Curly hair tied back in a knot. Long nose, and blue eyes behind John Lennon glasses. Sipping one bottle of icy Coke after another. Chain smoking cigarettes.
He tells me he is a marine biologist, and that he is only in India for a month’s vacation. He was here eight years ago, in the Parvati Valley. I tell him I have seen pictures of this place, that it is very beautiful, but that many travelers have been killed there in recent years. “Yes,” he agrees, tapping the ash from his cigarette, his long legs crossed. “You have to be careful in the mountains. The people there are very free. Travelers think they are so safe in India- Hari Om, Namaste– but in fact you have to watch yourself when you get far away from the cities. Anything goes there.”
My English friend is also sitting at the table, and he takes out his binoculars to watch the workers breaking rocks on the far side of the river. Another man walks up to our table. “Are you looking at the river?” he asks, with a touch of intensity. “No,” my English friend answers. “I’m looking at the men on the other side.”
“Oh, I thought you may have seen something. An Indian man just drowned there about thirty minutes ago.” My eyes go wide. I am terrified of drowning. “How do you know?” I ask. “Because I swam out to try to save him,” he answers, his eyes on the water. “He was waving his arms, screaming, but I only got halfway out when he disappeared. Half the town is on the banks of the river up there,” he says, gesturing to a wall of trees beyond which we cannot see. “The police have arrived now, too.” He shakes his head and walks away.
Eventually my English friend wanders off, and I am left with the tall, lanky Israeli. He lights another cigarette. Israelis have a sort of collective confidence that used to unnerve me. Now I just watch the river, as the smoke from his cigarette unfurls on the breeze.