Take the malaria pill in the lobby and walk outside to the bus stand. The rush hour is on, and the Udupi buses pass us three times. Udupi? Yes. The ride is fast, two lanes. One. Two. One. Two. Three? There are far too many buses on this road, passing. Wind in my hair, changing, drying it. IVF poster adverts everywhere. Two lanes, three. Above. Below.
Well. Cow. Well. Courtyard. Well, well, well. Oncoming traffic, no big deal. Near miss. Near miss. Horn blast, ten seconds long. Whistle once from the conductor, stop. Whistle twice, go. Ladies only seats at the front. Well. Courtyard. Mosque. Well. Udupi? Must be.
Autorickshaw with a meter for once. Krishna Temple, please. Green water, smart fish hiding in the shadows. Bells bells bells bells bells cows parade towers, four stories high, streamers everywhere. Hot as cow shit. Should we?
In line with 50 others waiting for the OK. Shoes everywhere, disobeying the signs. Covered boobs, bare feet in the heat. How do those girls over there walk? The customary nonfunctioning metal detector. Through and to the left, follow the others. The Mutt, circumambulation, the peek inside, the cow with calf with priest in green and gold, half-assing a pooja. Can’t help noticing the cow seems not to care at all.
“Donations for Krishna, sir?”
Are there elephants? I see none. Shirt on, shirt off? Watch out, pooja cow coming through! A touch on the head by a poor woman, a huge smile. Prostrations in the corridor. Trying not to stare or interrupt too much. Bye, sacred moo cow.
Shit, look out! The monks are blasting through, some apparently businessmen on a side job. Too fat for monks, really. Seem a little Friar Tuck. Suddenly, tiny monks infestation! Chanting, running, shaved heads. One pauses, seems to be writing on a note against the wall. Exit.
Hooray, shoes haven’t been stolen! No burned feet for us. 15 minutes inside? A stretch.
Wander wander wander where’s the tourist office, feet are tired, too hot too hungry. To eat or not to eat? That’s the tummy question. Woodland’s metal bowls lunch. Hands eating, yuck. I’m suddenly not hungry, thanks a lot. Curd. Soda please, not faked mineral water. Autorickshaw 200 meters. Mangalore?
It starts slowly enough. Then barrels. Fastest I’ve ever gone on a bus, easily 150 km per hour. Flying by the other buses. So many near head ons. So many. I lose count. Firetruck. Massive truck. Autorickshaw. Bus. We miss by inches, by seconds, by rolling to the left. Tears. Panting. I’m sorry, Mama, I’m sorry. Over potholes, through diversions at speed. Bridge? Excellent time to pass. Oh hey, moped. A hand gesture should make up for almost killing you. Oh hi, giant gas tanker. MOVE. I’m sorry, Mama, I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m…too long, too much, too many times I’m certain we’ll die out here. We will get back, Coleen. We will make it. Om shanti nothing, no mantra can help here.
The couple next to us is asleep.