Zing Stories

Beware, Otherwise

This short story - 'Beware, Otherewise' - was published by Transnational Literature Vo7, No 1, Nov 2014

 The Z Hotel hadn’t changed. Still the coolest place to stay. Puri had lots of hotels but a maharajah’s ex-palace is still a maharajah’s ex-palace.  

 Maryanne registered the scatter of tourist footwear and the impressive staircase with cast-iron banisters leading to reception. She slipped out of her sandals and nudged them aside to help the taxi driver follow with her suitcase. She let her fingertips drift up the smooth wooden tops of the bannisters as she ascended the stairs. We slid down here once. Thirty-five years ago.

To the left, a doorway. European tourists sitting around a huge table on a veranda. ‘The Rajah’s Table’, Trevor had dubbed it. ‘I’m going to check if we’ve got mail,’ she remembered him saying in his flat, farm-boy way. ‘Meet you back here at the Rajah’s Table.’ And she saw a much younger Maryanne with long straight brown hair lift her head from journal-writing and blow him a kiss across her half-finished cup of chai. They called us The Aussie Lovebirds.

 They’d taken the cheapest rooms available then: Trev in the men’s dorm; Maryanne in the women’s. Up that flight of stairs if I’m not mistaken. Yes, she swivelled her head – up there. More than once she’d swung into the men’s dorm and Trev had cajoled the Brits, ‘Hey hippie bums, give us some privacy. Go blow some joints at the Rajah’s Table.’

‘Madam?’ It was the taxi driver beside her, puzzled by her hesitation. ‘Reception is available.’

 He parked her suitcase to one side of a majestic wooden desk behind which the manager was rising to his feet, smiling welcome.

‘Thank you driver.’ She tipped him – he’d driven her all the way from the new airport in Bhubaneshwar to the holy city. ‘It’s our – my – second visit here,’ she told the manager as she sat down. ‘The last time was 1977.’

 ‘Ho-ho. Long time. Many of our guests return to us,’ he said with a waggle of his head while extending one hand for her passport. ‘But – verry long time for you, isn’t it? You are verry welcome, Madam. Thank you for remembering us. Many changes coming. We have wi-fi now.’

‘Can you still go up to the roof?’ Maryanne asked after completing the formalities. A mental picture of the flat Indian roof where she and Trevor would begin their day – their place – flashed into her mind. 

‘Certainly Madam. The rooftop is available.’

‘Is the … ah … the Pink House still down by the beach?’

‘Yes Madam.’ He waggled his head sideways to impress his answer upon her. ‘You can see,’ and he pointed upwards. ‘Fourth floor.’

‘And Konarak, the Sun Temple? Can you still get a bus there?’

‘Certainly Madam. Buses are always available. But a taxi for you is better. More com-fort-able. No-one pushing every which-way.’ He then spoke rapidly in Oriya to one of his staff and flicked his right hand towards the room she’d booked on the internet:

a big airy room facing the Bay of Bengal.

‘The boy will take.’

The ‘boy’ taking her suitcase was a thin barefoot man of at least thirty. She followed him to a set of doors, thick with layers of paint and secured with an ancient padlock. He opened up and wheeled her suitcase inside. There were two single beds, side-by-side, made up with white sheets. He padded to the one closest to the window facing the sea and began to undo the ties of a mosquito net piled on top of its wooden frame. Mauve netting fell around it like the sides of a teenage girl’s hide-out. He showed her that the shower worked. Indicated drinking water in plastic bottles.

She tipped him a ten rupee note. Trev and I hardly ever tipped. Gave to the beggars instead. But The Ten Rupee Tip was the recommendation of friends in Peachester who’d recently returned from their first Asian holiday, a package tour to Delhi, Rajasthan, Taj Mahal and Varanasi. ‘Keeps everyone happy and everything flowing,’ the couple had said. They’d initially tried to persuade Maryanne not to go to India so soon after Trevor’s death. ‘Fair enough,’ they’d said, ‘go with the kids but four weeks on your own before they join you?’ It dismayed Maryanne just how advice-prone everyone had become; how her every move was monitored, discussed. The worst was that the whole of Peachester had expected burial in the Nelson family plot not cremation. But she knew that Trevor wanted his ashes to be released in the Ganges River. He’d always said this. When death was a joke.

She was standing, blank-eyed and lost in thought, in front of the mauve mosquito net. Happened often, this paralysis. She roused herself, closed the doors and unpacked her things onto the spare bed and into shelves. When her fingers found the square box, tears welled. She put it next to her pillow. Then on the broad windowsill facing the Bay of Bengal. No, not east facing Australia. North. Facing Old Puri town. And the mighty Jagannath Temple. And the Ganges.

She lifted the mauve haze of mosquito net, taking with her the bananas and packet of roasted peanuts she’d bought in Bhubaneswar. She sat cross-legged on her bed and picked at the food. Then she stretched out; let her jet-lagged head spin. That way, she put off facing anyone, or anything, until the next day.

 

The sound of her smart phone registering texts woke her.

Mum are ya there yet? Wilson playing for laughs.

Mum did the flight from Kolkata to Bhub connect as promised? How are you handling it? Karla the Human Resources manager.

Nothing from Dylan. Busy on the farm? Or too stoned to bother?

She checked if her phone company had activated its ‘roving’ signal before tapping in a response. Of course it has, Mum, she imagined Wilson and Karla, the city-slickers, chorusing: how else could you be getting our messages?

All ok. Meet Varanasi as planned. xx

Sending … Wilson.

Sending … Karla.

Sending … Dylan.

But she felt racked with doubt. Is this really what you want Trev? Sweetheart, it’s hard. So hard. 

            At breakfast at the Rajah’s Table, Maryanne let a talkative Londoner, also a new arrival, take the lead. Yes, Maryanne agreed, happy to share a taxi into Old Puri. Yes, take in the views of Odisha state’s pilgrimage city from the library opposite the Jagannath Temple. Yes, Marina Beach after that. And dinner at the Peace Café.

While Jackie chatted on, Maryanne toyed with a pancake. Who could be bothered eating?

‘I come out every year. Six months at a time. Catch taxis for a coupla days to acclimatise then go everywhere on the cheap. What about you?’

‘Haven’t been here since I was, uh, twenty-one.’ Tears prickled Maryanne’s throat. Grief began its dark and heavy tug.

‘My first year at the Zed was 1984,’ Jackie continued. ‘Gol-ly-gosh it was wild back then, but you’d know that. I start all my Indian trips here. One year didn’t go anywhere else, stayed put, got my strength back. Up there,’ and she pointed to the ceiling. ‘The dorm. Saves a packet. That way, I can buy loads of presents. They love their Indian party dresses back home, all them sequins and little mirrors. This year will be a bit different. I’m meeting a friend down in Pondicherry. Going to live it up for once, stay in one of the colonial hotels and eat French every night. Cheaper in Pondi than in Paris! In my line of work, you need to treat yourself.’

Maryanne decided not to ask what line of work. She felt certain Jackie was a social worker: last thing I need. ‘Have I got time to go up to the roof before that taxi?’

‘Absolutely. Like to take me first day nice n easy. See you here at the Rajah’s Table at ten. No,’ corrected Jackie, ‘make that eleven.’

‘You call it the Rajah’s Table too?’ Maryanne asked in surprise.

‘Bin called that for ever,’ Jackie stated. ‘Mornin,’ she greeted a new guest. ‘Just in are you?’

Maryanne took the four flights of stairs slowly. Not that she was puffed – living on a farm, albeit one corner of a farm – kept you fit, but she felt tired. So very tired. Like she’d fallen into molasses. Black and sticky like the tonic they doused the cows with when they had the farm to themselves, when Trev’s older brother and his wife took off for their annual winter holiday. A treat for the mothers run down after calving.

Even now at nine in the morning, the concrete roof of the Zed was hot underfoot – she could feel it through her thongs. Pack a pair of thongs, she’d told the kids, you’ll need them in the showers. Worms might burrow into the soles of your feet, up into your intestine. They’d laughed and said, ‘It’s not like back in the day when you and Dad travelled around on two dollars a day! We’re going to be in a five star hotel, Mum.’

She skirted the hotel washing that was spread out flat. It was a clear day and the Bay of Bengal was a light grey, dotted with boats from the fishing fleet. She leant against the low wall. Down by the dunes – how about that! – the Pink House. They’d eaten grilled fish at the Pink House. Sat under a coconut palm and talked about the swami from Tiruvannamalai as they drank Cokes. Not Coke – India had banned Coke – substitutes, fizzy drinks said to settle the stomach, kill off the diarrhoea-inducing bugs. Strains of devotional music and Bollywood from Puri itself now drew her over to the opposite side of the roof. The Jagannath Temple wasn’t visible from here, she remembered. Does it still have the signs? NON-HINDUS NOT ALLOWED.

Her smart phone buzzed with Karla’s reply: Don’t overdo it. Be careful Mum.

She turned it off to save the battery.

Nowhere near eleven. Back in her room, she crawled under the mauve mosquito net with the inflight magazine, a pencil case of bits and pieces and a new notebook. Sitting cross-legged she glued in a map and, starting from Brisbane, drew arrows across the brown empty space of Australia to Bangkok; Bangkok to Kolkata. Underneath Kolkata she printed the more familiar but now outdated CALCUTTA. To christen her first travel diary since 1977 she wrote: There are some things you must do alone and only you know what they are. Trevor Nelson.

 

On the following day, Maryanne dressed in a white top and long white pants and nibbled on a bit of toast and marmalade. She wanted to leave early before any guest could engage her in conversation.

            ‘Marina Beach,’ Maryanne told the rickshaw rider. Pointed down Chakra Tirtha Road like an old hand. As he jolted over potholes and dodged wandering cows and competing traffic, Maryanne rummaged in her daypack for her sunglasses. She slipped them on; they’d prevent the locals making eye contact with her yet would allow her freedom of vision. A favourite traveller’s trick. Funny what I remember.

At the Marina Beach esplanade, she handed the rickshaw rider the twenty rupee fare and The Ten Rupee Tip. He brought his hand up to his heart in gratitude. Maa, he called her. The beach was teeming with Indian holiday-makers. Some waded tentatively into the small waves of the Bay of Bengal; most sat eating snacks bought from hot food vendors whose small coloured carts plied the sand. A group of Hare Krishna supporters brushed past her, their chests and shoulders bare, their dhotis incense-scented. European men speaking Russian.

She turned and crossed to the less crowded footpath opposite. There! The acre of bare dirt that she’d spotted yesterday with Jackie. Actually, Jackie had pointed it out: the Burning Ghats.

Back in the day, as the kids say, I wouldn’t look.

‘I’ll be on the beach, Trev,’ she heard her young self call; saw young Maryanne stride off with a flick of her long hair. Headstrong, somewhat rude. Ignoring the swami’s advice to speak kindly. When Trevor eventually joined her there, she’d blocked her ears like a rebellious schoolgirl, ‘I don’t want to know what a burning corpse looks like.’ Now she whispered, ‘Trev, you were always wiser than I was.’

On reaching the entrance, she pressed her small frame – in respectful white – up against a wall, as unobtrusive as a Westerner can be at such a place. When she was ready, she gazed at the Ghats. The low-caste men who burned the corpses were already at work on the hillside.

Behind her, an ambulance pulled in. A couple of men, probably family, opened the ambulance doors and slid out a bamboo litter on which lay a corpse covered by a white cloth. They carried it past her and placed it next to the first woodpile they came to, about fifty metres in, and removed the shroud. An elderly male in a loin cloth lay on the litter. They folded the cloth and took it with them, leaving the carcass, as stiff as sticks, behind. No ceremony or emotion. The grieving stage must be done with – now it’s simply a matter of disposing of the material that has housed the soul in life. One old brown wrist wore a hospital name tag bracelet; the other thin wrist sported a plastic tube dug into a vein. An attendant arrived and lifted the bamboo litter matter-of-factly onto the pyre and lit the wood.

No-one paid her any attention. At length, Maryanne took a cotton handkerchief from her daypack and covered her mouth and nose with it. The smell of the burning wasn’t offensive but it was sharp and smoky. She gasped at one point when the old man’s blacked bones jerked upright in its orange flame. Just as suddenly, the torso bones fell. There were two attendants, each with several burning bundles to mind. When one returned to check on progress, he poked anything protruding back into the blaze. The limbs took the longest to burn.

When the fire burnt down to ash, Maryanne started to cry into her handkerchief as secretly as she could. She was remembering the coffin hewn by Trevor’s only brother from planks of wood from the tree that killed him. This is exactly what happened to you Trev, except all we saw was blue velvet crematorium curtains.

In the middle of this rush of intense emotion, a cow walked in from the street and past her. Puri had many holy cows and also many stray dogs and they roamed where they wanted. But here? It introduced a sense of the ridiculous. All over the Ghats, she saw, cattle and dogs were wandering about or dozing here and there in warm hollows. No-one found the presence of the animals perturbing. Trev would love it.

Another ambulance pulled up with its cargo. Another old man, even more emaciated than the first. He was carried down to the burning grounds. A bony Brahmin cow swayed over and snatched up its garland of marigolds.

Enough.

Maryanne returned to the esplanade.

Camel rides were in full swing across the sandy expanse. A few young women swam in saris, not swimsuits. A new wave of grief caught her in its knuckles: couples everywhere. She hailed a rickshaw by holding up a twenty rupee note. Made it clear she wouldn’t negotiate further.

Back at the Zed, she saw Jackie on the veranda displaying party dresses that she’d bought for her grandchildren. Instead of joining them all, Maryanne caught the manager’s eye. ‘Can you send dhal and rice to my room? And tea in the morning at seven? I’ll go to Konarak tomorrow,’ she advised. Declined his offer to book her a taxi.

Maryanne tipped ‘the boy’ when he came. He too called her Maa. She missed her pet name, M.A. which people in Peachester used. Em-Ay. She picked at the food although it was tasty then placed the tray outside the door. Crawled under the mauve net and into the sheets.

 

There was one consolation – she missed repeating this observation to all and sundry now she was here in India – she’d told Trevor she loved him the night before he died. They didn’t declare their love so often anymore – it was, after nearly forty years together, something both took for granted – but on what had proved to be their last night, she had. They were talking over their days – hers at the prison for men and his at the hospital. She lolled in the bathtub and he sat on the toilet seat, cross-legged because, with all the meditation he did, he found that position comfortable. She pushed up against the back of the tub and said, ‘I love you.’ A film of bathwater shone on her small breasts. Her toenails were happy dots of cherry red against the porcelain. His weathered face was serene as he shrugged philosophically, ‘Without the swami, we wouldn’t have this.’ His last words because, by the time she’d joined him in bed, he happened to be asleep and in the morning he left early (as usual) because he had further to drive, his love-you and have-a-good-day pot of tea on the bedside table. And when she came home at dusk, it was his silence that sent her running down the paddock. Saw the chainsaw first. It had cut itself a crazy path through the kikuyu, gouging at the loam in somersaults until it had run out of fuel. The evening: cool, and so quiet. Fresh dark leaves of the avocado tree at her feet. Knowing then. Turning. Feeling her arms and her voice rising up before her eyes found him. Under a heavy skirt of dense green leaves. Pinned. Crushed by the old avocado tree limb that he’d climbed to trim. One consolation.

 

A party of them were about to troupe down to the bus station, all heading to the Sun Temple at Konarak, when Trevor decided to nip down to the poste restante first. She was still at the Rajah’s Table, flirting mildly with the Brits, when Trevor passed her a blue airmail envelope from home. Stop sabotaging career prospects, show some consideration; come home. Qantas ticket from Calcutta to Brisbane enclosed.

They ran up to the Zed roof. Held hands under the glary morning sun and blinked at the east. We have lost track of time, they realised. We are pretty much out of money. The year we planned is up. But two days to make it to Calcutta, almost Mission Impossible.

‘I’ll fly back with you, Maryanne,’ Trevor decided.

‘You don’t have to.’

‘But we’ve met the swami now.’ And he braided his suntanned arms yogi-style and made them sway like a fakir’s cobra. ‘In it together. We’ll come back, Little Sad Face.’

‘Let’s go then!’ she screamed with sudden joy and ran across the scorching concrete. Leapt onto the bannisters and slid down. When they announced their decision to the Rajah’s Table the other backpackers exclaimed, ‘But you’ll miss Konarak!’

That’s how Konarak became the joke between them, year after year, after the deliciousness of sex when Maryanne – it was always Maryanne – said, ‘What if we’d gone to Konarak?’ Meaning: how could we want for more? Because the Sun Temple wasn’t only amazing for its religious significance but for the sculptured reliefs of lovemaking on each of its four massive sides. The kama sutra in stone. Architectural erotica. On the occasions she said she was too tired for sex, Trevor pretended to spank her and mock-ordered, ‘Off to Konarak with you and don’t come back until you’ve perfected Position Number 42.’ They had no idea what Position 42 was, it was just a number to play with, to laugh about. And Konarak was their symbol of other things too, like the different lives they might have lived had they’d not returned to Australia at that point in their lives and ‘settled down’ on a corner of Trevor’s parents’ dairy farm at Peachester, built a house of their own and raised three children.  

 

She passed the train station as she walked to the bus station. Queued up and booked a second class seat north to Gaya, only 700 rupees; she knew she could take a taxi from Gaya to Bodhgaya. As for getting to Varanasi – she’d figure that out when the time came.

Today’s bus to Konarak cost only twenty rupees for the forty kay trip, less than a dollar return. The ease to which she returned to ‘roughing it’, as they had when travelling around India after finishing their uni degrees, made her pleased. Still got it Baby.

In the crowded bus, she said excuse me to the two schoolgirls next to her, hugged her daypack to her lap, and closed her eyes. Blocked the visuals that went with the melting pot of noise: the horn blasting; the conductor’s shouts of Konarak-Konarak-Konarak to prospective customers on the road; the passengers gossiping; mobile phones tinny with Bollywood. Mother India. I feel safe here.

 

They are down south in Tamil Nadu, ten months into the trip they’d started in Delhi. They’d meandered up to Srinagar, down to Rajasthan, south to Goa … further south to Kerala. They’re making their way north now. Gradually. Heading to Bodhgaya, the place where the Buddha became enlightened. Varanasi is next. They’re in the holy temple city of Tiruvannamalai, staying in an ashram – he’s in the men’s dorm, she’s in the women’s – and they’re breaking up. Trevor’s meditating for hours every day and Maryanne feels locked out. ‘We’re supposed to be travelling,’ she protests. But Trevor – he’s calling himself Krishna now on the advice of a Brahmin priest – responds with, ‘There’s only one journey. To know: who am I? who is thinking?’

They’re climbing the mountain behind the Sri Ramana Ashram to say goodbye at the summit. Her idea. She’s carrying her heavy canvas backpack, ready to check into a hotel that she’ll reach via another path. An unnecessary martyrdom. Trevor will return to the ashram. She imagines she’ll never see him again; that’s what she wants. Tomorrow from the hotel she’ll catch a bus northeast.

Halfway up, after passing the cave where Sri Ramana meditated for nine years, they stop to talk to a swami who’s sitting on a boulder on the side of the path. As pilgrims pass him, he sweetly offers them cards printed with Sri Ramana sayings. They introduce themselves as Maryanne and Trevor from Australia. ‘Dear young people,’ he invites and gestures to boulders opposite.

He tells them he’s a man of fifty, a prosperous accountant who is leaving family life behind ‘to live the holy life’ for a few years. He says happily, ‘I dwell here every day.’ They reveal that, although they’ve been together since first year Social Work, within the hour they’ll separate, never to see the other again.

The swami sinks into silence. It lasts and lasts.

‘You cannot take a virgin,’ he says to Trevor gently, ‘and give her love then abandon her. There is the right time for the holy life and the wrong time.’

‘And you, Miss,’ he says to Maryanne, ‘How can you think of abandoning this love of yours when he needs you the most? You must speak to him kindly – not harshly as you do – and give him support in his journey. It is not easy to understand the non-material world. Encourage him, with your every breath. The time will come for you to take up the holy life. Then you will know what he knows now.’

 Maryanne shrugs off her backpack and begins to cry.

‘Dear young people,’ he instructs them, ‘live like ordinary human beings, even though you know you are not ordinary. Make every day a holy day. Be happy with your lives.’

‘Baba,’ asks Krishna-Trevor, ‘don’t you believe I am ready to stay here?’

‘I do not believe, my boy. Babu, you have been smoking too much charis and your life is in danger. Be careful or, like a stone tumbling down this mountain, you will tumble down too.’

 

The two schoolgirls moved past her and conductor called, ‘Konarak Maa!’

            I’m here.

There was no particular reason to choose Mister Vikku over any of the other Indian government guides who rushed her. But he stuck like glue and, when she introduced herself as a widow on a holiday, he sent her such a gaze of empathy, she agreed to an hour of commentary about the famous 13th century construction that UNESCO awarded a World Heritage listing.

‘Where from?’ he asked.

‘Australia,’ she replied.

‘Ah, Aus-tral-i-a,’ he beamed. In sing-song Indian English he added, ‘Very good cricket players. Ricky Ponting. Shane Warne.’

She smiled patiently.

‘And your good name?’

‘Maryanne.’

‘Follow me Madam Maryanne.’

After lawn and rose gardens they arrived at the southern side of the immense structure in the form of a chariot. Mister Vikku started his spiel here: praise for the precision of a sun dial which doubled as a chariot wheel.

‘Let’s keep moving,’ she suggested.

‘Ah, Madam is interested in the sculptures.’

‘Yes,’ she said, bluffing an assertiveness she did not actually feel. ‘I’ve read about the history here,’ and she held up her phone. ‘I want to see as many of the sixty positions as possible.’ I think, Mister Vikku, I’ve earned my right to celebrate the eroticism of the body. I want, for the hell of it, to find Position 42.

‘First one,’ Mister Vikku pointed. ‘She is putting hands together to invite: come here. Next one, looking in a mirror, checking, “Am I beautiful?” ’

The shapely court girl had perfect round breasts and a tiny waist.

‘Next one, she is touching one breast and telling, “With all my beauty I will dance for the king. Please the king and the gods.” Above her, musicians, see Madam Maryanne?’

‘Hmmn.’

‘Drum. Flute. All playing. And the beautiful court lady lifts up her arms and places her leg in front, and she is dancing.’

How did the sculptors do it? Make the stone alive?

‘From here, so much sex. The king is telling the people: make the children. So many wars happening. Killings. And the Buddhist monks of these days, they are telling the people, don’t marry, don’t enjoy. But the king wants the people to make the kingdom great. Enjoy! Make the children!’

‘So the sculptures were the king’s idea?’

‘Verry much so. Verry much so. Madam is a married lady so I am not telling Madam anything. You see, so many tourist here. India, America, German, oh yes, everywhere coming.’

There were thousands of people at the complex. Her fellow-tourists included scholarly types she imagined to be academics; gay couples; intense men with cameras and long photo lenses. A global babel encouraged by Indian government guides showing off specific sculptures on the massive sides of the towering chariot. Why feel self-conscious? Even groups of uniformed schoolchildren were walking around, admittedly without really looking.

‘Look Madam – two men, one woman. There: two women, one man.’

She clicked with her phone.

‘Sixty-nine over there. Standing up there. Lying down up there. With young girl. With young boy. Up there: men and men. There: women and women. Front way. Back way. With a horse.’

As they reached what Mister Vikku called ‘The Backside’ of the huge temple complex, he leaned closer and said, ‘Some American women are telling me – black men are verry popular. Black men have, ah, equipment. Very long, very strong equipment. They are telling me, Mister Vikku, big is best. So look, Madam, over there – very big, isn’t it? Verry big.’    

‘Just point to the different sculptures, the different positions, if you don’t mind.’

‘Yes Madam.’ Mister Vikku retreated from his exuberance. ‘There. There.’

‘I see.’

‘So much dancing, so much music. So much every which-way.’

They stood now at the shady western end of the complex. ‘Are there always so many people?’ Maryanne asked.

Mister Vikku shook his head sideways. ‘This is noth-ing. Everyone in India is coming here: villagers, schoolchildren, everyone! Today is noth-ing.’

‘And the top part is in ruins?’

Thirteenth century Madam,’ he chastised. ‘We must expect. That was the most holy holy place. Only the priests who worshipped the Sun God allowed there. You know The Frontside, where I met you. Bus side? Once it faced the sea. Very very close in those days, not far away like now. Verry beautiful setting. And the engineering – oh Madam – I’m telling you, nothing like it anywhere else on earth. Metal pins holding everything. Magnetic force. Very superior. Then Vasco da Gama came sailing by. He knew: something special here. Decided to take.’

‘Vasco da Gama? From Portugal? He never made it this far east. To Kerala, yes … ’

‘Oh he came. Would Madam care for another hour? There are many interesting things to tell. I am highly trained Indian government guide. Forty years I am coming here.’

‘Thank you but I must have time alone,’ Maryanne declined.

Mister Vikku persisted. ‘Vasco da Gama removed the magnet and the Sun Temple collapsed. Very interesting story.’  

‘I am thinking of my husband,’ she said quietly.

Mister Vikku hushed. ‘Very good, Maa. Then I say, may the gods keep you well.’

‘Thank you.’

Under a bottle tree, its base painted in broad red and white stripes, she paused to eat an orange. Peered at the inner sanctum above, now bricked up to keep the structure intact. Here I am at The Backside, Trev. God knows where Position Number 42 is.

A text from Dylan: Chucked in labouring, helping on farm. Good rain. Love you Mum. Stay strong. Varanasi here we come.

She dabbed underneath her sunglasses with her handkerchief.

When ready, she climbed up a set of stairs. Scaffolding everywhere. Orange safety tape barriers. On every corner were signs: BEWARE OTHERWISE YOU MAY FALL DOWN.

Don’t worry Trevor, wherever you are.

Journey on. I am not falling down.

I am not. 

 

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