The girl in his dream had no face. Now, from the Ambassador taxi bumbling its way through the pre-dawn Calcutta streets towards the airport out beyond Salt Lake he could see she was blind. Her milky eyes shone against her dark skin as she walked at the head of a straggle of humanity following silently in single file. She held her hands cupped together in front of her. In her palms a flame flickered yellow and orange.
“Stop the taxi”, he shouted as he turned to watch the strange procession they were passing. “Airport going, Sahib?”, the taxi driver asked. “No, leave me here”, his voice was insistent, “I’ll pay you the fare to the airport”. He was fumbling for notes in his pocket, thrust a handful at the driver and jumped out of the door. “Luggage Sahib?”, the driver asked. “Keep it, give it to the poor”, he called back over his shoulder as he hurried down the narrow side street the girl and her retinue had turned into.
When he joined onto the back of the line the girl didn’t change the pace or rhythm of her confident walk. Between him and the girl there were five people. A youth in a grimy loin cloth, an old man bent over and using a stick to help him move along, a middle aged lady with a drab sari, a child with skinny limbs and long greasy hair and a very old woman who kept her hand on the child’s shoulder and turned her head from side to side sightlessly.
He was sweating even though it was so early, his shirt clung to his back and his jacket cut into him under his arms. He took it off and folded it, carrying it over his forearm like a waiter with a napkin. As they passed a sleeping beggar stretched out on the pavement, he bent and laid the jacket over him. In the pockets a wallet and passport, keys and phone he didn’t feel any further need for. This was why he had come to India in the first place.
Their path crossed streets lined with bricks, patched with tar and rimed in mud and rubbish, crushed clay cups, vegetable waste and dog dirt. Great roots buckled the surface they were walking on from the strangling fig trees whose massive trunks bordered the road. They were travelling down hill towards the mighty river. He knew where they were heading even though he had never been in this part of the city before. In his dream they travelled to Kali Ghat, the temple to the deadly six armed goddess of power, creation and destruction. It was a small and very ancient temple perched directly on the banks of a stream flowing into the Ganges.
As the dawn broke he saw the temple surrounded by overhanging trees at the end of the path ahead of them. They were passing a row of single story hovels, single mud built rooms, each with a doorway covered by a hanging cloth. Some were roofed with palm leaves others with plastic or a jumble of oddments of wood and corrugated sheeting. Outside one was a bright scarlet baby lying naked in the mud. Its arms and legs were raised as if in agony but it made no sound. It must just have been born.
The flame brightened as its bearer stopped the procession opposite the tiny baby. The middle aged woman stepped from the line, picked up the child and cradled it in her arms. It relaxed its limbs and nuzzled its face into her shrunken breast. She put her little finger into its mouth and it started to suck. The single file resumed its slow progress towards the temple.
As they reached the gate that gave way into the temple compound a young woman came down the steps that surrounded the temple and greeted them with a Namaste. She bowed to the girl still carrying a flame in her palms and the girl climbed the steps and put the flame into the outstretched palm of one of the Kali effigy’s arms. It continued to burn as she stepped away and backed down the steps with her head bowed until she knelt on the earth at their base. The child led the old lady to the steps where she knelt facing Kali with the child standing behind her. The youth and the old man lay face down on the ground with their arms outstretched. Only the woman holding the baby and the man from the taxi were standing.
A white flash of lightning cut through the gloom and a simultaneous clap of thunder ripped the air apart. A strong wind pulled at the clothes, making loose ends flap like pennants and moulding the fabric to the thin bodies. The baby was no longer red but a pale blue with translucent skin. The man from the taxi knew that it was going to die within an hour. Rain began falling, heavy drops smashed into the ground and onto their exposed heads and backs. The baby was soaked in a moment and shivered uncontrollably in the woman’s arms.
The blind girl stood and took his arm, pulling him urgently up the steps of the temple to the Kail figure whirling her arms. Each hand made a gesture of one of Kali’s aspects. On one hand fingers fluttering as time flies, one with the back raised in change, one opening in creation with the flame still burning in its palm, one clenched into a fist of power, one cupping in preservation and the last formed into a blade of destruction. He stood facing the Goddess, his head level with hers though she was balancing on one bent leg, the other curling in front her.
Kali’s stiff nipples protruding from her perfectly round breasts pressed into his chest as he started to dance with her, mimicking first one gesture then another. He ground his pelvis against her naked crotch feeling the icy cold of her body reach into him, pulling him closer, binding him fast against her. When he kissed her lips his skin stuck fast to her face and ripped open as he pulled away. Hot blood ran in a stream down his chin and onto his chest, smearing the statue with red, smelling metallic and acid in the air he gasped in aching breaths into his frozen lungs.
His legs were weak but he was supported now by the raised leg which was around his thighs. One of Kali’s arms surrounded his back, another cradled his head. The chopping blade of destruction pressed against his throat so that he could no longer swallow, he couldn’t cry out, his chest heaved but now no air could pass down his crushed windpipe. His mind spun drunkenly as the light died in his eyes. Still his heart beat, thumping pulses pounding in his temples.
Behind and below him the woman holding the baby carried it up the steps and held it out to the cupped hand. She laid the baby into the cradle of the palm. Its skin was rosy and its frail chest rose and fell as it breathed and then started to cry loudly. The temple woman pulled her sari aside and pressed her full breast into the baby’s mouth and it sucked greedily.
The man from the taxi was limp now in Kali’s frigid embrace. He could feel his mind falling in lazy cartwheels down a dark endless tunnel. His face was serene as his eye lids closed and his bloodied lips relaxed into a gentle smile. A life given, a life saved, creation out of destruction, light out of darkness. That is what he came to India for, after all. That was what he had dreamt of.