“Police search, passport please,” says an officer. He's short, with a standard moustache. His green beret matches his khaki uniform. Slinging his gun over his shoulder, he takes my passport and flicks through it.
“You smoke?” he says while looking at my the dates on my visa.
“You have charras? Hashish?”
“If we find any it is offence.”
The other cop, who looks so much like him they could be twins, starts emptying my luggage.
“Take this off,” says Twin #1, tugging my jacket. I take my camera bag off, hang it on the handle bars and pass him the jacket.
He searches the pockets, then feels through the lining. Twin #2 meanwhile spreads my possessions on the roadside.
A third, taller cop with a flat brimmed hat, stars on his shoulders and a far more impressive walrus moustache approaches.
“England,” says Twin #2, not looking up.
Walrus strokes his moustache.
Twin #1 picks up my camera bag, unzips it, turns the camera around in his hands and lays it down. He opens the side pocket with a crunch of Velcro. We both see the hashish at the same moment. He picks it up and holds it out to me.
“This is an offence.” he says, his eyebrows raised.
“I have absolutely no idea where that came from,” I say, in genuine disbelief. It's a lump about the size of a bean. A gram at best. He passes it to Walrus who holds it up to his mighty moustache to smell.
“This is an offence,” he waves over the road to a wooden office.
“I honestly have no idea where that came from,” I repeat, realising how stupid that sounds. But I can't remember the last time I used that pocket let alone put anything there.
Walrus takes the engine oil I keep wedged in the bike frame and unscrews it. Looking into it with a puzzled expression he asks Twin #2 something in Hindi. Twin #2, seems to explain what engine oil is. Walrus looks confused, then pours the thick golden contents on the ground. Twin #1 shines a light into the fuel tank. They must think the tiny sample I've delivered to their checkpoint is just the tip of the iceberg. I'm hoping for slapped wrists, maybe a few hundred rupees of baksheesh. Once they realize I'm not Howard Marks.
A new cop arrives from the hut across the road. Walrus passes the contraband.
“This is an offence. AN OFFENCE!”
The atmosphere changes completely, the cop twins seemed casual before, now they're tense. Their heads drop and shoulders hunch. They're afraid of him. He's different, with combat trousers and military sweater. He's got a black baseball cap with POLICE in bold white letters across it. There's a badge on a chain around his neck. His moustache is modest. Not wishing to be big like the cop twins, or grand and over groomed like Walrus. But trimmed. Neat. He lifts his cap to scratch a bald head above greying back and sides. That and his hooked nose make him look like a turtle. He has a turtle's head. I know before he speaks that I'm in trouble.
“You're going to jail today. Your bail will be twenty-thousand rupees and your case...your case will move like-a-snail. One year, two year, maybe even three. Do you understand the situation you're in? Because this is what's happening now.”
“Look,” I say, trying to think of some explanation,
“Oh shut up!” he fires back, dismissing my protests.
“Passport!” Twin #1 passes it.
He flicks through it then looks me in the eye.
“Do you think this is a joke?” he says, holding the small brown lump to me, “do you think this is funny?”
“And do you know why? Do you know why this is happening to you like this? Because you're a man. Not a boy. And you should know.”
He barks a few orders at the cop twins. They both nod, “atcha, atcha” they say, never once looking at him.
“You're under arrest. Follow me.”
“Are you ready to go to jail?” He asks while writing my details into a log book in the office.
“Are you ready? Because as soon as I make this call you're going to jail and there's no going back.” He picks up a radio.
I've never offered to bribe a policeman before but I feel like the time has come.
“Is there any way we can stop this now?”
“Twenty-thousand rupees.” he replies, setting the radio down.
Twenty-thousand rupees? The best part of £300. A small fortune in this part of the world. I count out all I have and put it on the table in front of him.
He laughs, shakes his head and goes for the radio.
“You're going to jail.” he clicks the radio on, goes to speak, hesitates, then turns it off.
“You have plastic, Visa, Mastercard. Go to the ATM. Thirty minutes. But if you try to run,” he looks right at me, “if you dare try to run, you cannot imagine the trouble you're in.”
TRANSACTION DENIED CONTACT CARD ISSUER. Oh boy.
I step into a phone box. In the midday sun it's hot. Stifling. Sweat begins to pour. My shaking finger punches the number on the back of the card.
The first two calls to the bank are a disaster. A robot voice demands a code I don't know. The third call I get through to a person, who transfers me to a robot that demands a code I don't know. I want to cry. The phone feels slippery and I realize I'm drenched in sweat. The skin of my hand is wrinkled, like I've just come out of the sea. I bet it gets hot in an Indian jail.
The fourth call I get a human and demand they don't transfer me. “I'm in India, in trouble and I need my card to work now,” I tell them. Ten minutes later and I'm riding back to the checkpoint with a wad of cash.
Turtle's Head approaches when I pull up. It occurs to me that he could take my money and lock me up anyway.
“You have it?”
“Give it to me.”
I hand him the notes and he shoves them into his pocket. In the office he tears out the page with my details. I wonder how many more missing pages there are.
“Are we finished?”
“Yes. But say nothing of this to the other policemen. Understand?”
At the bike the cop twins and Walrus wait. I start packing, shaken and wanting away. Turtle's Head whispers into Walrus' ear.
“Make sure nothing is missing,” says Walrus.
A cop twin helps with my stuff. I wish he'd leave me alone. There's a boyish, idiotic smile on his face, like we're friends. I drop my sunglasses and Turtle's Head picks them up, blowing the dust off and tapping the lenses.
“What you pay for these?”
“Not much, maybe one-hundred rupees.”
He smiles and gives me a caring look.
“You must look after your eyes, these will protect them from dust, but not from the UV. They're not strong enough.”
“One more thing,” he says when I'm about to kick-start the engine, “you have papers for the bike?”
I pull out the tattered old log book and pass it to him. He slowly checks each page and gives it back, smirking.
“Now you can go.”
Later that night I tell my story to a local. “Oh they fucked you,” he says, “they totally fucked you! For twenty-thousand I could pay off 1kg! No, what they should have done is fine you three-hundred rupees. And send you to jail for thirty days.”