The strange smell was definitely coming from the short French woman in front with the dreadlocks. Lydia leaned in slightly to sniff the air again. Out in the sun there had just been the smell of unwashed bodies in unwashed clothes oozing that particular spicy food sweat smell. But now they were inside, in the cooler space of the temple another smell had wafted up. Dirt? Lydia wondered. Is it her dreadlocks?
Lydia had a strong objection to white people with dreadlocks. She’d been to Jamaica and for all the people with dreadlocks she had seen there, she didn’t remember any smell. But white people’s dreadlocks always carried some kind of odour.
She felt a kick to the back of her leg. She didn’t turn around. But then the kick came again. She swung around to stare down into the kohl-rimmed eyes of the small boy from the family standing behind her. “Sorry, sorry,” the father said, scooping the boy up into his arms. The mother pulled the golden edge of her green sari over her head and smiled down at her small daughter, also with kohl rimmed eyes and a black spot drawn on her forehead. The two children stared open mouthed at Lydia, European faces a novelty for them. Emerald green, thought Lydia, looking at the mother’s sari. She turned around to face forward again, thinking of her grandmother’s emerald ring and how the cold green of the stone could not compare with the warm green of the sari fabric.
The queue shuffled forward. They were approaching the platform. Incense was thickening the air. A strong floral scent, vaguely reminiscent of talcum powder, that Lydia had come to associate with temples.
The French woman and her tall companion with the shaved head were next. Are they a couple, Lydia wondered for the sixteenth time. She had stood behind the two women for over an hour now and still she couldn’t tell.
“Donation,” a man in white stopped her, shaking a box. “For the sadhu.” Lydia fished out her purse and shoved some rupee notes into the box. The man gave a small toss of his head. Lydia wasn’t sure if it was approval or disapproval but she was permitted to move forward. The French women were just leaving, heads together, whispering.
Lydia knelt in front of the sadhu. In the dark of the temple the small brown man was barely visible, except for the dirty loincloth and the stripes of white paint on his face and shoulders. She had been told not to look at him directly so she studied his feet instead, soles dry and cracked, nails looking more like animal horns.
Lydia felt him wave his arm over her head and mutter something.
The man sitting next to the sadhu leaned forward and tapped her arm.
“Finish,” he said. “Go.”
She stood up and walked away towards the door of the temple. Two hours and two hundred rupees and that was her blessing?