Christmas music? Seriously? I just flew 9,000 miles and 22 hours to Buddhist Sri Lanka hoping to escape The Holiday Madness and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer greets me just steps inside Bandaranaike Airport.
Bandaranaike is surprisingly bright and busy for 1:30 a.m. All of the stores are open and almost any minor appliance could be mine for a few thousand Sri Lankan Rupees at this moment.
My driver (arranged through the Hilton Residences for $50) awaits me with a sign reading my name. Dipak actually gets the spelling right, which is more than I can say for some of my co-workers of two years. Spelling aside, it’s a welcome sight. I await curbside at Bandaranaike, just this side of the drizzle, as he brings up the car.
Mumbai, Bangkok, Amman, Muscat, now Negombo — I’ve been “here” before. Enveloped in humidity, well after midnight, anonymous, surrounded by honking horns and swarthy men spitting and shouting. I guess this is my idea of fun or else why do I keep subjecting myself to it?
I am reminded of something Andrew McCarthy wrote: “I began to find comfort in the transience and invisibility of being a stranger in a strange place.” I find solace in the same transience and invisibility although it makes a lot less sense in my case, what with me not being a famous actor. I feel that I am a more interesting person when I’m in a foreign country. Or I have the potential to be, anyway. I could be a spy, or a famous author or a Legionnaire (whatever that is — it sounds cool) for all these people know.
BANDARANAIKE TO COLOMBO
Dipak and I conduct a nearly identical conversation to the one I shared last April on a midnight drive with my driver, Mohammad, from Amman’s Queen Alia International Airport to the Jordan Valley. I was/am curious about the blatant celebration of Easter/Christmas in a country that is primarily Muslim/Buddhist. Dipak’s nswer — much like Mohammad’s — is that celebrating holidays is fun for everyone. Period.
A vehicle on the left. The screech of rubber on wet pavement. An ominous thud. A flash of something tumbling befire the headlights jars me out of our sleepy, silly conversation.
“What just happened?!?” We had slowed down. We accelerate. I’m still processing everything.
“What just happened?” I repeat, kinda knowing now what just happened.
Dipak explains that the crazy driver attempting to pass us on the left struck a man weaving back and forth on his bike. In the rain. At 2:00 in the morning.
I urge Dipak to call the hospital, call the cops.
“It is the van driver’s problem,” he insists.
Did the van driver stop? Does Dipak even have a cell phone? Are there cops here in Sri Lanka? Ambulances? Should I yell — demand — that he stop and go back? And do what? I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know what to do. I take pride in being a solo female traveler, I like my independence, but I want to be traveling with a man right now. I want to be traveling with a guy right now who will step-up and take control of the situation. Despite my control issues, I want so much right now to relinquish all control.
So what do I do? I go quiet and shrivel up into my seat, that’s what I do.