At around 8pm, while the others are watching Gran Tit (news headlines – grande titres, I suppose) on the box, I slip away and take my evening shower. It’s an ecstatic moment, stepping beneath the tepid water and sluicing the congealed sweat off. I then slide into bed, taking care to tuck the sides of the mosquito net under the mattress, having first switched the bedside fan on. For the first week or so, I lived in ignorance of this fan, and suffered the nights of the long knives as a result. Now, despite the fact that the fan sounds like a badly adjusted diesel engine, it’s worth several times its weight in rupees. I lie in the bed, making sure to align myself from corner to corner so as not to touch the net with my feet, hands or head. If the dogs aren’t barking, I don’t bother with ear plugs. By now, even with the fan, I’ve already started sweating again, and a small pool of viscous fluid is building up in the hollow of my chest. This area, plagued with old mosquito bites, begins itching. I resist the urge to scratch, and laboriously arrange my lips, which are covered in leprous sores, gummy and frequently bleeding, so that my mouth stays permanently open; that way, the sores have an opportunity of crusting over, hastening healing.
Eventually, I fall asleep, despite the vibration of the fan, the dogs, which have started to howl, and the impossibility of ever stretching out to my full length. This puts me in mind of the slightly smaller than human sized boxes Tibetan monks live in for months on end, designed to promote uneasy sleep as a way of cultivating their dream life. I wake with a start in the middle of the night. A text message has come in. It’s from Tesco mobile, advising me that if I top up before the end of the week, I will get double bonus points. Snarling to myself, I feel a sharp pain as my lips are forcibly prised apart. I realise my mouth must have shut when asleep and my lips had become glued together. The drying scab has cracked and I can taste the fresh blood. Being out of bed and away from the fan, I’ve started perspiring freely. I clambour back into bed, and align myself in the damp patch I recently vacated. It smells of stale, unwashed babies nappies. I rearrange the mosquito net, organise my lips, and try to still my mind. A leaf rustles in the wind and the dogs start barking. At my side, my sleeping partner snortles gently. Unable to resist, I stroke my fingertips over my raging chest. The ecstasy is too much, and I ravage the area with my fingernails, scratching maniacally. As I do this, the heavens open and rain pours down, drumming on the tin roof. I start thinking of something ludicrously complex, in the hope it will dull my mind into oblivion.
Finaly, I sleep again. I’m dreaming of frequenting some public toilets. They’re crowded; but finally a porcelain urinal becomes available. I lean against its cold extremity. My bladder is bursting; but I seem to be having difficulty relaxing the necessary muscles. At last, the stream of urine flows freely. What a relief! Suddenly, half way through, I am jerked away by an unseen hand and I wake with a start. In a feverish state, I reach down to see what the cause of the damp patch beneath me is. Astonishingly, it’s only sweat. I lie there for several minutes fighting my obvious need to visit the toilet.
Eventually, I go. Navigating between three rooms in the dark, I stub my toe in the same place I stubbed it the previous night. While in the bathroom, I take another shower, to quell the itching that seems to have broken out all over my body, like an attack of hives. I soap my leprous mouth, then dry myself, before crawling back to bed. This time, I fail to tuck the net in adequately. I fall asleep but am soon awoken by a rogue mosquito, biting my cheek. I spend a delirious half hour fending it off before eventually slapping it dead on my groin. By this time, the cooling effects of my shower have entirely worn off. The cranking fan, wafting hot, humid waves of torrid night air across the bed, is fighting a losing battle against my deranged sweat glands. My lower teeth have started aching, from a sudden rush of blood to my engorged lips. I’m itching all over, again. I can sense, through closed eyelids, the beginning of daybreak. I can hear some distant cocks crowing. Birds begin to squark, just outside the window. Even as I manage to dull these sounds and slide once more into blessed oblivion, there is the shocking awareness of the early riser in the household shuffling around beyond two closed doors, and then, horror of horrors, switching her radio on. Groaning, I cram my moist pillow over my head. Strapping it against my ear with my arm, I lie in a rancid pool of acrid sweat, fighting an almost overwhelming desire to scratch myself raw.
Drying up nicely