Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Karnataka State Highway


Uh? What?

Cha? Tea?

Oh. Haan theek hai.

And I realized the truck was stopped. It had grown dark. My watch said it almost midnight.

He got off from the driver's side. An old man he was. Our shipment interested him, he said. Were we engineers?

Yes, I replied. Students.

So are my sons. Three of them. I'm just barely paying the fees by driving long distances. Let's hope it's worth it.

I stretched my arms to open my side of the door. Wearily, I jumped off the seat, onto the ground below. The ride wasn't even half complete, and I was just so tired already. I kicked the air with my legs to get them working again.

Yawning, I walked up to the open-aired eatery. It was a small space, with a few chairs and a couple of tables. It was a small place to pause, on a long and lonely road frequented only by truckers.

A young girl, maybe 12 maybe 13 years old, was the one cooking and serving. She was dressed in a white shirt with a long green skirt below. The driver asked for two cups of tea in the local language I didn't know, and she got working on it.

Behind her, on the otherwise unoccupied table, was what looked like a lone reading light. On closer inspection, I noticed it was just a lantern. A boy, her younger brother perhaps, was studying under the light. I couldn't tell what he was reading. I couldn't tell what it even looked like. But he was studying dedicatedly, taking notes in a little notebook.

She poured the milk first, into the glasses washed quickly and kept together next to each other. She picked up the jug of milk and swung it over the glasses, spilling only a little on the tray she made it on. Having filled them with milk halfway up, she poured tea liquor into the glasses and stirred them both. She didn't add any sugar. I didn't seem necessary either.

Her hands moved fluidly as she prepared our tea. She was so young. Maybe life wasn't so mundane for her yet. While the mind was young and uninfluenced, even vapid tasks could be interesting through enthusiasm and ability. She didn't stare blankly into space or frown wordlessly.

But she didn't smile either. She just did her work with a pleasantness, maybe that's the word. Will it ever go away? Will it soon? Her brother continued to study behind. He was wearing a sweater, because soon the night would turn very cold. He wouldn't be sleeping, I guessed. Nor would she. More trucks would come and more buses would pass by this snaky road up the ghats, as the night progressed.

We drank our tea gingerly, in that manner everyone seems to adopt late at night, out in a journey, in strange and unknown surroundings. Slowly I sipped it, and looked around me, into the trees and up the hillside. There was no water in the milk at all. She turned away to serve the other customers, with that same efficiency of motion and action.

We paid her. And I walked back up and sat inside the truck. Ignition, and the great beast lurched forward into motion.

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