We were on the train and we were going toward important places, and that is what allowed us to disappear into ourselves, and pass by station stop after station stop, staring into books and newspapers and windows and each other, as if we were nowhere, as if we were people without souls.

The man shuffled onto the train announced by his own stink, a sticky vinegar that attached itself to the inside of the nose. He shuffled his feet and he shuffled his cardboard cup, mostly empty but with a few coins, like a broken toy tambourine.

He spoke too quietly to draw us from our reverie. It was the stink, rather, that drew us, and pushed most of us to inch away from him without looking, nor hearing his mumbled words: “I am Shiva,” he said, “Neelkantha of the blue throat, eye of fire, skin of tiger, greatest among gods, destroyer of worlds.” He chanted this quietly and made his way among us, while we withdrew from him without looking up.

Not listening to him or even hearing him, we never imagined that his words were true, that he was indeed the great deity incarnate, nor that our failure to love him or care for him was a final act of disastrous consequence: that we had failed so exhaustively, failed in our very humanity, and, undeserving of it, would live to see it stripped from us, while we, unaware, listened to our headphones, read our magazines, and recoiled from the stink of the misfortune we’d helped to create.

Advertisements