In this opium dream, Fraser and his three friends, in a drunken ramble on Delhi streets, had a curious card passed to them. It bore only an address, and the anonymous youth who stopped them had a strange aspect. With a look at once timorous and knowing, he had seemed to offer the card, then withdraw his hand, then offer once more, all the while holding Fraser in his eye.
Now, these four men were streetwise sailors, and were not known for their shy or retiring ways. Fraser took the card, stuffed it in his pocket, and, with an uncomfortable laugh, bid the boy to be off. He dismissed it as just another poor kid trying to lead him to some flea market stall, or, more likely, to a brothel on one of the dirty side streets.
But, the bonhomie that he had enjoyed this night with his pals was now a little forced.
The thick skin on which he had always prided himself had been pricked by this niggling mosquito bite of oddness.
Chuckling nervously to himself, he thought What the hell. What the hell. This is cloak and dagger, you crazy sonofabitch. Been watching too many movies.
His curiosity got the best of him, though, and he hired rickshaws to take the four of them to this questionable address. His driver glanced at the card, shook his head and said, in halting English, “Not tonight. Not tonight”. Impatiently, Fraser told him that he would make it worth his while, and gave him money up front.
They were brought to a dirt alleyway, almost in darkness, and the driver would go no further. “You will find a red door” was all he would say.
And so they found the low brick building, windowless, and with the promised door looking very old, cracked, and crooked, but so freshly painted in red that they could smell it. In its very center was a bright brass knocker, with a shape that reminded Fraser of some sort of Hindu deity. It had unsettling overtones, and the word that sprang to his mind was abomination.
Ignoring the knocker, they pushed in, and nearly fell down a long grey stairway, without rails, and wide enough for only one to pass at a time. There was a pale archway at its bottom, lit with a sickly glow, as if from a charnel house. Through the cracks and seams of its nearly identical door there floated a misty fume. Fraser knew the sweet floral scent, and thought Goddamn, this could be a night. Get out your pipes, boys!
In the scant seconds before his temerity told him to enter, he saw the one thing about this door that was not a match for the other. The brass knocker had been installed upside down, but the twisted figure on it seemed to make sense in an altogether different manner.
Hearing the lilting sounds of tabla, tamboura, and sitar, and sniffing the sweet scent, he pushed in, with his cohorts tagging behind. The room was long, long, and low-ceilinged, lit by the phantom light he had seen at the last doorway. Many were there, sitting cross-legged on cushions. There were no chairs or tables. The smoke and the lighting conspired to lend all of the faces a sinister cast, and he noticed, at the far end of the hall, a raised dais, empty now, but with musicians on either side. It was bathed in a hue of glowing blue, as if from the base of flame. On the floor, between the crowd and the dais, was a worn weathered bench.
All faces were turned to them. They were the outsiders. Gestures were made for them to thread their way through and to settle on the bench. They did so, not sensing direct hostility. The music stopped, and the players assumed a position of prayer.
A curtain was parted, and four turbaned men brought in a golden litter. They left, and the figure inside was outlined in glowing blue. All other lights were doused.
Plainly, it was a young woman, completely covered in a robe of shimmering silver. Her eyes were closed.
The music begins slowly. With eyes still closed, and swaying slightly, she still sits in the calmness. She changes the music with a gesture. Her two hands, parting the folds of the robe, undo its clasp. It billows down into the goldness of the litter. Fraser sees the thing that the puzzling knockers were symbolizing. There are two more hands, on arms of their own. He is enthralled, rooted. The abomination. So alien. Almost obscene, but with an enigmatic beauty of attraction. The crowd is silent, and makes gestures of prayer.
This woman opens her eyes. They are kaleidoscopic. Fraser thinks of Lucy in the Sky.
She turns her gaze quickly to each group of musicians. So rapidly that he thinks this cannot be real. Two of the four hands are gloved, two are bare. She begins to sing, and guides them. There are no words to the song. A melody of the throat and the higher cortex. He thinks of the blue alien.
As she changes moods, so does the music. Marvelous arms moving, weaving patterns and showing symbols fraught with absolute meaning. He wishes he could know.
Could he know? These motions and symbols are not all of brightness and glory. They are mixed in equal measure with the terrible and the obscene. Her face contorts disturbingly, and the rapid impossible head movements are appalling to him. The symbols change so quickly. He is terrified that he cannot catalogue them, but feels they must not be ignored. They are part of something. She is trying to open a gateway. He steals a glance at his friends, who all have their heads down and seem asleep or entranced.
The song falls down to an end. She is gone with the blue glow. The charnel house lights reappear, revealing a throng of worshippers with heads to the floor in prayer.
All is silent. He cannot rouse his friends. It is as if death has taken them.
He stands stupefied, unmanned by what he has seen. All is still silent.
A rustling of robes. Four arms enfold him from behind. Turning ’round slowly,
he looks into the kaleidoscope.