Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: India (02/12/09)
TITLE: Journey's End?
By Angela M. Baker-Bridge
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A flight attendant blocks the aisle. “Please return to your seat.”
“I need to use the bathroom.”
“I’m sorry, not until we land.”
The aircraft abruptly tosses me into my seat.
Inside the terminal, we collect our suitcases before entering the crowded, hot, humid, Customs Gate. My bladder beckons. Spotting the restroom, I push pass body odor and baggage. Within a minute, I return.
“I’ve never known you to go to the bathroom so fast,” my husband smirks.
“I didn’t go.”
“I saw you go.”
“Into the bathroom, but I didn’t go. There’s a woman sleeping on the floor, her head’s near the toilet.”
“Welcome to Bombay,” a woman with a British accent comments. “Beggars are everywhere, it’s dreadful.”
My husband nods toward the bathroom. “We’ll be here at least an hour. Besides, you’ll never see her again.”
“It’s not me seeing her that I’m worried about.”
Inside the bathroom, I quietly position myself around the woman on the floor. I gag at the smell—gasp at the lack of privacy. My conscience speaks. Instead of being repulsed, be thankful that’s not you.
Clearing Customs, we enter the concourse. Gaunt men fight one another for our suitcases. Grabbing our bags, they stack them on their heads. My husband interrupts, “We don’t need help.” It’s too late, we race to follow them as they maneuver through the crowd.
Outside, unbearable heat, stench, blaring horns, and beggars engulf us. My husband sees an Indian man holding a sign bearing our name. All I see are maimed children and elderly cripples extending hands toward me. An officer beats them with a stick, clearing a path for us. We tip porters and police.
“Do not give them money, kind lady,” he says, wobbling his head side-to-side.
My bewilderment grows as we’re escorted to a waiting automobile. Like all the others, it is a dirty white compact. “We’re six people; the men are all very tall, and we have lots of suitcases. We need two cars,” my husband explains.
The driver smiles, wobbles his head, and piles suitcases on the roof. He signals the two largest men up front, the rest of us into the back. We sit on each other, hands and heads hanging outside open windows. I notice there aren’t any seatbelts or side mirrors.
“Where are the mirrors?”
“We remove them.”
“They rip off,” he explains, grinning.
I strain to examine the line of taxis, all are minus side mirrors.
As we pull into traffic, I quickly comprehend. Vehicles drive within inches on both sides. I could easily shake hands with those we pass.
“Guys, get your hands and heads inside the car,” I shout.
Our driver weaves around rickshaws, bicycles, animals, and pedestrians in the street. We pass cardboard huts in the slums surrounding the International airport.
Where am I? I must still be on the plane dreaming this. It’s surreal. Am I in a time warp?
We arrive at the train station. We cling to our luggage, not allowing undernourished men in shorts to pry it from our hands. Beggars swarm us. I try not to make eye contact. One reaches out to touch my son’s blonde hair. An officer hits her arm. We hurry through the platform—climb aboard our train.
We squeeze into our small compartment. The windows have metal bars but no glass. Vendors try shoving wrapped food through them.
“It is not safe,” our escort warns. “You can only eat at the hotel.”
The whistle blows. Our rumbling voyage into India’s heartland begins. I press my face against the bars, wanting to witness it all. Ornate buildings and mosques frame miles of slums.
Leaving the city, I’m astounded by what I see. The barren countryside is dotted with rock piles and herds of sheep. Shepherds wear traditional turbans, flowing garments, sandals, and carry staffs. We pass a crude stone well. Women wearing saris carry jugs on their heads. Dirty, naked children play with rocks.
Am I traveling through India or the Bible? I can visualize Jesus here. I can’t do that back home.
We cross a river over a rickety bridge. Women are beating clothes against rocks, buffalos wade nearby, and an old woman squats to urinate.
I turn to my husband. “They say life’s about the journey, not the destination. But without heaven as their destination, what kind of journey are these people on?”
Lord, may India also see you here…
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