The bearded stranger gave us each a More cigar when we said goodbye. We hadn’t let him pay for any food, drink or anything so maybe this was his thank you.
He’d come to us in Sibi: an army officer asked if we could take him to Hyderabad. We were heading that way with a load of gravel so we said yes. He loved the lorry: a Karachi-built Bedford painted really brightly all over. It had a cabin for four people, a huge area for whatever we carried, and an extra storage compartment, where we let him sleep for a bit in fact, open to the sky, above the cab.
I’m called the ‘Boy’ and my job is to change the oil, check the tyres, dust the cab, order the food and do lots of heavy lifting. The driver sat in his cab, chain-smoking his Summer Time cigarettes, and listening to loud music. He worried the stranger by showing his licence, which had expired two years previously and was not valid for lorries. Our Ustaz, the boss, travelled with us to be sure the gravel was delivered and to try and find another load. We only got paid when goods were delivered.
We drove at about 30 km per hour, spent a long while unloading the gravel and rolled into Jhalat Pat, the last place in Baluchistan, close to midnight. We spent the night in the chaykhana, the tea shop. These tea shops are essential for us truckers. We stop every 4 hours or so, we have two meals a day. The truck stops keep tea on the boil, served in handless glasses, are making roti (bread) in their furnaces all day, and keep a meat stew (or meat on the bone with a corn stew) ready for all-comers. Water is available in old oil cans, passed round the group with a single tin mug. Dogs and chickens skulk around looking for scraps. There are always charpois (four-legged wood-framed beds with leather straps) where the drivers can stretch out. These are lined up by the road at night, with the flames of a bonfire signalling to passing trucks that this is a good place to stop.
In the morning we crossed the border to the province of Sindh, to Jacobabad, where the bearded stranger told us his father had been trained as a soldier during the Second World War! The Ustaz found us a load of pipes to go to Loralai, back north. The Boy from another lorry agreed to take him on south, and we said goodbye.
I knew the other Boy a little. Hundreds of lorries travel the road between Peshawar and Karachi and when we stop at the truck stops we sit together, we discuss our loads, and we exchange news about other trucks. The other Boy said he was going back to Loralai and asked whether we could take a bearded stranger down to Hyderabad; they had brought him from Sibi. We were carrying grain to Karachi, right in the south, past Hyderabad. My driver just shrugged so the stranger climbed into the cab. We set off at 11.30. It’s a slow boring journey, honestly. The road goes parallel to the Indus, a huge river, and the fields grow rice, grain and sugar cane. There are mills regularly along the route and streams of slow camels and clanking ox-carts are always on the road delivering massive piles of produce to these mills. I learnt a lot about the bearded stranger and I told him how I’d been a refugee in Pakistan for the last 16 years and went back to Afghanistan, near Kandahar, to fight the Russians for six months each year.
At 3pm I went to sleep in the compartment above the cab, leaving him to look after the driver. At 8pm we stopped to eat. He then went to sleep and we carried on until I shook him awake at 2.30 in the morning: ‘Baradar (brother)! Baradar! Hyderabad.’We had carried on without stopping. The driver needed money badly, so wanted to get to Karachi quickly and catch another load. The stranger and I had taken it in turns to sit in the smoke-filled cab and roll him the hash joints which kept him alert enough for the long journey.