Real Fine People

by Ellen Lindquist

On his ninth birthday, Srikanth began to bathe and dress Ganesha by himself. Wearing only a loincloth, he rose at dawn to pour a bucket of well water over his head before entering the temple. He dressed Ganesha's tusks in silk and flowers, lavishing milk and honey on the elephant god, chanting in Sanskrit as he worked, words whose meaning he never learned.

In nine more years, he was enrolled at the University of Texas, working nights at a gas station. Each night, his skin was bathed blue by the neon light of the gas station sign. It hummed on and off like the chanting of a monk.

One night just before dawn, a Baptist preacher walked into the station. Srikanth was dozing behind the glass partition, dreaming of Ganesha, when he heard the preacher say in a Southern drawl that stretched his vowels out like a long stream of water: "What do yo-o-u know 'bout the Lord Je-e-e zus?" Startled awake, Srikanth shouted back, "What do I know about the Lord Jesus? What do you know about Lord Shiva? He was Lord Ganesha's father. He drank the sin-filled oceans until his neck turned blue. Ganesha broke off one of his tusks and wrote a holy book with his blood. What do you know about them, man?"

For the first time since he began his nighttime travels in his beat-up Buick to preach the Lord's gospel at gas stations, all the preacher could think of to say was, "I'm terribly sorry, but I just don't know them folks you're talkin' 'bout, but I'm sure they're real fine people." The preacher squinted at the Indian boy in the grimy T-shirt on which were printed the words "Kiss me, I'm Irish" before walking outside to see dawn's pink wound hurrying to cover itself in a veil of blue.