From “Escape from Katmandu” by Kim Stanley Robinson
Listening Comprehension Test for 11th Form Students
Then a movement across the pool caught my eye, there in the shadow of two gnarled oak trees. I froze, but I was right out in the open for anyone to see. There under one of the oaks, in shadow darker for the sunlight, a pair of eyes watched me. They were about my height off the ground, I thought it might be a bear, and was mentally reviewing the trees behind me for climbability, when it moved again, it blinked. And then I saw that the eyes had whites visible around the iris. A villager, out hunting? I didn’t think so. My heart began to hammer away inside me, and I could not help swallowing. Surely, there was some sort of face there in the shadows? A bearded face?
Of course I had an idea what I might be trading glances with. The yeti, the mountain man, the elusive creature of the snows. The Abominable Snowman, for God’s sakes! My heart never pounded faster. What to do? The whites of its eyes… baboons have white eyelids that they use to make threats, and if you look at them directly they see the white of your eyes, and believe you are threatening them; on the off-chance that this creature had a similar code, I tilted my head down and looked at him indirectly. I swear it appeared to nod back at me.
Then another blink, only the eyes did not return. The bearded face and the shape below it was gone. I started breathing again, listened as hard as I could, but never heard anything except for the chuckle of the stream…
I rounded a big boulder that stood on the bank and almost ran straight into a yeti coming the other way, as if we were on a busy sidewalk and had veered the same direction to avoid each other. He was a little shorter than me; dark fur covered his body and head, but left his face clear – a patch of pinkish skin that in the dim light looked quite human. His nose was as much human as primate –broad, but protruding from his face, like an extension of the occipital crest that ridged his skull fore –to- aft. His mouth was broad and his jaw, under its ruff of fur, very broad, but nothing that took him outside the parameters of human possibility. He had thick eyebrow crests bent high over his eyes, so that he had a look of permanent surprise, like a cat I once owned.
At this moment I/m sure he really was surprised. We both were as still as trees, swaying gently in the wind of our confrontation, but no other movement. I was not even breathing. What to do? I noticed he was carrying a small smoothed stick, and there in the fur on his neck were some objects on a cord. His face –tools- ornamentation: a part of me, the part outside the shock of it all, was thinking (I suppose I am still a zoologist at heart), “They aren’t just primates, they’re hominid”.
As if to confirm this idea, he spoke to me. He hummed briefly; squeaked; sniffed the air hard a few times; lifted his lip (quite a canine was revealed) and whistled very softly. In his eyes there was a question, so calmly, and intelligently put forth that I could hardly believe I couldn’t understand and answer it.
I raised my hand, very slowly, and tried to say “Hello.” I know, stupid, but what do you say when you meet a yeti? Anyway, nothing came out but a strangled “Huhn.” He tilted his head to the side inquisitively, and repeated the sound. “Huhn. Huhn. Huhn.”
Suddenly he jacked his head forward and stared past me, upstream. He opened his mouth wide and stood there listening. He stared at me, trying to judge me. I swear I could tell these things.
Upstream there was a crash of branches, and he took me by the arm, and suddenly, we were atop the stream bank, and in the forest. Hoppety-hop through the trees and we were down on our bellies behind a big fallen log, lying side-by-side in squishy wet moss. My arm hurt.
Phil Adrakian appeared down in the streambed, looking considerably the worth for wear. He had scraped through some brush and torn the nylon of his jacket in several places, so that fluffy white down wafted away from him as he walked. And he had fallen in mud somewhere. The yeti squinted hard as he looked at him, clearly mystified by the escaping down.
“Nathan!” Phil cried. He was still filled with energy, it seemed. “I saw one. Nathan, where are you, dammit1” He continued downstream, yelling, and the yeti and I lay there and watched him pass by.
I don’t know if I’ve ever experienced a more satisfying moment. When he had disappeared around a bend in the stream, the yeti sat up and sprawled back against the log like a tired backpacker. The sun rose, and he only squeaked, whistled, breathed slowly, watched me. What was he thinking? At this point I did not have a clue. It was even frightening me; I could not imagine what might happen next.
His hands, longer and skinner than human hands, plucked at my clothes. He plucked at his own necklace, pulled it over his head. What looked like fat seashells were strung on a cord of braided hemp. They were fossils, of shells very like scallop shells – evidence of the Himalayas’ days underwater. What did the yeti make of them? No way of knowing. But clearly they were valued, they were part of a culture.
For a long time he just looked at this necklace of his. Then, very carefully, he placed this necklace over my head, around my neck. My skin burned in an instant flush, everything blurred through tears, my throat hurt, and I felt just like God had stepped from behind a tree and blessed me, and for no reason, you know? I did not deserve it.
Without further ado he hopped up and walked off bowleggedly, without a glance back. I was left alone in the morning light with nothing except for the necklace, which hung solidly on my chest. And a sore arm. So it had happened, I hadn’t dreamed it. I had been blessed.