1. A Town like Alice

Some places, some names, summon aching memories that linger in your mind forever. Like Alice Springs, that town in the red heart of Australia. In our gypsy days, a year before we found Guru, Subarata and I caught the express bus from Alice to Adelaide, a day plus an overnight on the long haul south, guaranteed to get you there in 24 hours. But 300 miles on and late into the speeding night we hit an unsavvy kangaroo, and the bus shuddered to a broken halt. It was 4 a.m., black as ebony save for the riotous stars, the desert chill biting through our thin clothes, passengers huddled around a blazing roadside fire.

Subarata was furious at the prospect of the six-hour wait for a replacement bus and we ended up arguing. Somehow it all worsened, male pride and raw emotion and wrenching words spilling out, shouting into the silence, the indifferent empty desert. We stood apart, distanced by anger, two people who loved each other but were unable to overcome their pride, standing there separate in the huge night. A little later a jeep came down the road with three Italian miners, and Subarata flagged them down to hitch a ride. “Are you coming?” she said to me. “No,” I said. And so she stepped into the jeep and they drove away.

I almost lost all connection with Subarata here. It was one of those watershed moments when everything in our lives could have irrevocably changed, veered away into an entirely different future, our whole destiny together teetering, precarious with final goodbyes, the sudden exit of someone who otherwise would have filled your whole life. I hitched a later ride at daybreak with another solitary traveler, and lingered at a friend’s house on the outskirts of Adelaide for three days. Then I found my heart again and called her, and gradually our lives reconverged.

But I always remember that incident: how fragile everything is, how little moments can turn our life around, how easily we can lose the things we most treasure, and I still see her turning away from me in that immense landscape, the look in her eyes. I had become her past; she was moving on determinedly into her future, resolute with that painful courage that humans have, to go beyond a heavy heart, the tearing hurts and losses, the self-inflicted wounds of love, back turned and stepping away from me with that stubborn set of the face and the refusal to look back, then climbing into the jeep and disappearing in a swirl of red dust, never once looking back, into the yellowing light of the dawn.