Fingers are snapping in my face, forcing me out of a cold and shallow sleep that I have no desire to leave behind, knowing the reality it obscures. I have my thin brown blanket around me and my hat pulled low against the wind that has been whipping through the unclosable windows of the rattling bus. "Tea toilet" croaks the man again, determined to rouse us all. I open my eyes and blink up at a gaunt face speckled in white stubble, the words "Tea toilet!" once again creaking forth from under a thick mustache, brown but with gray streaks.
I get up and stagger out with everyone else. The tea stall is a mud building, with silver pots on the wooden benches out front. Tea begins to circulate in tiny blue-tinged cups of ribbed glass, without handles.
Now I'm up, I'm glad of it, because I do need a toilet. "Where's the toilet?" I ask, to no one in particular, hoping someone will guide me. "Toilet?" Sleepy arms gesture towards the dark doorway of the mud house. I pass through and see nothing, or I remember now nothing of what I saw then. Soon I come outside again, into an dirt-floored enclosure surrounded by mud walls. I look around, shrug to myself and head for a corner, unzipping and letting go a stream of piss.
"No! No! No!" A jumble of teenage limbs waving around a cry of dismay. "Not here! This cooking place!"
I cut off the stream, zip up and head for the gap in the rear wall. Behind it I find an identical enclosure to the first, where I head for a corner, shrug again and finish what I'd started.
Back in front, the tea is too hot to drink at first. It steams in its hot glass, its frothy milkiness a dangerous enticement to burned lips and tongue. Now and again I take tentative sips, still too soon, partly out of fear that the bus will leave before I've finished. But there is time here, time for the dust and diesel to settle deep in the nostrils, time for the tea to cool and the thin desert air to warm.