A thousand rupee, 14 rollies, one elephant


"No more buses today, Sir. You must wait until tomorrow." I was waiting to hear him say "my cousin has a guesthouse, come!" But this one didn't.
As a woman traveling alone, I was of great interest to the locals in Sri-Lanka. Add to that that I am 6ft tall and you get the circus coming to town. I was used to someone coming up to me as I was waiting for a bus in a forsaken crossroads, asking me questions “Where come from, Sir? What is your good name? How many times Sri-Lanka? Where is your husband, Sir?” Saying I wasn’t married didn’t go down well, so finally I made one up and then killed him off.
I also made a point to get anywhere before dark, around 5pm. But now I was stranded at this rural “central” bus station, dressed in a white cotton dress looking like a beacon for a few local buses covered in soot…
As I was contemplating my next step, it started to drizzle. This propelled me into making a decision; a drizzle isn’t a drizzle for long in Sri-Lanka. I approached one of the tuk-tuk drivers hanging around waiting, and said “how much to ______?"
"1,000 rupee."
"1,000???" Was this guy kidding? "I'll give you 900", I said.
"We are going far, Sir. It is no good to go after dark, for the elephants.”
"900."
He nodded in a way that made him look like a wooden doll which head is attached to the body on a spring. "OK, 900.”
We headed out. After just minutes he stopped at a stand of coconuts lying about on the ground. He called a little girl and talked to her. She brought me a coconut with a straw. He turned and faced me. “My daughter will tell my wife I will not be back tonight.” I felt quite humbled by this.
He started the engine, turned into a road and we were in the jungle. As it got darker anxiety settled; this could be a sticky situation. He stopped to pee, much too close for comfort. “You can go too,” he said. “No thanks.” To drive bad thoughts away I challenged myself to rolling a cigarette in the back of the jolting tuk-tuk as I caught a whiff of… ganja?
“Are you smoking ganja?!”
“No, Sir!”
“You are, I can tell! Please can you not smoke ganja when you’re driving, with me in the back?”
“OK, I don’t smoke…" he said, but gave an insulted look at the cigarette I was rolling.
“Oh, this is not ganja,” I explained and offered him the rolled cigarette. He looked pleased. I was beginning to unwind; I think he’s alright.
It was pouring as we kept going; being jolted around I kept rolling, losing most of my tobacco to rain and bumps in the road.
After hours we saw lights at the distance. “There it is, Sir!” my driver cried with a cheer. I looked out “it is??” We were both so desperate to get there. Suddenly, he slowed down, stopped and turned the engine off. It was pitch black around us and everything was quiet.
“Look, Sir.” He pointed ahead quietly.
On the road ahead stood an elephant. It wasn’t big; Sri Lankan elephants are considerably smaller than African elephants but still, you should avoid scaring an elephant.
“What do we do?” I whispered.
“We have to wait, we cannot go.”
“How long before it will move?”
He shrugged. “Maybe it sleeps; then we must wait.”
He got out of the tuk-tuk, and so did I. We stood there looking at the elephant. I think he hasn’t seen one that close before either.

###
We were lucky, Dumbo wasn’t asleep. After a while it just started, crossed the road and went on its way.
When we got to our destination, I had 14 rolled cigarettes in my bag that I decided to give to my driver. A little proud I handed them to him.
“Please Sir,” his voice pleaded, “Give me a thousand rupee.”
“OK,” I said. He didn’t thank me for the cigarettes, but he deserved a thousand rupee.
I took my stuff, and as I went on the little strip to look for accommodation, I saw him sitting on the dirt with a few other men, talking. I think he half showed them I was his passenger. I wanted to say bye, we’ve gone through stuff together, but that was over now, so I didn’t.



E Cooper

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