We had just finished a late dinner. The Ganges flowed by in the darkness outside, and in the restaurant perched high above, hippies were engaged in animated conversation. Cigarette smoke floated through the air, and the unmistakable smell of patchouli was everywhere.
Suddenly, one of the Indian boys who worked there flickered the lights. Then he turned them off completely. We sat in darkness for a moment, before he turned them on and began flickering them again.
“Hey, hey, hey!” shouted out a dark-haired hippie wearing a leather vest with nothing under it but a string of turquoise beads. “We’re trying to talk here! Could you give us some light?”
From a table against the other wall, an older hippie with sunken cheeks and deeply tanned skin turned in his seat. “Zey open at seex sirty in ze morning, okay?” he drawled to the Israeli who had spoken. “Zey are very tired, you know? Now it is nine-sirty, and zey have been vorking all day. Geev zem a break!”
The vested Israeli was taken aback. So was his entire table. They murmured among themselves, and one girl with a feather tucked into her dreadlocks bristled visibly. She shot daggers at the sunken-cheeked hippie with her coal-lined eyes, and then flipped her dreads over her shoulder and returned to her conversation, now audibly assassinating him.
The vested Israeli’s pride being wounded, he took it upon himself to redeem some of what had been lost. “I know,” he said sarcastically so the entire small restaurant could hear. “I was just kidding…” There was poison in his tone.
The sunken cheeked hippie continued on. “You know, zey really are tired, so maybe you should zink about relaxing, you know? Give zem a break? Zey are cooking for people like you and I all day…”
“I know!” shouted the Israeli again, angrier now. Everyone in the restaurant had fallen silent. Even the Indian boy who had flickered the lights had disappeared. My companions and I looked at each other uncomfortably. “Let’s get out of here,” one of them said. We all stood up and made our way to the front room where the cash register was.
As we stood in line to pay, there was an obvious tension in the air. The Israelis had come out together, and were muttering amongst themselves, twisting their hair up into knots and shooting looks at the opposing crew. The sunken-cheeked man, I now saw, had glittery blue powder painted around his eyes, and an orange dot on his forehead. He was laughing a little too loudly at something the barefooted woman at his side had said, and he was shooting daring looks back at the scowling Israelis.
Out on the street, I said goodnight to my friends and turned to walk away. The hippie with the feather in her hair was jerking her head in the direction of the enemy crew, sputtering in angry Hebrew, her cigarette smoking in her hand. Then the two gangs took off in opposite directions, and I watched the dust rise up around them as they padded barefoot and simmering back to their respective hippie abodes.