Eighty kilometers outside Kolkata International airport, and your busy bee life is a vibrant static reflection on a lavender-rose, wrapped by the rental company’s ribbon. Your musing, a scrawl upon the fabric of a place. Next, between the faux-leather seat of the car where you’re strapped by seat-belts like an archaic harness, and the expansive paddy fields, your eyes measure freeway roads slicing the topography, cartwheeling across a rural stream and onwards towards your hometown.
Like an antonym for the dot on the map that it is, a place is an extravagance. The splurge is on the hand-painted freight trucks in a line ahead of you at the highway toll-gate. How the audacious graffiti is plastered loud on the colorful wood-and-metal bodies, mocking your bland cubicled existence at a city only a two-hour flight away.
Marry a trucker, bond with tears — words of wisdom!
On the shoulder of the rail track by the highway, the richness of a chugging train — mirroring the trail of your thoughts — reminiscent of vacations at your grandpa’s.
The journey itself is home — Basho
Grab the essence of this spot. At the shanty where you halt for chai in an earthen cup, the quiet solitude is only broken by the swish of tyre on black tar. Miles and miles of the most fulfilling green, high upon which an ochre kite rules, soars, dives.
Pause to hear the breeze clapping against itself, or strangers greeting each other, a spontaneous, Bhalo?
Ruminate the way it is with the fluttering prayer flags hung on poles; imagine the five-horned monster of your girlhood tales, scurrying in fright at their sight.
Climb back into the car, but wait to appreciate the simplicity of a family on foot as they walk past, unmindful of the attention, except the toddler on the man’s tired arm, gawking at you.
Rev up the engine, and let a coconut vendor dart past, pedaling his rickety Hero cycle, onwards to a quaint little marketplace.
Below the low-hanging white cottony clouds scooting away from you, who, unlike you, have no destination to reach, no journey to terminate, notice the road sign which says only twenty kilometers remain.
Like the beckoning fragrance of rose, like the earnest touch of an intimate lover, fill your senses with the scent of this place.
Drive past the rice mills, the sooty brick-kiln chimneys, the odd pucca house with block-printed saris spread out on the roofs.
At the last bend, rest your eyes on mango trees in an orchard, how they mingle in cadence like a musical band wearing fancy hats.
Enjoy the welcome.
Slow down, for the sweetmeat shops are telling you so! You need to buy some! Stand there in front of the counter, and let the warmth overrun you. Spare a minute to notice how the colors and shapes of different sweetmeats on the shelves behind the glass are like places on geographical maps, far more in worth than their appearance in size.
Notice the milestone in the range of your vision: the Zero gleaming in the light.
Mandira Pattnaik's fiction has appeared in Penn Review, The McNeese Review, DASH Journal, Citron Review, Necessary Fiction, Watershed Review, Passages North, Miracle Monocle, Amsterdam Quarterly, and Best Small Fictions Anthology 2021.