As the bus drove away from the whitecapped mountains, I remembered my veranda, and the sunsets and evenings I spent alone, or walking upstairs to Shira and Junko, or going to Tom Yam Thai, passing time, living, writing, eating, reading, all soft and shaded by orange gloaming or bright mountain sun.
I’m already gone. Now I’m back in the hustle bustle of brown people selling pots and pans and baby clothes and juice and umbrellas, back in India, this ever-emerging cosmopolis of a subcontinent of commerce and honking. Always the honking. And my memories of comfort in Bhagsu displaced and fading, already relegated to time spent.
I was surprised at how easily I fell asleep on the bus. Everyone’s wakefulness drained away once the bus started moving. They were saving it for later, for arrival. I slept almost the whole twelve hours. It seemed as though we were riding through suburbs for most of the trip, or maybe that was my dreaming. I tried to open my eyes while we rode, during intermittent snaps of waking, but I couldn’t. The reclining seats made it that much harder.
When I arrived, everyone wanted me. I looked around in the warm gray dawn and said, “Where are we,” not expecting an answer. I went into a cab with a man who picked up my bag, which had already been removed from the bus, since I was the last one off. He said I need pay only what I think right. Old ruse. Then he took me to an expensive hotel that was full, a cheaper hotel at $12 a night, very near the train station, and finally into Old Delhi, where I could get a hotel for $6 a night. When I paid him 150 rupees, he looked at me like I was joking. I was prepared for such an attitude. He “looked at the meter” and said it should be 750. Two men watched me stand resolute. I asked them what they thought it would cost. 450. Ha! I’d paid that from the airport to New Delhi, I said. Hate or love it, I left the 150 on the seat of his car and walked away, expecting him to follow me. But he didn’t. Momentarily I wondered about the karmic effects of giving him what only I deemed fair.
I was in the Muslim district of Old Delhi. A little man found me and said he could take me to a place. We walked past men weighing lamb brains and setting out huge gray-purple livers before the onset of morning heat. Metal gates to shops were closed, but the devout were burning incense. I was sweating. There were clouds of flies and dogs sleeping in mud. I felt the disgust that is culture shock. I had been spoiled staying in the mountains.
When we arrived and I bargained them to 300 per night, I didn’t have any small bills for backsheesh for my little friend. But I did appreciate his help and sent him good energy. My room had a private bathroom, double bed, and within ten minutes of arriving, two roaches– one I killed, the other I let live for its phosphorescent shell. When the man who came into change my sheets laid them on the bed and saw the hole in them he made a face, like uh-oh, I didn’t see that before, even though he had to have. It’s a hole the size of my spread hand. I shrugged and shook my head, assuring him it was fine.
I woke from a nap and decided to get dressed. It was only nine. I thought about going back to sleep, but I had to ration my waking time in this inferno– I may need to sleep away the hottest part of the day. It was still early enough to walk through mild heat. I turned to put on socks and saw a little red bug on my white sheets. I feared the worst. I wiped it out with a pillow, leaving a red streak on the sheet.
This saddened me immensely. I remembered what Rhythm said about how I’ll need to start taking two showers a day as I suffer through Rajasthan. Again I remembered my veranda, the cool quiet of my room, and my easy, pacific lifestyle in the mountains. I had come all this way from my paradise in the mountains to suffer bedbugs in Hotel Al Islam. I had to tell the owner. I remembered how when I arrived he handed me a card with a picture of an absurdly lavish red carpeted stairway. I looked at him querulously; maybe it was another location. “Next time,” he told me, nodding at the card. Now I realize– he can’t have a picture of his actual bedrooms. I figured he wouldn’t be able to do anything about the bugs, but he offered me a new room one floor lower (easier for the cockroaches, my New York voice said), which looked considerably cleaner.
The bedbug experience rid me of any apprehension of leaving my room to brave the heat, the prices of city life, incessant touting and filth. I walked along the dusty streets, waving off took-took drivers, and trying to look like I belong from the look in my eyes. I stopped in a Comfort Inn for a map and directions to the nearest cyber cafe. I had a mango shake which was everything a mango shake ought to be, with ice cream and bits of dried papaya and raisins on top. I found a cyber cafe, but they didn’t open for another half an hour, so I returned to an air conditioned coffee shop I’d seen on my way.
I sat with a sandwich while they played Rhianna. I thought of the bed bugs and how it’s only ten o’ clock and ninety degrees outside and I remembered the sadness of being alone in Tel Aviv, and all the people I met in Jerusalem and the excitement of adventure immediately following the darkest hour; but most of all Rhianna’s voice in Istanbul and our dancing near Taksim Square with pretty girls I’ll never see again and friends I’ll never get close to. And all of the enjoyment and expectation I had for hearing her voice while out on the town. All shadows and goodbyes.
Not that I yearn for the past; no sehnsucht here. I love wallowing in nostalgia and just being lonely and sad. Without sounding trite, it’s a writer’s brand of misery. I think about my next round of adventures, the friends I’ll make and the women I’ll love and the distances and bus and train rides I’ll have to cover before I get home to build a routine, a sweet routine of comfort and desire and uncertainty and discontent, yearning for the future until I’m on the road again, uncomfortable and breaking from change. This cycle will probably continue until I get old and tired or I find someone to love and trust entirely. By then these memories will fade and weaken as I remember them as naive pieces of youth, as unskilled stitches in my blanket of time.
I bought an Americano to enhance my mood and provide me focus, allowing me to at least remember the last time I was in Delhi, and try to put in perspective how I’ll think about this moment in a few weeks or months or years as that time I was really sad and alone in Delhi, before I left for Rajasthan. Man, that was great. I felt so alive, so doleful. This helped. Bhagsu is just a rich memory, and there will be more to come, and better ones at that. Then I opened my book and thanked goodness that my bedbug bites hadn’t started itching.