By Elaine Chamberlain
You can rent a cubicle of lacy mold, with a bed
For seven hundred rupees per night at the Palace.
Even though the man at the desk wasn’t welcoming
We took the room. It was festival week in Calcutta
And rooms were scarce.
There was no toilet paper, no soap, no washrooms, no towels.
When I asked for sheets the manager said, “Why do you want sheets?”
“Nobody else asks for sheets?”
To get hot water you filled a bucket with cold water
And lugged it down the hall where a houseboy heated it with a coil.
Fifty rupees. As soon as the water was hot I was happy.
But in the night the Palace turned rowdy.
The marble floors and stucco walls echoed with men’s booming voices
They hooted like owls and howled like wolves. They whistled and stomped.
They fought and sang. What were they celebrating?
In the morning, the manager moved us to a “quieter room”.
Then we spent the next night tossing and turning to continuing hullabaloo.
Fortunately, we met a British woman who sent us to the Tourist Inn.
We begged them to rent us a room. Anything. They had hot water! Sheets!
They had soap, toilet paper, and silence after 9 p.m. We complained about The Palace.
They told us the Palace was a brothel. “We never saw any women there,” we said.
They replied, “There’s one in every room”.
ELAINE CHAMBERLAIN was one of the original editors of Earth’s Daughters magazine at its inception in 1971, and is the author of “Pictures from the Beehouse” (White Pine Press, 1978). A Seattle native who has taught English, creative writing and art, and has done volunteer nursing in southern Mexico, she recently retired after 20 years as a mental health counselor. She lives in Hamburg, and enjoys writing about her travel adventures aboard chicken buses in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Bolivia, biking and ferrying in Nova Scotia, and traveling by train, canal boat and bicycle rickshaw in India and Nepal.