This is a little short story I wrote about our time in India so far. Let me know what you think.


I was afraid we would die on the rickshaw. The streets of Old Delhi were like water. We swam through controlled chaos, saved by calloused hands of street vendors guiding traffic.

Vespas honked at a man poking a monkey nestled atop his stall with a broom. The smell of masala strolled out of a door with a fat cheeked man. A lady with two wrinkles on her forehead eyed me behind round spectacles – she was clearly a clouted vendor of optics.

The ride ended and I tipped the driver. I looked at you and you smiled and said the ride was amazing. You’d seen a lot in Chicago but nothing like this. Delhi was filled with these moments. Sensory overload. Moments where my visual field was cinema. Memories that make snot painted black by Delhi pollution worth it.

Then there was the girl who sold pens.

We stood outside of Fab India. You bought a scarf and I bought nothing because I told myself I would be frugal. Two little nose-ringed girls pounced on you selling necklaces. They bragged about how they learned English on the streets, and even some French. They smiled cute crooked smiles with tongue poking through gaps in their teeth, and they shifted weight from one knee to the other as they giggled. You bought some necklaces.

A third girl flowed toward us, her skin a tad darker than the other two. She was far thinner, her english wasn’t as advanced, and she wasn’t funny. She held up a pen.

My mind told me that I had seen this before. She was a particular kind of street actress – a master of tragedy. But in Chicago the masters of tragedy were usually older.

Then my heart tensed for having thought of her as an actress. She was just poor and needed money – like so many of the other children we saw.

A Ponzi scheme is a Ponzi scheme, I thought. I didn’t need the damn pen.

“Please sir,” her eyes were little eclipses. “Please take the pen.”



Khan, our tour guide, seemed slimy to me. Did he seem slimy to you? He had liver spots on his cheeks and kept his ministry of tourism laniard half-tucked in his shirt for a double effect of visibility and nonchalance. He licked his lips before he spoke and he only brought up scholars to disagree with them. He brought us to the Taj Mahal.

“The marble is non-porous,” he said with a half smile. “That is why it shines and no weather will damage the Taj.”

According to Khan, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had the Taj built for his wife when she died. It’s perfectly symmetrical, except for Shah Jahan’s own grave, placed to the side of his wife’s by Aurangzeb, Shah Jahan’s son.

“It cost a fortune, and all of the architects who worked on the Taj signed a contract with Shah Jahan stating that they would be provided for for the rest of their lives so long as they never constructed another wonder.”

Khan licked his lips and gestured to the crowds around us.

“All of these people are smiling and taking their pictures because the Taj is beautiful and awe inspiring. But remember, the Taj is about mourning.”



I had a strange dream. You were visiting my house, and my father and I started yelling at each other. You started to cry into my mother’s lap which caught my gaze. Then I noticed my father’s hand had risen and as I felt his slap on my cheek I awoke.

My father has never been violent with me, and I had never had this kind of dream. I was confused. I realized later in the day that I had been reading about a Brahmin who left his family to become a Baul before I had gone to bed. He was beaten by his father and brother for mixing with people beneath him, and his mother and sister watched and wept.

This reading and the malaria medication must have inspired the dream. But it was still odd that my mind would replace the characters of a Brahmin family with my fat Jewish father, loving Puerto Rican mother, and European hybrid that constituted you. I have no caste or duty to violate, no identity to speak of, just countless hours of walking Chicago streets with equally lost friends. That is who I am.



Each time the girl would ask me to buy the pen I felt more sorry for myself. You have to understand that her pupils and her iris were one big black pool and light couldn’t escape them and I wanted to scream and I wasn’t in Delhi anymore I was in the little girl’s belly and I don’t know how I got in there because she was so skinny.

“Please take the pen,” she said and I was small, tracing the wood grain of my dinner table with my father’s hand on my shoulder.

“Son,” a giant of a man. “Eat your food so you can be big and strong and fight the people who will call you Christ-Killer.”

But no one called me Christ-Killer. I grew up and I went to a school where they liked Martin Luther.

“Luther would have called you a Christ-Killer. The students there will call you a Christ-Killer. Or they might not say it but they’ll think it.”

But no one called me a Christ-Killer. Instead a Synagogue was shot up far away and no matter how much of my father’s food I ate I couldn’t fight the people who called us Christ-Killers.

I looked up from the bottom of the little girl’s belly. She added another pen between her thumb and forefinger.

“Two pens.”

I was lying in bed next to my mother and she told me about her father whose mind had been played with by poverty in San Juan and the war in Korea. One day he came home and picked up a knife and wanted to stab my grandmother. But my mother picked up the telephone and said she would call the police. My grandfather was so baffled that he put down the knife and hung up the telephone and told my mother to never again do such a thing. That was the last time my mother saw him hurt my grandmother.

Despite my grandfather’s violence, my grandmother would never leave him, and the first time my mother went to college she dropped out because she was so worried about what my grandfather would do with her away.

A third pen was added and I moved into the little girl’s intestines.

“Three pens.”

Your tragedies are your own, so who am I to tell them to you. Just know that I was listening.

“Four pens.”

I slid down her intestines and I was in complete darkness.

“I don’t have a sad story to tell you,” I said to the girl. “Let me out of here.”

“Please sir, please take the pen.”



I was there in the darkness for nine lifetimes. I called your name, I called my mother and my father. No one answered. I started to think I hallucinated my entire life. The only thing that ever existed was the darkness.

Then blinding white light hit me and I heard voices. Then I saw shadows. Then I saw faces peering down over me. It was Khan and another tour group.

“Here lies Shah Jahan to the side of his wife,” Khan said licking his lips.

I looked over and you laid peacefully in the center of the Taj.



I should have bought the little girl’s pens and used them to write this letter to you. Instead she is a piece of marble in the Taj.

I have no real tragedy in my life to speak of other than not having a tribe. You are the closest I have felt to that. So I make a covenant with you that I will never write a letter like this to another. And together we will make a mighty nation.

I mourn my own blindness as I build my tomb, but the rain does not scar the marble.