Monday, October 18, 2010

Not Everyone Loves You

        The demons of paradise still make the hairs on my spine twitch.  

        We were in Kovalam in Kerala, the southernmost state in India.  Leaning over the stone railing on our balcony in an old Victorian mansion on a high cliff overlooking the slow rollers coming in for miles from the Arabian Ocean.  A full moon turned the whitecaps into silver, big rollers coming in from some storm to make slow distant explosions on a  beach that stretched into the distance. Outrigger canoes were pulled up safely in front of the grass huts of the sleeping fisherman. We’d had a fine lobster dinner in the hotel dining room and we were sleepy. We went back in to our bedroom. 

           It was a large room with no furniture except for two beds alongside each other, draped with mosquito netting. We’d had the dining room to ourselves and now, like the hotel's last guest, the American Ambassador to India, we had the whole top floor. We kissed good night and crawled into our beds. The sound of the surf, wave after wave slowly rolling in, put us to sleep.

           Karen was screaming.  It took me a moment to realize I wasn’t dreaming, she was really, really screaming.  I looked around the empty room through the gauze of the netting and there was nothing. She must be having a nightmare, I thought. I reached through the the netting, hers and mine, to wake her, reassure her.  To tell her everything was OK, it was just a dream. 

          The instant I touched her I screamed.  There was something so powerful, some  malevolent force, I curled in my bed like a baby, helpless, fetal, paralyzed.  I'd been a gladiator: a linebacker, a fullback in college. I was so frightened I could not move.
The occult is powerful in the south of India and where we were headed, in Sri Lanka.  This is where penitents walk on glowing coals with ease.  Sometimes a tourist follows and barbecues her feet.  Penitents are paraded through the street, bleeding, suspended from poles with hooks through their arms, legs and backs.  The next day they show no sign of even a scratch.  My friend in Ceylon had a shrunken head in his closet, guaranteed to bring death to his enemies if left in front of  their house.

Eventually our demons left the room. My memory has them looking like the devil masks men wear in that part of the world to ward off evil spirits.  They sell them now, in Kerela  and Sri Lanka in tourists shops. So maybe we just imagined it.  Maybe it was just a dream.

On the other hand, the dogs which roamed the grounds of the hotel, half starved, grateful for the scaps we'd fed them, the dogs who had followed us with wagging tails, the dogs would not go near us again.

And we wondered, why, in a hotel with so many in white jackets and white trousers devoted to our every wish, did no one come when we screamed and screamed?

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