For several years around the turn of the century, I went through a phase where I thought I was a poet rather than a story teller. During that time period, I went on three of my winter wanders. One season I was in South America, another trip I was in India and another journey brought me to Southeast Asia. As a result, three of the notebooks from my scribbly notebook collection of world traveling adventures are filled with incomprehensible epic poetry rather than my normal rambling prose. Some of the stories from those trips are rather incredible and definitely worth sharing but, unfortunately, the only written versions I have are in the form of vague and confusing, poems. What can I say, I was overly creative with form and messed up all the substance. So now, here in the present (December 2015), I am attempting to transform those old confusing poems into brand new stories. I like to think of it as the re-incarnation of words. This week’s story is my first attempt at this process. This real crazy story did indeed happen to me (as best I can recall) in Varanasi, India.
CITY OF DARKNESS (Varanasi, India; December 17, 2000)
What is the flavor of darkness? What is the scent? The sound?
I arrive at three in the morning, and darkness hovers around.
The train whistle blows as we pull into the station and I am greeted by a smoky platform and rushing crowds of people. The flow of humans moves in both directions simultaneously. I hop from the train with my pack on my back and am immersed in the middle of the swarming masses. Which way do I go? The crowd surges up the stairs and I am swept along. Strange little men reach out to touch me and offer their services. “Rickshaw sir, where you go?” “Rickshaw, Hotel, Rickshaw” “This way my friend, follow me.” There are tchai servers, peanut sellers, omelet makers and everything vendors. The lepers huddle in the stairwell and reach out their stumps as I pass. “Rupee, rupee, rupee,” they say, over and over and over again.
Everywhere is bustle and squirm as the floor is covered with people sleeping in rags. It is big mass of human flesh like a single living organism. It is tough to decipher where one human ends and another begins. The odor of sweat mixes with roasted peanuts and burning garbage. There is choking smoke and foul air. Don’t step in the shit… human shit, dog shit, chicken shit and shit from some undetermined species that I don’t even want to think about. How can there be so much shit inside the train station? Finally, the exit.