Guntakal Train Station. 9:25 PM, October 14, 2006. Exactly one hour away from being thrown off a moving train while wearing a leg cast for a freshly broken tibia.
I am somewhere in the hinterlands of India. I don’t know where and it doesn’t matter. Guntakal has no more significance than a single step in a staircase. It’s yet another waypoint on the road to Mumbai, the airport and a proper hospital. It is dark and even with light the land stretches in every direction red, flat and chapped. My packs sit at my feet and my friends are fanned about, walking with their own evening thoughts. I lean my crutches against the back of the metal seats in front of me. My hands itch. The fingers are purple and I pick the skin from their tips. I am reminded of peeling splintered wood from a prairie fence lost somewhere in my childhood.
The train station blinks and stutters with yellow halogens, a subdued light. It’s an open platform with stained floors and chipped walls and columns. The muggy air makes everything very still, trapped without a breeze. Things feel slow. Folks stir, making little noise. A couple of shady fellows in track suits eye my packs and I slide them closer. They frown and stare at me. I don’t know if they want my gear or they want to punch me in the face. They could just be constipated. It’s hard to tell how people carry themselves in a foreign country.
A middle aged man sits nearby. He’s well-dressed and smiling and I wonder what he’s doing out here with the dust and the endless horizons. Each time I glance sideways he’s staring at me, kind of fidgeting his hands in his lap. He leans near, eager. He smiles and nods. I place my hands in my lap and smile back. I nod.
“Hello,” he says, sliding into the seat catty corner from my own. “Where are you from?”
“America. Uh, USA.”
“And what part?”
“Colorado. Denver? You know the Rocky Mountains?”
He nods and his eyes close just a hint. He knows the Rockies.
“What is…uh… What is happen to your foot?”
“Oh. I broke my leg about four days ago.”
“Eash,” he inhales between clinched incisors, brows furrowed. “And how?”
“Rock climbing in Hampi, without a rope. I took a bad fall from, like, four or five meters.”
“Where were you?”
“We were in Hampi.”
“Ahhh,” he sighs. His eyes are hooded headlights and he understands again.
“You are difficult understanding me?”
“Yeah, a little bit,” I chuckle, feeling embarrassed. Here I am in this man’s country and he’s taking care that I understand his nearly perfect English. I can’t string more than two Hindi words together that would make a lick of sense. “But I understand most of it. Do you understand everything I say?”
“Huh. You speak really good English.”
He smiles and his teeth are crooked. “Yes, I watch very much HBO.” He leans closer and his teeth are a prairie fence, his eyes are grinning. “Home…Box…Office…ahhh…”
“That’s it! Me, too. I watch HBO, as well. And that helps you learn English?”
“Yes, this helps. I watch a movie, maybe two nights, uhhh, ago. Maybe you know?”
“Children of the Corn.”
“Ah, yeah. I saw that when I was, like, eight.”
“The children in America, they watch this and it is not good. Children have many passion. Ahhh, very passion. I don’t think Children of the Corn is good for the children.”
“I agree. It’s not good for anyone, really, I don’t think. It’s a very bad movie. Too bloody.”
“Yes, it is not good,” he says, smacking the air between us with the back of his hand. “My name is Ram.”
“Ram. Sorry. My name is Dave. It’s good to talk to you.”
“And it is good to talk to you, Dave.”
Ram stands up and grinds his knuckles into the small of his back. He stretches and smiles his prairie fence smile and strolls off into the blinking yellow night. Ram’s evening train to somewhere is just rounding the bend.
[Illustration by Lynn Suyeko Mandziuk]