Daniel had a pretty fast-paced few days, he did. There’s always the adventure of being in transit and on the way to Orcha, and this time it wasn’t particularly good or bad. First off, there was that family on the bus with seven children aged between 3 and 17 laughing and talking loudly and staring and saying give me money. The father slapped the back of his chair for him to move it up so he could sit down and Daniel putt it back down, halfway this time, out of courtesy, and the man tapped it for him to move up and Daniel said, “I want to put it back,” and also to punch him in the face. He thought of returning to where he’d originally been seated, in the front row, which he’d thought would be better than it actually was, due to the rhythmic klaxon he could feel, but he’d made his bed. Finally, he fell asleep. The bus arrived at 330 in the morning, amid surprising signs of activity. A cop with a rifle told him the took-took would cost 200 rupees, so he felt like it was probably a good deal (except obviously the cop takes a part of it (for keeping the took-tooks safe?)). During the ride to Orcha the sweat in his boxers and shirt. Things were looking up. He directed his driver to ever cheaper motels that weren’t part of the commission ring, and after assenting to his will the cab stopped near the market. Daniel saddled his bag only to immediately begin sweating. He walked to the Ram temple where hundreds of pilgrims slept, and figured out where he was in relation to the market and hostel he wanted. The hostel was closed, but after enough banging on the iron gate, a sleepy man came down and led him into a small, cheap, hot and dirty room.
He later realized it wasn’t worth it to stay here, with the crushed cigarette and empty plastic cups and matches on the floor, smelly toilet, and in-room air cooler which he had to keep full of water, in order for it to blow air between temperate and mildly warm onto his head and body. That, plus the smug disdain of a portly hotel attendant (more to come) who lay on the bed in the air conditioned room he originally wanted but had seemed too expensive in the early morning cool, made him switch. And in turn, the cooler temperature in his room, as well as the fact that in Madhya Pradesh there aren’t power outages in the middle of the afternoon, helped the days flow without the contractions of Bundi’s power outages between 730 and 930 and 130 and 3. Compared to the stagnant midafternoon pause where all shops were closed and no one was in the street because the shadows weren’t long enough to walk in, the break marking descent into a night starting off tolerably enough but in the possibility of sleeping in, becoming a torrid, beaded and rolling-sweat-marked, wrinkle-sheeted, violet and blue affair which Daniel will surely have trouble forgetting for a long time, the afternoons of Orcha were quiet and peaceful, and the days swum past in time’s shoals.
His reasons for taking the better room perhaps stem from self-pity after he lost his passport. The portly man who lay on the bed in the room needed it to check him in, and Daniel opened his Victorinox fanny pack and didn’t see it. He riffled through his bag in disbelief, tried remembering where he last had it and hoped to god he didn’t leave it on the train. The portly man was unsympathetic, mad even that he couldn’t check Daniel in since he didn’t have his visa number. Here Daniel told him maybe he could make an exception, since he was in the midst of trying to find his passport, and his visa number didn’t mean very much at all if he had left his passport on a train to Bundi, which would entail complicated hours spent backtracking to the hell of Delhi and countless more hours in an embassy and possibly even missing his flight from Chennai…
Even when Daniel decided first things first: to call his last guest house in Bundi, although not before taking two or three minutes to settle his nerves by checking his e-mail and facebook, to find out they had it, and decided with the proprietor that it would be easier for Daniel if the proprietor came to him, to drop it off instead of Daniel backtracking, even when he told the portly man the good news, he was still mean to Daniel. Daniel sat in his room sweating and worrying about the proprietor coming in time and not getting on the right bus, and about how much it would cost to pay for the bus tickets of his hotel proprietor, who was kind and assumed half the responsibility of not returning Daniel’s passport (but not half the cost), and he worried any other unnecessary worries habit and genetics made him rely on to counter hope and good luck and prepare him for the possibility of disaster. He thought of the cool room across the hall and the portly man lying in that bed watching TV, not sweating. He decided to get him back.
He would take the bed the portly man lay on. He was struck by the delicious irony that in depriving this man of that incessant television, when the room became his, he wouldn’t even use it. Daniel justified his decision by saying to himself, I can’t stand that guy after he treated me like a moron and a pauper for staying in this shitty room and I can’t stand this shitty room and I deserve better. Whether or not he does became irrelevant to him after he started enjoying the benefits of paying $2.50 a night more for a hotel room that actually led to his waking in the middle of the night, get this, because he was cold.
Although it didn’t help that he had a mild headache from the many beers he’d bought and shared with an unctuous little man named Vicky to whom he’d traded his copy of Freedom and 300 rupees for a clean new Penguin edition of East of Eden. Vicky was friendly to him and showed him a good place to use the internet but Daniel disliked the man when he started bragging about all the western girls he’s had and how they sappily e-mail him calling him love of my life, and darling, and other endearing epithets. Daniel couldn’t be sure Vicky was telling him this to impress him, because he wanted to be friendly, or simply out of a desire to feel powerful and better than Daniel for having exploited so many willing women.
Anyway, he tempted Daniel with billiards for which our friend is a complete sucker, especially when it involves beer and cigarettes, and that night they went to a disreputable hotel, Daniel and this disreputable character, who Daniel had found out from his young friend Krishna with whom he’d gone swimming in the river at sunset in the midst of tall gray trees and ponderous boulders that he often spends nights drinking and gambling. Daniel, eager to experience Saturday night in Orcha and to further explore the character of this putative megalomaniac, felt a little rush of pleasure and excitement from their rendezvous.
Typically Daniel plays pool for the fun of it, and only gets competitive when he has a table to maintain. After three consecutive losses, he began to regret that he didn’t point out to Vicky that he’d technically won the first game since Vicky had scratched on the eight ball, although he washed this regret out with a desire to keep playing and drinking. It became apparent, however, through Vicky’s own words, that he has an ego problem, and despite his attempts to take Daniel on an extended and expensive tour of the area if he lost again, the betting was limited to paying for the table and the beer, for which Daniel became entirely accountable.
Even after they walked home and Daniel felt Vicky’s gloating, he removed himself from listening to any voices saying, I should have beaten him that fourth game when I sunk the eight ball and scratched, the whole time we were playing pretty evenly, he just wanted it more, don’t worry your luck was bad, you’ll get ’em next time, but there won’t be a next time, and now you owe this guy six dollars for the two hours of pool you played. Which he reminded himself, is not very much considering how much the same number of games would have cost in New York.
And so when the proprietor of his hostel in Bundi showed up at four in the morning after Daniel awoke cold and turned off the a/c and exploded his own blood from a mosquito that had bitten his arm, he went back to sleep with his hostel proprietor next to him. The next morning they all went out for breakfast at Vicky’s restaurant, which serves as communal den of iniquity for people who deal in property trades and illegally digging for ancient king’s gold in nearby plots, to meet and discuss the next stages in their devolution into sin. Vicky was kind and jovial, telling him again that if he wants to go Khajuraho they can work out a deal for a nice hotel, since he’s from Khajuraho and comes from money, would get him a serious discount on a hotel well worth staying in, since Daniel’s meeting his Dutch friend and he’s pretty sure she wants a/c just as badly as he does (especially after this little taste of it in Orcha). Yet Daniel didn’t want to pay $20 a night for a bungalow which he was pretty sure would behoove Vicky in some way, so he said they’d talk about it later and spent the rest of the day in the cool of his hotel room, reading and writing.
Daniel still owed Vicky a beer, and after going for another sunset swim with Krishna, who at sixteen had sex with another boy on the riverside, asked him about Vicky. Krishna believed Vicky was good and honest, which reassured Daniel, and made him look forward to another night of dissoluteness. After Daniel bought the first beer Vicky bought the second and the third, and had to deal with some customers. Daniel started talking to an older American from Honolulu who had apparently visited every country in the world and worked as a tour guide and loved animals, even the dog that jumped on him playfully and “scratched” his arm which he held under a bloody napkin. When Daniel went to the bathroom and came back, Vicky’s friend from Delhi had shown up with a bottle of whiskey, which Vicky didn’t want to get involved in, since Orcha is a holy town and drinking is illegal. So he said, meet me in the guest house, since Vicky also sleeps in Daniel’s hotel because he somehow also owns part of it. So Daniel goes home and plays “Meet Me in the Morning” for like the seventh time that day with the inadvertent yet probably ulterior motive of adding it to his top 25 most played songs since he’s obsessed with rankings and the best, and as he’s flossing Vicky knocks on his door with a bottle of whiskey, a little guy, and a bottle of water, and for the first time Daniel feels like they’re really friends.
They went outside to the patio and played Bob Dylan and one of the hotel workers also came out for a nip. Vicky pointed at the guy and said this guy, he’s nothing, but I like to share, and passed him a bag of chips and the whiskey flask. While at the time this reassured Daniel about Vicky’s character, which although it wasn’t like his own, neither was as shriveled and blackened as he suspected, later Daniel wondered why Vicky likes to share, whether out of a sense of morality or a shallower sense of making himself feel good, like he’s doing right. Or is it a combination of both as well as a deep feeling of loss and floating in a world where he can do things like fuck women and take their money and run a guest house and restaurant, but beneath it all knowing that we come into this world and we leave it the same way and he fears not being able to leave anything behind, excepting his half-Dutch daughter to whom he sends $300 every month. And Daniel’s sense of this is further confirmed by how he bet Daniel $2000 he could convince Daniel’s Dutch friend to sleep with him, to which Daniel didn’t agree, because he knew how determined Vicky could be about something and to what lengths he would go to achieve that something.
The fact that he wanted to bet Daniel this made Daniel ever more unsure about his character, so that when Daniel sat on the train writing about Vicky and reflecting back on his past few days and a man came on at a stop where the train emptied, just an hour away from Khajuraho, greeted him and knew decent English and Daniel found him from Khajuraho, he asked him if he knew Vicky. He wasn’t sure, there are many Vickies in Khajuraho, but wait, owns a guest house, skinny, talks a lot? That’s the one. And when he asked this man what he thought of him, pressing a little after the guy had told him we just talk few times, he said, ehh, he not so good, not so bad. Despite this seeming ambiguity, Daniel felt he had reached a very clear conclusion.