The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
I Am My Yes
It was the middle of the afternoon, the middle of summer and the middle of nowhere. The train had rolled to a halt some time ago. An iron cobra too exhausted to crawl to shelter.
The heat bore into the roof from above and radiated up from the rails beneath. Stout fans sputtered their blades but provided no relief.
The train itself was virtually empty, or at least the bogie me and my father were travelling in, was. A small cohort of men talked politics and cricket scores; a few others played a desultory round of cards. Here and there passengers tried to nap on the plain wood benches. Everyone’s brows bubbled with perspiration.
I was restless. I stood for a few minutes in the doorway of the carriage, my head and shoulders leaning forward, hoping to catch a slight breeze. My father and I chatted about this and that and at one point we jumped down on the shady side of the train to toss rocks at a distant telephone pole. He went back inside. Maybe he was reading his theology notes or drafting a letter he’d type when he got back home. I stayed outside staring at the bend in the track and the smoke lifting delicately from the idle engine. Even the crows were silent.
That I was here at all was out of the ordinary. I rarely travelled alone with my Dad. I rarely left Mussoorie, the hill station where the school I had attended my entire life, Woodstock, was located, during the school year. And for good reason. The climate of the northern plains of India between April and October was pretty unpleasant, with temperatures rising to the high 40s for weeks on end. Europeans had taken refuge in the mountains of India for the summer months for hundreds of years. You didn’t travel across the plains in summer unless you had a good reason.
It wasn’t just mad dogs and Englishmen that suffered ill-effects when they ventured out in the noon day sun. Every school boy in India ‘knew’ that Sikhs, with their heads wrapped tightly in yards of cloth, could be counted on to act strangely if they tarried too long in the summer heat. Sardarjis (Sikhs) bear the brunt of a nation’s humor because of this supposed tendency to lose it when overheated, a burden they no doubt find tiresome and unfair.
After gazing blankly at the idle train for a while I pulled myself up into the bogie once again. I found Dad reading a recent copy of Christianity Today. I crawled up on to the top bunk, close to the ineffective fan, and stared about.
A Sikh sat cross legged on a window seat in the adjacent cubicle. Cards were still being played. Nothing had changed. A donkey brayed painfully somewhere outside the carriage. I shut my eyes.
I was woken sometime later by a loud shouting. As if someone was arguing. I looked around and saw no one. I closed my eyes again but immediately the shouting broke through the wet heat. I sat up; Dad indicated that the Sikh was the one responsible for the commotion. I hopped down off the bunk and poked my head around to see what was going on.
The Sikh had opened his shirt and his breast was bare. “I am my yes,” he exclaimed. He swung his head quickly back and forth as if trying to release some spirt. Then he slammed his huge hands against his bare and powerful chest. “I am my YES,” he shouted again, pausing slightly for emphasis before the last word. No one in particular seemed to be the object of his exclaiming. He let out a great harumph and pulled at his beard. Again, he stated he was his Yes and threw a fierce glance in my direction. I jumped instinctively. He glared at me but then just as suddenly stood up and moved down the carriage. “I am my Yes,” he said again and again until he hopped off the train. As if released of some toxin, at that very moment the train lurched suddenly forward and started moving again.
I often think of that Sardarji and wonder about that scene. Had he come on to the train in search of some shade? Did he live around the place where the train had stopped? Or did he come to his senses only to learn that his luggage was now in Calcutta and he had to find another way home?
The only thing I can say for sure is be careful about the jokes you tell.
© Nate Rabe Feb 2013
Sometimes I lay awake at night Nate Rabe
The Hindustan Way.