Monday, 30 July 2012

Malaysia: the honey seller's bed

"Hello Miss." I wake startled. Where am I? I'm in prison. No it's a hospital. Hold on I'm being tortured, iron snow stakes are being hammered into my skull. I try to sit up to look for a body belonging to the voice but I'm tied down by an army of Lilliputians and I'm drowning in a pool of water, I gasp for air and look around me yet see nothing. oh god I'm blind. "Hello" says the disembodied voice again. I break free from the ropes, sit up, force open my eyes and my dream disperses as I wake to a black face with a gentle smile and bright concerned eyes. "Hello" he repeats "would you like a bed sheet?" and offers me a colourless heap of nylon "erm, yes, please, thank you ..and sorry.".

I lay back down, the room is airless and drenched in sweat I study my surroundings. There is no window pane just iron bars, opposite me a metal bunk bed with the same floral mattress on which I'm lying, blooms faded with grime and distorted by stains and next to it a large tattered holdall with clothes and jars erupting from it. A fluorescent light sizzles in the centre of the room and my eyes follow the ancient wire that feeds it to a bakelite lightswitch on the concrete grey wall. I stumble from my bunk across the room to turn it off. The switch jams, hisses and sparks at me so I retreat defeated to my bed and try to recall my day.

A weariness had engulfed me after a long descent from the Cameron highlands, followed by unrelenting undulating terrain for the next 80km. The intense heat battered my head, a crudely-built bamboo shack just off the road offered brief respite and shade and I rested there, dazed, dizzy and nauseous while the screeches of monkeys in the trees seemed to taunt me. I feared heatstroke as my thoughts were becoming erratic, despite the stunning cobalt sky fringed with dense jungle a lonely darkness infiltrated me, my breathing laboured and I felt I was sucking air through a straw. You need to get to the next town said the lucid part of my brain as I reluctantly mounted my bike cursing the heat and my heavy load. 

After a 160km day I arrived and went in search of a bed ignoring the curious stares of the locals. I saw an open door with the words guesthouse and hotel above its frame yet no doorbell. I climbed the dank stairwell to the first floor and called out.. no reply. I looked around me, a half eaten plate of noodles lay in their grease on the table, flies hummed around open bags of rubbish against the wall, bedroom doors which I tried were locked yet to my right I saw an open door which led me into the prison cell with 2 bunkbeds. I went back to the street, detached my panniers and brought them and the bike up to the first floor, locked my bike to a wooden chair and with the insolence of Goldilocks unashamedly lay my head down on the bed and fell asleep.

Yet my choice of bed had been a big mistake.. while debating whether the grubby nylon sheet was a better option than the soiled mattress a man appeared in my room sucking on a cigarette, threw me a disapproving glance then huffing and puffing and in a flurry of mites and dust dragged the mattress from the bunk opposite me, reclaimed his holdall of clothes and jars and moved them to his new location which was .. at the base of my bed!  The accommodating owner - who on his return had found me unconscious on the bunk and gave me the bedsheet - explained to me later when he came back to my bunk asking for payment for my stealth check-in
 "You're in the honey-seller's bed" he whispered.
"It's his bed?" I questioned.
"Yes, it's the honey-seller's bed" he reiterated.
"Should I move?"
"No no, it's ok, you need rest."

To be honest I couldn't have moved even if the honey-seller had tried to reclaim his side of the grime as I ached and sweated and the Lilliputians returned to pull me deeper into the mattress. Yet he got his revenge... The temperamental lightswitch that spat out sparks at those who desired darkness meant that each time I awoke during that feverish night I was treated to the full moon of the honey-seller's bottom bathing under a fluorescent glow.

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