They were in a very narrow, very old brick alley, taking their time down the steep grade toward the river, perusing the authentic and inauthentic silk scarves, accepting or not accepting disposable clay cups of chai from eager merchants, when Adam said to Jane that they should give it one more shot.
"No one would even have to know," he told her. "We could take it inconspicuously."
It was early in the evening and tomorrow the newlyweds would leave the ancient city on a train for Calcutta.
Jane was holding up two pairs of baggy linen pants in the sunlight. Each pair was striped with bright colors—one with oranges and yellows, the other with blues and greens. She slid the orange ones over her jeans and tied the drawstring tight around her waist. The owner of the little shop said yes, this is the color for you.
"It would be a good picture to have," said Jane, watching the loosely hanging fabric of the pants blow around in the humid wind. "I knew that as soon as I saw the smoke billowing up over the buildings. Even from so far away I knew it would be a really good picture. But what I don't know about is these pants. They're funky, but are they too funky? Could you see me wearing these back home?"
Adam said that she shouldn't worry about what she would do back home. "We didn't come to India just because it's cheap. We came to experience something cultural. Remember?"
Jane did remember. Neither of them wanted to spend their honeymoon lounging on beach chairs in the Bahamas or Mexico. They had agreed when they were dating that they were too young for comfort, and that if they ever got married, it wouldn't mean saving up for granite countertops.
Jane had moved in with Adam after they'd been together for three months. She'd quit her old waitressing job because it was too far away from Adam's apartment, and managed to land a new job at the same restaurant he worked sauté for—coincidentally called Adam's though the owner was named Jacob Brill. Still, she had to explain to her parents four times that Adam did not own the restaurant before they let go of the idea of her dating a successful businessman. She and Adam did not bring in a lot of money, but both of them saw it as a good thing, as some kind of sign that they were meant to be together. They told themselves they were adverse to capitalist models of happiness in which currency is exchanged for joy. As such, they did not own a television, they played cards. They never listened to the radio, with the exception of NPR. They took their time cooking meals and never felt the inclination to go out for food they could just as easily make themselves. They laughed in the grocery store at old women contemplating the bestselling mysteries and romances. They preferred literary fiction. When they first started dating, Adam showed Jane his favorite books and she read them all. Mostly they had to do with spiritual struggle, and Jane told Adam that reading them made her feel as if doors were opening inside of her.
"That's exactly how I'd put it," Adam had said thoughtfully. "Like doors opening you never knew were there."
Jane admired Adam's contemplative nature. Her initial attraction to him was wholly grounded in the suspicion that he had more on his mind than TV and beer. She saw it in his eyes the first time they met in an ethnic import store. It was the way he pored over a selection of wood-carved Buddhas from Nepal. His eyes were different colors—the left blue, the right green—and imperfectly aligned; the blue one rested slightly higher on his face than the green. When Jane finished The Glass Bead Game by Hesse, she knew her suspicions were correct. She had found a deep, good man.
The couple announced their wedding only two months in advance. The invitations were limited to closest friends and family, and made clear that not only were no gifts expected, but would be adamantly refused. They held the whole thing outside on the western shore of Lake Superior, exchanged simple gold bands. Jane remained Jane Iverish; she did not take Ritley. The ceremony was held in the morning and there was steam rising off the surface of the lake. Jane later asked Adam if he thought that might be a good omen since not everyone is married next to a steaming lake. Adam said absolutely. Their wedding, like the whole of their eleven months together, had been an informal affair. Now, a month later, they were in Varanasi, India, experiencing something new and different and cultural because if they didn't do it now, when would they?
So yes, Jane did remember, of course she remembered, and so she agreed with Adam. It didn't matter if she would ever wear the bright orange pants in Minnesota. What mattered was that they were authentic. Made in India. She turned to face the merchant and, pointing to Adam, recited the phrase her guidebook claimed would be useful. "Ye sriman sab kuch cukta karenge," she said. This gentleman will pay for everything. Jane laughed. It had become useful in the past two weeks. Adam carried all of the money in a Velcro pouch under his shirt, because they had heard Indian conmen were less likely to target males.
Satisfied with several hundred rupees—maybe ten dollars—worth of ethnic goods, the couple proceeded at a more focused pace down to the river. Jane played with the metal bangles on her left wrist. Adam wrapped a boutique-dyed lungi over his shorts and, claiming it still didn't look quite right, took it off and started over. "I'm serious," he said, "It's not every day you get to see a soul attain freedom from the wheel of life and death."
"Not very often at all you get to see something like that."
"Of course, we won't remember exactly what it was like when we leave. Not exactly."
"It will fade from our memory, after a while."
"Unless we have a picture of it. We could take it subtly, no one would even see, and then we'd never forget what it looked like. We could blow it up huge and hang it on our wall." Adam put his hand on Jane's shoulder and laughed. "Think of it, Janey: a picture of moksha."
The couple reached the end of the alley, which opened up suddenly to a long and wide series of stone stairs leading down to the Ganges. Jane looked over the flowing brown water and recalled the hundreds of pictures of the river she'd seen in books back home.
They had both done a lot of reading before leaving for India. Jane had picked up a travel guide and leafed through it for information on off-the-radar places to visit or the general customs of Indian culture, but Adam was much more scholarly about the research, more directed. He read up on the current affairs, on the socio-political situation of the young Indian Republic. One day he had come home from the library with an introduction to Hinduism and told her he'd spent three hours there reading about how life is suffering, how we are all born and reborn millions of times, and how moksha is liberation from this tedious cycle. And there is this city, he had told her. Varanasi. Founded five thousand years ago by Lord Shiva. One of the oldest cities in the world. One of the holiest cities in the world. The capital of knowledge. The city of light. The city of ghats and the Holy River Ganga. The city of temples and ashrams. The center for astrology, Sanskrit, yoga, Aryuveda. Famous for Banarasi Saris, Jari work, silk, and wooden items. And if a Hindu dies there he instantly attains moksha, regardless of his karmic situation.
They had decided early on that Varanasi had to be included in their tour of India, and the past two days were nothing if not proof that the city was worth their time. Varanasi was a truly cultural city, as they had hoped it would be, offering bizarre encounters with bearded snake charmers, knatty-haired sadhus in orange robes, and cone-shaped temples housing indecipherable deities. Most of all, there were the burning ghats, where Hindu men were endlessly cremated, their ashes spread over the holy water. When the couple first saw the bodies burning on the banks of the river, Adam claimed it was the most cultural thing he'd ever seen, and Jane agreed. Nothing in Delhi or Agra compared to it—those places had been disappointingly similar to the States. But Varanasi, the couple agreed, was a different planet.
Looking out over the river, Jane smelled the smoke in the air, knew it was the smell of burnt flesh. And she knew Adam was right. One good shot of the burning ghats could conjure a memory of the holy city more vivid than any number of other pictures. She imagined the photograph hanging on their wall at home. The flames growing excited in the wind. The timber of the funeral pyre crumbling and falling into the water. The vague form of a human body transformed into ash. The swelling body of cousins, brothers, sons, and friends chanting around the fire, guiding the unfettered soul into a higher reality.
Of course, getting the photograph wouldn't have been so hard if it wasn't technically forbidden. They had already tried several times, or rather, Adam had tried several times, since women were not allowed near the burning ghats. On their first day in Varanasi, Adam casually walked toward the fire and snapped a shot from the top of the ghat, but the photo caught more of the crowd of people loitering on the steps to the river than the ceremony going on at water-level. Adam began to walk down the stairs to take a closer shot, but the angry looks of passersby discouraged him.
Early the next morning, they tried again to get a picture, this time from one of the sunrise boat rides Jane had read about, but the boat didn't cruise close enough to the smoldering fires. The picture turned out as a good panoramic view of the city—with hundreds of bathers splashing about knee-deep in the river; four-armed goddesses painted like fading giants on the weathered walls of temples and houses; a grey, humpbacked goat chewing on newspapers and black banana peels; a group of small boys playing cricket with rocks. But the cremation fires came across as pitiful match flames.
Adam gave it one final try that afternoon, when he worked himself to the front of a crowd gathered at the Harischandra Ghat. He was about to sneak a shot with the digital camera in his pocket, but a fight broke out between another foreigner and an Indian man. Jane stood horrified and watched from the top of the ghat as a small mob exploded into action and Adam fled from the crowd with his hands around his face, catching a few random blows on the back of his head. She prayed for him to escape safely as he hauled himself up the steps and took blind shots over his shoulder.
All of them missed the fire entirely. One of the pictures caught an Indian man ready to drop a small wooden crate over the foreigner's head, and Adam had later laughed at that, but it was not the picture they were going for. The other two pictures framed a stray dog, golden brown and smaller than most, sitting calmly in the fray. In the latter photograph, the dog was licking its lips, its head turned toward the camera. The picture was charming, Adam admitted, but he would never hang it on his wall.
As they sat there inspecting the small frame on the back of the camera, Jane looked at her new husband. He was still fidgeting with his colorful lungi, and down the steps a crowd of people had gathered around a naked man covered in ash standing on his head.
"Tomorrow," she told him. "Before we leave, we'll take the picture. But only if we take it subtly, and nobody sees."
That night at their hotel, Adam and Jane sat out on their balcony overlooking the arcing river and the city hugging its western bank. Directly below the balcony there was a small marketplace where, during the day, merchants sold orange prayer beads and clay chillums. Now the tents and tables were abandoned. Behind them stood an old temple, half-submerged in the Ganges. "It's a Shiva temple," Jane had told Adam when they first saw it. "Hundreds of years old, and it wasn't always underwater like that. A hundred and fifty years ago, they built the ghat around the temple. The Scindia Ghat. But something happened during construction, and the temple fell into the water. Or at least I think it's the Scindia Ghat. I don't know. It says what it is in the travel guide."
Behind the temple, a husband and wife with two young children were gathered outside lighting candles and singing. Om Namah Shivaya Shivaya Namaha.
"Imagine growing up in such a cultural place," said Adam. "Imagine chanting to Shiva every night on the Ganges River."
"I can't even fathom growing up with such cultural customs," said Jane.
"It'd be amazing," said Adam.
The sun fell, and soon after, the city lost power. The family left the temple, and the space around the balcony grew quiet for the first time all day. Even in the moonless dark, Adam and Jane could see the motion of the water's crescent-shaped course. Along the western banks small fires were lit, until the general shape of the city was plotted out with dots of flickering light. Adam lit a cigarette he had rolled with a small amount of hash purchased from an aging sadhu earlier that day. He pulled the smoke in slowly and watched as the reflections of the prayer fires danced on the surface of the River Ganga.
"Crazy how everything seems to touch on Shiva here," he said as a bat fluttered close to the balcony and then on over the river. "Even the shape of the city. Shiva wears a crescent moon in his hair, and the Ganges is supposed to spring from his hair. Crazy." He passed the cigarette to Jane.
"Maybe we're hanging out in Shiva's hair right now, and we don't know it."
"Maybe we are. His hair is supposed to be pretty messy. It would make sense." He took the cigarette back from his wife. "And just think, if you die here. Bam. Instant salvation."
"How lucky are all these dead guys?"
"I wish I had that kind of security for my afterlife."
"We'll at least get a picture. Maybe we'll never be saved, but we'll at least get a picture of what it might be like. And that would still put us ahead of most people. Most people don't even think about this kind of stuff, much less photograph it."
"When we go home, we might be the only folks in town with a picture of salvation. Maybe the only folks in America."
"And when we have friends over, it will be there on our wall. And they'll ask me what's that hanging on your wall? And I'll say, Oh, that's just a picture of moksha I took when I was in India." Adam pulled on the cigarette once more and threw it over the railing of the balcony. The couple silently watched the river flow through the darkness. Fires were sprouting up on the eastern bank now.
Jane's eyelids hung low and heavy. She watched three fires light up simultaneously on the far side of the river, smiled and looked at her wedding ring. Adam had apologized for the absence of a stone when he proposed, but Jane only laughed. She had told him she would have said no if he'd bought her a diamond. It was a beautiful ring, she assured him, simple as a soul. Her face began to tremble as she reflected on her good fortune. There were a whole lot of girls, she thought, who would never find a man interested in the workings, the cogs and gears, of the human soul. She looked at Adam, who was grinning widely and staring off at the water. She smiled and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She said she was tired and asked him if he was ready to sleep.
"I'll watch the fires a little longer, but I'll be in soon," he said.
Jane stood up and kissed him on the head. She told him she loved him and went into their room. She collapsed on the bed, the hash singing lightly in the space behind her forehead. The room was hot and stuffy. Already Jane could feel her clothes sticking to her body. She stared at the ceiling fan. The screen door to the balcony had been left open, and now there were moths and flies and beetles crawling on the ceiling, as if seeking relief from the heat by the fan. But the fan didn't so much cool the room as shift the heat from one end to another. It spun and spun and creaked as it went. It spun in uneven circles, like a busted bicycle wheel, or a moon.
They awoke the next morning with four hours until their train left for Calcutta. This morning Adam opted for a plain white lungi. Jane wore an emerald sari. They had purchased these clothes at a large mall in Delhi. There existed between them an unspoken agreement that they would dress in the Indian style, like they belonged there or were never returning to the States. They figured that beyond the sheer beauty—the sheer inventiveness of the clothes—which satisfied them greatly, adopting the country's fashions would only immerse them deeper into the culture.
Adam paid the bill for their hotel room and they headed out to the riverside. Each carried a backpack on their shoulders. They were approaching the Manikarnika Ghat, and as they neared the edge of the crowd gathered there, they were intercepted by a young Indian man in a grey loincloth. He was a short man with shoulder-length black hair that shined in the sun. His eyes were round and set in deep sockets. He was probably in his late twenties. "Hello, sir, ma'am!" he called to them.
"Namaste," said Adam and Jane, strikingly simultaneously.
"You like this ghat?" the man asked.
"It is a fascinating custom," said Adam.
"And beautiful," said Jane. "Such a beautiful thing."
"Yes, is very beautiful," said the man. "And also hard. Here it is very important for Hindus to die, but always this is not so easy."
"Are you related to the burning man?" asked Adam.
"Me?" said the man. "No. I work here. This ghat, I prepare the wood. My name, Sanjay." He offered his hand to Adam.
"I'm Adam, and this is my wife, Jane."
Sanjay turned his attention to Jane. He shook her hand, smiling not at her, but through her. His eyes were open and distant as if in reverie, his teeth stained brown from tobacco. "Jane," he said, "a beautiful name." Sanjay continued to smile at her, and when he did not stop, she smiled back. "Adam and Jane," said Sanjay, ecstatic, "my friends. Welcome to Varanasi!"
Jane took a half step backward and weaved her fingers through Adam's. "You work at the Manikarnika?" she asked, the smile still awkwardly hanging there on her face.
"Yes, yes. This is my house." Sanjay pointed at the two story building behind him. "I live here. People come here, to this house, very sick. We make their sick easy for them."
"And then you cremate them at this ghat?" asked Adam.
"Yes. Here," said Sanjay. "You want to see the sick house? We will watch the fire from the roof." Sanjay did not wait for a reply. He was leading the way up a narrow staircase which entered into the front door of the house.
Jane squeezed Adam's hand. "Maybe we should go to the train station."
"We've still got plenty of time, Janey."
Jane let go of Adam's hand.
"Be reasonable. I know you don't like to be rushed on travel days, but getting to the station three hours early is unnecessary. We have time."
Jane didn't want to say that the idea of entering a hospice in India made her nauseous. She turned to face the cremation fire. There were maybe a hundred living bodies between Jane and the dead one.
"O.K., Janey, let's go. We'll just get a picture of the ghat from the roof." He brushed his wife's cheek with his thumb. "You look beautiful in that sari," he said, then headed up the steps after Sanjay. Jane noticed how different the men looked at her as soon as Adam stepped away. Like she was in a cage, a simulated habitat.
She followed Adam into the hospice.
The three of them entered a large main room. The room was empty except for a shrunken old woman in a faded sari mumbling prayers over a small bronze idol of a dancing god.
"Shiva Nataraja," whispered Adam into Jane's ear. He wore his excitement plainly on his face.
"You like the dancing Shiva?" asked Sanjay.
"It's a beautiful thing," said Adam. "Just beautiful. And so imaginative. And funky."
"I also like it," he said. He turned to Jane and added, "And I think you also must be excellent in dancing." Again he smiled in that way of his. The smile that was more about his round eyes than his lips. He walked toward the old woman and the idol. "This is Anjali," he said. "She speaks no English, but she is a saint. She cares for the sick before they die."
Adam stepped closer to the woman. There was a visible sadness in her, as if she had not been outside in a long time. Her sari was a faded purple, and rolls of fat spilled loosely out of the spaces between the fabric. She was reciting a prayer and offering dried leaves to the deity before her. Then she stopped abruptly and looked up at Adam. Her eyes seemed desperate, and why shouldn't they, thought Adam, spending their days looking after the dying. The woman was painfully silent, and Adam wondered if all saints were so uncomfortable to be around. Then he broke the stale quiet of the room with a smiling namaste. The woman gave him a cold look—her forehead wrinkling into a severe frown. Adam shuffled from side to side, and the woman's eyes opened slightly wider, as if enjoying something. Unsure of himself, Adam turned his back to the old woman and asked Sanjay where all the sick people were.
"They are here," said Sanjay. "They are always coming and going. We try to make it easy for them. But always this is not so easy."
"Of course, it would be difficult work," said Adam.
"But is God's work, and is good to give your life for God," said Sanjay. "When a man dies at this ghat, he reaches heaven only. He does not pass through another body, as many others do."
"Moksha," said Adam.
"You know this word?" asked Sanjay with a smile on his face. "You are a very smart man."
"Well," said Adam, smiling and running a hand through his hair, "I've done a bit of reading. They are really fascinating ideas, reincarnation and moksha, and it's been just wonderful to be here in India, seeing where all these ideas come from."
"Not ideas," said Sanjay. "Moksha is truth of God. Is liberation from pain. Come. We will watch from the roof, and you can see this," said Sanjay.
Adam turned to face his wife and shot her an excited grin. He raised his eyebrows and hung his mouth open in a subtle smile, but Jane offered him nothing in return. She met his eyes head on, and that was all. As if she was not fascinated. As if the city was not culturally fascinating.
Adam walked toward her. "You heard the man," he said cheerfully, trying to coax a smile out of her. He nudged her in the side with his elbow. "Let's go see about moksha on the roof."
They followed Sanjay up the staircase in the opposite corner of the room. As they walked up to the roof, they passed through the second story of the house. Like the main floor, it was a single open room. Besides a square of light on the wood floor which filtered through a large window facing the river, the room was empty. Jane stopped on the staircase to look in. There was dust flurrying softly in the air where the sunlight pierced through.
"Where are the sick people?" she said.
"They are here," said Sanjay. "They are coming and going. Always. We try to make their sick easy for them, but this is not easy."
"It's God's work, Janey," said Adam. "Karma yoga," he added, "doing good work without selfish interests. Remember, from the Bhagavad Gita?"
"You know the Gita?" said Sanjay as he ushered the couple further up the stairs. "Very good," he said, and laughed. "Very good."
"It's a great book," said Adam, following closely behind Sanjay. "Really, I couldn't even put it down."
The three of them emerged from the staircase on to the rooftop terrace, eyes aching and adjusting from the dim light of the house to the intensity of the daylight. Wind blew across the roof and carried a stench of wood smoke with it. Miles of buildings and twisting alleys sprawled outward to the north and south, but the real attraction was the fire just below. The pyre must have already been burning for hours, because the flames were low, the wood was mostly coals, and the body of the man laid there in plain view. The body was perfectly blackened. The arms and most of the legs had burned off entirely. What remained were the torso and the head. Even from the rooftop, the contours of the ribcage were well-defined, and it looked as if the mouth was open.
Adam retrieved his camera from his backpack. "Mind if I take a picture?" he asked Sanjay.
"Adam sir, we are friends," said Sanjay, seemingly shocked. "I will not trouble you. In India, the guest is God."
Adam got to work. He aimed the camera at the pile of glowing wood and carbonized bone, focused, and shot. The few remaining flames, magnified by the zoom lens, were intensely bright in the viewfinder. After he got the shot, he moved slightly to the left, and took another from a different angle.
Jane stood with her arms resting on the raised edge of the terrace. The heat of the fire settled pleasantly into her skin. Sanjay stood beside her and put his hand on top of hers.
"You are Christian?" he said.
"No," said Jane. "I have no religion."
"In India, everyone has religion."
"In my country, many people say they are religious, but you cannot always believe them."
"You mean they do not believe in God?"
"Some of them don't."
"Do you believe in God?"
"I don't know. Yes. I think."
"It is best to believe in God. Otherwise, our karma will be very bad," said Sanjay, pressing his thumb into Jane's palm. "God is everywhere. God is between people."
Jane turned away from Sanjay and looked toward Adam, who was crouching on an overturned bucket and resting his camera against his kneecap as he looked in the viewfinder. The sun beat down on them, and sweat beaded on the back of Jane's neck.
"When we live for God, our karma is good," said Sanjay. "Every day, we must work for God, and help others. Then we are good. It is bad not to help others, no?"
"We should always do our best to help where we can."
"So I have brought you here. You will have an excellent picture of the ghat. I have helped you," said Sanjay, his hand now wandering around her back, just beneath the shoulder blades. His fingers continued down along her body until he found a dimple in her lower back. Delicately, he pressed into the dimple with his thumb. Jane arced away from his touch, but Sanjay's hand followed her movement, not hurting her but not letting her get away either.
"We appreciate your help," said Jane. She pushed his arm away, but Sanjay was strong, and returned to the dimple with his hand.
Below, workers stoked the fire with new logs.
"Sometimes it is up to five hours," he said, "before there are ashes. This requires very much sandalwood, up to four-hundred kilos if the man is very large. Many people cannot afford so much. Is nineteen-thousand rupees for two hundred kilos of sandalwood. Many times, a family cannot afford to burn all of the body. We burn half, or as much as we can with their money." Sanjay dug into the curved side of Jane's waist with his fingers. Again Jane tried to force him away. She called Adam's name, but he was leaning over the edge of the roof, taking a shot of the fire from directly above, and did not hear her. Jane took a step in his direction, but Sanjay reeled her back in with both of his hands.
"I helped you. You will have nice pictures of the ghat," he said. "You should help me also. Otherwise, is very bad karma."
Jane said nothing. Her eyes flitted about in their sockets and her face turned pale and serious. She thought of the first time she saw Adam, of all things. His misaligned eyes browsing a glass case full of Nepalese Buddhas. She called out to him again, her wavering voice betraying her panic.
"Nineteen-thousand rupees would be enough to save a beggar," said Sanjay. "Many have no family to pay for burning, but you could help them. Even five thousand rupees would help."
Jane apologized to Sanjay. She told him she didn't have any money and that she was sorry. She told him Adam was the one with the money, if that was what he wanted.
"Even no money," said Sanjay, as if bargaining, "is O.K. I think you can help." He felt the skin of Jane's stomach uncovered by the sari. He dug into her flesh, breaking her skin with his nails. Jane let out a stifled cry of pain. Sanjay covered her mouth with one hand, and pulled her close to his body with the other.
Adam was on the other side of the terrace, staring into the viewfinder and waiting for the right shot to manifest in the frame. The lens was fully zoomed in on the fire, and in the viewfinder bright lights swelled and faded atop the dark backdrop of wooden coals. Adam stood there, peering into the camera, as Jane, held still by Sanjay's left hand, felt the right one gliding up the side of her body, then along her collarbone, then down, between her breasts with the tips of his fingers. Jane stood there like a wooden doll, tears streaming, inexplicably paralyzed. Sanjay took her hands into his and grabbed them tightly. He rubbed her fingers, then brought them to his mouth and kissed them.
Adam snapped the shutter of the camera down and, remembering himself and where he was, called across the terrace: "I think I got a really good one." He walked back toward them, and Sanjay released Jane from his hands and stepped away from her, as if floating.
"Now you have a very nice picture of the ghat," said Sanjay.
"I think I got a really good one," said Adam, clearly thrilled. "I really felt something just now. It was like the fire hypnotized me. Like all I could do was watch it and take pictures. And I kept thinking of Shiva and his hair, and the Ganges, and how old all this is. And I had this feeling that something was happening to me. Something big." Adam looked at Jane. "Did you feel anything, Janey?"
Jane watched a beetle crawl across her foot. She couldn't tell if it was black or a deep, dark green. She followed the creature with her eyes and said that she had felt something just now, but that it had not made her think of Shiva.
"This place is unreal," said Adam. "Such a spiritual city. Not at all like the States."
Jane's mouth hung barely open. The beetle made its way over Sanjay's foot, then paused, fluttered its wings, and continued on.
"Thank you, Sanjay. We will never forget this," said Adam as he gathered his wallet out of his backpack and withdrew a one-thousand rupee note. "Please take this. Really, you have helped us so much. Really, this picture is all we've wanted for days."
The honeymooners arrived at the station two hours early. They sat beside each other on a wooden bench. Adam ate a hot samosa off a newspaper, and because Jane didn't want the one he offered her, he ate a second, lapping the grease off his fingers when he finished. "Who would have thought you could get such interesting flavor out of potatoes and peas?" he said.
"I wouldn't have thought you could get a flavor like that," said Jane. She sat with her feet flat on the ground, her back straight, her head craned downward, her hands on her knees, looking intently at her long, pale fingers. Adam turned to his wife, a glob of food wedged into the corner of his lips. "What happened?" he said, noticing the red streaks on her stomach and tracing them with his fingers.
"We got the picture."
"I mean about the scratches."
Jane took Adam's hand off her stomach, set it down in his own lap.
"We should see the botanical gardens in Calcutta," said Adam. "I hear those are really something."
Jane was chewing on her lips with her incisors, drumming her fingers against her thigh.
"You O.K., Janey?"
Jane lifted her right hand to Adam's eyes. The outside of her palm was bruised purple, her fingers thin and naked. "It must have been Sanjay," she said. "He was touching me while you were taking pictures."
"The ring's gone?" said Adam.
"Yes, it is," said Jane.
Copyright © Peter Schumacher 2009.