HE 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.