From the first day I arrived in India I felt alone, like I was on the other side of the world I knew, South Carolina, my home. The Ganges is nothing like it says in the travel guide; nothing like the cheerful crowds and exquisite smells I had been expecting. Only the thick purple clouds that hide the daylight and the strong smell of burning corpses.
The thick, purple smoke that fills my lungs now makes me feel dirty, like a murderer to all those who've gone before, those who have been cremated under their own will and those under the will of others. The first thing I noticed in the chaos of priests and worshippers was that I was the only pale skin, the only tourist, and to every beggar, someone with money.
I was hustled by them, shoved away when I said no and held close every time I mentioned money. These people's stares as sharp as the knife that they may as well have held at my neck. Begging, pleading for the extra cash they would do anything to have in their pockets.
I'd known I couldn't stay there forever, so pushing my way through the violence I headed towards the river, towards the crematorium, the last place I had seen the mysterious old priest who had handed me the delicate, golden pocket watch that I now held tightly in my right hand.
"Protect this as if it were your life." I remember him saying.
I'd noticed this man earlier on today when I got off the Rickshaw that had delivered me to my hotel. He was sitting on a small stool near the river in the middle of the chaos, absolutely calm, as if none of the things I had faced today bothered him. He was watching me intently with his cold, uninhabited eyes. That look gives me shivers even now, as I search for him in the crowd, hoping to return this unusual clock that ticks furiously in my hand, as if it has a purpose to fulfil.
Coming up to the crematorium I get that dreaded feeling that there's someone watching me. I know there are lots of eyes following me closely but one particular pair makes me want to bolt for cover. That's how I knew it was him.
On my left I notice a small, paved passage leading down the side of the ancient building that towers above me. I see him standing in the shadows, beckoning me towards him. He turns slowly and melts into the darkness. I follow him away from the crowds in a trance. The trance that leads me to my death. As the clock stops ticking I understand what he meant, to him, the clock was my life, my life that is now over.
From the first day I arrived in India I felt alone, like I was on the other side of the world I knew, South Carolina, my home. The Ganges is nothing like it says in the travel guide; nothing like the cheerful crowds and exquisite smells I had been expecting. Now, as I lie here amidst the thick purple clouds that hide me away from the daylight, I smell the familiar smell of a burning corpse. My own.