Nov/Dec 2020 • Vol. XLII No. 6 Fiction |

The Snake Priest

1846. Ghara, Sind He crouches in the dusty street among the beggars, wrapped in a tattered blanket, his face darkened with henna and his beard wild. It seems he is a blind man today, a faqir, a holy fool. I’ve seen him on other days as a merchant, selling rancid dates and ginger, cloth and sweetmeats from a shop in the bazaar, or as a wandering Arab in his skullcap and turban. Even, on occasion, as an Englishman, in his trousers and boots, sketching birds in the marshes along the river or measuring the channel’s depth with a rope and stone. But today, he gazes about with sightless eyes, his head swaying slightly as if catching at scents and faint sounds on the fragrant air. And yet, he’s watching me closely. I sip my tea among graceful whores, seated on a rug in the garden, gazing out across the square from the shade of a tamarind tree. What does he see, I wonder? A Russian merchant, taking his ease in the evening after a day of small profits in a land where only a fool woul

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Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky is the associate editor of The Kenyon Review.

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