It’s noon on one of those double days created by an overnight train ride in sleeper class — a paranoid ride where the cop with the HK submachine gun calls you out the first time he sees you. “You — where is your luggage?” You point beneath the seat. “ALERT!”
He urges you to take it upstairs, so you press the pack to the top bunk and lock it to the support beam. You strap your money belt around your right upper thigh (and to do so, go pants around your ankles in the bathroom) and safety pin your wallet into your right pocket.
Return to the bunk through the darkened car and notice the officer has chosen to sleep on the bunk below you. No problem, no contraband here. You climb up and position your loafers atop the fan where suction can keep an eye on them.
Get fetal, clip your day pack — an overgrown purse, really — to your main pack, entwine your forearm in a shoulder strap and lay your head down to rest on an empty water bottle. Twist the cap to let out just enough air for the bottle to mold to the shape of your skull.
Bathroom breaks at 12, 2, and 4 — that’s what you get for playing Chug n’ Rehydrate — and wake at 4:57 a.m. to an empty car at Varanasi.
Paper-cup chai on the platform, a bit of energy because who knows what’s next. Find a rickshaw and don’t argue too hard, hotel arrival is the priority. Ride through the dark streets wearing your sunglasses as dust goggles, south to Assi Ghat.
The rickshaw drops you at Hotel Palace on Ganges, which, despite the French tourists coming down the stairs oohing and ahhing at the Ganges, is not Hotel Temple on Ganges. Find Hotel Temple by turning and looking directly behind you.
Give the rickshaw man 48 for a 40 rupee fare — a serious overpay — and inquire about a room. 350 and 550. 450 for the room with a view? Got it. Balcony, fan, and more mosquitoes than you’ve ever seen in your life.
Realize too late that the southeast window setup means you’re going to bake through the entire 104 degree day, that you’re going to call the place a hell station before you leave — but no matter. It’s simple enough and clean, ten bucks a day, and it has a desk, man, a desk!
A desk which now, at about 12:30 p.m., you’re neglecting in favor of lying naked on the bed, under the fan, with curtains drawn and lights off, the room lit Oz emerald by the sun through stained glass.
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