Anjum Hasan is the author of the novels 'Neti, Neti' and 'Lunatic in My Head' and the book of poems 'Street on the Hill'.

My friends from the vast city drive to a dirty town at the

base of a hill on a weekend at the fag end of summer.

Everything is distance, the low sky shimmers, the warm

air gleams with light.

Good, says everyone. Excellent. They take their luggage

up to their rooms, wash the grit from their hair,

humming. The town is as old as a stony hill and large as

one decrepit neighbourhood. Night fills it like a slow

water thick with dreadful secrets.

My friends never have to choose between logic and

excitement. They plan the hours carefully, then walk in the

morning to where fifteen empty buses sing love songs

while their pilots sleep among the vacant seats, forever

condemned to dream of flight.

Precise late morning shadows mingle beneath the feet of

small town tourists: awful shirtless men holding baby

boys, families the size of wedding parties, married girls so

blank-eyed they might have left themselves elsewhere, in

that other hot and ochre town where they were born. My

friends slowly turn brown or browner, full of a careful

happiness among the waterfalls and the sensuous

boatmen who wander, oar in hand, half in dream and half

in hunger.

Good, says everyone. Excellent. The night smells of fish

and old granite cooling. And also of pineapple, garbage

and rivers. friends drink in their hotel room at

evening. Caught between despair and understanding, we

presume to touch the heart of things. Places we see yield

their light, their memory for what would still green

trees be if they were not trees tor us?

And that is the holiday at the base of a hill in the town

with the white-haired waterfalls. The vast city is untidy,

complex, full of lies and defeat. My friends will disappear

into it, their car joining twenty others at a murderous red

light. We have seen them for this short while—only

because the town was tacky and little, and they were in

their brightest summer clothes.

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Himal Southasian