Life is a River in India: Part Five
By Brett Paesel
Brett Paesel is the author of the Los Angeles Times bestseller Mommies Who Drink: Sex, Drugs, and Other Distant Memories of an Ordinary Mom. She has been published in many national publications, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and Salon.com. She has also developed television shows for HBO, ABC, Fox, Comedy Central, Lifetime Television, WB Television Network and Nick at Nite. Brett blogs weekly at lastofthebohemians.blogspot.com.
This story is excerpted from the literary travel anthology Lights, Camera…Travel!, published by Lonely Planet.
‘Honey, you can’t keep them on,’ I coaxed.
He stood rigid, like he was growing roots into the soil. As if the very act of staying completely still with his eyes clamped tight would transport him somewhere else. I inferred all of this because I was familiar with the state. I have never been successful at astral projection, but it isn’t for lack of trying.
‘Honey,’ I said, ‘you will feel better when we clean you off.’
Without opening his eyes, he whispered, ’I’m so embarrassed.’
‘Oh, my love,’ I said, ‘things like this happen to everyone. Even to grown-ups. No-one thinks anything about it.’
Platitudes, but I didn’t know what else to say. Anything further would highlight the fact that there were ten people simply standing around waiting for him to make a move. I breathed in and stared into the distance. Spencer looked away respectfully, sympathy in the curve of his shoulders. I felt stuck. Stuck again. How could I move Murphy from this spot without making him feel worse? I could see Pat sifting through options in his head and I hoped that he had better ones than me. None of us even had a sweater to tie around Murphy’s waist.
Murphy’s despair made the back of my eyes hurt. He was the littlest. It wasn’t fair. He knew it wasn’t fair. Spence got to conquer a mountain and Murphy got to shit his pants. Where was the justice in that? There was no story of transformation here – short of his shit turning to gold. Pat put his hand on Murphy’s shoulder. ’We’re going to walk down to the river,’ he said. ‘Then we’ll take off your pants and wash them. And we can clean you up too.’
Murphy squeezed his eyes tighter, ‘No! I can’t move.’
Spencer shifted his weight. My legs were beginning to feel the stress of squatting but I didn’t want to move. I thought that standing would indicate impatience. I needed to let him know that we understood how difficult this was. The men behind me waited. We all waited.
‘Buddy,’ Pat said, softly, ’I’m going to hold your hand and we’re going to walk down to the river.’ Pat sounded sympathetic but firm. I, myself, had always responded well to this tone. It allowed me to abdicate all decision-making and leave it in the hands of someone who sounded more rational. More capable. The fact that the tone might not match his actual problem-solving capabilities was irrelevant in the moment. Someone had to take charge.
Murphy opened an eye, ‘Okay.’ He slipped his hand into Pat’s. Pat stood up and they started their slow progress toward the river’s edge. Either afraid of leaking or simply trying to avoid discomfort, he would not bend his legs or alter his stance. He moved as if he were a human compass, leaning on one leg so he could swing the other stiff leg forward, then repeating the move on the opposite side. The rest of us inched along quietly, not wanting to affect the delicate balance of trust and will that the task demanded.
When we got to the water, I slowly inched down his pants and underwear. Pat and I kept murmuring, ’You’re doing great, buddy. You really are.’ When we finally wormed his unbending legs out of the soiled clothes, I rinsed the pants in the river while Pat held Murphy’s hand and led him into the water, splashing it up to his waist to get him clean. Murphy gritted his teeth, enduring the cold, not looking at any of the bystanders. ’You’re doing great, buddy. You really are.’
I wadded up Murphy’s wet pants and stuck them in the boat. Murphy, helmet and life jacket still in place, was completely naked from the waist down. Except for his shoes, which Pat slipped onto his feet when he emerged from the river.
‘Okay,’ said Pat, ‘I think we’re ready.’
Murphy turned to the assembled poker-faced group and fixed his own face with an expression that looked almost regal – dignified and aloof. As if in response to an unvoiced command from the boy king, everyone jumped into the boat, took their positions, and grabbed an oar. The two guides in the banana boat started rowing ahead of us. Pat led Murphy to the boat and lifted him in. Wordlessly we all adjusted our positions. Murphy picked up an oar and we pushed off.
This story is excerpted from Lights, Camera…Travel!, edited by Andrew McCarthy and Don George, published by Lonely Planet. Copyright 2011 by Lonely Planet Publications. “Life is a River in India” excerpted with permission of the author and the publisher. To purchase a copy of the book, click here.
For further information: Adventure Collection members offer a variety of India adventure travel packages and guided tours.