The Gum Leaves

In the Bihar district of India, the horns call out, wailing into the smoke filled air by the Gandak river. The cows along the rivers dip their dusty legs into the sandy mud bed, and downstream women wash their clothes and their children in the water.

Sarah listened quietly and looked at Ashok. They sat under the broad archways of the town hall, the sound of dirtbikes roaring by the slim line of trees separating them from the road, whizzing away before the cops could see them and darting into the bush if they did. Not that the cops gave a shit around here. The trees were skinny long gums, spaced out and woody smelling, the leaves falling occasionally and landing face down on the road, road kill ready to be crushed and blown up towards the sun. The lazy ball burned down, halting conversations and leaving thoughts adrift in the heat. Radioactive fire fizzling emotions to steady platitudes and half arsed responses, or frustrated curses and grunts.

Down the street the mechanics winched car bellies up and screwed bolts, bellies sunburnt and sticking out the side, biceps pulling at metal while flies buzzed at their bald heads. The butts of cigarettes lined the edges of the concrete slab they worked on and grease stained denim covered thighs.

The Gandak River runs from Nepal through Northern India, carrying downstream bobs of cow manure and broken sticks mingled with gold and red plastic wrappers.

Ashok read the words out from the printouts given to them in school. Screw this. He crumpled the pages and stuck them in his bag. I’m half Indian anyway so if she asks me I’ll just tell her something Indian sounding on the spot. Wanna play in the creek? Sarah nodded.

There were kids that flew through the air off the bank, barking loud joy in yelps and screams as they dove under the water, occasionally hitting the creek bed full of rotting sticks and small cracked rocks and coming up gasping, dunking each other and screaming half terror. The trees hummed with the slow breezes and fidgety insects buzzing against each other before the loud bang of a gun firing thundered through the heat. What the? They hadn’t even gotten wet yet. Their eyes mirrored one another’s curiosities and Sarah stood up, put her hand to shield her eyes and scrunched her face up. The forty degree wind plastered her sweaty blonde hair into the side of her face and into her half open mouth. She blew at it and started walking, Ashok a step behind, his hand reached forward a bit like she need protection which wasn’t true and she could’ve told him that. Above her the gum leaves whispered grey yarns like mellow bluesmen in the Grotto Blues downtown Adelaide, all sad and soul and punch me in the mouth slow notes that hung around like a bad hangover. And there were millions of them. Sorry bluesmen holding together trees, whistling above the cracked earth.
I think it’s your dad. Sarah was watching his face and his father was lying on his back bleating in accented English. He’d screwed up with the car  that was smoking and had just backfired like a pistol shot and the side of his face was red, where he’d fallen and the men were standing around him awkwardly. In the distance an angry teenager was slamming the door to his mother’s car and screaming, untrustworthy, bastard, fuckin joke, and Ashok was slowly melting into the deep small town sand.

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