The truck turned onto a highway, renown throughout northeastern India for being maintained. The road reminded Jay of the interstate highways of his left-long-ago home, except that as far as the traffic was concerned, the four lanes were simultaneously one lane, three lanes, twenty lanes, and no lanes. Still, the truck’s consistent speed and motion brought a soothing breeze to Jay’s skin, and the smooth road took him from a blazing sear to a nearly gentle simmer.
For once, Jay’s tenderized rump stayed in one merciful, bounceless spot. After a few kilometers, he relaxed like a roast chicken resting after coming out of the oven.
The view from the highway wasn’t as interesting. The heat haze dulled the flatlands, and it seemed as if a wink and some rupees had made the scenery vanish. Jay almost pined for the cliffs that, just a couple days ago, had dropped off from the side of the truck. Every rock bouncing down into nothing had terrified him, but the trees, cows, and occasional village had been fascinating.
“Namaste la vista, baby,” Jay said, mimicking the formerly white t-shirt he was wearing. He lifted the shirt to gain access to the treasures below. Wrapped around his waist and tucked into the front of his tan, dusty cargo pants, the thin fabric of his money belt was already soaked through. But no matter. The treasures would be dry and safe. Jay took out a wad of plastic, then unrolled, unfolded, flipped, and eventually unwrapped his most prized possession: the small, dark-blue booklet of his US passport.
The formalese of government speak greeted him: “…requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection…”
Jay wondered how much he still looked like the photo. The green-and-gold eyes were the same, as was the light-brown hair. But the skin of that face? Dust, heat, sun, cold, ice, rain, beer, hot breakfasts, cold breakfasts, no breakfasts had all leathered his face, hardened his eyes, softened his smile. But it was still Jay. Jay, once from Idaho, now of the world.
He flipped through the pages—past the backgrounds of cacti and mountains, past the important information that addressed everything from about your passport to loss of citizenship. Then he opened the last five years. Visas, stamps, signatures—most of them official and some, to put it mildly, questionable. Jay thought about the so-called visas that had been added not at an official immigration checkpoint, but by hands unsteadied after a bit of backroom blather, boozing, and baksheesh. He flipped through the countries: South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Gambia, Morocco, Ireland, England, Scotland, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Sweden, Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, Tibet.
There should have been a visa for Nepal, but instead there was only a blank page. Before arriving at the border checkpoint between Tibet and Nepal, the men in the truck had hidden Jay under a blanket. Jay didn’t ask why. They’d hardly slowed down since.
And now—officially—Jay was in India.
Adventures taken, people met, sights seen—all condensed to stamps on pages. Jay re-wrapped his passport in the plastic and stuck it back in his money belt, behind the photo where the man and woman always smiled at him.
“I hope you’re still having a good time,” Jay said to the couple in the photo. For a moment, his anywhere voice lost all the twangs and lilts of his globetrotting, and he was just a regular guy from Idaho again. He started to take out the picture, but the truck’s grinding, slowing gears stopped him. The driver stopped blaring on the horn just long enough to slap the door twice. Jay rustled his money belt and clothes back into place.
End of one road, he thought. Now for another.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish