It had been a wild, exhilarating week on the road. On a long break from work, National Highway 7 was all that we’d been promised, and more. The rented SUV thrummed powerfully under my hands as we passed our 126th milestone of the day.
“I am lovin’ it,” Sara parodied the famous McD’s anthem. And it was so appropriate. The limitless expanse of blue stretched far into the horizon, with picture-perfect clouds shuffling their feet like so many timid bunnies in a garden. The sun beat down, not yet merciless but getting close to it, even as the billowing wind worked hard to keep things cool.
The empty, undulating road lulled me into a semi-hypnotic state and I let my mind wander, scarcely aware of the steady ticks on the odometer. It had been hours since we’d left behind the last vestiges of civilization and, this deep in the heart of Uttar Pradesh, I had no fear of running into anyone, man or animal.
“Hey look!” screeched Sara suddenly, jolting my foot into reaching for the brake. But it was only a car, some way up ahead of us. The steam wafting off the road made it hard to be sure but I figured it was only about a couple of kilometers away.
The vehicle took shape as we sped towards it. A military green jeep with its bonnet up and no sign of anyone inside. “Perhaps a stalled engine,” I told Sara, “Better clear the back. Probably have a bit of company till the next garage.”
The details came into view as we drove up. A man – judging by the jeans and shoes, it was a man – leaning over the right front wheel into the car’s engine. Whatever it was that was wrong with the vehicle, the problem was somewhere deep within its entrails; the man’s feet were lifted clear off the ground and he balanced his weight on his stomach, presumably in an attempt to reach as far into the engine as he could.
“Hello!” called Sara as we got closer. I honked the horn and drowned out the cheery “Excuse me sir!” she dished out next. But the driver was too engrossed in fixing his car. To see whether we could lend a hand, I overtook the stationary vehicle, then pulled off the road and parked about 15 metres ahead of it.
Directing Sara to stay put, I hopped off and went over to the jeep. “What’s wrong?” I asked the man’s bent form, “You need me to help…” But the question died in my throat as I reached him. Something was wrong. And not with the car. The man was completely motionless but, even as I watched, his feet lifted a further inch off the ground and the top half of his body sank a further inch into the car’s engine. With disbelieving eyes, I came close enough to see. There was no head and no arms. Just the lower half of his torso slowly disappearing into the open engine. It was like watching a python swallow its meal. Whole, and at a leisurely pace. Except I could not exactly determine just where its mouth was.
We drove away almost immediately after. “They don’t need our help,” being all the explanation I saw fit to give Sara.