Monday, September 14, 2009

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

There are few things more satisfying than a sound night’s sleep.  Last night I slept deeply on a futon bed in Susan’s guest bedroom.  My arms and shoulders were aching from the serious weed whacking I had done the evening before.  My body was protesting every move that didn’t involve the prone position.  The futon bed wrapped itself around me, the light-weight duvet warmed me in the cool of an end of summer night and after a few pages of a new book, I fell into a deep, complete sleep.  Even the barking of the dogs in the early morning hours did not bother me.  I heard them, rolled over and went straight back to sleep.

Usually I don’t sleep well the first night I spend in a strange bed.  I learned to carry my pillow with me when spending the night somewhere different.  Like a security “blankie” my pillow helps me rest easily in strange surroundings. 

Not that there is anything strange about the places I choose to spend the night, not any more.  I have noticed that as my body ages it has developed a preference for stability, for dependability, for sameness.  When I ask it, as I have so many times in the past, to indulge my latest concept of adventure, it protests, dragging itself reluctantly behind the excitement of my mind, or perhaps it is my ego.  Without some smidgen of familiarity, like my own not-too-soft, not-too-thick, just-right pillow, my body just flat out refuses to go.

Yesterday I forgot my pillow.  By the time yesterday was done, I was so tired I would have happily slept on a rock. 

I did once - sleep on a rock out of choice.  It was a long time ago in the space of my life but I can see that evening from here more clearly than I can see yesterday.  We were in Pakistan.  We stopped late into the evening.  The youth hostel we had planned to stay in was no longer in existence. Our guides kept the truck rolling until we found a reasonably secluded spot. We stopped on the roadside where the grass grew full and green down a rolling slope.  No-one bothered to pitch a tent.  We ate our usual meal of tomatoes, cucumbers and flat bread along with some re-constituted dried meal from the rations on the truck.

Karen and I surveyed the terrain, walking and circling it like a pair of dogs looking for a spot to sleep.  We decided the grassy slope was bumpy, uneven, and probably swarming with insects just waiting to dine on our unsuspecting flesh.  We chose the concrete slab that once held a picnic table.  It was flat for starters.  The rocks and pebbles embedded in the concrete were nowhere near as lumpy as the mounds of earth under the lush grass.  And, more importantly, it was far from the snores of our companions.

Choosing the hard place to sleep doesn’t necessarily make that much difference.  We lay on top of our sleeping bags.  I wrapped myself in the yellow cotton sarong I had purchased in an Indian bazaar.  I had learned that the soft cotton allowed a greater degree of comfort in the steamy nights we slept through in India and Pakistan.  I packed my towel and a sweater into my pillowcase forming a solid thin square. I fell asleep as quickly and as soundly as I slept last night on Susan’s futon bed.

Pakistan has probably never been a place for sleepy westerners on the side of the road.  We were awakened during the night.  Karen and I further from the truck than our companions could hear the shouts and see the beams of flashlights.  Bodies appeared to be moving in all directions.  The shouts were not friendly – from either side.  

Lying on the relative obscurity of the concrete slab, I immediately became pre-occupied with what was happening in my sarong.  Something had found its way between the layers of soft yellow cloth and was heaving up and down on my chest protesting the accommodations.  Perhaps because I was in that non-thinking place of sleepiness and panic, I leapt up and tore at the sarong, pulling it off my body until the frog, angry and probably panicked, fled from my body, leaving me nearly naked staring into the turmoil of the night. 

The light was shone inches from my blinking eyes by a thoroughly entertained Pakistani soldier.  He grinned beneath his red beret and thick moustache.  He and his companion  herded Karen and I at gunpoint towards the others.  Some of our companions were protesting noisily at their sleep being disturbed.  Even then I knew better than to argue with a man with a gun, no matter how antiquated that gun appeared.

The soldiers were conspicuously armed at every seam with knives, scimitars, hand-grenades, and guns.  Who knew what they had beneath the folds of their khaki uniforms, tucked in their socks or beneath their cummerbunds or their red berets? 

They were very clear.  We could not litter the side of their road with our sleeping bodies.  We had to go to a hostel.  The hostel, as it turned out, was incredibly close to their barracks where they were heading on foot.  And so, on a relatively cool night in Pakistan, we shared the back of our Bedford truck with a small troop of delighted soldiers.  They grinned most of the way.  We glowered back at them.  I remained quiet and simply followed along passively until my heart began to beat at something that resembled a normal rate. 

We all survived that trip through the Pakistan night.  Now, more than thirty years later I can barely survive a night on Susan’s futon bed without my own pillow or unless I am incredibly tired, so tired that I think I could sleep on a rock if I had too. 

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