Delhi, 1991. You don’t go there. You don’t go to the Hotel Bel Air (named for the owner’s ’62 bubbletop, baby blue, photo pasted behind reception). A hotel recommended by your Air India stewardess, whom you trusted because of the bindi on her forehead. But no, it’s not a hotel, it’s a hostel, a hovel, really, catering to itinerant carpet dealers, Kashmiris who knock on your door, who knock and knock and knock, and unfurl carpets with well-practiced flicks of the wrist when finally, bleary-eyed, you open your door, the most beautiful carpets in all of India, pure silick, would you like to see another? You’re dismayed, in disarray, it’s been days since you’ve slept, but still they offer you tea, send for it when you say, No, no tea, inquire, What is your good name, where are your husband, your children, chuckle when you say you are poor, for no white woman is ever truly poor. You put a sign on your door—I hate Kashmiri carpets, I will never buy a Kashmiri carpet—and fall asleep only to be awakened by a rat skittering across your chest, forcing you to disturb management, in the form of a sleepy desk clerk named Raj. Show me, Raj says, show me where a rat could possibly have entered your room and surely I will give you another.
Room, he means, not rat.
You don’t go to Delhi. You don’t go to a poetry reading to escape the Hotel Bell Air, you don’t meet Ravi Singh, you are not seduced by his dark eyes, the taste of chai on his tongue.
Read the rest of "Zanzibar, Bereft" here, and don't forget to enter our Short Story Month Contest, either here, on Facebook, or on Twitter!