The men who spit. The men who sweep the leaves from the stones with brooms of bundled twigs. The women who wear surgical masks to gather the leaves into a tarp. Take them away. The tree roots that ooze centuries over ruined stone. Cracked women etched in stone, broken Nagas reigned in by headless giants punctuated by hello madam, have a look some picture please? and you so beautiful, buy some bracelet please? some flute? some postcard? Postcard? Postcard? The little children peddling postcards and jewelry. The little girl who spoke to us in six languages on a school day pushing her bracelet bracelet bracelet, have many different one. Lady, you can buy? and argued with us over the rate of conversion. Tapped on my window as the driver took us away to the next set of rocks. Buddha smiles a soft stone smile, peeking his tiny face out of the tree roots – he knows something, sees the sandals and sunglasses, baseball caps and cloth hats with wide, wrinkled brims. Sees the windup cameras and digital flashes….[quote]Postcard? Postcard? The little children peddling postcards and jewelry.[/quote]
A child tries to sell me a decorative plate with my face stamped on it. Where did she get my face? I touch my nose to make sure it is still there and retrace all of my steps: remember the grains that came away from the walls on my fingertips, remember the shape of the guardian lion’s mouth on my palm – how I wanted to go home with one of his teeth. Remember the steepness of the temple’s steps, how it was I and the sun and the uneven rock, climbing and climbing… But on her plate is just my face against the sky and I touch my cheeks to make sure they’re still there and they are.
We drive away and she stands in the road, waving her plate – my face – at the rear windshield shouting One dollar! One Dollar! Somewhere in the temple Buddha smiles his knowing smile, the tree roots grow thicker, and as soon as we round the bend in the road, I forget her face entirely.
Photo: World Bank