MacDonald, John D.
J. B. Lippincott, 1977
It’s a hot dawn in Calcutta in front of a hotel in 1944. “Soon three hotel porters in wine-colored uniforms came out carrying a fire hose. They clamped the brass fitting of the hose into the water outlet on the front of the hotel. Two porters handled the long brass nozzle while the third turned the water on with a large key. The flattened hose sprang to fatness, and the hard gout began to spray the sleeping people on the sidewalk. Many of them sprang up with loud cries of rage and danced away from the stream of water, making ugly gestures and ugly faces at the impassive porters. Other got up more slowly, too weakened by the Great Famine of Bengal and by disease to escape being battered and soaked by the water. A very few crawled out of range. Eleven did not move. The porters moved their hose to proper positions where, by directing the stream of water they could roll the bundles of rags over and over, into the gutter. The still morning air smelled of rancid goat butter, charcoal fires, urine, sickness, and hot wet sidewalk. Soon, a truck came slowly down the street and men walked beside it, picking up bodies by wrists and ankles, and with a practiced and muscular swing heaving them over the high sideboards of the truck onto the bodies already collected . . . If they had names, only they knew them. The bodies were not worth searching because there was no chance there was anything of value left on any one of them. They were not even worth inspecting to determine if they were dead or nearly so. They were dead who left no echoes, no resonance, no mourners. In that one instant when they passed from awareness to nothingness, they became one with all the homeless dead from all the pestilences of mankind.