Here are a few short writings from my travels through India.
I first met him laying be bed next to me. Wait, no, he was laying in the bed next to mine when I first me him. Aaron Koppenhoefen, a young German sent to India for six months by his parents to find something, though I don’t think he knew quite what. He looked up from his book and we executed the usual ritual as I placed down my backpack. I had to come to this ashram in Rishikesh to find something that I was missing; it doesn’t matter what, which is good because I couldn’t explain it if it did. Six hours north of Delhi at the foothills of the Himalayas is a fine place to be when you’ve got no where else to go.
Aaron was quiet, sitting bolt upright in bed, back pressed so hard against the cold, concrete wall you might think it would otherwise collapse. He returned to his book, barely tilting his head as his eyes locked onto the words. I decided to go for a walk to get a lay of the town, some fresh mountain air, and a roll of toilet paper. It was colder than I had expected it to be and I began scouting around my backpack for a layer. I found a 100 rupee note and grabbed it along with my forest green fleece. I put it on and in the process misplaced the rupee note. I ruffled around, confused, and checked my deep empty pockets. I turned to Aaron, not out of suspicious or for help but out of exasperation. Aaron continued reading. His eyes never left the page.
I returned to my bag and sifted through various currencies until I found a 500 rupee note. A bit big for buying toilet paper, but it would have to do. I grabbed my cell phone and a novel (the novel was for appearances sake, really, as even Rishikesh cafes have wifi, and even on vacation it would be 48 hours before my book binding was creased as I instead took time to detach myself from the habit of reading news that was happening 10000 km away). I grabbed my key, stuffed it in my pockets, but didn’t feel the crinkling of paper money. I sighed, blamed jet lag, and searched my bedding and bag and pockets again. Then I checked the pockets of my jacket, even thought I hadn’t touched it. Its funny, the places we look when we loose something. Such hope, no rationale, our cortex highjacked by our amygdala. I furiously searched places those rupees could not have been. A visiting alien might look at me and think I was scrambling for my epipen, or my future, but it was a 500 rupee note. The note that I had just put in my pocket. I turned to my new roommate. Aaron continued reading. His eyes never left the page.
Exhausted and flabbergasted I returned to my backpack. I found a 1000 rupee note, which was a useless piece of paper – no one would make change for the 25 rupee tea that granted me a wifi password, or a 10 rupee roll of toilet paper. I placed it on the bed and by chance pulled out a 100 rupee note, squeezing it tight for my walk. I grabbed the useless 1000 rupee note to shove deep into my bag (I realize as I write this that I need a more organized way of carrying my money) only to find my hand grasping at air. I wasn’t surprised, like I almost expected it to have vanished; I didn’t look for it. I just turned and looked at Aaron. Wiping any irrational facial hint of suspicion, a skill I take great pride in possessing, I stared at him, still bold-upright in his bed, the wall still erect, his eyes still fixed to the page. He this time looked up, and I looked into his eyes and his eyes looked into my heart and beyond and I felt naked and cold and paralyzed. It was like a mixture of curare and Petro-Canada slushie were coursing through my veins in place of warm blood, like the air in my lungs was statically charged and looking desperately for a place to run. Just as quickly as that sensation started, it stopped, only seconds having elapsed if i had to take my best guess. Aarons eyes came up to meet mine. They were massive and dark and through his pupils I saw a sea, or maybe, yes, an ocean, so wide and so deep and so hungry. “Cant find it” he said, with an intonation masked by his German accent, and despite playing that phrase over and over in my mind, I still can’t tell if his sentence ended with a period or a question mark. He returned his eyes to the pages of his book, his neck barely turning.
I’m convinced Aaron stole my money that day, but he wasn’t after my rupee. What he wanted was something I didn’t yet have, for I hadn’t yet found it. Not my soul, but something close. I had come to Rishikesh in search of something important to me. Aaron Koppenhoefen was looking for it too.
I’ve never seen a cow vomit, but I’ve heard a cow vomit. It’s worse than you think.
“Are you kidding?”
“No sir, its a very far way away”
“I could get to Delhi for less than that.”
“No sir, Delhi is much more far away, and the roads are closed, and extra kilometres”
“I’ve been in India for 2 months”
“We have a small car, sir, 1400 rupee”
“I’m not paying 1400 rupee to get to the airport. I’ll just have to take a bus”
“No sir, the bus is very slow, it is not a good bus”
“I’ll find my own taxi then”
“No sir, very sorry sir, there are no taxis here, only cars from hotel”
“There are 200,000 people in this city and only 1000 of them own a car. 20 tuk tuks have driven by us since I got here. You’re telling me there are no taxis in Dehra Dun?”
“Well sir, the taxi is not safe”
“How do you think I got here from Rishikesh? In a taxi. That drove PAST the airport. For 1000 rupee”
“No sir, 1000 rupee is not possible”
“But I just paid 1000 rupee.”
“Do you have the phone number of taxi services?”
“Yes sir, they are india phone numbers sir.”
“Yes, we are in india.”
“Can I speak to the duty manager”
“That is me sir.”
“And you won’t call a regular taxi for me?”
“Sir, there are no taxi in Dehra Dun”
“Ok, I’ll just have to call Sheraton and ask them for help”
“Sir, what time do you want the car?”
“Ok, 600 rupee, and the very best taxi for you, no problem Sir.”
Varanasi on Fire
Ashes of the dead fill the air, rising up to meet the moon.
Flickers of fire flow slowly by, lamps of grief on floating leaf.
Marchers chant, mourners wail, I stand silently.
Tourists shift awkwardly, invisible to those whose presence has meaning.
Earth meets heaven on the edge of the Ganges; life and death and life intertwine.
Smoke and emotion choke me as I bare witness to the Burning Ghat; it is both beautiful and ugly, both light and dark. I should stay, and yet I turn on bloc and leave, the smells, the sounds, the spirits chasing me through tight alleyways, past begging children and skinny cows.
For more creepy writing, check this out!
For more on life as a backpacker, click here.