In progress

I don't know what time it is. I try to go back to sleep. I can't. I give in. I get dressed in the dark and go outside, hoping to get some fresh air. Except that in Benares, it's the air that gets you. Pungent, thick, hot. Smoke reigns. A ghostly presence brushes past me and moves away. I follow without thinking. In India, even at night, even in the middle of the desert, there's always someone to follow.
A cow is in the way. It takes me a while to step over it. In the distance, the shadow I was following suddenly shrinks, before disappearing. The disappearance invites me in. I reach the first steps of a staircase that leads straight down to the river. Below, the riverbank is lit by bonfires. Everywhere, silhouettes bustle about.
I'm startled by a sweaty rustle. A few yards away, a stray dog wrings itself out, a piece of wood in its mouth.
The quay is swarming with people. Inert forms are hoisted onto boats. Others are thrown into the water, mechanically. I struggle to grasp the meaning of this slow movement.
The day dawns, exhausted by the day ahead...

I'm caught up in a kind of cosmic ballet. An ancestral choreography lulls and hypnotizes me. All around me, everything gravitates: people, birds, dust and my own thoughts. An invisible logic governs this place. Anarchy works here.
It welcomes me, wraps me like a sheet.
Suddenly, an argument seems to break out. Light-hearted, with nothing at stake, almost theatrical.
A few voices chirp, ricocheting off the dirty stone, before falling back into the rumor mill.
I turn to contemplate the buildings. Some raise their domes, others stop abruptly. Temples and simple shelters stand side by side, supporting each other. A thousand geometric gazes seem to stare back at me. For centuries.
All facades soak in a red echo: time floats.
Something wet pulls me out of my hallucination. The dog with the piece of wood has stuck to my knee. He moved closer without a sound.
Proud of his grip, he lays it at my feet.
It takes me a few seconds to understand.

As if in a dream, I scream but no sound comes out.
I don't know what terrifies me more:

the charred arm on the ground

or the look on the dog's face, which seems to be smiling at me.