepathically as to how we were going to leave this guys HQ and get back to Freak Street and the Snowman Cafe for chocolate cake and a Tuborg.
The darker flutes seemed to merit a premium price, the paler ones less so. Rejection was not on the mind of the flute seller and our reluctance to buy few hundred flutes loaded with Ganja to send back to Manchester was met with annoyance and we could see that this fine man was starting to loose his temper. He had moved into the space between us and the door and so we found our selves, fuck knows where, being held hostage by a man wielding a large dark flute (not a euphemism). There seemed to be no alternative but to give in to his wishes and buy something, anything to get out of there. He didn’t seem a violent man but you never can tell with folk.
A fractured hesitant probably over paid transaction took place and soon the man was back to his usual cheery beaming self as we walked out 2 wooden flutes to the good, scurrying through the corridors and alleyways back through the whitewashed courtyard to the sanctuary of the sleepy bustle of freak street. We turned left towards the Snowman and the flute seller bid us Namaste as he turned right to take up his position at the corner of Durbar Square.
“Hello Flute? Good Price Flute, Very Nice Flute”