You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it
- Robin Williams
As the Captain disembarked in the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, he had to admit that it was very mild and pleasant, just as the pilot had said. Exactly how he'd ended up in New Delhi was another story entirely; one he wasn't too sure about. He remembered finding Tintin with his laptop, searching for flights out of France, and while the Captain continued ranting about the futility of it all Tintin had somehow guided him to the chair in front of the laptop where he'd lapsed into habit and booked two seats on an AirIndia plane that left that night. They'd hopped from plane to plane, relying on cancellations to get them this far, but Fate had somehow managed to give them two adjoining seats the whole way there. It was as though the Universe had come together in order to get Tintin to his destination, specifically to annoy Captain Haddock.
Their next plane, a small private plane engaged in flying people back and forth throughout the world, left from Safdarjung Airfield on the other side of the city. It wouldn't fly out until later that afternoon, however, leaving them with a few hours to waste.
'Bus or taxi?' the Captain asked. They were outside the airport, and on the streets in front of them he could see a large coach waiting at a bus stop, destined for Safdarjung. Across the road was a line of brightly coloured cars, each with a taxi light on top. Tintin glanced at each: the bus was packed with passengers already - Safdarjung did a busy trade at the best of times.
'Our luggage will get there anyway,' he pointed out. 'D'you fancy seeing some of the city instead?'
The Captain blinked in surprise. 'Er, we might as well.'
As they hopped into a taxi and headed to the Qutab Minar, the Captain realised he was unnerved by how calm his young friend was. At the moment, he was pouring over a map he'd found in the taxi and consulting the driver as to which attractions they should visit (he recommended the Qutab Minar and either the Red Fort of the Rajghat, instead of the Jama Masjid, which was Tintin's suggestion, but it all depended on time and traffic, of course), as if he was on holiday instead of slowly going insane.
And he was going insane: the Captain was sure of it. There had been fireworks the evening before, when that Wang chap - the dead boy's father - had rung Tintin to ask when did they arrive in Singapore for Chang's memorial service. The Captain had simply handed the phone over and let Tintin explain himself.
Mr Wang hadn't been happy. The Captain had buried his head in the newspaper but couldn't help overhearing the general tone of the conversation. The words 'friendship', 'respect' and eventually 'delusional' and 'mad' had come through the wire crystal clear, and Tintin had that determined set to his jaw he got every time he wanted to prove someone wrong.
Still, the Captain thought, it's nice to know that I'm not the only one who thinks he's mad.
But if he's mad, what does that make you? A second voice asked. After all, he believes in what he's doing.
Well, I guess that makes me the maddest mad-man of them all.
Raj clutched his knees and wheezed with laughter as the cow took off at a jiggling canter, a screaming German man clinging desperately to her horns. Her udders danced and frisked as the German's shrill girlfriend ran behind them, her flip-flops flapping against the pavement.
'Pay up,' Dinesh said, swallowing his own laughter. Dinnesh and Raj had been friends since their first year of university. They'd shared a house in their native London since then, and this was not the first outlandish bet they'd made.
'Oh my God!' Raj choked back his giggles. 'I can't believe that worked!' He looked up at his friend, his eyes glinting wickedly. 'Double or nothing! Come on!'
Dinesh slapped him on the back of the head. 'Give over! You honestly think there's two idiots in the city who still think we worship cows like this?'
'Yeah! There's bound to be!'
'Alright, you're on!'
As predicted, there hadn't been enough time to see either the Jama Masjid or the Raghet. In fact, there was barely enough time to find another taxi, which seemed to be in short supply over on this side of the city, which was thronged with people and a bright street market that Tintin could have happily wandered in for hours, under other circumstances. As it was, he was having a hard time trying to keep a lid on the sudden whirlwind of emotion that had set up residence inside him. The fear, grief and anxiety he'd been carrying around for the last two days were starting to feel like old friends now, dwarfed only by the sudden bouts of shocking exuberance that distracted him from his darker thoughts. The exuberance was borne from the simple fact that he knew Chang was alive, and that they would see each other soon enough.
'Now what's up?' the Captain asked, distracting his young friend from his thoughts. 'Look, there's a crowd down there.'
'I hope it's not an accident,' Tintin replied.
'Bah. Probably a fight.' They got closer and the Captain's confusion grew. 'Is that a cow?'
It was a cow: one of a long-horned variety that was lying firmly across the narrow entrance to the next street. Beyond the cow was a line of taxis, their bodywork shimmering enticingly in the afternoon sun.
'She's chosen a good spot to lie down.' The Captain waved his hand at the cow. 'Hup-ya!'
'No, no sahib!' A tall Asian man with a round face - who looked like he was fighting back a grin - bowed his way over to them. 'Sacred cow, sahib! No disturb her!'
'Sacred cow?' Tintin asked suspiciously. He knew that, once upon a time when a cow meant the world to a rural family. They were revered. But in the huge metropolitan cities those times were gone. A degree was worth more than a cow these days, and degrees weren't exactly in short supply.
'Yes, sahib, sacred cow,' the man said smoothly. 'We must wait until she moves.'
'Pfft!' the Captain snorted. 'We've a plane to catch.'
'Sacred cow must not be moved, sahib!'
'Where are you from?' Tintin asked. The man's accent kept slipping.
'Me? I, er, am from here, sahib.'
'Really? You have a bit of an English twang to your accent. Captain, I think we're the butt of a joke - What are you doing?'
The Captain looked up. He was currently straddling the recumbent cow. 'Me? Well, if she won't move, I might as well go over her. Come on: the taxis are right there and our plane leaves in thirty five minutes.'
Daisy the cow was annoyed. She didn't like this dirty, loud place or the two men that had brought her in the back of a small truck. She'd wanted to spend the day eating and sleeping and gossiping in the field with her sisters, but so far she'd been petted and clambered on by some idiot two-legs. Disgruntled at being used as a climbing frame again, she got to her feet quickly in an effort to shake the second idiot two-legs off, but it wasn't budging. Instead, it started to make loud noises, which frightened Daisy a little.
'Hey! Woah! What are you at, you daft cow? Stop it!'
Mooing indignantly, Daisy took off into a lumbering canter, the two-legs still clinging to her horns as she picked up speed.
Tintin took off after the Captain and the cow, aware of the gales of laughter behind them. The Indian man shouted; 'Yeah! Got ya!' in a very English accent. Fuming at the joke and the Captain's gullibility, Tintin resisted the urge to turn around and give the man a piece of his mind, but decided it was probably wiser to keep the Captain in sight. God alone knew what might befall the man next: it sometimes felt like he needed constant supervision!
The cow, with Snowy at her feet barking excitedly, made it quite a distance. She also managed to destroy a few market stalls and almost ran over a startled policeman who was trying to direct traffic. Then, after causing a few cars to swerve, Daisy ran out of steam and simply bucked the Captain from her back. He sailed through the air with a bloodcurdling shriek, but instead of skinning himself on the uneven tarmac he landed with a Flump! on a rather softer surface.
He very carefully accounted for all his limbs before sitting up to take stock of his new situation. He appeared to be half sitting, half sprawled, on the back seat of a convertible Mini Cooper. Luckily, the top had been down at the time so there was no damage to the car itself. A rather surprised looking Indian man, who had been reading the newspaper, peered around at him.
'Need a taxi?' the man offered.
'Er, yes actually,' the Captain replied as he scrambled to right himself. 'But I'm just waiting for - Ah! Here he is!'
Tintin shouldered his way through the crowd and passed the cow before dumping their hand luggage in the backseat beside the Captain. He gripped the top of the car's door and vaulted in after it. ' Safdarjung Airfield, please!' he said breathlessly to the driver.
The Captain checked his watch. 'We've got twenty minutes before the flight leaves.'
'Not to worry!' The driver started the car and pulled away from the curb. 'Best taxi in New Delhi, mate! Nothing can stop me!'
'My hat!' the Captain cried as it flew off his head. He snatched wildly at the air but to no avail. The driver braked sharply, almost strangling Tintin, who was still fiddling with his seatbelt.
'Jump out and grab that, will you?' the Captain begged. With a sigh of impatience, Tintin scrambled out of the car. He returned a few seconds later with the Captain's precious hat. 'Hold on to it this time!' he warned.
The car took off again and they made good time for about five minutes, before the Captain cried out in pain, clapping one hand over his face. 'My eye!' he cried. 'Ten thousand ruddy typhoons, I've got something in my eye!'
The driver braked but this time Tintin braced himself, prepared for the abrupt stop. 'Look up,' he ordered as he leaned over and examined the Captain's right eye.
'We'll never make it in time,' the driver prophesied.
Tintin sighed again. 'I can't see anything,' he announced, 'but your eye's gone all bloodshot. You'll just have to wait until we're on the plane. Sorry, Captain. Hey, driver, you think you can make up for lost time?'
'Ill give it my best shot,' came the answer as he gunned the engine again, 'or we'll die trying!'
The were on time - barely. They flashed their boarding passes and passports at the startled terminal staff, hurtled out onto the runway and directed themselves towards the plane. The small stair car was just pulling away from the light passenger plane, but Tintin hollered incoherently and it stopped and reversed back into position for them. At the top of the steps the door opened and a woman dressed in navy appeared, shouting encouragingly and beckoning to them. Suddenly, her shouts turned to warnings, and Tintin risked turning his head to see what the problem was.
The Captain, his eye watering badly and half-blinded by it, had found the wrong stair car. It was a solitary gangway that stood alone on the runway a few yards away.
'Captain! Stop! That's the wrong' -
But it was too late. The Captain reached the top of it and, believing himself to be at the plane, ended up launching himself into space. Tintin's own sprint came to an end as he collapsed to his knees in laughter.
Tintin clutched the first-aid box as the stewardess finished up cleaning the Captain's various cuts and grazes. He didn't dare look at his friend for fear of succumbing to unkind, wild laughter. Again. Unbidden, the image of the Captain came to mind once more: long arms and legs pin-wheeling uselessly through thin air.
'Now, let's see what's in your eye,' the stewardess said kindly as, beside them, Tintin dissolved once more into silent giggles.