Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Travelling - by Michelle

My mother is shaking me. "Wake up! Wake up! It is time to get up. " At first my brain doesn't understand. How can it be time to get up? It is still night outside.

Then I remember. We are going on holiday! My first holiday! And I am going to see the sea. I was too excited to sleep last night, but somehow I must have because now the house is all lit up in the middle of the night and it is happening. We are going.

I go and wash my face and brush my teeth. The water is cold and the tiles are cold beneath my feet. It feels strange and exciting to be up in the middle of the night. Once I'm dressed I go looking for everyone. My dad is putting the cases in the car and my mom is in the kitchen buttering bread and wrapping food in paper to take with. I wander around between them. I ask everyone what the time is. My dad tells me it is 3:00 in the morning. I'm not sure, but this doesn't feel like morning to me. It's night. He is wrong. This isn't morning.

We have to leave early to reach Beit Bridge border post before dawn. Once it is light it will be too hot to travel the road by car. No-one travels during the day if they can help it.

The car is packed and we are off! We drive through town. It is weird. No people and everything dark. I have never been to town after dark before. It feels creepy. Soon we are out beyond the town. The road is so straight and the bush is so dark. The stars seem close enough to touch. The hum of the car engine makes me fall asleep. I only wake up when it stops. How disappointing! I have slept the whole way and missed the sunrise. It is about 6 in the morning and it is already hot. Within another hour you will be able to cook your dinner on your car bonnet. There are trucks and cars are parked waiting for the customs offices to open. People wandering around. Truck drivers sitting under the trees having a smoke or a cup of coffee. The big trucks come this way going up through Africa to places I've never heard of.

The customs buildings are low small light brown buildings. Inside my parents get their passports stamped. The air is heavy and warm and smells of old paper and sweat. It is such a brown building. Beige and brown.. everything is the colour of cardboard. The walls, the forms to fill in, even the uniforms of the men behind the counters. They smile at me, but I don't smile back. This is my mother's greatest grief. I never say hello and I never greet my elders. I just stare at them. My mother pokes me and hisses "Say hello. SMILE." That only makes it worse. Why should I smile or greet this unknown man dressed in cardboard coloured shorts and shirt? I don't know him. So I stare at him and he laughs nervously and my mother gets embarrassed.

Once that is over we are back in the now hot car and waved on by another man in a cap. Beyond the buildings I can see the bridge over the great Limpopo river. Only there is no river. Except for a few times a year there is nothing but a small trickle in a huge dry riverbed way down below. In rainy times there will be crocodiles and hippos, but there's nothing down there today. It seems very disappointing to a five year old girl who was hoping to see crocodiles and hippos. But who cares? We are now in a different country and soon I will get to see the ocean. Ok, soon will be a two day drive, but my parents haven't told me that yet. I am five and have no concept of distance yet.

My parents roll down all the windows as we drive, but the air that blows through feels like it is coming off a hair drier. I'm ok. I take off my clothes and sit in the back in my underwear. When I'm tired I just lie down on the back seat and sleep. Sometimes it is truly good to be only five years old.


Premalatha said...

Good one michelle. very graphic. it is true that grown-ups do not understand the concepts of five year olds. good concept.

Michelle said...

Thanks prema. :)

It was fun remembering being five. I still miss being able to sleep on the back seat of a car.

டி ராஜ்/ DRaj said...

Looks like the world of kids are almost similar despite the geographic location :) My parents had tough time in teaching us to greet elder visiting our home.

You know what? I started out reading this post and suddenly questions started to pop in my mind when I came across the Beit Bridge border, Africa, crocodiles and hippos. I told myself "Wow, Premalatha had been to the Afric when she was 5". Kept reading only to find out in the end that the post was from Michelle. :)Perhaps, the similarity in the lives of the kids (or was it the style of narration) made me feel that this was yet another post by Premalatha. :)

Michelle said...

Hi draj

I usually put "by Michelle" in the title, but yesterday I forgot. That must have felt weird suddenly realising "prema" was in africa! :)

Yes, I think the world of kids is very similar. I read things by prema and I get the feelings, even if I have no idea about the culture.

rohini said...

Enjoyed reading this one. Life thru the eyes of a 5 year old seems the same irrespective of where we live especially the non-understanding of time and distance and the etiquette approach of dealing with elders. Reminds me of the day we reached London on a freezing January morning from sunny Bangalore. My 2 year old son who didnt quite understand this relocation exercise quipped "Now let's take an auto ( a 3-wheeled mode of public transport in India) and go back home."