‘Hello stranger!’ an Australian voice shouted at me while I sat in the garden of my hotel.
My first reaction was ‘Oh, no! The Australian bigot I met in the restaurant in Rajkot three weeks ago has caught up with me.’
With apprehension, I turned around toward the source of the voice, and was pleasantly surprised to come face to face with Dan and Kate, the two Australians I’d met the day of my accident two months ago and 4,000 kilometres away.
‘I can’t believe it!’ I exclaimed as I hugged them. ‘What are you doing here? Last time I saw you, you were waving me goodbye in the snow. I thought you were going to sell your bike in Delhi and go off to Thailand!’
Kate added. ‘Also our friend Mike decided to come to India and get himself a bike as well. So we thought we’d stay and travel with him down south. Dan and I are going back to Oz in a couple weeks.’
They introduced me to Mike, a very tall, thin and good-looking man with a bone-crushing handshake.
Hmm…rather nice, I thought.
‘How did you find me?’ I asked.
Kate answered. ‘When we checked in last night at our hotel, we met this guy who told us there was a woman staying here also riding an Enfield. We guessed it might be you and this morning we looked at your bike.’
She added laughing, ‘Still have those dents from the accident, heh?’
We decided to go exploring the fort town of Mandu together and its 15th century Afghan palaces.
The men walked ahead, while Kate and I followed behind.
‘So who’s Mike?’ I asked her.
‘He’s a friend of ours from Melbourne. He’s going to stay in India for a few months.’
‘He’s a bit quiet, isn’t he?’ I observed.
Kate explained. ‘He just broke up with his girlfriend and decided a biking trip in India would be a good way to get over it’
‘Oh! So he’s a wounded soul then, is he?’
‘A bit. Although I think he knew it was over a long time ago. Anyway,’ Kate added as she turned to me, ‘Why are you asking? Interested are you?’
I laughed. ‘I suppose I’ve always kind of liked the tall quiet types.’ Kate asked. ‘What about the boyfriend back home, then?’
‘Oh! That’s definitely over.’
‘Does he know it?’
‘Well, not in so many words. Although, I think he knew it before I left to come here.’ I paused.
‘Still, I suppose I really should call him and tell him.’ I grimaced. ‘Shit! I hate making those phone calls!’
￼￼Kate observed. ‘I don’t think anybody likes making them.’
Later that day, I called Matthew in London.
I began. ‘Look, I know we said that we’d see how we felt about each other when I came back, but…I’ve been thinking and…and I know that I don’t want to have a relationship with you when I come back.’
As usual, Matthew just listened.
‘Matthew? Are you there?’
‘Look, I’m sorry…’ I started.
‘Actually, Michèle,’ he interrupted. ‘I can’t say I’m surprised. Anyway, things have been happening for me here too…’
‘Oh, I see.’ I said.
‘Yep. But I’d still like to hear from you.’ He added. ‘Send me e-mails.’
‘Yes of course…Well bye, then.’
He hung up.
I didn’t know it then, but his new girlfriend was already two months pregnant.
The next few days were spent sightseeing with my Australian friends around the forts and trying to flirt with Mike. I wasn’t sure if he was responding although he did give me a few meaningful looks across the dining table.
Anyway we would soon be going our different ways. Kate and Dan wanted to go down to Goa as soon as possible because they needed to sell their bike before flying on home and Mike would accompany them there and then stay on in Goa for a little while.
I, on the other hand, wanted to ride through to the Ajanta caves and Mumbai, before heading to Goa. Since Mike knew exactly where he would be staying, he suggested I meet him there in a couple of weeks.
I said goodbye to the three of them and set off alone on my bike, feeling a bit low. I knew I’d miss their company and I wondered if I would in fact meet up with Mike. I might not make it in time or he might have decided to move on.
For a couple hours I rode with a pre-occupied mind. The road was in excellent condition with hardly any potholes and I was riding at 60 kilometres an hour with no other vehicles in sight. I could see two white cows ahead, on the other side of the road, facing away from me and standing still. However, as I approached them, one of the cows suddenly jumped around, and galloped right across my path. It was being mounted by what was very obviously now a bull.
Generally the cattle here move along at a very leisurely pace but this cow’s desire to avoid the bull’s amorous embrace gave it a speed you wouldn’t think possible. Although I managed to brake and swerve away from its body, the front of my bike collided with its horns. I fell over, hit my head on the ground and got trapped under the bike.
Almost immediately, two men emerged from a few shacks along the road and ran up to lift the bike. They could see I was dazed and didn’t try to get me to sit up or take off my helmet. I lay on the side of the road rocking myself. My knee was killing me. Oh, no! Was this the end of my trip?
A minute or so later, as the pain started to subside I looked up. The two men had been joined by a group of around thirty men and women.
Where did they all come from? Surely not all from the two shacks by the road?
After checking there were no dents in my helmet, I gingerly took it off and a murmur ran through the crowd. A woman said something to me of which I only caught the word ‘lady’. I didn’t know if she was making an observation or asking a question. I nodded. She smiled and squeezed my shoulder, as if saying I was going to be fine.
Afraid of what I might find, I looked down at my knee resting in a pool of liquid. With relief I realised it was only oil from the engine. I could feel the knee swelling up but I could also move it – at least it wasn’t broken.
‘Doctor?’ I asked. ‘Do you know where I can find a doctor?’
Nobody spoke English but they understood the word ‘doctor’ and pointed to the village I’d just passed. Two men helped me up and I hobbled to the other side of the road leaning on their shoulders.
They stopped a tractor and I climbed unto it. What had seemed like a smooth road when I was in the bike, now felt like a dry river bed: I could feel every imperfection on the road deep in my knee.
After a kilometre, we reached the village and my two helpers half carried me to the doctor’s clinic, 100 metres from the road. The closer we got to the clinic, the bigger the crowd that accompanied me. Fortunately, the doctor’s room was so small, only a dozen spectators managed to squeeze in with me. The other two dozens stood by the door and outside the window, peering in.
As I cautiously pulled up my trouser leg for the doctor, and everyone else, to see, I thought
‘It’s a good thing it’s only my knee that’s hurt.’
My biggest fears were unfounded – I wasn’t seriously hurt, my knee was only quite badly grazed, and a bit swollen.
As the doctor cleaned it with alcohol, I screamed. ‘OUCH!’
My audience laughed.
The doctor then took out an old syringe to give me a tetanus injection.
‘NO!’ I cried out again. ‘I don’t need a tetanus shot. I had one before I came to India.’
I think he understood, but my giggling audience didn’t. Obviously they thought me too chicken to have an injection. Too right.
Once bandaged up, I hitched another ride on a tractor with my two helpers to get back to my bike.
The people from the shacks had kept guard over it and helped me with the repairs. The only thing preventing my bike from running was a damaged accelerator cable that a bit of string sorted out. The other damage – a bent leg frame, broken side mirror and broken front brake sprocket – could wait till
I got to the mechanic in the town of Ajanta, 25 kilometres away.
Once in Ajanta, another doctor, examined me to make sure there was no concussion.
He asked, ‘How did the accident happen?’
‘Well, I was riding the bike when…’
I stopped myself. In view of the sacred status of cows, maybe I shouldn’t tell him I almost killed a couple – nor what they were doing.
I continued, ‘…when a truck coming from the other side overtook a bullock cart and forced me off the road unto the gravel shoulder. I skidded and fell over.’
‘Oh, yes, you must be careful with those truck drivers,’ the doctor observed sympathetically.
I rested for a couple of days and brought my bike to the mechanic for some repairs. The man did not speak any English but fortunately Indians use the English words for most of the bike parts. I explained that there were two things I wanted him to do.
One, change the brake sprocket.
And two, change the mirror.
Most mechanics, I think, would have realised that although I listed them in that order, they should be done the other way around: you need to take off the brake sprocket to get to the mirror anyway, so you might as well change the mirror first.
But no. He took me literally and changed the sprocket first. I tried to stop him but my Hindi wasn’t good enough. Eventually I gave up and watched his face when he’d finished with the sprocket and realised that he’d have to take it off again to get to the mirror. Rather than be embarrassed by his mistake, he glared at me as if I’d misled him.
My fault for giving him instructions in that order.
I then visited the 1,500 year old Ajanta caves. They are famous for their Buddhist paintings and statues. Each cave is carved out of the mountain and provides a cool dark refuge from the glaring heat outside. I wandered around in quiet contemplation, until an army of silent schoolchildren and a horde of rambunctious soldiers tore through the place. It was curious to see the children walking hand-in-hand two by two in an orderly line, while the soldiers were running around, shouting and climbing unto the statues.
My next destination was Bombay (or as it has been renamed, Mumbai) which I awaited with some trepidation. Many Western tourists only had disparaging things to say about it to me: filth, traffic, poverty, noise, etc.
Surprisingly, Mumbai was a respite from India. Of course, there were the crippled beggars, the cows meandering through the streets and the unbelievable traffic jams, but what I would remember most was seeing young Indian women wearing skirts so short they would turn people’s heads even in the West.
Probably, if I’d come straight from London it would have been the beggars that would have stuck in my mind but Mumbai surprised me with its air-conditioned offices supplied with the latest computer technology and thrilled me with its shops. The highlight was buying French bread and cheeses and having a picnic in my hotel room. All I was missing was red wine and I’m sure that could have been arranged.
I stayed in Mumbai five days and took a couple days to ride down south to Goa to meet up with Mike.
Next week Michele finds herself RAVING in Goa!!!! Be sure to find out what happens!
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