He embraced the fine yellow dust that now permeated his clothes, his skin, his breath. He had traveled through the dusty landscape of a part of his country that was as foreign to him any other land thousand miles away. He had soaked in the strangeness of the people and the places, but he couldn’t always evade the memories of loss and loneliness during these idle hours of solitary travel.

He was at the far reaches of his country – frontier-lands where people were seemingly honest, hence suspect. Suspect, and curious. The natives didn’t understand why someone who looked so clearly like them could only speak stutteringly in their language, and the itinerant backpackers didn’t understand why a native was trying to make conversation without selling them something. He had begun to enjoy his unique position in the ecosystem of Terra Tourismus. Even when the ecosystem was inverted, as in the one he inhabited elsewhere, where the backpackers were the natives and vice-versa, his position remained the same.

Now the trip was coming to an end. He was content – the nighttime desert (with only a faint whiff of camel dung) and the majesty of the old palaces (best paired with a complimentary bouquet of horse manure) had filled his mind with wonder and peace. One more bus ride through the night, and his journey would end. He would leave this place, perhaps not to visit it in his lifetime again.

He had booked a berth on a ‘sleeper’ bus. The sleeper bus was a recent attempt by the natives to bring the experience of lying horizontal and being jolted all night in a cramped 5-by-2 faux-leather plank while traveling on railway tracks, to the potholed asphalt roads of the land. As he boarded the bus and checked his ticket, his heart sank. His berth was at the very end of the bus. While trains restricted human-brownian motion to two or three directions, the tail-end of a bus meant being granted five degrees of freedom to be thrown around. He settled down and made himself comfortable as much as he could.

The bus was filled with backpackers. Two berths ahead, a German couple on honeymoon had found the sweet spot – the middle of the vehicle, where neither rear-vehicular whiplash nor blinding headlights through the front could disturb their sleep. Across the aisle, a duo of Spanish females had taken up residence. He watched with amusement as a fat, middle-aged tour guide tried in vain to get their email addresses. “Tu es mentirosa”, the girls told the man, and the man offered as proof his whiskey-unstained integrity from the night before.

***

next… Mixed Company