At first there is only the beggar in the road who sits on his haunches, staring vacantly and milky eyed through a cataract lens at the place where the road meets the curb, his nobbled hands cupped into a bowl that he rests on his knees. At first there is only the dirt and the mounds of stinking litter that collect in the gutter, clogging up the drains so that when the rains come, small dams form, sending rancid water into homes, into shops, into the places that people need to keep dry and clean. At first there is only the sound of honking horns, the trundle and grind of passing trucks, overloaded and tilting on every bend, rusted cars and bikes, that belch out black fumes, that swerve and weave from one side of the six-laned, pot-marked road to the other.
The boys and I keep to the shadows out of the heat, their hands holding mine more tightly than usual, their stride more hurried, their eyes more alert. They are used to travel, used to poverty, to a world that seems to exist down low, closer to the ground; the shoe shine boy who has set up shop, cross-legged upon the curb; the barber with his wooden box that he sits upon, a comb, a cracked mirror, a pair of rusty scissors, laid out in front of him; the woman amidst a clutter of pots and pans, serving chai tea and roasted corn that she cooks over an open brassier that belches out heat into the already heat-filled air. But not this poverty. This loud dirty world that seems more dark than light. More hell than heaven. That leaves them, already longing for the merry go round that is travel to stop, so that they might return to that place where they can lay down their hats and be know.
Up ahead, in a lay-by that cuts off from the pot-pitted road there is a group of young teenage boys playing cricket in the heat and the humidity, the sun blasting down in rays through the drooping banyan trees that do not quiet cast a shadow over their part of the street. They play bare foot, tugging at shorts of synthetic fibre and T-shirts with baseball team logos across them. For cricket stumps they use three plastic pop bottles filled with murky water. The wicket keeper has tied ragged pieces of cloth around his knees. The fielders stand in the six-laned traffic, dodging cars and trucks and honking bikes that speed up or slow down depending on the lights up ahead.
And then. A hard hit, and a ball that flies out into the traffic, that smacks across one car bonnet, then another. That bounces high and up and over, onto the curb, rolls three feet across the chipped walk-way and stops, ten feet from where we are sitting in the shade beneath a coconut palm.
And then. Dow is running and picking up the ball, and there are shouts from the fielders in the traffic to throw it this way, to throw it that. Dow lobs it to a boy in a Red-Bull T-shirt, who catches it with one hand, then throws it over the traffic, over the crowded bus and the truck piled too high with bamboo, right back to the bowler, who jumps, arching his back, to land it in his hands. And then the boys in the lay-by are clapping, and their arms are waved high in thanks. And Dow is grinning. And Orly is grinning to, and just like that, with a little touch of humanity, there is not just the litter in the gutter, or the noise of fume-belching trucks, or the beggar who sits on his haunches still staring at that patch of mottled road. There are women in coloured saris on the far side of the street, and the barber is smiling at some joke that the shoe shine boy has uttered, as he cuts the hair of a man in a suit that is too small for him so that the hems of his trousers expose a pair of bright orange and green stripped socks. We are back on track. With that travel longing, a residue of some ancient calling that warrants us to seek out, to move forwards along that open road, with a wide-eyed hope that around the next bend, might lie the country of our dreams.
The Rainbow Hunters are raising money for War Child (www.warchild.org.uk) as they travel to seven countries on a quest to collect the seven colours of the rainbow.
If you would like to donate please go to http://www.justgiving.com/Lindsay-Hawdon or text RABO77 and the amount you would like to give to 70070.
Stunning story and piece of writing – loved this. Glad your travels have commenced with such rigour and character. Look forward to hearing more.
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And she’s back! Beautiful x
Gorgeous, loved this first instalment!