Road Trip To Nilokheri, Lee Woodman

 

A hundred blistering kilometers from home,
we bump along the rutted road to Nilokheri.
My Dad hums above the diesel’s drone,
I am proud to travel with him.

We chat during these trips, taking note of
particular colors in the trees—emerald,
jade, mint, sage—We compare baseball
to ballet—warm-ups, footwork, sore muscles.

A warm wind blows, the dust rises.
Through sooty windows, I detect wobbling air.
Ripples of cool from the nullah’s water
battle currents of heat that flare down.

A water buffalo sinks into the gully mud,
flat trapezoidal nose barely above the surface.
Long lashes bent downward, he blinks,
shakes flies buzzing at his ears.

School children, sent outside to the yard
make way for teachers from neighboring districts.
These men, wearing white dhotis
and cracked brown sandals, wait at sagging tables.

Women drape a burlap banner to cover
peeling patches on the whitewashed plaster wall.
“W-e-l-c-o-m-e, honored speaker.” I sound out
curly Hindi letters, painted dark purple.

Dad offers me a drink from the ice chest
we pulled from the trunk— “Coming with me?”
Settled on the cooler, drinking Coca Cola
from a green glass bottle, I shake my head.

I stay back, as a slender villager
draped in orange-red sari, lemon-chiffon shawl,
gives small metal plates of food to children.
Folding smoky chapatis, they scoop rice and dahl.

After lunch, the children call to me,
“Come deeti, come!”
Barefoot, they scuff the ball across the rough
path toward the car—I slip off the chest.

Playmates giggle as I fumble the ball.
High in the kikar tree, a mynah bird jeers.
Sparrows perched on lower branches scatter
at the clang of dirty plates.

At sundown, teachers follow Dad to the car.
I help him flip the cooler to lighten the weight.
Slushy water dribbles away on bone-dry ground.
Only one coke and a cucumber remain.

He starts the motor; village elders
salaam, pressing palms together, Namaste.
Sputtering back to the main road, we
begin the trek toward the roadside rest house.

We talk about typical dak bungalows—
dirty stucco, russet trim. We can picture
the spare rooms—single dangling lightbulb,
jute string charpoys. Still, we will sleep well.

The journey is tiring— truck caravans tie up roads,
crowds surround an injured cow by the wayside—
But, the durwan’s greeting is warm; he promises
treats for the morning: soft boiled eggs, oat toast.

A weak trickle from the shower is sublime.
Hungry, we taste our surviving cucumber—
melony, slightly sweet, faintly salty—
the last warm coke, delicious.

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