The brightening sky before him stung his eyes. Rest was not an option as he drove on, wiping a tear now an then from an irritated eye. Dawn had long stopped being something he would enjoy, pulling over at the nearest dhaba and sipping on some hot 'chai'. What little was left of his reputation was at stake. But really, there was none to defend in the first place. It was long gone.
A light blue glow was gently overcoming the safety and coolness of the night sky. Hues of pink and orange were lapping around the edges. Shapes and contours of the countryside began to reveal themselves. A tethered buffalo mutely turned to watch him roar past. He remembered growing up in a place like this. And then the memories flooded back, surging past the morning.
He was never in class to begin with. His mother regarded it as something to add to the family heritage. A high school pass to present at the next gathering of relatives. It only gave him more reason to rebel. It wasn't his age, watching too many weekend movies at the tent or bad influence. He went looking for the bad influence and got into plenty of it. He was constantly being told on by his teachers at school and relatives who caught him playing truant. His anger only barely covering the fact that he was the least interested in sitting through a class. Studies were not for him. He resented the fact that he couldn't do well.
One morning he woke up well before the others, collected a bag with a change of clothes and left. He stopped only at the junction where the dirt road from his village met the highway and decided which way to go. He trudged on through the day, not looking back, until his legs couldn't take him further. He looked up and realised he had reached a halfway place for truck drivers. Trucks lined the sides of the road with dhabas filled with hungry and loud people.
He began as a help at one of the dhabas. Serving, washing, cleaning after the truck drivers. He was fascinated with their lives. All they had to do was drive across the country. Regular ones met up and exchanged stories of income tax check-posts, better routes to common destinations, a pretty new prostitute at the toll gate, growing up children and tiring bosses. It all seemed like adventure after adventure, every driver's story unique.
In six months he went on his first truck ride to a city. The driver had grown fond of him and his helper was about to become a driver himself. The strong, young village kid was a perfect replacement. He was hired by the owner of the trucks with a lot of reassurance and praise from his driver friend. The boy didn't let him down once. The moment he could pay off the local authorities to get him a driver's license, he walked up to the big boss and asked for a truck and a route of his own. Again his old friend was there to convince the man.
In three years, he made it big, and then went on reckless sprees of indulgence. He believed he had earned it all - the money, the fine clothes, women and merriment. His friends lasted as long as they could walk away sane and stayed far away as they watched the young man drown himself in drinking bouts that lasted weeks. Angry employers and a spiraling reputation amongst the community left him grasping for very little. His subsequent anger and the to-and-fro between binging and work almost ended where everyone expected it to - in a gutter or a hospital pallet. Some where, something made him turn back.
There was no elation on knowing he was getting back. He had no choice. There could be no better humiliation in the eyes that stared back at him as he passed each village. He wanted to tell them that he wasn't going anywhere other than back to where he started. The blues had moved away to the other horizon, making way for a searing white. Closing his eyes seemed such a pleasant option, but he knew he had to keep his word. Pressing down a little more on the pedal to fight off the tiredness that was spreading across his body, he realised he'd hit a lonely, straight stretch. Any other day this would have been a trucker's joy. Now, it looked like hell.
A form up ahead broke the monotony and it irked his senses for a moment. It seemed out of place. As he drove closer, he saw that it was a young boy walking along. He seemed lost between purpose and indecision. As he got closer, more features were lit up by a blazing dawn, the bare feet and a small travel bag. Not a speck of cloud. The yellow, searing sun lit up hell diligently. The truck swerved across the road and toward the boy.