Five o' clock in the morning, check my phone, the Uber to the airport is scheduled. I'm pulling my suitcase down a dark side street, the smog swirls like ghosts around the tops of the orange street lamps and its little tongues drift down toward the street. I try not to breathe them, but whatever. Everybody has to die sometime. I wait at the pickup spot. Five minutes. Ten minutes. Dude, where's my car? Phone check, the driver cancelled eight minutes ago. I get it. Some days you just don't feel like going to work, you know? I call another car. Maybe I'll make my flight, maybe not. I sip the soupy air and try not to care.
On the plane, awaiting takeoff. They're playing schmaltzy Christmas music over the PA. The date is January 26. The location is the capital of a Hindu majority nation with a sizeable Muslim minority. I tap my fingers to "Silver Bells." It's Christmas time in the city... soon it will be Christmas day. Three hundred forty more days, I tell myself. The man across the aisle from me is 77 years old, probably. Maybe 86. Possibly 112. He looks and smells as though this is first time on a paved road, experiencing electricity, except he has a Nokia. He is holding his cane. The flight attendant makes him stow it overhead. He jams his butt in my face as he does so, and it smells like motor oil, and I'm grateful for that. Later, as we accelerate down the runway for takeoff, he phones somebody on his Nokia, talks really loudly, holds the phone in front of his mouth as he speaks into it. We take off anyway.
I booked my hotel in a little town in the mountains of southern India online two months ago. A five-hour flight and four-hour car ride later, I'm there. Carsick, but there. The town is bursting with humanity. It's a holiday weekend, everybody's here. I drag my suitcase into the hotel lobby. The guy behind the counter says this hotel is under renovation, but don't worry, he has this friend with a different hotel. Yes, I say, but I booked this hotel, and I paid for it too. Also, I add, if the hotel is closed for renovation, why are you here? His English is too poor to explain anything, and my Hindi -- or maybe it's Tamil he's speaking -- is too poor to argue, so I climb into the guy's car and he drops me at a junk hotel where the bed is a board and there's no running water. Dang, I say to myself. India wins again.
Two mornings later I am eating breakfast a different hotel. It's my fourth hotel in 36 hours. I spent much of the weekend walking around town, upgrading hotels by increments as I found places with vacancy on this busy three-day weekend. This place is decent. The bed is okay, there's a little hot water, and I watched an infomercial over and over for two hours in Hindi advertising a human growth hormone that you take to get taller, and it's completely safe, and when you're taller you get jobs and girls, and a motorcycle too. My breakfast is served to me on a leaf, and there is a cockroach on the leaf, but don't worry, it scurries away. I just eat anyway, because my standard of living has descended to "Nyeh."
Hyderabad airport, it's dusk, I've landed. There's a guy with sign that more or less has my name on it, so I follow him to a car. He throws it in reverse and backs into a passing vehicle. He makes a surprised sound, which surprises me, because I thought the headlights coming right at us as we backed up sort of presaged the fact of an oncoming car. The two drivers exit their cars, discuss something for less than 90 seconds, and then we all drive away. I want to high five the driver, because it feels like he won somehow, but I want him to focus on me living until dinner time.
Hyderabad airport, two days later, mid-afternoon, I'm going home. The bus that shuttles us to the plane is parked outside the gate, and there's a flimsy metal step that they push over to the bus to help us step up and inside. If you step on it head-on, you're probably fine, but I approach it from an angle, and it slides just a tad. I adjust and board the bus with no problem, but I think to myself, Man, that's a lawsuit-waiting-to-happen if this were a country with laws. A minute later, a guy hits the step and it slides right out from under him, and he lands in a heap, and I think of the last five days and I'm like, I know how you feel, buddy.