I slept for the better part of two days with periods of empty staring at the ceiling mixed in. Dreams came and went, my processing of memories of Bangladesh mixed with fevered paranoia.
It hurt to move my eyes off a center line, it hurt when I coughed, my skin was so sore that it hurt when I walked and it hurt when I wore clothes or bathed.
I’d go downstairs to get fresh air, or water, or food, and the door guard at my hotel would launch into a series of questions.
“Do you need an umbrella sir?”
“No I’m fine thank you.”
“Are you sick sir?”
“Very. It’s hard to talk.”
“Ah where are you from sir?”
“Let’s talk later ok?”
“Oh is that a Samsung phone sir? That phone is beautiful!”
He hovered two feet away from me, watching everything I did on my phone. So I left, stumbled down the street to buy water, and came back.
“Fresh drinking water! Are you still sick sir?”
I smiled and went upstairs to sleep again. While sleeping they called my room phone four times in four hours to check on me. I eventually unplugged it.
In the no man’s land between Bangladesh and India there was a goat sitting on the ground. Stuck in a void without clear citizenship. There was also a line of five men screaming for me.
“Right here sir! Right here sir!”
It didn’t make sense why they cared so much. I was ready to stop at the third guy in line — who was already very insistent — when the fifth man yelled
“No! No! NO! Me! ME!”
I was convinced by his urgency and gave him my passport.
A tall man with a mustache stood over his shoulder, smoking a cigarette and watching as the fifth man fabricated a local hotel (“Hotel VIP”) and a local phone number to put on my arrival card.
The fifth man finished my card promptly and handed it and my passport back to me. I thanked them and took off.
”Tip sir? Come on SIR tip!?”
It was my first time being asked for a tip at a border crossing. I didn’t give him one.
There were two customs officers, one seated and one standing. The one seated opened my bag and went through my belongings one by one. He held up a pelican-type case where I store memory cards.
“What is this for?”
“You put a camera into this? But it’s so small.”
The standing officer looked through my passport.
“Oh you have been to so many places. Oh you went to Vietnam. How did that go?”
“The people are very nice.”
“Didn’t you lose a war with them? But they still let you be a tourist?”
The sitting officer pulled out a bag I use to store power banks, cables, toiletries, and vitamins.
“What is in this bag?”
I really didn’t want to tell him that there were condoms in the bag.
“Personal things… nothing to be sold in India.”
The standing officer made it to the page with Cambodia passport stamps:
“You’ve spent a lot of time in Cambodia. As a tourist or a business person?”
“I worked for an NGO.”
“But you have a business visa.”
“That’s how it works in Cambodia.”
The standing officer then read my Indian visa aloud to me:
“Five years. Multiple entries. Not eligible for employment in India. Each stay not to exceed 180 days.”
He paused and looked at me, then kept reading:
“Change of purpose not allowed.”
I have no idea why this was funny but both men broke out in laughter. It took a few seconds for them to collect themselves, then they handed my passport back to me and wished me good luck.
Across the border soft music played from every direction. The music combined with wonderful smells and elaborately hand painted signs into a Wes Anderson reproduction of India — a film set, perfect in every way — not an actual country where I had just arrived.
Men were in stalls on the side of the road drinking tea. A man walked by me and wobbled his head side to side so smooth that it looked to be supported by a spring.
I approached a taxi stand and saw five men. Five arms pointed at me and five arms pointed at taxi cabs. Five heads shouted.
“THIS cab Kolkata 2,000 Rupees!”
“THIS cab no air con 1,500 Rupees!”
A different price every time.
One driver pulled me aside and offered to take me to Kolkata for 1,400 Rupees — about $20.
“That’s a reasonable price.”
“Ok sir but now the price is 2,000 Rupees.”
“But you just said 1,400 Rupees?”
“No 2,500 Rupees is the best price!”
I’d never had negotiations where the prices go up.
“These people are not good.”
A yellow shirted young man, 21 years old, was talking to me through a fresh melee of taxi drivers.
“You should take the bus. No one will drive you. Find a tuktuk and he’ll drive you to the bus stand.”
Then, thirty seconds later, he changed his mind.
“I’ll take you to Kolkata for 1,400 Rupees.”
I threw my bag in the back seat and hopped into his cab.
This young man, whose name I can not remember, drove me the length of Petrapol to Kolkata, India. It’s about 100 kilometers. His comments on life in India were amazing.
“In India the way you tell the classes is that the poor people only eat twice per day. The middle classes look like me, and the rich classes have attitude.”
“I am a Muslim, but most people in India are Hindu. They worship everything, everything is a god. If a tree grows near a river then the tree is a god. You cannot cut down the tree because you will go to jail for killing a god. I’m serious.”
“I eat cow, but many people do not. I forget why….”
“Oh that’s right! That’s because the cow is a god! Everything is a god.”