The small child on the bus says his name is “Shy,” or something that sounds remarkably similar to the word “shy,” so I’m going to go ahead and dub him thus. Shy falls asleep on my shoulder for the first hour and a half of the bus ride to Ooty. It’s cute as hell. I wake him when we get to a bus station, so that I can go outside to smoke. He doesn’t mind because I am fascinating.
Shy offers me some watermelon, and then an orange. I decline them both. I’m hungry for biryani, not fruit.
Shy touches my arm. “Which country?”
I tell him “USA,” and he says, “Ahh, America,” a look of understanding spreading on his face. Yes, I nod.
“You like India?”
“Yes, I like India very much.” I stop, further words failing. Why am I intimidated by this small child?
“It’s a very beautiful country,” I conclude.
Shy thinks for a minute, then says, “Good. If you not like this country, you cannot sit here.”
I am confused.
“Wait, what? What does that mean?”
He says it again.
“So if I don’t like India I can’t ride the bus?”
He stares at me, hinting at a grin. He does not nod or shake his head or head wag. He simply stares. Then he averts his eyes and acts as though the conversation never happened.
A little while later Shy is gleefully pointing out Indian elephants roaming around in the tiger reserve our bus is rumbling through. There are no tigers, so elephants will have to do.
“Look, look!” and Shy grabs my arm, points to the huge elephant a hundred meters into the bush–the elephant that I didn’t see, because I’m not a child–and says, hushed now, “Elephant.” He pronounces every syllable with reverence, as though the experience is a spiritual one. And I suppose that for a boy of seven it probably is.
I mean, it kind of is for me.