THE DOCTOR DIDN'T SPEAK MUCH FRENCH and his English was worse. He waved his thumb at the ancient camp beds behind him, each with a single grubby blanket. "Two weeks," he said and shrugged. "Quarantine." He picked up a rubber stamp and pointed at the next in line.
The problem was simple enough. Neil's cholera certificate had expired two days earlier. The afternoon bus was leaving and we were stuck at the Afghan border post, twenty miles from the nearest town. The bus driver reluctantly accepted he'd have empty seats, pointed at the only building we hadn't been herded through, said "Hotel" and went to crank his engine. We hauled our packs over there.
The dormitory was slightly filthier than the clinic. We sat on the dirt floor, sipping black tea from tiny glasses. Three men squatted round a hookah. They wore bandoliers and pistols, long beards and flat turbans. Soldiers walked past the door, with ancient rifles and patchwork uniforms. One of them came over and put down his gun.
"Hashish?" He pulled from his pocket a black lump the size of a small fist. We hesitated and he showed us four ten-Afghani notes, a dollar.
Neil emptied a cigarette onto his map, cooked and crumbled the hash and refilled the paper tube. We passed it round. The soldier took his share. By the time Neil had the second ready, I could hardly sit up. The sun was setting over the desert. The fire grew brighter. No one moved.
"Oh man," said Neil, "I've been in the West too long. Come on."
We stumbled across the road and disturbed the doctor at his supper. He wouldn't take a bribe but he would change five bucks for 150 Afs. He gave Neil the shot and stamped his papers.