Poetry Drawer: baksheesh: magic by Stephen House


i wait on the stairs for the police to come
they arrive and take a statement from me

they don’t seem concerned or shocked
and say there is nothing suspicious about it

it happens daily with foreigners and locals
and at this guest house all the time

and that there is a batch of gear in Delhi
from Pakistan that is extra strong and cheap

two young guys died in the tunnel before
and last night a tourist in a five star hotel

i ask them if i can leave the city now
that i was heading off when i found him

the two cops look at each other and one says
it will be easier for me if i help them out a bit

he puts out his hand and i know what for
i pay the baksheesh with a fifty dollar note

they thank me genuinely and wish me luck
i pick up my bag and walk down the hall

the guy’s body is being taken out on a stretcher
Om Namah Shivaya i say and walk away

at the train station i wonder about the guy’s life
and if anyone will tell his family he’s dead

i reflect on the two times i smoked heroin
decades ago at the same Delhi guest house

i never touched it again as its power grabbed me
and i knew continuing it was wrought with risk


he smiles

i smile
float my eyes into his

he walks to my table
amongst the people and booze clutter
doesn’t say anything when he gets to me
taps my shoulder
gestures me to stand
i do

and heart banging follow him
into a small room off the back of the bar
where an overhead fan clicks

we don’t speak
a magic sits in the silence between us
a mouse scampers behind the sideboard
he ignores it and turns the key
locks the door
stands still looking at me
steps into me
stares into my eyes

we are joined by an unseen force

his phone gives a church bell chime
he says a few words into it
in his language
clicks it off

touches me lightly on the shoulder
unlocks the door

we go back out to the bar

crowds separate us
in a flood of bodies and voices.

Stephen House is an award winning Australian playwright, poet and actor. He’s won two Awgie Awards (Australian Writer’s Guild) , Adelaide Fringe Award, Rhonda Jancovich Poetry Award for Social Justice, Goolwa Poetry Cup, Feast Short Story Prize and more. He’s been shortlisted for Lane Cove Literary Award, Overland’s Fair Australia Fiction Prize, Patrick White Playwright and Queensland Premier Drama Awards, Greenroom best actor Award and more. He’s received Australia Council literature residencies to Ireland and Canada, and an India Asialink. His chapbook real and unreal was published by ICOE Press Australia. He is published often and performs his work widely.

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