New Year’s Day, 2011
My friends and I stepped down from the bus. The chilly clay crunched under my boots.
The air was hazy. Any illusion of clarity was dispelled when I raised my eyes to see the blacktop highway dissolve into a floating haze of humidity and moisture-bound truck exhaust.
My mind was also hazy. It was morning, and I had awoken only a few hours earlier from a few hours' sleep after being awake for the 56 hours prior. Long layovers though we had, I had not been able to sleep since taking off from Pensacola.
Sir went to a roadside snack shack to restock on Lay’s Tomato Tango, while those of us who had doubled down on morning tea sidled around the back of a shuttered garage to answer nature’s call.
Spike’s voice, always from the diaphragm, fired out from the far corner of the building.
“I’m having performance issues,” he muttered. “That monkey won’t stop watching me.”
I looked overhead and saw a cartload of monkeys spread out across the roof. A few observed our relief with academic disinterest, while one closest to me sat contemplating God’s good potato.
I laughed. Spike continued.
“I hate the monkeys. You should have seen them in Shimla. They’ll attack out of nowhere.”
At this, I sobered a tad and finished my business, one wary eye on the monkey troop.
We returned to a crowd around the bus. We were deep in Bihar, about as far off the tourist trail as we could be without swimming open water. Fresh faces, much less a rag tag gaggle of Americans, stood out in a little town like this. It seemed half the town had turned out to laugh at our sincere-yet-ham-handed attempts at pronunciation of “naya saal shayari.”
The bus’s interior was just as smoggy as the air outside. I adjusted my neckerchief back over my mouth and nose as I cleared the step into the bus.
Before ducking all the way inside the vehicle, I realized just how many faces, mostly kids, were watching us. I grabbed the rickety support bar in the bus door and leaned out to snap a few frames. The diversity of the expressions makes me smile every time.
So began my first full day in India.