He walked with long strides and attracted many curious glances, on account of his yellow hair as well as his height, his long and admittedly dirty yellow hair flowing down around his face like the golden water of the lake. The path sloped upward past the tower of the teeth toward a stone gate upon which two elephants in bas-relief stood facing each other. Through this gate, which was open, came the noises of human beings at play, eating, drinking, carousing. There were soldiers on duty at the Hatyapul gate but their stances were relaxed. The real barriers lay ahead. This was a public place, a place for meetings, purchases, and pleasure. Men hurried past the traveler, driven by hungers and thirsts. On both sides of the flagstoned road between the outer gate and the inner were hostelries, saloons, food stalls, and hawkers of all kinds. Here was the eternal business of buying and being bought. Cloths, utensils, baubles, weapons, rum. The main market lay beyond the city's lesser, southern gate. City dwellers shopped there and avoided this place, which was for ignorant newcomers who did not know the real price of things. This was the swindlers' market, the thieves' market, raucous, overpriced, contemptible. But tired travelers, not knowing the plan of the city, and reluctant, in any case, to walk all the way around the outer walls to the larger, fairer bazaar, had little option but to deal with the merchants by the elephant gate. Their needs were urgent and simple.
Live chickens, noisy with fear, hung upside down, fluttering, their feet tied together, awaiting the pot. For vegetarians there were other, more silent cook-pots; vegetables did not scream. And were those women's voices the traveler could hear on the wind, ululating, teasing, enticing, laughing at unseen men? Were those women he scented upon the evening breeze? It was too late to go looking for the emperor tonight, in any case. The traveler had money in his pocket and had made a long, roundabout journey. This way was his way: to move toward his goal indirectly, with many detours and divagations. Since landing at Surat he had traveled by way of Burhanpur, Handia, Sironj, Narwar, Gwalior, and Dholpur to Agra, and from Agra to this, the new capital. Now he wanted the most comfortable bed that could be had, and a woman, preferably one without a mustache, and finally a quantity of the oblivion, the escape from self, that can never be found in a woman's arms but only in good strong drink.
Later, when his desires had been satisfied, he slept in an odorous whorehouse, snoring lustily next to an insomniac tart, and dreamed. He could dream in seven languages: Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Persian, Russian, English, and Portuguese. He had picked up languages the way most sailors picked up diseases; languages were his gonorrhea, his syphilis, his scurvy, his ague, his plague. As soon as he fell asleep half the world started babbling in his brain, telling wondrous travelers' tales. In this half-discovered world every day brought news of fresh enchantments. The visionary, revelatory dream-poetry of the quotidian had not yet been crushed by blinkered, prosy fact. Himself a teller of tales, he had been driven out of his door by stories of wonder, and by one in particular, a story which could make his fortune or else cost him his life.
Excerpted from The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie Copyright © 2008 by Salman Rushdie. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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