Rites Of Passage Through Porous Borders
Rites Of Passage Through Porous Borders
So, here is what happened!!
I went to the Lao-Vietnamese border, fully aware that there would be checking. The buses were riled up, face to ass on a curved road which led us into the valley. Inside my pocket lay, a big bag of weed. The procurement of this weed was a story in itself. It involved a troubled lady, a tribeswoman, and lots of hot evenings with an even lot more beer.
At the end of the trail, a big signboard said ‘Vietnam’ and then a smaller one on the side asked us to put our bags under the scanner and go frisking.
Apart from the big bag, I had 25 small rolled joints inside the pocket as well. Wrapped up neatly inside an empty cigarette packet, they rested. In hope, that even after the friskers put all efforts into scanning everything, this would still be passed off as an ordinary cigarette packet.
Now, for frisking, all of us had to gather in front of the tall glass building which felt weirdly out of place. It seemed to have been airlifted, out of a big city in 2020 and dropped in the middle of nowhere in the 1960s.
The first thing, I noticed was the starched brown uniforms of the guards on duty. Clean as a day and crisp to the ‘p’, they were complete with their hats and looked straight out of a Korean War film. Ready to declare war on innocent Indian travelers.
The bag was still in my pocket as I de-boarded and saw the great serpent of buses. The king of questions here was to kill the thought that kept nudging me to keep it.
In an internal conflict, which still sounds troublesome, I stepped forward.
‘Do not throw it. It is a gift from the cadaverous lady’.
‘Do you want to be featured in the series, ‘Locked Abroad’?
‘Who knows? A strange part of the brain wants to mess up further’.
If my other half could come out of my body, it would’ve had rolled its eyes back to take a sidebar with my brain.
‘But no. I don’t want to go to jail. Not today at least. The morning is too bright and the road is too temp…’
I saw a peaceful search until the guard took a bag aside and opened it up.
‘OK, let’s throw the fucking thing’.
Taking the bag in my hand, I acted as if stretching my arms all the way up and down. Then, as they came down in a fluid motion…
‘Whoop!! There it went right away, under the bus.
The world felt a safer place now.
As I basked in the newfound freedom, completely oblivious to the cigarette packet, a rumble was heard. In resonance, numerous buses started their engines and started moving forward. Like a freight train whose coaches I have counted a million times.
Here, as the last coach approached, my heart sank and my throat turned dry. It went away following its sisters and there it was.
Right in the middle of the road. On an international border. The big green bag.
The second thought in my head was to comment, on how empty, wide, and clean that road was.
Then I looked at the bag and it looked right back at me. A Kodak moment with some international exposure.
The internal jerks pounced up again.
‘This is a sign from the big guy up above. Pick it up’.
‘Yes, a sign that’ll put you in a pay-per-view 90-minute Discovery channel special’.
I silenced both of them and headed up the podium. The neatly starched brown shirts were done detecting metal with the metal detectors, in their bid to find something suspicious. No hassle seemed to have been created and it felt vane to not take a chance with the bag of potions.
Potions from the hinterlands, where a begrudged colonial power had set up camp once. They did not leave for hundreds of years, fighting wars, killing men, and maiming an entire generation through rapid distribution channels, circling around a single drug. A drug which was menacing in equal parts but friends did procure it for other friends, when in pain.
If you ask me, I think it was a beautiful process.
The 25 rolled cylinders did not occupy my mind at all and it looked like frisking would be easy without the fear. Even if that lack of fear came from stupidity. It’s an unknown virtue.
On the other side, everyone boarded the bus and the packet became invisible to me.
No one knew what happened to the one left behind until they did.
The bus sped fast as if it had collateral, in getting caught for shitting a big green bag out of its exhaust.
Think Colombia. Do Vietnam.
A half-hour later, the bus stopped at a garage & restaurant. I suppose that’s how they did it in that country. I had spent that half-hour sitting alongside the driver, being my best intrusive self, going through his ‘5 stapled together’ passport books, containing border stamps from Vietnam and Laos only.
A wide expanse of trees lined the road on both sides and a new air welcomed us outside.
In an attempt to ramp up my appetite, the neat cigarette packet was opened and one of the members was lit.
Smoke came out in whirls & tufts & clouds & spirals and a small area with a downward draft smelled different.
In front of me, there were the driver and his helper/cleaner/conductor/2nd in command guy. They were preparing the bus for another 10 hours. They took a long bolt-tightener and were working it on the tires. Fitting the curved mouth of the wrench onto a bolt, the non-driver climbed up on the long handle. He used all his body weight to get the work done and I stood looking.
After they went through half the bolts, they started looking at me. This weird culture doesn’t allow us to stare at someone for more than 14 seconds and hence, they had to break eye contact even before I could pass the customary touristy smile.
They finished up their assignment and I did mine. It seemed though that they talked an awful lot after that, shooting little glimpses at me.
I said ‘Fuck it’ and boarded the bus.
Lying under a thin blanket inside, a clouded mind and an overactive bloodstream did not want to talk. Turning sideways, I tried not to think of the words ‘searing’ or ‘flesh’. I also tried, not to play episodes of me falling from a cliff or drowning in a huge black lake.
Someone tapped on my shoulder.
It was the non-driver. He had an inquiring face and tried to imitate something long and thick with these hands.
For a moment, I thought, he wanted to interrogate me about the joints or if he wanted to turn me in, at the next police check post.
My mind was way too droopy to think of a better solution and I opened the packet up to offer him a joint.
He gestured a ‘no’ with his hands and opened Google translate on his phone.
Like a scene out of ‘Fear and Loathing in Vietnam’, there was a lot of smoke and the interiors were bright red. Everyone wore glasses from the 60s and cigarettes dangling from their tongue tips. Sleeping pods looked like bathtubs filled with ice and they froze up the very existence of their dwellers.
The bus jerked on a speed bump and the words became clearer to me.
I would’ve had fallen down laughing if I hadn’t already been lying down. Instead of that, I smiled crookedly and handed over to him a thick strip containing at least 40 thin paper strips.
He looked at the strip and then he looked right at me. A simpler code of ethics was set in motion. A joyous camaraderie, where we would’ve had hugged hadn’t we been in a bus.
I thought it was over but then it happened. He took his hand into his back pocket and pulled out what looked like a ‘green bag’.
A large bag.
An ominous but graceful bag.
I couldn’t believe my drowsy, red eyes. But my mind was way drowsier to translate it to him.
He simply halved the contents, put it in a paper, and handed it to me.
Half. My half.
So that was what it took.
Taxes and fees.
Amount and Interest.
Late charges and consultation money.
The rites of passage through porous borders.