Lost Boy of the Week: David Rozgonyi (Part 2)

Extras, Featured, Lost Boys, Websites and Blogs — By on March 10, 2010 at 2:00 pm

The end of David Rozgonyi’s short story, The End of the Line, continued from today’s earlier post.

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David Rozgonyi

Source: davidrozgonyi.blogspot.com/

Standing shoulder to shoulder with expectant boys and dancing children, you can almost hear it, a gob of fire and boil sizzling against the curtain of sky. Hands are clasped, hands are raised. They are trying to catch it in their upturned palms.

Voices grow loud, a round woman faints gracefully into the sand. It becomes impossible to avert the eyes from this, the final time anyone will ever see the sun. When inexplicably the plume never materializes, even you, the sole white face in a sea of saris, are surprised. At the last instant, like a gaudy Vaudeville showman, the more-usually middling star simply dons its thin green cap and disappears coyly off stage, its death plunge into the molten waves of the Indian Ocean averted. For tonight, at least.

For the traveler, though, see the sun set at Kanyakumari and die. You might as well-you’ll never see a sun like that again. But we soldier on toward new sunsets, no matter how certain they are to disappoint. Now that twilight has come, the tendrils of night working inward from the edges, the masses begin to stir. Allow yourself to be swept along with them, smiling at the little girls who can’t help but gawk at the only foreign face they’ve ever seen. Walk with them away from the water, away from the shrines, their endless monotone prayers tinny voices coming faintly into your ears as though eavesdropping on a tin-can telephone from Mars. Walk with them, an Indian for a day, away from the water and up into the Cardamom hills.

You take the alley that leads from the village uphill, past nets glowing yellow and red, through clots of small boys huddled around a broken outboard motor. A thoughtless left would take you to the market, the taxi rank, the small Internet bunker that looks on the verge of collapse, but at this juncture you pause. Breathe deeply on the streets of Cape Comorin, and you will know to turn right.

There is no name above the open façade, and the place doesn’t look like much from afar. Nor does it look like much as you stand beneath the long, low awning, feeling your shirt-tails flutter in the hot breath of five-dozen ceiling fans beating madly inches above your head. But this is where the dark-skinned river has brought you, a place where young men and children touch your hands, and the grandmothers brush against your arms. This is Kanyakumari, the holy place, the shrine-riddled place, the confluence of dark ocean currents and the end of the world; the food here, like the sun, cannot disappoint. Surely, it will reduce all others by its mere existence, as the Comorin sunset has reduced the sun that will fall tonight upon Santorini.

You pay the man at the door the price of admission-thirty cents-and the great rusty wheels of the Indian culinary machine begin spinning up. Before it sweeps you away like the outbound tide, flow to the rear of the long, low hall filled with large round tables to scrub your hands at the communal sinks. Once done, you take a place at the first table you see and are provided a broad, copper plate, the thali, lined with banana leaves and with a series of smaller metal bowls called katorirunning along the curve of its lip. Milky coffee follows almost instantly, brought by a boy who proffers it in a peculiar combination of cups-a low, wide saucer and a narrow copper cup without handle. You hold them both by their rims and tip the coffee into the saucer, then back into the cup from a small height. Over and over you tip the coffee, a meditation to distribute the sugar and cool the scalding brew. Time for one quick sip, maybe two, before the arrival of another small boy carrying a bowl of rice and a plate of bread, both of which he deposits with a flourish of his skinny arm in the center of the copper plate. Another boy-his brother, perhaps? They all are as though from the same extended family-brings stewed potatoes and lentil-flour pancakes. On his naked brown heels comes another boy, this one with a metal contraption hanging from his elbow. From this swiveling steaming clanking dripping thing he begins to ladle into the katori chutney, daal, sambar, vicious pickles, mixtures of potatoes and mustard seeds, paneer, cooling curds, and rice pudding, runny and sweet.

Around this time, the amount of time it took to meander from the sunset to this anonymous eatery, the rest of India has appeared, filing past your table toward the sinks at the back. They all have come to eat with you, old men and their wives, laughing girls, aghast toddlers yanked forward by their chubby hands, and you return their easy smiles even as you ready yourself for this business-one napkin close at hand, another two in the lap, a sip from the pitcher of boiled water, and a deep breath. The serving boys have vanished, your table is full, you began to eat.

Even with every table overflowing and people at your elbow patiently queuing for an open seat, three mouthfuls from any bowl brings the corresponding boy running, summoned as though by telegraph. Ladles slopping, hands glistening with sweat and oil, they go to work, and your bowl is made full. A bite of chutney, a dip of bread into turmeric-colored soup, a ball of rice between your fingers, and here come the boys, panting, laughing, filling the bowl, heaping the rice, sending round after round of buttery roti slapping wetly against your plate.

This happens a pair of times, a dozen or a hundred times. You lose count and begin to see visions and hear song. The room is a madhouse of families, jaws working, sweat dripping, but you are never ignored; the man beside you is patting his belly and smiling as he points to your plate. You raise your eyebrows, waggle your shoulders, a pair of girls giggle as you drop a pinch of rice. Your own stomach strains but halting seems impossible-how could it be that you’ve been eating for an hour, and there is no evidence of progress? Without being aware of commanding it, you lift your hand, tear the bread, raise it toward your open mouth.

It is night now, and the air is cooling down at last. Everyone’s cooling down, laughing, singing, groaning. Feasting. They’ve already forgotten the sun.

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