Friday, September 3, 2010

Trapped - Malaysia

Sign in a Thai tourist coach, by Fabio
I detected the first signal when I was strolling in the terminal. The jerking of a muscle, a small wave, nothing much. I ignored it like one does with the sudden pulsation of a vein, a nerve of an arm that goes off by itself. Or one of those thoughts that leave behind a sensation but not a clear memory. I probably brought it to the surface from the bottom of the Sea of Conscience by association of ideas, connecting events. The events, precisely, let's see how they unfold.
An hour later, when I was already trapped between the seats of a freezing bus, that first movement has started to reproduce: waves and jerkings now follow one another like bubbles in the water inside a pot. Unfortunately though, the pot is my belly and the boiling water is a stabbing bout of diarrhea. At first you try to keep the situation under control, tactfully releasing a little pressure, breathing deeply, contracting and relaxing in a continuous cycle. You can try to keep it under control as much as you like though, it's not going to help when you're crossing Malaysia lengthwise. In a few minutes you run out of degrees of freedom. 
I walk along the corridor, I approach the driver and ask him if he can stop the bus, but he doesn't seem to hear me. I say it again, nothing, I beg him but he looks like a mustached Sphinx perched on the steering wheel. He can hear me alright but he doesn't care: he just wants to reach his trusted gas station, where he'll get a commission for each unloaded passenger.
I would love to be like the hero of a legend of India's backpackers. In a similar situation this mythological traveler went to talk with the driver, the Indian guy smiled and stopped the bus. Then he got a second bout and asked for another break. This time the driver snorted but stopped again. The third time, though, he didn't listen to his request anymore. The foreigner mournfully took his shirt off, spread it out on his seat and then unloaded on it three good minutes of cramps, among heat, flies and the disgusted looks of the other passengers. Then he picked it up, like a picnic bundle, glanced outside and finally threw it out of the window. 
But I don't have the stuff legendary heroes are made of and this is not India, where the unlikely takes place. I have to wade through the twinges of pain, counting the contractions. I do it at the entrance, next to my torturer, so that some sense of guilt can erode his arrogance. When we get to the station I elbow my way to the toilet and then I feel well. After the initial disbandment my antibodies reorganized and mindful of the Asian months of hard training they quickly reunited to drive back the assault. 
But sure enough for a while I did fear the worst.

Malaysia, September 2003

P.S. As my regular readers will have surely noticed, for some unfathomable reason various anecdotes with a common topic keep coming back to my mind lately. It seems that I'm writing a sort of Saga of the runs. The other episodes can be found here.

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