“A Monday in Rishikesh” by William J. Jackson
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, William J. Jackson feels estranged by anxiety during a conference trip.
I never relaxed during the week I spent in Rishikesh.
Monday was the worst, most stressful day.
I had arrived on Sunday afternoon after a long bus ride from Delhi sitting behind two other professors I didn’t know, who were on their way to the same conference as me.
Their talk made me nervous, academic gossip criticizing scholars I liked.
When the bus stopped to let us relieve ourselves I saw marijuana plants growing wild along the road, and I grabbed some leaves and stuffed them into my pocket. The zigzag-edged leaves were strangely thick and rough and springy when I crumpled them in my fist. I hadn’t used pot for twenty-five years, and I didn’t even know what I planned to do with them.
Arriving within sight of Rishikesh, a group of us crossed the fast-flowing Ganges in a high-powered motorboat. The driver fought strong currents all the way. I never knew the Ganges ran so fast; it made me nervous just to be near its momentum.
Once across, I went to the ashram office to be assigned a room.
Then I walked around the narrow lanes of Rishikesh and came upon a coffee shop. Out front was a fancy chair on a platform, where a sadhu in ochre sat. He seemed to be wearing makeup. The two scholars I had sat behind on the bus were there, and after introducing themselves they asked if I’d encountered Indian gurus. I said yes and gave the name of the one I’d known, and they made disparaging remarks.
A famous European Sanskritist arrived, but after an hour or two he took the motorboat back across the Ganges because his heart condition worsened at that high altitude.
I made arrangements to meet a taxi driver on the other side of the river before dawn the next day to go meet my wife and daughter, who were arriving by train a few miles away at the Mussoorie station.
That night I had trouble sleeping—a noisy religious event was going on across the river. I ate some of the ganja leaves, hoping that would calm my nerves. But I lay there for hours hearing the roaring Ganges, and voices chanting, my mind racing.
At four a.m. I prepared to walk across the long footbridge, and as I set out it began raining. I was wearing flip-flops, and when I reached the other side I was soaked.
I searched for the taxi driver but saw only dark vague outlines of parked cars. The road along the shore was muddy and dark. My sandals slid and sank and stuck in the mud as I searched. I walked up the road; the words the other side of the river seemed foolishly vague. Dogs barked behind gates in the pouring rain. Security guards glared from walled estates. I walked back down the road, fearing I’d never get to the Mussoorie station in time, looking in parked cars for signs of life.
Just when I was going to give up, a car door opened and a driver said, “Where were you? I’ve been waiting. Get in.”
We drove several miles in the dawn light. After crossing a bridge the driver stopped, got out, and put on his pants, and we proceeded to meet my wife and daughter.
We found them and their luggage and drove back to the ashram.
I was soon sick with a fever. I was shivering in the bathroom, and my wife said, “Where are you?”
I said, “In the toilet.”
She said, “You mean the bathroom.”
I said, “I’ll be the judge of that.”
The conference began, and I gave the two papers I’d submitted. After one of them, with a conclusion about India’s marvels, the next speaker took time to say, “I just got here. I am a misfit. I did not write flattery but criticism,” and had to be assured he shouldn’t feel like a misfit.
The rush of the Ganges kept me jittery.
The Northern sadhus seemed wild, washing their ten-foot-long hair in the Ganges. I saw a young one who seemed stoned, running and yelling raucously, “Come on!”
The sadhus seemed ancient and in tune with the rushing Ganges. I longed to get to know Rishikesh better, but anxiety made me feel estranged all week.
It rained next Monday as we boarded the bus to Delhi after drinking too much coffee. The driver wouldn’t stop until the scheduled rest stop hours later.
“I feel I could stand here pissing forever,” the man at the urinal next to me said when at last we relieved ourselves. “It feels so good!”
WILLIAM J. JACKSON grew up in Rock Island, Illinois. He has lived in Chicago, New York City (Lower East Side), Vermont, and India. He first learned about aspects of storytelling by performing roles as an actor in summer stock and the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Connecticut. He is the author of books about South Indian culture. His novel, Gypsy Escapades, was published by Rupa in New Delhi. His Escapades series, set in various locations around the world, explores challenging issues of our era by following the personal troubles of recurrent characters. He lives near the Peace Pagoda in Leverett, Massachusetts. His Twitter username is @Tsalabagundi.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—Accepted submissions are typically published 6–8 months after their notification date and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to [email protected]. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jan 4, 2016
Category: Mondays Are Murder | Tags: Mondays Are Murder, Noir Series, India, flash fiction, short fiction, William J. Jackson, A Monday in Rishikesh, Lakshman Jhula, Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Ganges, anxiety