I’m becoming rather partial to travelling alone on Indian local buses, primarily because it puts me in point-blank proximity with people and situations I fundamentally do not understand. It’s essentially like being three-years-old, when everything is new and entertaining but you’ve got no real idea what’s going on or what people are saying. And then you fall asleep. This morning’s journey from Cochin to Kollam followed this exact pattern - half-an-hour in an elderly lady boards and sits herself down (that’s right readers, we’re rolling in the present tense; hold on to your hats). Seconds later, she stands up and starts shouting in Malayalam at a seemingly random man a few seats across. He ignores her and retains a nonchalant expression. Frustrated by his lack of response, the orthodontically-challenged woman starts gesticulating and upping the decibel levels. It’s becoming a little awkward - maybe this man has done something unspeakable? He quite rightly makes the decision to stand up and move to another seat a few rows back, at which point the woman directs her attention at someone else. Her anger is making me claustrophobic. She catches a whiff of my fear and she likes it; another trapped victim lies helplessly in wait, somewhere in front of these cataracts. Like Chucky off of Child’s Play, her neck turns mechanically until her eyes meet mine (she thinks - thank you cataracts #LOLLE), at which point I realise her diatribe is arbitrarily directed towards me. Resisting the need to hold the hand of the man next to me, I instead turn to offer him a nervous smile, which he interprets as: “Oh, you find this funny too! I thought you were about to shit yourself. But your facial expression now suggests otherwise! Ha ha ha!” Or words to that effect. In Malayalam. He proceeds to slap the back of the man next to him, repeating his assertion that I think the whole thing is hilarious, at which point they both start belly-laughing before five others join in for good measure. Feeling left out despite unwittingly initiating the hilarity, I half-heartedly laugh along with them, seemingly prompting angry woman to sit down and shut up, which makes me comfortable enough to fall asleep. I have no idea what just happened.
5:30 am: Beep beep beep BEEP BEEP beep beep beep. The mind’s response: Goooood morning! You have served your time in the cottage, my friend. It’s time to leave Ooty. Pack your things and let’s get out of here! Yipeee! The body’s: I am very tired. It is five degrees outside and pitch black. And despite those suspicious-looking stains, this blanket feels rather cosy, doesn’t it? You don’t really care about the stains, do you? You’re disgusting. But you’re also comfortable. So very comfortable. So shut the hell up and go back to sleep. When you do, that annoyingly chirpy mind of yours will take you wherever you want to go: a spring meadow with bunny rabbits; a chocolate factory without Oompa-Loompas; maybe even somewhere less innocent like, um, Carol Vorderman’s cockpit.
It’s never a nice feeling when your taxi doesn’t turn up, and by the time I flagged a rickshaw to take me to Bangalore station I wasn’t particularly confident about making my 11:30 train to Mysore Junction, which sounds like it should be a marvellous euphemism. Fortunately, I was gifted a fearless driver who promised to get me there on time; an obligation fulfilled thanks to manoeuvres that in other countries would have landed him with a prison sentence. In India, it meant an extra 50 rupees.
The eagle-eyed pedants among you will notice that I’m now using dates rather than days. The reason is simple: I’m so awful at maths that even basic sequential patterns baffle me, to the extent that I was unintentionally adding days that hadn’t happened, a reoccurring mistake that threatened to get out of control.