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We are headed south

- Pratik Mainali

Jun 20, 2018-

The sound of thunder woke me up in a sudden shock. My eyes were soft with sleep and my body limp. As I threw away the blanket and sat upright, a flash of white came zig-zagging down the sky, striking the earth and rattling everything. For a second, the room lit up and its every detail became visible. I looked at the clock. It was 4 am. A loud rumbling followed soon after and my heart swelled in excitement.

I ran into the hallway. “You up early chora?” my father said, astonished. “The bus leaves at 6 am.”

We opened the gate and made our way through the labyrinth of closely packed houses. It was a misty morning and the road was damp with murky puddles everywhere. We had the street to ourselves. It had just stopped raining and so it was really cold. Carefully we made our way to the bus station as mud smeared our shoes and the hems of our pants.

At 6 am, the bus arrived and I got in. I might have sat there for an hour.Then the engine stammered to life as the rackety bus, like a TB patient, awoke with a violent coughing fit. As the bus shook, smoke came belching out from its exhaust pipe. I looked out from the window and could see an empty, murky road.

It takes forever to reach Hetauda. The roads are really bumpy and at times steep. Each time the bus bumped, we gripped our seats so we wouldn’t fall into the isle. My stomach filled with butterflies as I looked on from the edge of the hilly road.

A pang of sickness comes over you once you start missing home. However, the warm white light from the windows ignited my spirit. Till 8 am, the highway was deserted, then the sun lit up the road, and it buzzed into life.

Unwashed faces with bodies wrapped in long brown moth-eaten overcoats, came jostling along the footpath in a current. Drudgery, poverty, and unspeakable sadness etched in their faces. They were lost, nervous and looked completely disoriented. As we moved closer, a sickening stench came drifting through the window so we slid it shut.

The kids in front of the bus were making a lot of noise. Their parents were nervously looking at the passengers, and we gave them a reassuring nod. Our family was, however, cloaked in silence. That’s the way we preferred it. We enjoyed the silence. When we reached the uneven road, the bus bounced and the seats jumped which made me nauseous. Thankfully, the warm light from the window revived my spirit.

We stopped at a dhaba. After returning from the dhaba, the bus rattled on, along the dusty road lined with fluffy trees and comfortable looking houses.

From the speaker of the bus, a Hindi song was playing. The people smelled. Some smelled of beetle juice, some of vomit, others heavily of sweat.

We coiled down the hills steadily. Dark clouds gathered in the sky. Then the clouds burst and water came pouring down, crashing onto the roof of the bus. I gritted my teeth and slid the windows to allow the cold air to come gushing in. The green trees were swaying violently as the bus swerved along the winding roads. The idea of swishing along a slippery road made me uncomfortable. The trees were soon replaced by matchbox houses, hotels, yellow fields, rivers, ponds and finally we arrived. I sighed with relief. Can’t crash here, can we? A white mist enshrouded the area where we stopped. You know you’ve arrived in Tarai when the steamy air hits you smack in the face.  I walked past the mist and saw buffaloes walking lousily, carts clattering along, traffic buzzing heavily at a distance, people walking baked in the sun. We hummed impatiently as time stretched out.

The sunlight filtered through the window and painted my skin gold. As I unfastened the window, loamy air tousled the back of my head. After resting on the window for hours my collarbone began to hurt. As we descended into the Tarai, we felt our faces were bathed in a warm glow.  The sun was sinking behind the hills and the shadows were stretching further and further. We had finally arrived.

Mainali is a BIBM student at  Herald College, Kathmandu

Published: 20-06-2018 08:45

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