23 November, 2006
“Gudiyatham road?” the auto rickshaw driver asks me. I am not sure, so I don’t reply. As we approach, I recognize it and nod. At the corner I get down. “Enna villai? How much is it?” “Ten rupees.” I hand over a crumpled note and tilt my head sideways in a nod of thanks and recognition. I turn left and walk toward the corner where I’ll catch the bus to Katpadi. Women sit shaded by sheets of canvas supported by large sticks selling bananas, which look a little browner than I want. I keep walking.
I notice a certain section of road and a circle radiating out around it is rather empty and lacks movement. A man lies in the road. He must have been drunk and fallen down. He looks like he’s sleeping. No, he doesn’t look like he’s sleeping. Next to him lies a fallen cycle and I realize the man’s limbs extend at strange angles from his body. His head is a sweet summer melon gashed open, pink and wet inside. I look away and walk quickly through the empty space some distance from him. I think of the dog remains, skin looking almost tanned, so flat has it been driven into the road, that I saw this morning in Vellore. I keep walking, watching two women standing at the edge of the circle of emptiness. They are looking at the man. The dead man. The man who was riding his bicycle and was hit by, by a bus perhaps. I force myself to look back, and again I turn away quickly. I feel nothing. And then a slight nausea rises in my throat. A nausea not at the death of a person, not at his head split open upon the tarmac, but at my own lack of emotion, my own insensitivity.
I walk quickly to the corner trying to decide whether or not I want to buy some salt biscuits for when I get home or to eat while I wait for a bus or auto to Kasam.
It’s hot, and I take shelter under the awning of a store with some women returning home with vegetables from the market. Everyone seems to be turned, looking back toward the sight of the accident. I imagine everyone is talking about what has happened. You can’t see it from here, but you can tell there’s a holdup. I notice a line of five dogs, all about the same size trotting about in a line. They look like a family as they cross the street together. I find myself hoping they make it safely to the other side.
Across the street is a truck with an open back, like you would see transporting cattle, but this one is full of standing people. An old woman with a square face and white hair leans over the side. As I watch, a thin stream of yellow flows from her mouth onto the ground beside the truck. She pulls her hair back from her face and her body convulses slightly and a thicker stream of yellow pours out. I cannot take my eyes off her as she vomits. It is as though she is ridding my body of the unfeeling nausea that welled up inside me. She wretches again, and the truck is off.
I notice the dogs again as they trot by, near to where I stand. Four males and a female. Four males pursuing a bitch in heat. A ways behind them is a dog I recognize – its genitals outlandishly large and scaly looking. He seems interested in following the bitch, but not really capable of truly pursuing her.
Everything seems to have taken on a hue of grotesqueness, even the softness of a large woman’s stomach rolling upon itself beneath her saari. Sweat collects on my brow, my neck, the small of my back. I am thirsty but too lazy to drink from the water bottle full in my backpack.
At last an auto comes that will take me to Kasam. The waiting women, several men and I pile into it. There are 14 of us in all – two men standing on either side of the driver’s seat holding onto the edge of the vehicle, the driver and two men sitting beside him in the front. Then four other women and I on the backseat. One of the women holds a tiny baby. And there are three people in the back. As we move, I feel the air on me. My nausea fades, and I wonder who the man was, where he was going, whether he has a family, whether his wife will be able to support their children after his death or if she will need to seek a place for the youngest one at Pannai.
The hills and fields pass by green on either side of the little auto. An older man stands a little ways off to the side of the road tending a flock of goats, his lungi folded up and tucked into itself like a double-clothed skirt, his knees protruding prominently from beneath it. The little shops next to the railroad tracks are closed today, and I wonder why.
As we approach Pannai, the world seems to have refocused into the brilliant beautiful greens and browns of this place. I realize I have not walked around or explored that much. Perhaps it is because I am too busy processing experiences like the man splayed out and split open on the road, an experience I will take as a reminder of my own mortality (and the VERY real danger of the roads). Thanks for sharing this with me through my writing. I’m finding it wonderful. And fun. Perhaps some day I will have a real story and not just images and feelings to share. (I used to dream of being a writer, so it’s fun to live out that dream through my emails to all of you.)
Love and much peace, Thandiwe