21 Mar, 2011

a nighttime drive to new orleans

Sehba Sarwar
21 Mar, 2011

In previous years, whenever I’ve undertaken the road trip I’ve always had René or a travel buddy with me. Today is my first road trip with Minal; driving to Austin doesn’t count since the drive is short and we do it so often.

Before putting her down last night, I tell her that she has to nap on our drive to New Orleans the next day, and she agrees. I figure that she will be exhausted, and because the drive is long, she will be able to keep her word.

We get on to 1-10 East at about three o’ clock in the afternoon. Minal has her pillow pet, the dolphin, with her, she’s eaten solid meals and she’s tired. In my mind, the combination is perfect for a restful drive. Minal proves me wrong.

She tries hard to rest, but finally when we pass cross into the Louisiana border, she tells me: “My mind is being too difficult. It won’t listen and I just can’t sleep.”

I have taken this long drive through swamp country before, but today, the experience is different with Minal in the back seat. She stares out into the water, fascinated by the foliage and the bridges that lead us through swamps and rivers. We talk about the alligators and the frogs who reside under the swamps in the waters around us.

As we cross the tall steel bridge that cuts through Baton Rouge, we look at the rippling dark waters.

Minal says: “How did the hurricane look over here.”

I shake my head. She was two years old in 2005, when the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita hit the Gulf Coast, and we undertook a twenty-two-hour excavation drive to Austin, on a long journey with our ninety-year-old landlady—one that normally lasts only 2.5 hours.

My mind shifts to Japan. It is hard to shed those images, and there is still so much news unfolding. It will be months before we learn about the havoc that the combined effect of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear reactor breakdowns have wreaked there.

Minal’s voice brings my thoughts back to the moment.

“Ammi, I think the moon likes you more than it likes me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because he keeps going over to your side.”

“Isn’t la luna a woman?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “Not when it’s that big.” She lifts herself off the carseat and glances out of the rear window. “The sun is going to bed and the moon is waking up for breakfast. Soon, the sun will be taking a nap and then she’ll wake up and arrive in Karachi, where everyone has to start their day.”

I’m listening closely.

In Karachi, the sun will eat her breakfast and then everyone will wake up. But here, it is nighttime and it is the moon’s turn. This is his kingdom for tonight.”

We both look out of our respective windows. The bright rays of the perigree moon wash the sky with a silver luster. This is definitely a moon and a drive to remember.