As time whittled away, and the evening turned into night, Fatty arose from his chair. He went inside and brought out a thick black permanent marker pen. He placed it in Michael’s hand and solemnly gestured to the outside wall of his house next to his front door.
“He wants me to write on his wall?!” Michael said, confused
“I guess so,” I shrugged.
Michael placed the pen near the wall, and looked back over his shoulder to check with Fatty for reassurance that this was in fact what he wanted. Fatty nodded his encouragement.
“A message,” said Saroo, Fatty’s 13 year old son. “To remember”
I could see that Michael’s mind was racing; his eyes were like the dials of a slot machine as his imagination searched in vain for the appropriate course of action. Knowing that he’s useless at thinking of things to write in a birthday card, never mind a commemorative message on the side of someone’s house that will last forever, I held my breath.
He proceeded to draw what can only be described as a crude self-portrait, with his name scribbled, in his unsightly chicken scratch handwriting, underneath.
“This is my hair,” he announced, proudly, as he drew it on, with his tongue poking out of his mouth in concentration.
If someone had walked to the front door at that very moment they would probably have assumed that Michael had just strangled the family dog, such was the expression on Fatty´s face.
I was trembling and snorting with repressed laughter, biting my lip with the full force of my jaw to stop myself from blurting out.
I knew as I watched him dot the ‘i’ of his name, with an artistic swish of his hand as if he were a gourmet chef putting the finishing pinch of salt on his signature dish, that this would be a classic memory of our friendship.
Michael looked back over his shoulder to Fatty for some approval for his creation but, of course, nothing came.
Saroo backed away into the house as if a firework had just been lit. The crickets chirped. I still hadn’t breathed.
Michael cleared his throat and sat back down. Fatty went back into the house and closed the sliding door behind him.
“Tough crowd,” Michael signed, wiping some sweat from his brow. And that was it. We both exploded into helpless laughter, as silent as we could manage. Just when we had regained composure, one of us would glance at his ridiculous picture and we’d be off again, gasping and hooting into our cushions unable to breathe.
Thankfully, it was some minutes before Fatty returned, and, to be fair, if he was angry or even disappointed with Michael’s defacement of his house, he didn’t show it. He gestured for us to follow him back to his car and this time we both jumped into the back.
“Where next?” we asked each other.
“How many more relatives are there to see?!”
We were somewhat surprised when we got out of the patrol car outside his government office. He motioned us into a tiny room, with a couple of prayer mats on the floor, and he said,
“Now you sleep, sleep for free”
The room was a place for the Muslim officials to pray at the various times throughout the day, as is the Islamic custom. Fatty opened the door and like a couple of ignorant idiots we stepped inside without removing our shoes.
Fatty ushered us back outside and politely gestured for us to respect the traditions of his faith. We were delighted to get a free night’s stay, especially somewhere as random as a prayer room.
This is what we’d come for, this was one of the main purposes of our journey. We wanted to collect interesting travel tales that we’d remember forever: random days, with random people, followed by random nights, in random places.
The unpredictability of hitchhiking, for now at least, was proving to be a real rush.
We went to sleep happy men in our prayer room that night.