The mosquito net had to come down. Against the wall, an air con leaked semi-cool air, feeble and ineffective against the humidity. The tiny room sagged and sighed. Only the ceiling fan was able to stir the atmosphere. It hung awkwardly on a loose eye hook above the bed, obstructed by the mosquito net from making relaxed deliberate strokes. Given the option for malaria or a breeze, we decide to take our chances.
It had been a long day. No power. No water. A six-hour escape drive to the shore, arriving only at dark. Lying there side by side, we tried not to touch each other.
The stale air undulated, washing against us like waves from a too warm shore. I drifted to sleep, watching the ceiling fan wobble a few feet from our faces. We kept it on low not to tempt fate, but I wondered idly what it will feel like when it fell on our faces. And what would malaria feel like? Would I be sleepy? Mal-aria, meaning “bad air”. It was a possibility.
These anxieties tickled me, but like whispers through a door, weren’t quite sharp enough to arouse concern. The air was too thick for them, so I drifted away.
I woke a few hours later, needing a toilet. It was a surprise not to get caught like a fish in the ever-present mosquito net. I reveled in that freedom, but not the missing toilet seat. I swam back to bed, falling in mid breast-stroke.
Suddenly, my ankle stung. A jelly fish! No, a mosquito! It’s the only thing that has the energy. I kicked my feet and try to wash back into slumber, but it was too late. The itch had begun. Still clinging to sleep like the shoreline, I used my big toe as scratching tool. If I didn’t move my upper body, I could still float away.
But then - again! A different ankle. I waved my foot to warn them off again, but it should’ve been a white flag. Another gets my shin, then my forearm. I felt a line of bites along my calf. Each pinch pierces the veil of slumber, needling me into consciousness. There could be one, or a hundred.
Like a shark to the surface, I snap. I thrash upright into the darkness, abandoning sleep altogether. They are impossible to intimidate, but at least I can scare them.
My partner snores beside me.
The overhead fan whirs: “wud-wud-wud-wud”.
As the silence settles back in around me, I feel the itch creep around the delicate bones of my foot. It’s the spot they like best, the most vulnerable, where the lacework of my veins is closest to the surface.
Having nothing else to do, I scratch with vengeance, as if to get back at the little beasts who put them there. It feels so good, giving in to that temptation to itch, finding that line between relief, satisfaction and pain. But I stay a little too long and end up drawing blood.