Out of my comfort zone on the last bus to Banbasa
The realisation hits me that I am perhaps the only person within a hundred miles who speaks my language. Up here, somebody somewhere could possibly just about hear me scream but they probably wouldn’t be able to make much sense of it.
My education is rendered immediately redundant and communication reduced to purer, primal forms. Gestures substitute for verbs and understanding is reached through hopeful nods, reciprocal smiling, and desperate prayers. I silently invoke the Hindu gods whose images dangle from the front mirror. Krishna smiles serenely and Ganesh waves furiously; the Elephant head I can understand but why so many arms?
The driver, steering the bus with just one good arm whilst the other one hangs limply by his side, grips the wheel with all his intent and drags the rickety machine across a tight bend spitting black tobacco through the window into the road as he does so. I daren’t look down at the deep praecipe below and yet I cannot resist it. Some 80 feet below I glimpse the fractured corpse of a mangled bus wreck. The passenger beside me, thus far muted, now speaks;
“That bus crash 3 days ago. 5 people die. But don’t be worrying, this driver is good driver!”
An English speaker; I’m both relieved and disappointed. At least I can now ask to ensure I get off in the right town but I also know I am now going to face the roulette of Indian bus questions. I am 31 years old, I am a writer and no I’m not married.
To my surprise, he doesn’t speak further. Maybe he exhausted his English inspiring the fear of death into me. He just holds out his hand and offers me a banana. I’m hardly hungry between the rising altitude and the gut rot which has persisted for weeks now but I accept graciously anyway.
There is no hiding my otherness here; my face feels so white that its reflection in the window could blind me. I wear my Raybans and shut my eyes. Even in the depths of English winter, when the absence of the sun is at its most acute, my pallor has never been particularly pale. Now though, I feel my own flesh burning brilliantly as the ashen, Himalayan snowfall. Eyes are on me staring unapologetically.
For the past few years, I have perpetually resided beyond my comfort zone. Discomfort and fluidity of orientation are now regular states of being. But this…this is unnerving. The heat of the day mercifully dissipates as we climb ever higher into the Himalaya’s. My stomach sickness also subsides. The stares from my fellow passengers, however, they persist.