I’m the only person honest enough to chronicle what happened to Madam Coates. The hotel concierge, a bald and ever-sweating British man, gathered us staff in the Jewelled Nawab Jungle Retreat and swore us to secrecy about the rules that she had ignored. If we so much as breathed a word to a private detective or a pale-faced guest with glasses that turned out to be a journalist, we would be kicked out on the street with only the clothes on our back.
The white Europeans started building the Retreat on the jungle’s edge, hoping to lure in more elegant tourists with the promise of large, elusive game. They believed that if they had conquered Asian kings, then surely they could conquer the violent Scarlet Viceroys whose wings were larger than the bed sheets we would hang out to dry, the Garuda Eagles whose talons could carry off an elephant, and Mahesh the Sand Raksha, whose roar could make the ground shake.
I write this because although Madam threatened my livelihood, she deserves one truthful account. Someone needs to remember the power of the jungle, and of the great beasts that lurk within the retreat. I still Mahesh’s roars at night, echoing against my darkest dreams.
I am the oldest sister of three girls and one little boy; my little brother studies in the local school. Amma realized we needed an extra pair of work hands, cut my hair short, and dressed me in a boy’s dhoti, white pants with a tail in the middle. She started to call me “Ram” instead of “Rani,” and sent me to work in the fields. My small hands became callused and blistered, and my skin became as dark as tealeaves left to dry in the sun.
I began to pilfer books when I picked up my younger sisters from school, and I read their assignments. Numbers made me relax at night, as did the thought that our universe was bigger than the tiny village where cows and goats ate up all the garbage and left enough dung cakes for weekly firewood. One time I wanted to become a doctor and cure the aches of my grandmother, who lost ten children before having my Amma; when I betrayed this ambition to my sister’s schoolmaster, she taught me how much work and money one needed to learn how to cure a grandmother’s aches.
When I hit my teens, and discovered that my breasts remained small, I realized that I could keep earning money for the family, so that my brother Kartika would never have to leave school. Amma didn’t know that I had taught myself the Western words, so that I could read the papers and write for advertisements. The Jeweled Nawab Jungle Retreat was new then, and they wanted people to sweep the floors and gather luggage. They paid more than the farmers offered during the harvesting season did.
I left home that night, only taking enough of my farm’s wages to pay for the fare to the Jeweled Nawab Jungle Retreat; I would walk home if I had to. The rest would pay for the family’s food for the next week. If I failed, the farmer would hire another boy for harvesting.
Around dawn, I approached the Jeweled Nawab Jungle Retreat. It was new then, with the painted walls a pristine blood red, shaded by thick leaves. Strange winds came from the nearby trees, however, and once or twice the ground shook beneath my feet. I struggled to stay upright and walk with dignity.
The hotel concierge was a light-skinned Indian man with a trimmed mustache; he took one look at my clothes, caked in dust from the road, and started talking to me. He was sitting on the veranda like a king waiting for honored foreign guests, a cup of coffee in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
“So you wish to work for us?” he asked, in a voice with the sharp, guttural European accent, talking slowly in Tamil.
“Yes, sir,” I responded. The dust had caked on my head, and could have passed for expensive sandalwood paste.
“What is your name, boy?”
“Where do you come from?”
“From Sri Mamba, sir.” This was a lie; I came from a small village.
“Heh!” he snorted. “From the city, eh? I don’t just accept anyone. Can you speak English?”
“I can understand it, sir,” I responded. “I have read the letters, but at times I do not know how to pronounce them.” Then I repeated the phrase in English, to the best of my ability.
He snorted again. Then, inspiration striking him, he reached for the newspaper and spread it in front of me.
“Read this, boy, and perhaps I will hire you.’
I blinked and stared at the letters. Printed words marveled me, as they always did in the village.
“Bomb explodes in Oxford shire, killing twenty. On Monday, Oh-Gust Twenty-Four, a bomb exploded in the center of Oxford. The ah-sail-lant was a young man, in his late twen-tie-ess, a student in the chemical sciences.”
The Concierge’s eyes widened. He pointed to another article on the paper.
This was on the House of Parliament’s policy on economics. This was easier, since it featured more numbers. Again I read it aloud, mispronouncing some of the words.
“Hmm.” The concierge said. “Hmm. And I suppose you can read Greek as well.”
“I could learn it fast,” I offered. “I like to read.”
“Arrogance!” He patted my head, as if I were a performing monkey. “Maybe you will be an amusement for the guests. Can you sweep? And clean? And carry heavy items?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied, trying not to get irked. “I will do anything you ask me to, as long as I get paid.”
“Hmm!” He considered this. “I can pay fifty rupees a week, as well as meals.”
“Also, am I allowed to read the books in the library? When I am not working, of course.”
The wicked glee returned to his eyes again. Perhaps there was jealousy there, or the traces of smugness.
“Boy, you will be working so hard that you won’t have time to read. But let me tell you this: if you can entertain the guests with your fancy words, then you can earn tips. If you can master Greek in a month, then you can read all the books you like in the library.”
I did not like the concierge’s mocking tone, or the way that he studied my rough hands and my soft voice. But because of what he promised, I agreed, and I changed into my work clothes that day. The guests arrived in the evening, and I was instructed to read the newspaper for them. At the time I didn’t understand, but I later heard them calling me a “dancing bear.” I didn’t like the sound of that phrase.
The concierge gave me the smallest servant’s quarters; it had probably once been a broom closet. When I lay down to sleep, eyes aching from so many letters, I swore that I heard a distant roar and that my thin sheets shook.
It took me two months to teach myself Greek, reading in the late hours of the night, and another month to work up the courage to demonstrate my ability to the concierge. He laughed when I told him, his booming laugh echoed around the room, like the sound of a library door slamming shut.
“You honestly thought that I meant that? I was joking.”
Rebellious, I opened a book of Ovid’s poetry which I had brought with me and read it aloud, slowly and carefully.
He chewed on his lips, and told me I could read one book a night, and I had to record which book it was. I decided to shut up, continue working hard, and send Amma the extra money. She was able to buy proper clothes for my sisters, and to save for their dowries.
“But what about you, Ram?” She would write. “How long are you going to keep this up?”
I never responded to that question. Instead, I sent most of my wages to her and prayed that my breasts would stay small. Eventually Roger Smyth, the sweating white-skinned man, replaced the concierge who hired me, and he never challenged me to learn Latin or practice Greek. He also allowed me to buy ear plugs so I wouldn’t hear the distant roars.
Second, Madam Coates. She was a thin British woman with yellow cheeks that had flares of red, and she wore elaborate hoop skirts in bright colors, as if she wished to change into a fat green parrot. Her eyes would flit from person to person, perhaps in hopes that she would find an interesting subject.
Mister Coates, in contrast, was large and rectangular. He reminded me of a brick stove, because his face would often turn red from frustration. His hair was white, and he often snuffled. He often talked about game, and he was fascinated by the game that Papillon’s Jungle offered.
“A knack it is, to catch a Viceroy,” he would repeat. “You want to keep the wings intact, but these large specimens will smother you to death if they get half the chance. They have no patience for silly little nets and chloroform. You have to use a large honey lure, ideally a pit of sticky substance, and wait for them to be trapped. Like seeing buffalos getting trapped in golden tar...”
I was sweeping the dining room that evening, combing the corners with a short brush. My outfit was brown and orange, so that it didn’t appear dirty. Madam Coates followed me with her eyes.
“Oh come now, dear,” she said. “It’s not that much of a knack with the new guns and all. It’s just “bang-bang” these days and the wings can easily be restored.”
I made a strong effort to not shake my head. To go after a large butterfly fresh in its prime was suicide; every local knew that, especially with the legends of extraordinary hunting failures. Their wings were strong, up until they started to lay eggs on large tree leaves and life started to depart the great colorful bodies. Often we would find the dead butterflies at the bottoms of deep gorges, often in piles.
The hotel concierge found it in his best interests to give the guests a sporting chance, and lead them to the butterflies that had just laid eggs and were nearing the end of their lives, without telling the guests that they were hunting corpses.
“I look forward to trying out my new rifle on one of the Viceroys,” Mister Coates went on, as if he had not heard his wife. “The Black Viceroy beauties are said to be elusive, for they blend into the darkest night and are said to blot out the moon when they fly together.”
Madam pouted, and she sipped her coffee. Mister and Madam Greatfall were also dining that evening in the main room; they had visited before.
“I want to see the Sand Raksha,” she said, in a loud voice. “I want to see that large caterpillar that never grew wings.”
“Why, dear?” Mister Greatfall prodded. “Most of the time you only see sand anyway in that dry old hole of his.”
“Imagine how it would look on the trophy wall,” Madam Coates gushed to her husband. “A large beast with a Papillon’s mane and jaws.”
Pure discipline kept me from dropping my broom, since I had heard these words dozens of times; the hotel concierges expressly forbade shooting Mahesh the Sand Raksha; he was a legend, an untouchable beast. We told the guests that Mahesh was a giant worm, with no limbs apart from his giant pincers, but he was vengeful, clever and ruthless. That did not stop them from discussing the matter, or attempting to bribe us to start a hunting expedition.
Madam Coates caught my startled gaze and raised her voice. A smile appeared on her face.
“We would have to take the head, of course, and have it packed specially for delivery home. I imagine the taxidermist would have a field day with him-”
I closed my eyes to not think of taxidermists in the elusive west, breathed in the smell of sweat, spices and stale tea, and continued sweeping. Back and forth, thick hairs gathered dead leaves and stray grains of salt in a pile.
Another sound, clicking. I looked up. Madam Coates had dropped her shawl. Given the way she clicked her fingers, she wanted me to pick it up. I placed the broom against the wall, wiped my fingers on a cleaning rag, and returned the colorful red cloth to her. It was fringed with gold thread and had black flecks.
“We could do with coffee later in my room,” she suggested, wrapping the shawl around her neck, and gesturing to me. “Ronnie old boy, would you like to bring it?”
I had enough experience to not correct her about my name, but to merely nod and continue sweeping.
“Come now, dear,” Mister Coates said. “We tip this boy enough for his recitals of Romeo and Juliet. Why don’t you give us that instead, Ronnie boy?”
Again my old name. I hadn’t heard it in ages. Madam Coates saw the surprise, and she kept smiling.
“How about some Hamlet instead, Ronnie?” she asked. “I could do with some tragedy.”
Hands shaking, I fetched the book from its place beside the wax fruit bowl. As I did so, I heard her order, whispered to me.
“Coffee, Ronnie. In the late afternoon tomorrow.”
I read out the Yorick monologue perfectly, without a trace of a Tamil accent. The four Europeans stared at me, as if the dancing bear had suddenly learned a delicate waltz. Then I stumbled on Ophelia’s funeral, on Gertrude wanting Ophelia as a daughter-in-law, and all was well. They laughed, and I collected rupee coins.
I knocked on Madam Coates’s door. My other hand balanced a tray of two coffees, foaming in silver cups, as well as cream and a sugar bowl. I had changed into the red servant’s tunic and white dhoti, meant to be kept clean.
The door opened. I entered, placing the tray on a nearby table. The lights were dim, and incense burned. Store-bought cinnamon entwined with vanilla.
“Ronnie.” Madam Coates sat on her lounger in her white dressing gown and a pair of blue, silken pajama pants with a lace pattern. “It is good to see you, boy. How do you take coffee?”
“Where is Mister Coates?”
“Talking to the jungle guide, to arrange to hunt for the Sand Raksha for me.” She stood up, her tone becoming sarcastic. “Such a sweet man. He gives me everything I want. He won’t be back for a few hours.”
I felt very much like the girl with the red cape, encountering the wolf dressed in a grandmother’s clothes. My mouth went dry, and I hurried to mix the cream and milk in Madam Coates’s coffee.
“Why do you turn so red, Ronnie?” Madam Coates came over, and ran a hand over my arm, plucking at stray hairs. “Surely you have many admirers?”
I muttered a refusal in Tamil and tried to brush her hand away. She instead clamped on my arm, so that I could not move from the coffee table.
“Is it that I’m not attractive?”
“Oh no, Madam!” The words burst from my mouth. “It is... I’m not...”
If my life were a traditional novel, Mister Coates would walk in, release a bellow that would echo into the distant mountains, and shoot me three times through the heart. Worse, he could rip the decorative bayonet off the wall and stab me, denying me the merciful release of a musket. If I lived, Madam Coates would accuse me of seducing her, and I would lose my job that helped send my brother to school.
Trapped in the worries of my mind, I froze, and Madam Coates explored my torso with her hands. I tried to keep her away from my shirt, but she pinned me against the table. The coffee cups rattled, and brown liquid splattered.
“Hold still,” she whispered, “or I will scream.”
Her fingers dug under my shirt, and untucked it from my dhoti. They felt warm and creased, and my heart threatened to stop beating when they came to my breasts.
“Please,” I mouthed.
She didn’t realize, not at first. My breasts still hadn’t grown. Perhaps it is something that women realize first, that men and women’s chests feel differently. Her hands then went to my groin and cupped something. I gasped and tried to fend her off, but she wouldn’t let go.
“Madam Coates! Please,” I repeated, becoming hot all over with embarrassment.
It took her a few minutes, with my prying her fingers off and backing away. She stared at me with confusion, disappointment and frustration. Then she shoved me towards the door, leaving me to refasten my dhoti and shirt.
I kept to the hotel’s more remote buildings that day, hiding and sweeping with fear. What would happen if she told the hotel concierge? Or if she told her husband? Would I lose my job? Would I be able to pay for my family? By the time Neelanth found me, as I was going over the same corner with a broom, I was on edge.
“Mister Coates has arranged for a hunting expedition,” he barked at me. Then he noticed that I was shaking. “What happened, Ram?”
I shook my head, continuing to sweep. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny flask, as well as a tiny metal cup. Then he offered it to me. I downed it in one gulp and coughed.
“Mister Coates is an idiot for wanting to hunt the Sand Raksha,” he said, “but if he insists, he may as well see for himself that Mahesh is not a hunting trophy. Oh, and Madam Coates wants you along as well, perhaps as entertainment.”
It was a good thing I was still coughing, or I would have squeaked something out. Still, the stricken expression on my face must have told him something.
“Did she do something to you? You look like a cobra spooked you.”
I couldn’t respond. The drink, bittersweet and sharp, lay on my tongue.
“Take care, Ram. They are hunters, both of them. She tried to take a pass at me,”
“She did?” I was surprised. “Why?”
He shrugged. “Women are a mystery. Did she do the same to you?”
I started at the metal cup. He nodded, and poured another shot.
“During the expedition, sit with me in the back. I’ll stay between you in case she tries again. Such immorality!”
“Thank you,” I said. The second shot went down more easily.
The hotel concierge gave me the day off for the jungle safari; Madam Coates had packed a tome of a Shakespeare play I hadn’t known, Henry IV. My stumbling over the words as we waited for the horse-drawn carriage to be prepared led to more amusement from the others.
We had no mosquito nets on the carriage, and the brown-haired horses did not like the rough paths. They nickered and keened as we drove closer towards Mahesh’s sandy lair, past the cluster of large trees that already contained bulging butterfly eggs.
I sat in the back while Bhadri, the carriage driver, carried on forward; Mister and Madam Coates sat in the middle. Mister Coates had taken care to not load his musket, but he cleaned every part. Madam Coates leaned against him, giving the illusion of devotion. She kept stealing glances at me, sometimes coy, sometimes curious.
The grass became sandy, and the trees, thick, massive trunks with huge leaves, vanished one by one. Patches of dirt appeared, and the clouds began to open up to a pale blue sky. Bhadri had to steer the nervous horses and keep them from bolting. A herd of goats scurried past, loping with nervous glee.
We started to enter the land where few wild cattle and goats roamed, unless drought forced them to the sparse green patches. I could never figure out how Mahesh got enough to eat before the hotel started to offer him chickens. Neelanth had once guessed that Mahesh offered a croon, as the Greek sirens did, to lure the fattest cattle to his large sand pit.
At last, we approached the pit. Only a few patches of grass surrounded it, and the sandy soil crumbled beneath our feet. We heard no birdsong, or goats bleating in the distance.
Bhadri stopped the carriage sixty feet away from the edge, at a safe distance. We dismounted, and he placated the horses with large sugar cubes. They shied away from the sand. I helped Bhadri calm them. Madam Coates’s eyes followed me as my hands shook.
“So,” Mister Coates said. “So. This is the beast’s lair, out in the open.”
“As I have said before, I advise you to abandon this hunt, sir, and merely observe Mahesh,” Neelanth said. “If you get hurt, the hotel is not responsible for your actions. Mahesh is not like the butterflies. He is wily, and hungry.”
“All the better to hunt him.” Mister Coates started to load his musket. “Most likely the vibrations will drive him deeper into the pit, so he must be lured out.”
The pit was as large and deep as a lake, and yet it was not a steep drop. There were holes and crevices within the pit. The very bottom, however, appeared flat. Sand glistened like diamonds there, along with various bones, feathers, and animal hides.
“We need bait, if you insist,” Neelanth said. “Do you have the lure?”
Mister Coates produced the large hook, one that the hotel had bought to install the piano in the lobby. It had been soaked in chicken grease, and dangled on a thick string. We prepared to suspend it over the edge.
I lowered the lure with care. Neelanth and I had to swing the large hook, while Mister Coates got into position with his musket.
Minutes passed. The sun rose towards midday. The sand at the bottom of the pit did not move.
“The smell isn’t attracting it,” Madam Coates said. “Maybe it’s not in the hole.”
“Nonsense,” Neelanth said. “There are no birds around here, or goats grazing. If Mahesh had moved, the animals would have come back.”
“We would have to get closer then. Or we need a better lure.”
Neelanth’s mouth was set into a line. “That would be suicide. It would be best to leave things as they are, and not risk your lives.”
Mister Coates considered this. He eyed Neelanth, and then Bhadri and me. “Ronnie, old boy, why don’t you go in the pit?”
“Don’t be foolish,” Neelanth told him. “No one survives if they go into the pit.”
“Well, it’s not like Ronnie is so useful to the hotel,” Mister Coates said.
Everyone stared at me. Madam Coates stopped smiling. I wasn’t surprised, however.
“You are needed to manage the horses, and you have to guide them back,” I told Bhadri and Neelanth. “I’m only a servant boy. I can handle this.”
“I must protest-” Madam Coates started, but her husband interrupted.
“Excellent!” he said. “Get that rope around your waist, Ronnie, the one we used for the hook, and we’ll lure the beast out.”
Neelanth untied the rope, but he refused to tie it around my waist. “You’re going to get killed, Ram,” he whispered. “It’s not worth it.”
“I’m not going to anger Mahesh,” I said. “I’m just going to let them see him and get scared off.”
“Mister Coates doesn’t scare easily.”
“Mahesh doesn’t either.”
“Then we may as well do this right,” he said with irritation. “You idiot boy. The nearest tree will have to do; let’s wrap the rope around it so we can belay it slowly.”
He and Bhadri walked to the thickest tree in the distance and looped the rope around its middle to steadily slide around it. After tying the other end around my waist, I stood on the edge, facing backwards as I started to lower myself down into the pit, abseiling down; Neelanth held onto the other end, letting it slide around the small of his back, to give more rope for my descent. Bhadri and Neelanth looked concerned as I lowered below their line of sight. The rope was light and felt like it would fray.
Forgive me Mahesh, I whispered to him, as I went lower. Forgive me.
My foot dislodged a stray rock, and it traveled to the bottom of the pit. I watched the rock skitter slowly, making my heart rattle. Dread filled me. When it landed, the sand began to shudder. The ground rumbled.
Above, I didn’t see Neelanth or Bhadri; they must have retreated. Madam and Mister Coates leaned over the edge, watching with eager anticipation.
“Get back! Don’t be stupid!” I tried to shout to them, but the words came out low and raspy. They didn’t seem to hear.
A blast of sand shot from the bottom. I shied away into the nearest crevice, shielding my face. The pit’s edge crumbled like flour; someone screamed. Dust coated my hands, and I choked. When I caught my breath and lifted my head, I saw two bodies falling...
“Ronnie!” Madam Coates shrieked. “Help me!”
She had wedged her sun parasol into the remains of the pit edge, about ten feet above me, and had tried to pull herself up with the rope that tethered me to the distant tree. Her arms were too small, however, and I could see the edge slowly crumbling. Her feet scurried and dangled in the air. Mister Coates groaned from another crevice below, where he had landed on his leg. The leg stood out at an odd angle.
Perhaps I could have estimated the distance between her and me so as to make the climb and boost her to safety, to where Bhadri and Neelanth waited. I even prepared to do so as the rope around my waist went tight. But something older than my thirst for knowledge emerged, a sense that this was not my fight, and it hadn’t been my fight ever since Mister Coates had insisted on hunting Mahesh and Madam Coates had put her hands under my shirt.
My hand reached upward, and my foot dug into the dirt wall so as to climb, but I knew it would do nothing. Neelanth had warned them.
Another coat of dust followed, pricking my eyes and making them water. The screams stretched over the dusty air. Mister Coates, groaning and yelping as he tried to move his leg, started to yell as something large skittered upwards. Wiping my eyes and coughing, I heard the nasty sound of bones crunching.
In time, the screams stopped. The dust settled. I coughed, and peered out the crevice.
Madam and Mister Coates were gone; the sun parasol jutted out of the cliff, caked in dirt.
There was a swooping sound, and a black shape rose. The shape swirled and dropped several objects on the ground; from a distance they looked like bones. Then I stared into Mahesh’s face as he leveled his gaze at me.
His eyes were as large as the twin suns. His pincers were coated with blood and hair, and I swore that I saw pieces of fingernail as well. I cowered as a booming voice echoed in my head
WHAT A SACRIFICE! WHAT OFFERINGS!
I recoiled. More sand collapsed above me, crumbling into my hair. The air was silent except for the sand, as well as Neelanth and Bhadri calling, but the voice rang through my ears. It was the sound of thunder hitting a mountain, of a thousand rocks shattering to dirt, the roar of a triumphant lion standing over his kill. My head threatened to shatter as well, but I clamped my hands to my ears and steadied myself.
I AM SATISFIED. I HAVE NEVER TASTED SO RICH A MEAT.
“It was an accident,” I said weakly.
YET YOU SEEM AT PEACE.
I didn’t respond. Seeing the face of the great beast, who enjoyed human flesh, was not so peaceful.
I WILL GRANT YOU A BOON, OF YOUR HEART’S DEAREST DESIRE, FOR BRINGING SUCH GREAT OFFERINGS.
I didn’t know my heart’s desire while facing a large creature that represented the old world. All I wanted was for Mahesh to not eat me for disturbing him. So I said nothing in the face of the choking sand and those large, glistening black eyes. The eyes blinked at me, understanding some truth I couldn’t voice or express.
IT IS DONE. YOU SHALL HAVE WHAT YOU DESIRE. NO ONE WILL KNOW WHAT YOU ARE, NO MATTER HOW HARD HE OR SHE LOOKS, AND EVERY GRAIN OF KNOWLEDGE WILL BE YOURS.
I felt the sand ripple. When it settled, the great beast was gone. A new pile of sand occupied the bottom of the pit, as did a scattering of bones and frayed cloth.
The rope around my waist tugged. I moved to climb up, staggering over the edge. Neelanth’s hand came into view, and I took it. He pulled me to solid ground, and clapped me on the shoulder.
“They’re dead,” I said. “They... Mahesh...”
“At least you’re alive, Ram,” Neelanth said with relief and admiration. “You saw the face of Mahesh and survived.”
“I was lucky,” I responded. “And stupid, like you said.”
“No, you were clever. You stayed out of his way,” Neelanth replied.
We stared at the pit, which had gotten larger with the sand crumbling. The horses shuddered with fear despite Bhadri’s coaxing.
Bhadri calmed them, and we drove home in silence. Birds started to chirp again. I fiddled with the Shakespeare book.
When we got to the hotel, Neelanth drew me a bucket of water and told me to change into clean clothes; I closed the door to my small quarters and washed the sand off my face and out of my hair. I changed quickly into the new shirt and dhoti. They were too large for me.
There was a new book on my chair, one that I hadn’t read before. I opened it, and felt sparks run through my fingertips. It was a treatise on mathematics, on algebra and calculus.
Grains of knowledge...
So. That is what really happened to Madam Coates. The hotel concierge made the three of us swear that it was a dust storm, and that the couple happened to ride out on a freak day. He commented without emotion on what a magnificent and extremely terrible tragedy it was, that he would have to notify upper management. New rules would have to be made, new releases for the lawyers in London to draft. But we had to keep mum.
The three of us agreed, myself shaking with horror and relief.
These days I recite Shakespeare with exact precision, while still receiving tips, and have started to decipher the ancient Sanskrit texts. The books in the hotel library keep changing. They sometimes become ancient tomes, or sometimes dialogues on Isaac Newton’s theory of physics. I have been teaching myself new languages, studying Latin characters and Chinese brushwork. My memory is like a net, capturing and holding all these works. I do not know how long it will last, but I am savoring every new fact.
Neelanth has made it a point to keep me away from the women in the hotel. We don’t talk, but sometimes I read out his favorite poetry over a bottle of spirits. Whiskey goes well with dark verses.
There are new tourists that want to see Mahesh, and one hunter expresses desire in mounting the worm on his wall. He thinks the taxidermist will have a “field day” with him, despite what the concierge says.
Mahesh’s roars enter my ears every night now, demanding more flesh. I toss and turn, as the hunter demands to go on a fateful safari.