Hello, Nice to Destroy You
December 23, 1964
Pamban Island, India
It was eleven p.m. on the last train to Dhanushkodi. For the past twenty hours, I had done everything but sleep during the long ride, despite spending most of what was left of my money on a compartment of my own. My mind refused the luxury so long as I kept sweating.
The tiny, wall-mounted fan had stopped working five minutes after I switched it on. A porter told me they were unable to fix it and all other cabins were occupied. The crowded third- and second-class cars would be even worse, so I accepted the sticky discomfort. While I appreciated the solitude, one could only play so much solitaire and I sincerely couldn’t stomach a fourth reading of On the Road. Dean Moriarty was starting to piss me off. If he was here, I would have shoved him out the window and into the angry waters of the Palk Strait.
A clap of thunder rattled the cabin and every screw and bolt inside, setting each hair on my body at attention.
I was glad the black night obscured the sea through the window. I imagined waves pushing up against the narrow bridge like a mass of soldiers trying to come over the top of a castle wall. The Pamban bridge between mainland India and the island was only a little over a mile long, but I lacked faith that this clacking, hulking chain of steel would stay on the straight and narrow.
In my reflection, I could sort of make out the heavy bags beneath my eyes. Thoughts of Christmas dinner seemed drawn to me like the mosquitoes had in Madras–I saw steam rising from the bowl of mashed potatoes, the candied yams blanketed in gooey marshmallows, and a buttery-brown turkey sitting in the middle of it all.
I rolled a tiny, bland ball of rice around in my hands.
I might just sleep through Christmas day this year. Curl up on the beach and let the rain and saltwater wash my troubles away. Maybe 1965 would be better for everyone. Maybe I would find myself back in Sacramento next December, sitting around a tree wrapped in shiny silver tinsel and red-and-green lights, drinking eggnog with my parents and sisters, discussing everything but what I’d experienced these past six months. I was positive they would be relieved that I’d finally ‘found myself’ and decided to come back home.
At least, maybe they would.
I leaned my head against the window and listened to the raindrops bomb the nasty film of soot left by the steam engine.
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