This is an excerpt from Scott Alexander Hess's novel, A Season in Delhi.
They were perched at the wide-open mouth of Old Delhi facing the chaos of a blazing hot May morning. There was a visible haze engulfing the market and the air tasted of stirred-up dirt. Throngs of men, women, children, and animals, all burdened with strapped-on or shoulder- balancing loads, pushed roughly in opposing directions through the crammed streets as if guided by some divine order.
Brant and his husband Lloyd sat together in a bicycle rickshaw facing the crowd. Their driver Divit waved to the rickshaw behind them, where their house servant Hem Raj rode. Divit shouted something in Hindi then began to pedal straight into the throng. Divit was bone-thin, shirtless and ancient-looking with one missing eye. Brant feared he would collapse under the weight of them (his husband was a tall, thickly muscled man).
But the old driver pressed forward swiftly and with surprising vigor, bumping over the ragged, terrible stone street, cutting a path where there was none, barely missing a circle of arguing men, a barking dog and two shouting boys with giant boxes balanced on their heads. Swerving past the boys, Divit headed straight for an ox.
Brant tightly gripped one side of the rickshaw. He placed his other hand on his chest, guarding a precious ruby pin in the shape of a scarab that his mother had given him.
She had died just six months ago.
Lloyd shouted with hilarity.“My God this is marvelous!” Divit turned the front wheel sharply barely missing the ox, passing beside the beast. Brant saw the giant thing’s black eyes, its protruding ribs and scabs around its mighty snout and he choked on the ever-blowing dusty air, overwhelmed with a sense that he was breathing in something both magical and terrible.
He’d insisted that they see Old Delhi first thing, certain that such a vibrant onslaught of ancient life would obliterate any lingering fears he had about what had happened in the States before they left, that secret transgression he vowed to erase. He was certain Delhi would elevate him with its maddening wonders. But the hot air tasted of regret, of things stomped on, beaten and lost. He began to cough.
“Is that a cow?” Lloyd said.“It’s so thin! This is amazing. You love it don’t you?”
Brant smiled weakly, putting his hand on Lloyd’s thick forearm as they pushed through an endless sway of haulers young and old.
As they turned toward a narrow alleyway, he noticed a tiny woman with a wretched little broom sweeping one spot over and over. Just over her head on a hanging wire, a monkey sat watching. Behind her was a crumbling building where men lounged on the windowsill smoking.
They came to an abrupt stop and before he could move Hem Raj was at the side of the rickshaw shouting for them to get out, motioning toward a corner stand ablaze with glittering hanging garlands and bushels of spices whose pungent scents nearly choked the air.
“Welcome to Delhi,” Hem Raj said, bowing his head and offering a hand.
You can learn more about Scott and his work here.