Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Donkeys are Lucky

In the dark of night sweat poured from my sun burnt face. Being thrifty, I used the unfastened edge of my wedding sari as a towel. A ravening fire sped from the blacksmith’s shop lighting the dirt road before me. I glanced to my left – it was still there. I was half surprised to see it again. I thought surely it wouldn’t survive. A small hut made of tightly knitted coconut leaves like potholders my sister and I made as a child. An old man and his wife huddled close to a small fire crafted of carefully collected sticks. The old woman had cautiously hung a black kettle filled with simmering sombar over the tee-pee fire. Yes, it had survived that hot morning.

No street lights to guided me. I relied solely on the lights of the small open shops along the roadside. There were no doors or windows in these shops. They resembled huts carved from thick cement chunks. Large black chunky dollops clung to the cement of the houses surrounding the city. Some were laid in patterns while others laid in simple rows. How uncanny that the street in this large city with lots of roaming cows had no cow droppings…

The night sky was as black as coal. It hung thick like an old woman’s window drapery. Still, hoards of people meddled in the street. Their loud chatter turned silent as I walked by. I could feel their eyes lingering on my back. Suddenly aware of jasmine flowers strung around the knot at the nape of my neck. Feeling fat in a world of skinny people all the while knowing this strange outfit I was wearing only made my butt look bigger. This was a bad idea, but I muddled on.

A few more turns and I was at the Internet Café of Bodinayakanur. It was my first contact with friends and family since leaving for India nearly a week ago. I was relieved. It was almost like going home, or at least like talking on the phone. It took me away from here for a few moments. This place was like visiting another planet. Nothing was same. Nothing was familiar. And, all too soon I found myself leaving the cafe and saying good-bye again.

By now it was almost 11 o’clock in the evening, local time. The streets nearly empty now except for a few cows and roaming dogs. I lost control of my hands and body and before I knew it I was reaching out to pet a stray bull. Anbu, my husband, didn’t realize what I was doing until it was too late. The bull snarled, then growled and lunged at me. I had no idea that cows were so large. Much less, that my cow was even a bull at all. Anbu pulled me safety and lectured me on petting strange animals. I love animals. How am I not supposed to feel pity for all the animals homeless, hungry, and hot? In the midst of our debate the whole city went black.

I was paralyzed with fright. I told my legs to go, but they refused. My conscience asked where am I supposed to go? I couldn’t even see my hand when I held it to my face. Silence was lost to booming masculine voices. Fear filled every inch of my body. Anbu shouted at me to move. We had to get home. My feet were still locked in place, and I couldn’t convince them to move. All I could think about now was that bull. What if there was another stray animal waiting out there? What if Anbu’s stories of wild animals eating humans were true? I was not moving.

Then the barber came. He chatted with husband in Tamil for a few moments. They tried to bargain with the blacksmith for a stick of light to get me home. He told them he would sell us a stick for 100 rupees. Obviously he was aware of the strange white girl stuck outside his shop. Finally, in the midst of bargaining and complaining about charging for sticks the lights came back on.

I was in the midst of receiving yet another lecture in one night when I saw a donkey at the end of an alley. I stopped. Yes, again I stopped in the middle of the road. Anbu started to become agitated again until he too saw the donkey. It was just like the donkey I saw in Pinocchio. I imagined that it was Donkey from Shrek and waited for it to talk to me. Somehow the donkey wasn’t amused and wouldn’t speak. Instead he began to huff and puff. I stood mesmerized by the sounds of the donkey. Anbu was still trying to get me to move along, it’s only a donkey. Then it did it; it made the most amazing noise. It sounded like a genuine Texas cowboy being thrown to the wild cattle. Wow. A donkey scuffling making that noise took away my apprehension. I was so impressed.

I walked back to the house imagining how I would tell my in-laws about the donkey. Anbu thought I was being silly; a donkey is no big deal. When I got back everyone had a chuckle over the donkey. However, my father-in-law said I was very lucky. To run across a donkey that eeeeaaaaaawwwws like a long tall Texan is very good luck.