I. It takes some time to walk. Nobody could deny it; your soles alone could most probably tell the story of the crackling footsteps; from Mahabhaleshwar to the gored soils of Kukashetra, each split heel and calloused instep holds at least seven thousand stanzas. Maybe more.
II. We should have bought better sandals, these cardboard tongues lick roughly at my torn ridges.
III. We left the holidaying families halfway up the mountain, and steadied our gaze on the telephone spire that ruptured through the dark red earth of the iron-gorged summit.
IV. Strawberries grew here, it was said.
V. Near the river below, a woman was being born of fishes, and was begging the sun for a son, or seven.
VI. We heard her wish granted, noisily. Her birth pains must have been carried across the valley. Not that we noticed at the time, not with Indra’s hot breath sellotaping our kurtas to our retching shoulder blades.
VII. I needed some tea.
VIII. The grass was thinning as we moved through the stunted fruit trees. Here and there you could see huddles of wiry blades in groups of a hundred. Identical, more or less. Reedy, grass-like brothers, they were. Brothers who knotted around one another to reach for their born-blind father, and to grasp at their mother who took blindness upon herself.
IX. I never was comfortable with sun-glasses, they never sat well on my face. I’d rather shield my eyes with open palms, should the sun grow too heavy and threaten to splash my retina with black-filled window shards.
X. The seven sons were growing fast. By the time we passed the heaping of scarlet tor-stone we had spotted from the house, they were walking.
XI. Within minutes, they had taken on a teacher, and we could hear their competition carried on pinkish breezes.
XII. One was piercing the eye of a bird with iron-tips, apparently.
XIII. I turned to my companion. I needed to rest, to sit awhile and look south across the coughing, heaving jungle, her tendrils flapping down, her fingernails scraping at the base of our mountain. The grass had grown since we passed it, and a hundred tall shoots wavered in our wake.
XIV. “There is going to be a war”, you said, and I knew you to be correct. It had happened a thousand times before, after all.
XV. So, dice were rolled. Wives were saved by boys with cows, and land was relinquished to selfish soil.
XVI. My toes curled and compressed dust between my clenching feet. Tiny pebbles fell and skeins of silk came from nowhere, it seems. I’ve never known twelve years pass so quickly. My walkman registered half a song before we saw seven in hiding, one dressed in my sister’s clothes.
XVII. “He reminds me a lot of me, as a younger man”, I said, to which you quickly reminded me was probably the point.
XVIII. There was a face in the puddle.
XIX. We looked away.
XX. The musician came out of nowhere, I swear. He sat in the tall grass and chewed on a tiny piece of earth, reminded the blades that they were little more than wicker chairs, something to whistle between your thumbs, something for the cows to consider. It didn’t seem to have much effect, and the battle-lines were drawn.
XXI. I almost took out my camera.
XXII. The man in the dress recognised someone. The musician and he spoke for a very long time.
XXIII. There was a flash of light, and the sun set with some very unusual cloud formations, even for this time of year.
XXIV. A lot of leaves were trampled.
XXV. A man ate with a fork.
XXVI. A tortoise was split in two.
XXVII. I twisted the rings on my finger, and ate my strawberries. Twigs crackled and spat underfoot, and my companion claimed her heard the sound of an elephant’s skull being struck with spears, and a man weeping over him as if he were his only son.
XXVIII. We did see an elephant’s skull, incidentally, a few hours later. Ulysses was sat next to it, throwing pins into the space where its trunk should have been, looking hopeful, almost.
XXIX. We picked ourselves up, already knowing how this was going to end. We would reach the summit, and it would take a while.
XXX. The musician looked at me, and before hobbling away with the gait of a young deer, flicked his hands around his face as if to say “Ah, that’s life”