Excerpt from Himalayan Dhaba by Craig Danner, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Himalayan Dhaba

by Craig Danner

Himalayan Dhaba
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  • First Published:
    Jun 2002, 256 pages
    Jun 2003, 288 pages

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Nothing looks too promising, the storefronts are all dark inside, the sidewalk lined with metal plates on stoves of hissing kerosene. These sizzling grills are saucer-shaped and large enough to sled on snow; she feels the spit of grease from brown samosas fried in smoking oil. She braced herself for beggars, but the impact is still visceral: a woman without legs has propped herself against a crumbling wall. On what’s left of her lap she holds a plump and squirming two year old who vigorously sucks beneath a coarsely woven woolen shawl. This woman looks at Mary so their eyes meet for the briefest time - Mary has to look away or risk another crying jag. The wallahs in their canvas stalls - all shouting at her constantly - demand that she must stop and buy their cabbages and tangerines. And she'd like to pass this holy man, this baba smeared with human ash, who’s blocking half the sidewalk as he browses through the marketplace. His begging bowl is pounded brass, his trident staff is tipped with bone; he hasn't got a stitch of clothes but dreadlocks filled with marigolds. She doesn't try to pass because she'd likely bump him with her bag - afraid she'd have to buy the goat he'd need for cleansing sacrifice. But then she sees a little cafe up another alleyway, a landmark from the photos that she memorized in Baltimore. It was where her husband took his meals, back a dozen years ago, Himalayan Dhaba painted on the sign above the door. It doesn't look much better than the other cafes that she’s seen: built from poorly mortared brick, tiny windows thick with grease.

She motions to the porter that she wants him to wait by the door, signing with her hands, hoping he'll stay and guard her box and bags. She drops her backpack on the ground and feels a wave of urgency; she rushes through the cafe door and almost knocks the waiter down. He’s a short and slender walleyed man dressed neatly in a Nehru suit - she’s shocked to recognize his face, from another photo Richard kept. The picture shows her husband with his arm around this gentleman: Richard has a goofy smile, the waiter’s eyes look here and there. The cafe is so dark inside she has to strain to look around: the room is twenty feet across, the tables don't look very clean. The cafe’s barely half full with a funny mix of clientele; suddenly she’s thinking that she should have looked around some more. Everyone has turned to stare; she feels a dozen sets of eyes: a ragged Western traveler, an Indian in suit and tie. She asks this man her husband knew: please, could she use the ladies room? He bows to her then wags his head, an answer she can't comprehend.

"Méré saath aa-i-yé," he says and gently takes her arm, leads her down the center of this darkly paneled restaurant. The room is close and filled with smoke, she smells the faintest hint of dope; the waiter guides her through the darkness toward the swinging door in back. He points her to a closet that smells like an open septic tank - ripping at her belt she barely gets her pants down fast enough.

The only light comes through a tiny window high up over head, and there isn't any toilet but a hole cut in the concrete floor. She’s focusing on balance, trying to keep her pants up off the ground - horrified she'll tumble over, unsure where she’s supposed to aim. At last her bladder’s letting down, her feet not quite spread wide enough; her passport safe around her waist now jabbing in her pancreas. She'd made a promise to herself she wouldn't cry for two more days; tears have come so quickly ever since the day that Richard died. She feels them running down her cheeks, along the crease beside her nose, dripping from her chin into this hole between her hiking boots. She’s worried that the porter won't be outside when she’s finished here, and worried that she’s never going to find the mission hospital. She’s not sure why she’s doing this, except her husband loved it here - she’s thinking she should turn around for safe and sterile Baltimore. But there’s nothing for her there now that she’s left her home and quit her job, sold her house and practice in a clinic for the very old. She knows she'll find the hospital, it can't be very far away, and if the porter steals her bags she'll buy some other clothes to wear. There isn't any paper so she zippers up her wrinkled pants - doesn't trust the water in the pail to give her hands a wash. She wipes her eyes off with her sleeves, takes a breath of fetid air. She shakes her head and wonders what-the-hell she thinks she’s doing here.

Reprinted from Himalayan Dhaba by Craig Danner by permission of Dutton, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © Craig Danner, 2002. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced without permission.

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