Impressions of India
It's a chaos. A beautiful chaos. A chaos of colors, of sounds, of people, of traffic, of fragrances. It's pulsating with life, like the heart, or the sound of the night-train between Udaipur and Jaipur.
I lay there, that third night, on a narrow, blue bed - trying to sleep with the sounds of the train coinciding with my content heart, finally realizing that I was in India. It was like I understood some little part of it, a part of its soul. But in a way it's preposterous of me to think that way, I am but a visitor in a country with a soul so vast that it seems to contain us all, including us all. For it is generous. A generous soul.
An assault. Yes, in a way India is an assault on you, you and your very core... It brings out emotions to the surface, making your skin prickle, your stomach constrict, your heart ache. I've seen terrible things, I've heard terrible sounds, scrunched my nose at the stench. But most of all I've seen life, I've breathed life - and it's so much more alive than anything else I've ever encountered.
Fear, yes I've been afraid, but it has been so close to exhilaration that it was difficult to separate. It all came down to one thing: the traffic. If you've earned your driver's license in Sweden, let me tell you, you're not in any way prepared for even driving in a parking lot in India. There are cars, rickshaws, motorcycles, cows, horses, donkeys, dogs and people everywhere, literally everywhere. And if you're really lucky you might even catch an elephant. But! there's a big but here... people are very well-behaved, and have the utmost patience while none at all at the same time. I really don't know how they do it, but they do. I would have a heart attack if I were to sit behind the steering wheel, but our drivers (although of varying temper and skill) succeeded in taking us wherever we wanted, unscathed, albeit a tad afraid from time to time.
Love, yes I've seen love. Loads of it. Love was the reason I came. A wedding. A grand affair, three days of celebrations, joy, embraces. All those smiles, beautiful smiles on beautiful people. There I wore clothes I would never wear in Sweden, and it's a shame for they are lovely. I felt like a queen when I was wrapped in a saree, perhaps more beautiful than I've ever been before. Yet, in Sweden it's all about austerity, the stark contrasts of black and white, not bright green, yellow, orange, red, turqoise, purple, and gold in a wonderful mix.
I'm rambling. I'm well aware - but you see, I just got back and these are my swirling thoughts. This, and the strange love I felt at seeing the cold light of a Swedish dusk as the airplane descended over my country - where the wild and untame is found not in our society but in the untouched forests, so different from what I just left; the place where everything is like an intricate dance, the rhythm kept by the struggling workers, the unyielding strength and mesmerizing beauty. A place I grew to love with all my heart.
I didn't want to leave you...
Inside the Fence
The fence rattled as Damien let out his frustration on the intertwined metal threads. When nothing happened he turned his back against it and slumped to the ground – covering his face with his palms. I sighed and looked up towards the barbed wire lining the top several meters above us, meeting a cold grey sky. I fought off involuntary tears, arguing that I had been through worse. I was still alive…
I looked to my right and I saw the famous sign:
No entry – contamination control
Such a simple sign, but for us on this side of the fence it meant everything.
“I’m tired,” Damien voiced, and I knew he meant it in a much broader sense than just; I need to sleep. I felt it too, I had nothing left.
We had been on the move for months, and we knew this was our last chance. The nights were getting longer and it was unusually cold, we would be hard-pressed to survive until next summer.
I gazed through the fence and gleamed a line of green in the distance, a forest that began behind the next fence. It was a simple yet effective setup: two fences and a wasteland in between, winding its way all along the perimeter. Rumors told that this had been done in a wide circle around all the cities that had been bombed. We had no way of verifying anything happening outside our restricted, contaminated world, so it could be just that; a rumor.
I stopped my thoughts. I couldn’t really muster to think about it all, especially now when I was already deep in my own personal hell. I looked over to Damien again. Seeing him like this... I almost gave up right there and then. He was the one who urged me on despite my lack of lust for life. Now the spark in his eyes had died. I don’t know what he had expected, but it was clear that he had hoped for something.
We had been traveling along the fence, circling the remains of our city, and now we were back where we had started. There had been no entry, no exit, just the fence; and somehow that made it feel so much more terminal than before. No one had planned to let us out of here.
I registered that Damien was moving again, seeing him in the periphery as I continued to gaze into another world. He settled again and I turned towards him. It took me a second to comprehend the meaning of the knife in his hand. No! I rushed forwards and not knowing any other way I tackled him and let out a relieved breath as I saw him drop the knife as we fell in a tangle of legs and arms.
“What the fuck are you doing?” he barked.
“I’m kicking your butt for being such a selfish idiot!” I roared back.
“It’s my decision!” his cried, his voice laced with something new, something that sent a chill down my spine. I wanted to shrink back, but for once I felt determined, determined to not let him give up.
“You’ve told me time and time again that life is still worth living, that we will find a way out. Now I’m telling you!” His eyes met mine, cold lifeless eyes looking but not seeing.
“You don’t get to say that,” he answered after a brief, haunting silence.
“You don’t get to tell me that I can’t,” I replied, but I knew he was right. I had no right, but at the same time, he hadn’t given up on me so why should I give up on him?
He didn’t answer me this time, instead he reached for the knife again and I had to use all the strength I possessed to reach it before him. I grabbed the hilt and threw it towards the fence. In a strike of luck it passed through one of the quadratic holes and landed on the other side.
“I’m going to kill you for that!” he snarled and this time I became truly afraid. I didn’t know this man enough to know if he was serious or not. However, I was never one to handle fear very well.
“Well, go ahead!” I bit back, my blood pumping with adrenaline and spite.
I saw his eyes soften, he was coming back, but the moment was quickly disrupted as a siren began to shriek over our heads. Both of us reacted immediately, crawling away from the fence and into the shelter of a few bushes.
“I should kill you for this too, throwing a knife through the fence. They’ll be here any minute and they will know someone’s close,” he spat, and the words hit me like a sledgehammer. “Well, at least we can forget about this place, there’s no fucking way we’ll make it across the waste if we’ve already alerted them.” He was worked up, letting his words fly out in a stream of anger, but I found myself smiling. He hadn’t given up, not entirely at least.
“Then let’s get out of here before the helicopters arrive,” I replied. I was ashamed, but his anger somehow fueled my will to fight back instead of getting lost in self-pity. He just glared at me, as if this was my fault – which it was, and that I should shut up – which I did.
“You see those trees over there, they’re connected to a larger piece of forest on the other side of that crest, I saw it last time we were here.” He didn’t need to elaborate. I squinted up towards the sky, but there was no sign of any helicopter yet. I took a deep breath and ran, I ran as fast as my legs could carry me. However, at the familiar sound of a rotor blade tearing through the air I increased my speed. I refused to look back; instead I kept my eyes locked on one tree, keeping my route as straight as possible.
“RUN!” I heard Damien shout behind me, and I found another undiscovered storage of energy. The forest came closer, but not fast enough. Bullets started to smatter against the ground around me and for some reason the sound seemed surreal. All of this seemed surreal. Something nipped my calf but I refused to feel it -- this wasn’t reality.
I fell as I finally reached my tree, pain unbearable all of a sudden. Hands grabbed around my arms and I was dragged further in. Then I heard a muffled sound; a voice.
“We need to get further in, get up!” Damien
I opened my mouth to reply, but all that came out was a strangled groan.
I was hauled up, my arm slung around his shoulder and then he half dragged, half carried me away from the forest edge. I registered that the rain of bullets had ceased, but the helicopter was still hovering above us. Fear returned and with it my pains receded, I started to limp on my own, carrying more of my own weight.
After what felt like an eternity Damien finally slowed down. “Let me see that leg of yours” he grumbled as he helped me settle on a wind-thrown tree. I allowed myself to look at my calf for the first time. Nausea had me tasting bile as I saw the amount of blood that soaked my pants, sock, and shoe. When I didn’t make any move to fold up my pants Damien sighed and did it himself. I bit down, refusing to scream. I didn’t succeed, a small cry left my lips before I could stop myself and I saw him wince. He hated those small signs of weakness I continuously managed to express.
“Don’t look,” he said, and of course that had me looking although I hadn’t planned to. So much flesh. I turned away as quickly as I could, emptying my stomach of its scant content.
I was relieved at the lack of comment I received. I heard him rip some fabric, and then he tied something -- presumably said fabric -- around my leg, just below the knee. It gave another kind of pain, but it also somehow lessened the other.
“This is a fucking disaster. You brought this on yourself!” he snapped angrily, but this time I had no response to give. “None of this would have happened if you hadn’t thrown away my fucking knife!” I smiled this time, his usual eloquence long lost. I’d never really heard him swear like this before.
“What are you smiling about? What on earth could there be to smile about? You’re shot, we’ve been spotted, we’re over. You get that don’t you?” His tone just got sharper and shorter for each word and I smiled again. I wasn’t sure why I smiled, perhaps because I knew that I wouldn’t make it. This world wouldn’t make it.
“None of this would have happened if those assholes hadn’t started this goddamn conflict,” I fumed.
“I fucking hate this!” Damien let out, this time calm, cold as ice. For some reason I took his hand, we had not touched like that before…
“I know,” I replied, and to my surprise he didn’t take his hand away from mine. He just seemed to breathe, in out, in out.
“If we get out of this alive, I’ll kill you!” he finally said, and I couldn’t help but chuckle. He tightened his grip around my hand, then the other snaked around my neck, then his lips met mine and the first thing I thought was – I must taste like shit, then – what the hell is he doing, then – oh!
I kissed him back, letting it hold all of those emotions I’d harbored in secret throughout our journey. It wasn’t sweet, it wasn’t nice -- it was brutal, perfect.
His lips were wrenched from mine, and I was met with a heated stare. “You’re staying alive, no more giving up!”
I knew I couldn’t promise him anything, but I smiled, a sad shallow smile yet filled with everything I wanted to tell him. Thank you for keeping me going, thank you for not letting go, thank you for existing...I'm sorry
I slowly pulled my dark coat away, I heard him gasp, then cry out.
“Why?” he screamed, his face scrunched in agony.
“There is no why anymore – the world has lost that word.”
“Please…” After that, I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but I felt him squeeze my hand and caress my face. Then there was nothing.