three strange days into the trek, Darla notices the skin on her palms is cracking and bleeding, peeling off in strips. her friend Amy grosses out and initially refuses to help her dress her wounds. when Amy hands her a piece of adhesive tape, she brushes up against Darla’s skin.
“you’re burning up,” says Amy.
“i’m fine,” says Darla and faints.
the next three days are even stranger as Amy leads her back down to base camp, onto a crowded bus and into the heaving city. flashes of colour and smells emerge: animals on the bus, laughing taxi drivers, streets full of saris burning with colour. then, the hospital. cool sheets, mosquito netting. the rustle of nurse’s uniforms and a persistent muttering, chanting.
the fever will not break.
thirty days and thirty nights, she is delirious. thirty day and thirty nights of chanting, ebbing and flowing like the Ganges River she visited, once, a lifetime ago. when she wakes, coherent and ravenous, she tries to sit up and promptly falls over, half on and half off the bed. the chanting stops. a thin dark hand emerges from under the bed and lightly strokes her knee, murmurs in another language. Darla slides to the floor and takes in a pallet, a patient, a girl, flushed and delirious like her, lying below.
from that point on, Darla thinks of convalescing as a unit of girl, one above and one below.