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KRISHNA'S KID IVORY/Samuel Atlee IT WAS THREE o'clock in the morning when Durning arrived for the first time in Delhi, just off the Lufthansa flight from Hong Kong on its overnight trip through to Frankfurt. Deplaning alone, he found the Delhi airport so underlit and empty that he felt like he was descending through a tomb, a feeling that persisted once he'd cleared customs and was on his way to the Ranjani Oberoi in a taxi, being ferried at low speed by an invisible driver through a landscape that was dark, flat and vacant, so deserted that he wondered if this was a city of the dead. Where was the teeming India of legend? Asleep, Durning gathered; there wasn't a single cone of welcoming light in the whole inky landscape . Delhi was, it seemed, a city of operatic odors. The smell of an open sewer was suffocating, but as they drove on, it gave way to other tart scents: curried cooking fumes, wood smoke, rotting vegetables. Dazed with fatigue and disoriented, Durning saw on the horizon the black skeleton of a gallows—which turned out, as they drew abreast, to be a jungle gym outside an elementary school. The heart of darkness Conrad had written about was a continent distant, but the broad black avenue his taxi drifted down wasn't unlike that jungle river. When at last they pulled up to the Oberoi, the big hotel was ablaze with light. They were not expecting him. The marble-floored lobby was empty, and the front desk clerk seemed taken aback by Durning's arrival. He was a small, immaculate Indian with a neatly clipped military mustache , and Durning felt the man was picking an odd time to get snooty. Where was the fax confirming his reservation? When had that reservation been made? "I'm afraid, sir," the clerk said, "we seem to have no record of you. And no room to offer, either." "Then what do I do? I've never been to India before and I don't know where I am. Did my brother leave a message for me? We're supposed to meet in Vrindavan tomorrow evening." "I'm afraid no one left a message." The clerk studied something behind the counter. "If you wouldn't mind double occupancy," he said, not looking up. "Excuse me?" "It's the middle of the night, sir. The room's a two-bed suite. Take it or not, it's all I can offer." Durning took the elevator upstairs and discovered that he was definitely not alone. The suite was vast, almost vulgar with its chandelier The Missouri Review · 9 and gold-painted moldings. His roommate was a huge African in a bright yellow shirt who sat with his legs crossed lounging on one of the queen-sized beds. Evidently he too had recently checked in, because his luggage was by the door. A red and white pack of Marlboros lay on the night table, and the African lit one with a chunky Zippo. "Hel-lo," he said, offering Durning an enormous salmon-palmed hand. "Magumba-bumba-ticka," he said. Then he leaned back, smiled widely, and took a long, satisfying drag. Durning sat down on the bed opposite and rubbed his shoulder, which was sore from the two vaccines his doctor had given him before he'd left Kansas City. There was a satchel full of Nivaquine pills and Paludrine, for malaria, stuffed inside his duffel. He tried to relax and leaned back a little on the bed. He noticed a fat gold Rolex on the African's wrist. Was he a businessman just up from the Congo? There was a thick leather-bound book on the blue coverlet beside him; after a moment the African pawed it over and popped it open to a page, which he scanned. Then he stubbed out his cigarette and, with a nod to Durning, began to read out loud in a strange African tongue. He had brilliant white teeth and his voice was rich and liquid. Could he be a clergyman, perhaps? The African raised a black hand and began to intone specific sentences, lifting one finger...


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