A long wooden oar dipped below the surface of the river. It disappeared, emerged, disappeared and emerged, slow and steady, past unrecognizable debris.
It avoided contact with floating objects with a precision that marked familiarity, acceptance, and indifference. It was an indifference that my mind could not connect to the froth and parts of buildings floating on the surface of the Ganges River near Varanasi, India.
It was sunrise. The world was thick with smoke heaving off fire pits of cremated loved ones. A woman doused her sari and body in the water carrying an ancestor’s dust downstream.
A family hoisted a platform onto their shoulders. It carried a loved one that would soon return to the earth as smoke and dust.
I pulled a scarf tight around my nose in an attempt to block out reality. That was the difference between me and the woman that continued to scrub her golden sari. She accepted life. I accepted a glamorous paragraph about a boat ride down the Ganges.
The smell from the flames was pungent and frightening. It was “my world” unveiled. It left my small bubble of a world lying in a puddle on the boat’s floor.
Editor’s note: We recently put out a call for stories of “losing your travel virginity,” and I made a few notes about losing my own.
Congrats to new Matador Community member Jackie Poinier for being the first contributor in this new series. Stay tuned for more stories soon.
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