>Monday, April 2

Bus drivers' helpers in India all look the same at first. They are all slight, dark brown men with mustaches in their mid- to late 20s. All wear cheap polyester button-down shirts and blue pants with slip on shoes made from plastic or some other synthetic material and no socks. Of course, they don't all look alike once you focus for a second, but at a quick glance, it's sometimes hard to tell who is the person you've driven around India with for a week. You need to see the man's face.

Thus my heart stopped for a second when I was leaving the hotel for the airport yesterday. A tour bus from Le Passage to India – the tour company we used (magnifique) – pulled up to the front door of the Meridien, and the bus driver's helper sprang out and began assisting a group of white tourists from the bus. It was so familiar to me. The man's back was to me, and the sun glinted off the windshield in a way that prevented me from seeing the bus driver's face. Could it be that I had one last chance to get a picture with my friends and say good-bye again?

I took a few jittery steps away from the bell man who was arranging a ride for me to the airport and tentatively went toward the bus. The bus driver's helper turned around. His face was much harder than Malikit's, with none of the beautiful sadness that intrigued me so. He stared at me for a second before going back to his duties. I looked into the bus from a new angle, but still could not see the driver's face. Only after the helper nimbly leapt up the stairs into the cab, the door closed, and the bus began to pull away did I notice that he was much younger than Mohindrish, with a goatee dyed a hideous reddish orange. In the few seconds that I saw his face, he exuded none of the friendliness that I had liked so much about Mohindrish. I didn't think these men would have been nearly as amused by my pathetic attempts to greet them in Hindi, but who knows? Maybe when Malikit and Mohindrish thought no one was watching, they took on a harder edge too. I wouldn't blame them. Still, I knew how incredibly lucky our group was to have them with us.

I also know that the reason that it is so hard for me to leave this trip behind is the amazing vibe that accompanied us on our overly packed agenda. We covered hundreds of miles of territory and history in only seven days together. The people on the trip spent almost every waking minute together, experiencing a new culture that mystified and confused us, but made us want to probe deeper. I can't speak for everyone who went, but I know for certain that this was a once in a lifetime journey for many of us. I believe that the personalities of the group and the tour staff made it what it was, and those circumstances will never align again.

That's why, more than 10 hours into my flight back to Chicago, I am crying my eyes out as I write this.