A bubbling of panic.
A few minutes ago I'd snapped a photo of Utulik's cute little train station.
Now the 'holster' was empty. Somehow I'd managed to lose my digital camera. It was a present from my wife and with it had disappeared a panoply of memories, faces, photos I'd promised to send and all the digital back-ups of my maps and travel notes that makes such devices so powerful. If only I'd changed the flash card. If only I hadn't visited that useless place in Utulik which didn't prove fit for inclusion in the book anyway. If only... Worst of all I was now muttering regrets - and philosophically I'm anti-regrets.
Discarding any suspicions of theft, I could pinpoint within a few hundred metres where I must have dropped it from my belt-holster. And I'd spent an hour examining every snowy bank for signs of the little silver box, somehow imagining that if I were patient and faithful enough it would somehow call out to me. Then a horrible realization started to dawn... The most likely place was not the roadside at all. It must have fallen in that terrible pit-latrine. I'd had to contort myself to squat above it's deep nastiness, and with the floor being so gruesome I had attempted this with my napsack still in place. It would have twisting against my clothing in the sort of way that just might have dislodged the camera. Oh no - those frighteningly wobbly boards suspended over a semi-frozen poo-mountain. It could have dropped...
I returned to the dire place in trepidation. What would be worse? To see the camera unreachable in a ghastly mire of human excrement? Or for it not to be there and to lose all last hope? There was no sign of it. Was this all an April fool's joke? I finally had to give it up.
I tried to call my wife to apologise and seek solace. But the supposedly 24-hour telegraph office in Sludyanka refused to put the call through. The grouchy attendant simply looked up disinterestedly and pointed at a handwritten sign: "Having a break". A crowd of other would-be callers were clearly similarly annoyed and were all before me in the queue. So I decided I better get to the town's only hotel before that filled up.