Sunday, April 10, 2011
Camping in the Thar Desert: Things That Go Grrr in the Night
"You squish it."
"No, you squish it."
"No, you squish it," Katie and I alternately tell each other, engaging in the age-old argument that so often occurs between two females when a bug makes an unwanted appearance between them. We take turns using our shoes to flip back the behemoth of a beetle that resolutely runs across the sand toward us. Despite our repeated rebuffs, the bug steadfastly comes forward like a long-lost lover running across the sands to reunite with the object of its affection. But we have no love for the bug.
"I can't squish it," I reason. "I only have a flip flop for defense."
Katie hands me her tennis shoe.
Katie is not exactly what you would call a bug person. "I don't like anything with little feet," she solemnly declares, and, when in a particularly candid mood, will even admit this includes small babies. Me, I enjoy the occasional bug, but I have very discriminating taste: lady bugs, dragonflies, butterflies, bumble bees, june bugs, japanese beetles, and sometimes ants (because of their nests) are all on my list of acceptable bugs. These bugs are all pretty (well, except the ants. sorry ants! you have a great personality!) and what's more, most of them play hard to get. If you want a ladybug, you must catch it. It never forces itself on anyone. It's a lady.
On the other hand, my personal bad bug list includes anything with a million tiny feet that it uses to run at me with the sole intent and purpose, so far as I can tell, of touching me. The bug that is now before us only has eight feet but he uses all of them to skitter toward us as though he were prepping to run the 100-yard dash. This causes me to unhesitatingly classify him as a bad bug, a very bad bug, indeed.
The Australian girl who sits across the campfire smugly remarks to her companion, "We have giant bugs in Australia. They [she nods condescendingly towards Katie and me] could never handle it there."
Her companion bobs his head in a sort of awkward acquiescence and smiles at us apologetically.
"Also, in Thailand. They could never handle Thailand," the Aussie girl loudly declares. "They eat bugs in Thailand," she finishes in a decadent confusion of pronoun references.
I glare at the girl. Resisting the urge to offer her the bug as a late-night snack, I use Katie's shoe to squish it (the bug, not the Aussie). Let me add that I immediately regret it. As much as I dislike giant bugs, it just doesn't seem right to kill something on the basis of its appearance. I would have rather scooped it into an empty cup and carried it far away. But moving requires a vast deal of effort and energy now that I'm wearing a heavy leg cast and the bug had seemed quite determined to touch me. Squishing appears to be the only option.
After the dark deed is committed, both Katie and I stare at the sand dimple where the inert bug lies.
About three minutes later, the giant bug resurrects, Lazarus-like, pops out of the sand and resumes its fast-paced creepy crawling towards us.
Ewww, Katie explains to me.
I hop a modest distance from the campfire in order to do "personal business" -- you know, the type of thing that inhabitants of first-world countries fondly associate with toilet paper and a porcelain bowl. Modesty prompts me to go farther from the campfire than I comfortably should have gone.
I crouch and assume an awkward tripod-like position, my cast sprawled before me in the sand, when I hear a low growl behind me. My torch is in my pocket; the air is blindingly dark. I freeze for the length of five heartbeats. The animal, still unseen, growls again. It is closer than before. The growl may have come from a stray dog -- there are several near the campfire -- or one of the many camels wandering the area, but I'm going to hold firm that my original assessment of the situation was correct: there was a monster out in that dessert growling at me. And as it turns out, I can run with a broken leg, in a clumsy, stumbling sort of way, while hitching up my pants. I've always been good at multi-tasking.
Later, leaning back onto the now-icy grains of sands, I shiver and watch the sky. Stars blaze above me. There are thousands of them silently shimmering in the vast, indigo sky, the same stars that have shone down on the desert for millions of years.
Nothing in the universe stands still. The ancient stars are not riveted in heaven, but move like clockwork in the sky. They can save a man lost in the miles and miles of emptiness, if only he knows how to read them.
The night and the stars, delicate transience of the life which whirls so quickly beneath them, make me think of a poem. Then again, nearly everything makes me think of a poem. (Except for when I'm in the dentist's chair. Then I desperately try to think of poems to block out the buzz of the advancing drill, but all that ever runs through my head at that time are the words to the American Pledge of Allegiance.)
Here is the poem that sung itself inside me, a memory unlocked from the times I'd read it before:
The night will never stay,
The night will still go by,
Though with a million stars
You pin it to the sky;
Though you bind it with the blowing wind
And buckle it with the moon,
The night will slip away
Like sorrow or a tune.