Life is a River in India: Part Two
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.
It was true. I was overdoing it, but I couldn’t help myself. I wanted the kids to be safe without betraying my own terror at the same time.
‘Right,’ I said, locking eyes with Pat but playing to the kids. ‘Got it, captain. Easy breezy. We’re cool. Too cool for school. Give me some of that back, Jack.’
Vinod stepped into the raft. ‘Okay. One at a time.’
‘One at a time, kids,’ I repeated. ‘Otherwise we could tip the whole thing over.’
I stepped into the boat, ‘Whoa, careful, kids. A bit wobbly at first. And, Vinod? This fabric that is the bottom of the boat must be durable, yes?’
’It’s very safe,’ he smiled.
‘See kids. Super safe. So don’t worry about a razor-sharp rock piercing through it and slicing your foot to the bone.’
Pat grabbed my wrist with intent as he stepped into the boat.
‘Right. Right,’ I said to him preemptively. ’I’m done.’
When we were all aboard, Vinod positioned us on the inflated sides. It took effort to maintain balance and I had to grip the boat with my ass to stay upright as a couple of guides pushed us out onto the water. I glanced at Spencer behind me. His gaze was focused but the muscles in his face were relaxed. Vinod’s confidence had obviously assuaged his misgivings. Across from me, Murphy’s face was open, anticipatory. Good, I thought. They seemed completely unaware of dangers that I knew would present themselves once we encountered white water.
Vinod handed out the oars. ‘Be sure to hold onto the handle like so,’ he said. ‘If you don’t, the oar can slip and hit you in the face. We saw a man lose his teeth. The oar slipped loose and smashed them out.’
Jesus Christ, I thought, we haven’t even hit the rapids yet and we could lose our teeth? I looked back to see Murphy holding his paddle the wrong way. Keeping my voice even, but firm, I said, ‘Did you hear that, Murphy? A man smashed his teeth out. Hold the handle, not the oar part.’
‘Like this,’ said Spencer with a surprising amount of confidence. Murphy looked at Spencer’s hand and adjusted his own. I exhaled.
‘Now,’ said Vinod, ‘when I say ’row,’ we row together. When I say ‘stop’, bring your oars out of the water.’
‘Got it, kids?’ I shouted over my shoulder. ‘Does Vinod need to go over it again?’
’They’ve got it, Brett,’ Pat said. ’It’s not that complicated.’
Within seconds, Vinod issued the first command. I concentrated on keeping the same rhythm as Keir ahead of me on my side. Reach out with the oar and pull. Reach out and pull. Out and pull.
‘Stop!’ ordered Vinod. Keir lifted his oar out of the water. I lifted mine and quickly glanced back. Pat’s oar was out. Both boys had followed suit. Jeez. They really had the hang of this and, so far, no-one had lost their teeth. We drifted for a while and my ass muscles relaxed. I looked to shore and saw huge boulders and the shapes of round-topped towers against the bright sky. The water sparkled and lapped easily against the side of the boat. Here we are in India, I thought – adventuring. I bet that anyone seeing us would think we went on adventures like this all the time. We’re that relaxed. I looked at Pat, dreamily scanning the shoreline. Could any picture of an adventuring family be more perfect?
Then. The boat began to bobble. In the distance, I heard rushing water. My pulse quickened, my neck stiffened, and I tightened my grip on the oar handles.
‘Row,’ said, Vinod, with more urgency than he had before.
Keir immediately stuck his oar in the water and started paddling with vigor. In front of me, the others were doing the same. I sliced my oar through the water. Out and pull. Out. Pull. Out. Pull.
Dear God of everything holy and good. Here it was. White water. What the hell was I doing here? I wasn’t trained. None of us were, except maybe Keir. If one of us popped out of the boat and smashed our lifeless body against a boulder after being tossed around from jagged rock to jagged rock like a sea lion being flung by orcas before he was devoured, I would never forgive myself. Why hadn’t I thought this through? I had been imagining myself as Meryl Streep in that river movie that I never saw because I knew it would scare the shit out of me. But I knew what she’d be like in it anyway, because she’s always sensitive and oh-so-strong with flawless skin. I wasn’t Meryl Streep, I was a D-list actor – one of the first idiots to be hacked to death in a slasher movie because I’d gone into the basement without thinking anything through! Why hadn’t I thought this through? What was I doing in the fucking basement?
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.