Friday, January 07, 2005

the police van takes prisoners from one grey block of grimy concrete to another. a large breadbox, rusted navy and peeling white; the only way prisoners breathe is through a narrow slash of painted navy wire net just under the ceiling. if you're tall enough you can watch freedom pass you by, breathe the sweet smell of donkey shit, truck exhaust and fresh fruit that waves its banner of life, cruel grapes you will never reach.
he stood inside the dank gloom, fingers hooked into the spaces between the netting, far as they could go. each time the van swerved his hands clutched their support, and his fingers went white as the wire dug into them. he breathed in the scratchy mustiness of his loi, staring at the chaos of the mandi. two men squatted on the divider, a piece of bright, sky blue plastic sacking spread out on the moist almost-mud. they were pulling guavas out of a tokri, spilling them on the blue, fingers expertly revolving, probing, tossing them in the air and adding to their respective piles. a burly, bearded man coaxed his donkey cart along, clucking at his white, long-lashed beast. the bananas on the cart were still palely green at the bottom; they would keep for at least a day or two more. the man standing next to him inside their hollow can licked his lips, and sighed, his eyes following the donkey cart as the van lurched ahead, honking irritably at the throng of life.
he averted his eyes from his hungering neighbour and went back to the mandi. in the car next to the van, a girl sat next to the window. the car was white, a driver at the wheel. the seats had covers on them, and there were several cassettes in the shallow dish in front of the gearshift. he wondered if Fatima had kept his Kishore Kumar collection after he had left. sounds of shouting drew his attention to the left, where two donkeys were standing miserably smack in the middle of the road, talking to each other placidly. their owners were tugging at their reins, pulling their ears, smacking their patchy bottoms with sticks of sugar cane but those donkeys weren't done just yet. something inside him opened, flooding his gut with a storm of longing. he was glad his loi left only his eyes uncovered; he didn't want anyone to guess. when he looked up, the car was still alongside. the girl was staring at the van, and their gaze met. her eyes widened. he rocognized the horror; he had felt it too, the first time a metal lattice had creakily locked itself behind him. the tops of the girl's fingers appeared at the base of the window she was seated next to, mimicking the way his fingertips pushed through the wire. his eyes were huge and liquid above the brown fabric. the donkeys finished their conversation, and the traffic breathed a sigh of relief as it began to surge forward again.
i looked away as the van turned left, and we sped on.

Mina at 10:26 AM