The clink of cutlery accompanied by laughter resonated across the busy restaurant. The Babesa Village Restaurant was one of the best eateries in Bhutan and received clientele from places far and wide and was often a must-visit for tourists. Renee accompanied her husband Emmanuel to the dinner arranged by his Bhutanese friends. A hushed discussion transpired at their table whilst Harper, their four-year-old daughter, kept Renee busy. Excusing herself from the strained conversations at the table, she took Harper to the restroom. She fixed Harper’s hair and smiled, a feeling of fierce protectiveness washing over her as her daughter returned the smile. As night fell they left for the hotel, travelling through rocky terrain on a hired mountain truck. It was a quiet ride and Harper had instantly fallen asleep on Renee’s lap. The next morning saw an anxious atmosphere engulfing the family of three. Emmanuel and his friends had been called to the Governor’s residence to discuss confidential matters. Harper stood against the window with her teddy bear clutched in one hand. She watched as her father got into the truck with his friends and waved out to him oblivious to the tension in the air. As dusk descended, Harper woke up from her nap to shuffling noises. Renee was furiously packing up, stuffing into the bag anything and everything that lay around. Harper heard her mother calling out to her, her voice coming out rather nervous and urgent. Renee held her daughter’s hand in a firm grip not letting go. They boarded a bus and were lucky to have found themselves a seat. Harper hugged her teddy bear tight to her chest as she watched the dark mountains fly by. As they covered a considerable amount of distance, the bus suddenly came to a halt. Harper saw an alarmed look flood across her mother’s face. Two men carrying a long weapon got on the bus. They seemed to be searching for something or rather someone. As they passed by Renee who kept her gaze firmly on the road ahead, they enquired of one of the passengers if they had seen a woman with a four-year old daughter. The passenger shook her head. Renee continued to hold her breath as she watched the two men get off. Relieved that the bus had begun to stir, she lifted Harper bringing her out from underneath the seat. Tears streamed down Renee’s eyes as she embraced her daughter.
Twenty two years later, Harper found herself standing again on the dusty road off Thimpu clutching her knapsack the camera bag slung across her shoulders. A photo journalist, her assignment this time was to trace the insurgency that infested the border areas with Assam. From the pocket of her burly cargo trousers she pulled out a yellowed newspaper clipping. The age old news from Reuters read:
“Thinley Yetho, A.K.A Emmanuel David, the leader of the dreaded insurgents working on the Bhutan Assam border went missing on the 3rd of December, 2003 along with three of his associates. He was to begin peace talks with the Bhutan Government when he was reported missing from his hotel at Babesa. His wife Renee David claimed that she had accompanied her husband to Bhutan from Assam and hadn’t heard from him after the morning of the 3rd when he left her with her four year old daughter.”
Harper folded the clipping and put it back safely in her pocket where it lay nestled against a powerful Walther. Some histories needed to be discovered while others needed to be put to rest. She was here to understand hers.
© 2017 Deirdre Basumatary