Were up at Agni, Audie said. The lodge. Just took a walk down here to see the sunset.
Like the monkeys.
The Indian wasnt listening. He was scowling at the valley he had described, where the mountain had been uprooted.
How old do you think I am? he asked. You will never guess.
I am in my eighty-third year. I do yoga meditation every morning for one hour. I have never tasted meat nor alcoholic beverage. Now I will go home and take little dhal and puri and curd, that is all.
Where do you live?
Just here. Hanuman Nagar.
The old man exploded with information. Township of Hanuman Nagar is substantial, with a market and textiles weaving and sundry spheres of commercial enterprise, including iron mongeries, pot-making, clay-baking, for house tiles, kilns and enameling.
No one mentioned a town, Audie said.
As well as fruit and nut trees. I myself am wholesaling nut meats. Also, as mentioned, Hanuman eshrine. Ancient temple. I bid you good evening.
With that he stepped into the darkness. The Blundens walked up the road in the opposite direction, remarking, as they went, on the poise of the old man, his self-possession, his pedantry. How easy it was to jeer at him, yet he had told them several things they hadnt known: the town, its industries, the Hanuman story, the temple business. He was faintly ridiculous, yet you couldnt mock himhe was real. What they had been thinking of as simply Monkey Hill had a history, and drama, an Indian name, and now on that lower slope a neighboring settlement.
Did you understand what he said about the mosque and the temple?
Audie shrugged and said, Beth, you get these Indians talking and they flog a dead horse into dog food.
They had a surprise walking back up the road to the lodge. They passed through a large gateway. They had seen the gateway coming down, but they had not seen the signs: Right of Entry Prohibited Except by Registered Guests and No Trespassing and Authorized Vehicles Only.
This means you! Audie said, shaking his finger into the darkness. Get your happy ass out of here!
Youre awful, Butch, Beth said, and giggled because it was dark and they were in India, on this broken road, alone, dust in their nostrils, the obscure sense of smoky air, a smell of burning cow dung, a rocky hillside, and here he was making a joke, being silly. His unruly behavior was usually a comfort; she had loved him for it and regarded it as a form of protection for more than thirty years of marriage. She felt safe in his humor.
Beyond the gateway they saw the lights of the lodge and Agni itself, the former maharajahs residence, a baronial mansion, and in the bamboo grove the spa buildings, the pool, the palm trees, the yoga pavilion, glowing in spotlights, the whole place crowning the summit of the hill he had been told was Monkey Hill, though it had a local name too, the one that old Indian had used that they found impossible to remember.
Staff members passing them on the path pressed their hands in prayer and said namaste or namaskar, and some of the Tibetans, in an attractive gesture, touched their right hand to their heart. Audie did the same in return and found himself moved by it.
At the entrance to the restaurant, Beth saw an Indian couple smile at them.
Namaste, she said, and clapped her hands upright under her chin.
Hi there, the Indian man said. He was quick to put his hand out and pumped Audies reluctant hand. Im Rupeshcall me Bill. This is Deena. Looks crowded tonight.
Copyright © 2007 by Paul Theroux. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.
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