I am trying to offer Aliya the requisite rupees to cover her rickshaw fare to the train station. The ride should cost 50 rupees, but all of the wallahs want to charge her 100. And we don’t really have time to haggle properly, because we’ve waited until the last minute. And so when a man comes up and offers to do it for 60–and when Aliya starts arguing with him about the price, because she’s frustrated and sad and angry, and because I haven’t yet told her that I’ll go to Delhi again for her (because I haven’t yet told myself)…because she thinks these might be our last moments together, and because she doesn’t want to spend them arguing with all of the rickshaw wallahs who think we’re green–I step in. Say Yes. “Yeah, we’ll take it–one way. 60 rupees.”
There’s no time to go down the other ten.
(The funny thing about falling in love with a girl who lives on the other side of the world: You don’t necessarilly realize how impossible the situation is
until you’re in it. You don’t realize that it’s doomed to fail, that
you’re digging yourself another hole, that you’re making life more
complicated than both of you really need it to be. Or, rather, I guess you don’t realize until you do. Until one morning in Mysore, laying in bed,
thinking to yourself, “What have I gotten myself into?” You wonder
this as you play with her hair; you wonder it because you suddenly
understand that you only have–at best–three or four more weeks to
play with her hair. That then you’ve got to go. You could stay in India,
but you both know that you won’t. That you probably won’t. No, that
you won’t. You won’t because you’ll feel like a hanger-on, like a
rider-of-coattails. Like a burden. Like someone who is not living
his own life.
And that’s not something you want to do.
And then what? Those three or four more weeks are up? Are spent? Just like that? And that’s all it took? And how did we end up in Varanasi again?
Aliya throws her bags in the rickshaw and I hug her and kiss her face and get all misty-eyed, and I tell her (because I’ve just now decided) that I’ll see her in Delhi, that this isn’t the end. The rickshaw man appears genuinely affected by the white man losing his shit a little bit over the brown girl. I notice him looking affected because I’m looking away from Aliya, feeling embarrassed, trying to hold back tears.
Aliya gets in the rickshaw and I walk away; and I don’t look back because if I look back then that means it’s the end; and, besides, looking back would mean I’m being desperate, greedy for time; and since all time does is disappear, it’s a stupid thing to be greedy for; and since I’m not stupid I can’t be greedy for time. Can I?
I can be, but I still don’t look back because I’ve decided to make more. I’ve decided to make more time. So I don’t look back because we’re not going to die in Varanasi. No one will ever die in Varanasi again.
Oh, who am I kidding? I look back. But when I look back it’s too late. When I look back she’s gone.
And it’s just as well.
I walk alone through cow-shit-littered gullies to the burning ghat, inhale the smell of roasting bodies, and cry.