Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Sunday, 9 June 2013

Bookless in Blantyre

When I think of dying there are two things I am sad about: all those books that will be written after, that I shall not get to read, and all the music I will never hear. Hutchens, approaching death with stoic rationalism apparently moaned the fact that he would not see his beloved England, as cancer slowly destroyed his voice, that which he considered most himself, relentlessly. Is there a part of this world I shall miss? All of it, I suppose, so in an odd way, no special part of it. 

  Before I die I would love to visit China and see whether there are any smidgens of Taoism still left there, hiding in little village huts. Are there people out there enjoying the every day physical things, like scratching an itch vigorously, that Lin Yu Tang once commended? Listening to the bull frogs' chorus during the rainy season, nicely cosy in bed; watching the rain flies descend in swarms for that brief pre-rain flurry, straining to hear the crickets at sundown while shutting out all other sounds - these are the things I must seek in the next few years. I seem to have lost that quiet place inside me to the cacophony of urban life.

   But what is there to be done about all those yet unwritten books? There are clearly journeys on which my Kindle cannot go with me.

   I found out how painfully dependent I was on the written word many years ago when I travelled from Dubai to London, forgetting to pack my reading in my carry-on case. The word-less hours were sheer torture, making me restless and irritable. Sister Benoza at our Catholic High School in India drew vivid word pictures of purgatory, the holding place between heaven and earth. Fires raged there and inmates screamed and begged God for delivery. I had nightmares about the serpents and the fires until I got the measure of Sister Benoza somewhere around standard four. But purgatory is individual, and mine is a place devoid of books.

   The newspapers on board the Emirates plane were all about Gulf news, not a word in them to interest me after the first five minutes. On that trip I learned my lesson.

   On another occasion I read too fast on a plane and finished my book for my flight half-way through the journey. After that I started packing two books for each trip. And then my son gave me a Kindle and life altered gloriously. Now I can sit on my veranda in India and download my reading. I don't have to husband the material and read slowly to save my reading.

   However, long before Kindle, I found myself in Blantyre on one occasion with two weeks of back-to-back workshops to do. I was living at Hotel Mount Soche, which manages to be comfortable and dead boring at the same time. The T V in the room was useless as the remote control could not work. The cleaning staff kept the best ones in store to hand out to guests who paid the largest bribes. I did not know that, so I did not have access to the T V.

   Again, I had left my reading material at home in Lilongwe. On Saturday I wandered around the quiet Blantyre streets looking for a book to read. I finally found a pavement vendor and bought two books from him. At last, I thought, now I can get back to the hotel, order a tray of tea and relax into a book.

   The tea came and I made myself comfortable, with the reading light placed strategically behind my lounger, and opened the book eagerly. It was porn - hard porn intent on teaching me lessons I had never got to learn about sex. I dropped the books in the waste bin and then picked them up again and hid them in a drawer. What would the cleaners think about me if they saw these books?

   I was forced to take them home to burn in my garden. Burn because I would not want my house-staff to think I'd been reading that stuff.

   Today I have solved my insecurities in the book department. I keep one by my bedside, another in the sitting room and a third in the medicine cabinet by the bed. My kindle always stays close to me and I shall never be without something to read.

1 comment:

  1. HA HA HA! WONDERFUL story! I LOVE the part about the porn! Those kinds of "surprises" make very good stories!