One week earlier, whilst walking with Billy, we had found ourselves walking alongside some cattle on the side of a narrow road and as we tried to overtake them they became spooked. We both took different directions around them and as they made some noise about how uncomfortable they felt about this manoeuvre, one nudged quickly as if to come towards me, I immediately changed direction shifting weight onto one ankle and felt it buckle under the weight of my bag. All whilst the animal had immediately decided to stop with its change in direction and carry on moving forward.
Having not touched me, whilst being more than a metre away from me, this creature had managed to injure me. All from a juvenile act, a kin to that of an older sibling to a younger one, the old ‘pretend they’re going to hit you but not actually hit you’. This animals cruel trick had cost me and I could now feel my ankle stinging from the pressure thrust down upon it from me and my bag. for a while, the evenings were a bit testing.
Fast forward a few weeks after Billy’s departure and I found myself in a small town in Bihar. Waking up from an evening of wondering where I was going to sleep, as there were no hotels, motels or dhabas (road side cafes) in this town I had found myself in and being told by a man that owned a small electrical shop that I could stay in the building that was connected to his, it wasn’t for tourists he remarked but I “wasn’t really a tourist”. Anyway, as I woke, having been eaten by mosquitos during the night, I turned to get out of bed feeling the usual aches, but one stood out more than the rest as my feet hit the floor. The same ankle I had twisted weeks before felt painful and stiff.
I had a feeling today was going to be a difficult day, but nonetheless I stretched it out a bit and it was comfortable for me to start walking on. But as the day went on I was aware there was something happening. I could feel it getting warmer, increasingly more uncomfortable and painful to put pressure on, but I was in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t stop now. So I kept on going seeing a few interesting things to help take my mind off the pain and as the day progressed it got worse. The more I needed to stop and rest before carrying on, the more it hurt. To the point I was limping not able to hide the squinting of pain on my face.
I finally came to an entrance of a small town and as I took the street to make the agonising journey down into town I was confronted with the ridiculous length of road ahead of me. Taking me a good hour I made it to a large derelict looking building (it looked it on the outside). I had been told having made a few pit stops on the way down the road there was a place to stay here.
I was now face to face with my new arch nemesis. Stairs. feeling like the day just wasn’t, proverbially ‘meeting me half way’, I begrudgingly made my way up those 6 steps… I know they were 6 steps because I counted each and every one of them as I slowly and, as you can imagine, elegantly ascended. At the top of this Everest-like mountain of stairs, I made my way to reception and began the usual bargaining for the price of a room and had learnt enough bargaining stock lines by now to get the price down. Then was told they would show me to my room. I was curious because there were no rooms around, not that I could see anyway.
I was ushered down a corridor, I slowly limped/hopped behind him as he held my bag out of pure sympathy. Then I was told to take a left and as I did so, I was greeted with a monumental challenge that I wold not be able to defeat alone. 3 flights of stairs to get to the room.
The poor young man, trying to be his politest under the circumstances. My rucksack draped over one of his shoulders, gripping onto it, trying not to drop it, and me draped on his other. I was clinging on as if my life depended on it, using him and the rails to propel myself up the stairs, trying to take the weight off my ankle and stop the excruciating pain. 3 flights. Eventually we made it and luckily the room was right in front of the stairs. As I entered the room I fell directly onto the bed, sat there with my shoes and socks off and looking down at my foot, making the immediate and necessary decision not to move from there all night.
But awhile into me laying there, as so often happens, nature bends us to its will, and natures current will, at that particular moment, was that I should suddenly and overwhelmingly, need to go to the toilet.
Walking was out of the question. Hopping just jerked my foot around, and had me jumping up and don’t on painful blisters and asking the guy to come back and help me was… no…definitely out of the question, I’d subjected him to enough. So the only option I could think of was to crawl. This was not going to end well. Especially in this toilet. I had definitely seen worse toilets, but I had not crawled on the floor in those toilets, so that fact made this toilet the worst. Crawling seemed to do the trick, I put the weight on my knee and only once or twice did I knock my foot and have to stop from the shear pain. I try not to relive the halfway point where the establishments cleaning skill were bought into question but once I was there I pulled myself up and did my business and made my way back, success!
There I would stay for four days, on the third floor not being able to go anywhere with my leg raised, wondering when it would get better.
Day two into being held hostage by my own ankle and the police made their routine visit. If ever I stopped for a few days to rest, after the first night they would come and question me. They said for security, but I suspect out of boredom. They didn’t have much going on around I imagine and a foreigner was in a hotel in town. As many police before them, they asked me a load of irrelevant questions and then spend the next 20 minutes just flicking through my passport. They asked what I was doing and then I was greeted with the usual uncomfortable silence whilst it processed, the hotel worker repeated it for me.
They consulted with each other in a serious manner, I wasn’t able to understand what they were saying and then they asked for pictures. Getting my passport back and a few smiling/thumbs up pictures later, they left and I was left to my own devices again.
On the third day I was able to put a bit of pressure on it, so decided to go downstairs and sit in the lobby. Sat there, I spent some time on Facebook and read some news on my Guardian app. Then I decided to Skype some family and let them know what was going on. As I was trying to Skype, there was a man who entered the lobby. In the background of my conversation I could hear him talking loudly but couldn’t make out what he was saying. He started wondering around me as I talked. He hovered over me constantly at an uncomfortably close distance, with a camera and as I was talking he would interrupt me by trying to speak to me. I told him politely I’m just on the phone, which he could absolutely see. In response to that, he started taking pictures. He started taking them from various angles and at one point even knelt down in front of me to take a picture. I was beginning to get visibly annoyed and my family could see. I was used to it by now, people taking my picture without asking me and in some instances videoing me and even videoing our conversations, all without my permission. But I decided to not cave in and just to carry on my conversation as I hadn’t spoken to them in a while, determined to passively aggressively not give this guy what he wanted because he was being so rude. Eventually he left and I could relax.
When I got off the phone, I asked the hotel staff who he was and they said he was a photographer, who after hearing what I was doing wanted to come and take my picture. I returned to my room and settled in for the night.
On day four my ankle felt even more better. I decided to journey outside and go buy my own food. Ever so carefully, I made it all of about 20 metres before I came to a cross roads in the street with food stalls and auto rickshaws. I walked down the side of the auto rickshaws to get to the food stalls as everyone there watched on as a strange looking guy (me) walked down the street, again this wasn’t new, this happened a lot. But the new thing was that, suddenly one of the men rushed over. I thought, to ask me where I was going, so he could tell me a price, I was wrong. He brought over his newspaper and proceeded to find a particular page and presented me with my own picture in the paper and an article in hindi.
I recognised the low angle of the picture, it was the one the man took as he knelt down in front of me, a look of half anger and half absurdity at the situation whilst trying to have a conversation with my family, determined not to look up. there was nothing I could do but laugh. I got my food and returned as quickly as I could to the hotel.