“You should have been there back in 2005 man, its tame now, too civilised, too many tourist man, but ten years ago it was wild man, really wild”
Max sucks on an unlit handmade cigarette and blows a cloud of imaginary smoke into the air. This man has more theatrical afflictions then the Old Vic theatre company. I’m a captured audience of one, trapped on this bus for over 20 hours next to Max, sitting, listening and occasionally nodding to acknowledge his non-stop verbal aerobatics. For the first 20 minutes I had found it amusing the way he punctuated each sentence with the word man”. That was a million mans ago and the novelty has long worn off. Max is fast becoming a major irritation. Why in the name of god didn’t I fly down to Goa.?
Have you ever noticed that people like Max always tell you all the best places, all the good times, all the great people were around 10 years ago? I have this sneaky suspicion that if I had the misfortune to ride this bus in the company of Max ten years ago twenty years ago the conversation would have been exactly the same. Any place is better then the place he’s at or the place he’s going too.
I’m becoming obsessed with finding out his identity; the man is a walking disguise, a comic book spy. If I was asked to pick him out of a police line-up, I’d be hard pressed to do so.
A black felt hat covers most of his head with only his nose exposed; the rest of his face is covered by a thick beard and a mop of long greasy hair. He has worn the sunglasses since he boarded the bus back in Hyderabad only removing them to examine the contents of a sandwich he bought when the bus pulled in for a refreshment stop. But the biggest mystery is the accent – mid-western cum middle American fame boy with a dash of west coast soul slang is the nearest I can get to pinpointing it. Could I have found Jim Morrison or Elvis alive and well, living in India? I hum a few bars of “Light My Fire” but there is no reaction.
The bus is hot and crowded and smells of melting plastic and human sweat. Max smells worse then the rest of the smells put together, my nostrils are under a double attack from the sandwich he is taking a lifetime to eat, and the odours escaping from his denim jacket each time he moves. Why didn’t I fly?
I try to concentrate all of my thoughts on the long suntanned leg protruding from a pair of sun-bleached Levi cut-offs stretched out across the aisle in front of me. This perfect leg belongs to Lorraine, a five foot-ten blonde blue eyed all American student from New York. We had spoken briefly the night before. She had been rummaging around in her flight bag in the overhead luggage space when a large jar of cream enough to moisturise the whole of India fell out and hit me on the head. The pain was excruciating.
“I’m so sorry, are you alright” she said. Grinning up like an idiot I found myself saying “No problem, didn’t hurt a bit. She looked concerned. “I’m a medical student, let me take a look”. With that she gently parted my hair, professionally examining my skull for any future possible lawsuits. My face was close enough to those legs to smell coconut sun oil and carbolic soap. I apologised for damaging her jar with my head and thanked her for selecting me to maim. I was in love, she was also in love, but unfortunately not with me.
Lorraine is travelling the world with five others, two girls and three guys. They all look like the cast of Baywatch- the kind of people who could spend the night in a drainage ditch and the next day look like they just stepped out of a beauty salon. Lorraine’s boyfriend Zak can open coke bottles with his navel. I have to concede to the better man.
I’m brought back to reality by the sound of Max’s monolithic voice. “Tourist’s, man put up the price of everything: rooms, food…” he mumbled, the sandwich appeared to be still alive and fighting to get out of his mouth along with the words. Six more hours before we reach Goa, my long suffering right ear is going to be blasted with a thousand more “mans” and a large portion of that bloody sandwich, why didn’t I fly.
I spend a long time just gazing out of the window, a thousand framed portraits of Indian rural life frozen for a moment in time then lost forever to the speed of the bus. Each image has its own story, a tiny piece in a jig-saw of humanity that connects us all, the further you get from home, the closer you get to it. The light begins to fade, shadows grow longer from the palm trees that line the edge of the paddy-fields. Far off in the distance men are loading tools and sacks onto the back of a flat-back cart.
I think I know at that moment the reason I never flew down to Goa. Somehow I had become preoccupied with timetables, visas, passports, and schedules. In the discomfort of getting there, I had forgotten why I was travelling in the first place. The sun makes its daily exit, changing colour as it descends from yellow to warm orange then finally a ball of angry red as it slips behind the distant skyline. Soon the landscape has lost its colour and shape and the outside world is now only a black backdrop to my reflection in the glass. I’m surprised to see it smiling back at me. Funny how happiness can sneak up on you when you are thinking about something else.
“You want to know something man ?
“No Max go to sleep”
words and pictures David Coomber