Friday, December 12, 2014

The Boy. He's India.

There is an image of a boy that keeps coming to mind since I left India.  It was in the final moments of my trip that I saw him. I didn't meet him. I don't know his name. I don't know his age. I didn't even see his face. And yet, every night and every morning, this boy runs through my dreams. In the car, driving to work, washing dishes, delivering papers...he is there.

I was on the transport bus from one terminal at Mumbai Airport to the other where my plane home was waiting. It was dark. The bus was crowded. I sat in the front seat of the bus on the passenger side and I was taking in the last of what India had to offer. I watched how the driver acknowledged the man in uniform, his eyes taking in the holstered gun, and then watching him in the rearview mirror as he took his seat. I looked at the couple seated next to me, carry on bags on their laps, with their heads resting on top, exhausted. The man beside me stared straight ahead and hardly blinked.  I looked out the window as we pulled away and wondered again at the ability of drivers in India to circumvent accidents when even in a highly regulated space like an airport tarmac, the lines on the roads seemed only like suggestions for optimal driving conditions. We pulled away and began to rattle past the terminal and then out along the perimeter of the airport. On the other side of the fence, were derelict buildings, abandoned planes and all manner of decaying building supplies and refuse from years gone by. As we rounded a corner, the typical airport type buildings gave way to a slum. I hadn't noticed it on the way in, from the air, but from what I could see, it was an incredible amount of people and haphazard buildings pressed into whatever space the distance from the fence and the city streets afforded them. In the darkness, there were fires lit and people cooking and walking and talking. A few cars were parked in no particular order amongst the streets and dogs and people just circumvented them naturally. The homes were shanties, mostly tin or wood, built up two stories high with rickety boardwalks connecting one to the next above the ground at the second story.  Doors were open and small electric bulbs provided the only light, strung from cables run from who knows where, illuminating each doorway like it's own theatre entrance, the tableau inside exposed for all who passed by to see. In one doorway a mother holding a baby on her hip and conversing with an older woman below. In another, you could see boxes stacked with colourful cloths folded inside. And another, a red piece of fabric, held to the side by some unseen hook, revealing a woman lifting something onto an upper shelf. Each little image, only seconds long, ticking away like a rapid slide show of life in a slum. And then the boy. Just a few seconds where he appeared. Illuminated as if in a strobe light, by the light emanating from the open doorways where light spilled onto the boards on which he ran. He was young, no more than 10 or 12 years. The only details I could salvage were that he was wearing ankle boots and socks and shorts and a red t-shirt. Small and lithe, light on his feet and he ran as though the dinner bell had been rung and a feast awaited. I turned in my seat to watch him, flashing visible in the light of each doorway and then disappearing. And then he was out of sight, physically anyway. But he's with me here. In Canada. In the winter. Flashing visible and disappearing again, as if by his own will, inserting himself into my days...as if I am forbidden to forget him. As if I could if I wanted to at this point.

He's a boy. With no relation to me. With no name or face to search him out. A boy who ran by me in the the final moments of my visit to his country and who has stayed with me ever since.

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