Fiction | September 23, 2014

Punjab, 1983

From the front row I watched the highway disappear into smoke or fog and then darkness, the full darkness of a countryside without light, the headlamps showed a few yards of stubble and dirt on either side, then gloom, then darkness, we were on the Grand Trunk Road, such a river of life as nowhere else exists in the world, according to Kipling, one of the quotations we memorized at school, that year I had Mr. Brown or maybe it was Mr. Gotobed, I couldn’t say his name without laughing, until one morning he smacked me across the hands with his ruler, but now it was the Christmas holiday and I was away from Mr. Brown or Mr. Gotobed, whoever it was, away from Hong Kong for the first time, but the Grand Trunk Road wasn’t a river of life, it was empty and had been for hours, and the road was broken, sometimes it was hardly there, my head pitched against the window or the rail in front of us while the bus clamored in low gear, it was impossible to sleep, not even if I rested my head on my mother’s shoulder, though my sister was sleeping with her head in our mother’s lap, and others were sleeping across the aisle and in the rows behind us, wrapped in blankets, their bodies draped over their luggage, but not my mother, she had our bag between her knees and kept a hand on it too, on the clasp, because she was carrying money or silks or a bottle of Black Label, gifts, in any case, and in India you always had to watch your bag, even at night when everyone was asleep or especially then my mother said, she wasn’t going to sleep for the seven hours between Delhi and Chandigarh, she was awake and I was awake and then we were turning into the state bus terminal and it was morning, but I don’t remember the dawn, the reddening sky, the cold wind that cleared the air, all that was still to come, so maybe at last I was asleep—

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