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leaving (in a house)

“Hadst thou stayed, I must have fled”
That is what the Vision said.

In his chamber all alone,
Kneeling on the floor of stone,
Prayed the Monk in deep contrition
For his sins of indecision,
Prayed for greater self-denial
In temptation and in trial;
It was noonday by the dial,
And the Monk was all alone.

– H.W. Longfellow (The Theologian’s Tale, “The Legend Beautiful”)

***

The day I was going to die, I can remember; as well as the place. I had been laying on the floor, almost (beneath me only a thin, badly bound hay mattress) for three days already, and my body was exhausted. While my will to live faded, my interest in mostly everything else turned dim.

I can still recall the spot, though. That – a sense of spatial curiosity – remained with me at all times; even while I hallucinated, delirious (such beautiful scenes I saw, from Hieronymus Bosch’s gardens, while dying in the tropical rainforest!).

This mattress I mention (coarse fabric, indigo blue and white stripes, conventional in these parts), drenched in sweat and tears (and vomit, most probably) lay directly on the floor. It was a clean floor, fortunately; clad with smooth cement tiles colored with rather psychedelic motives in hues of yellow and black. The floor was in turn defined by the four walls that concealed my room. At the moment, it seemed ample, since I could barely move, but it wasn’t big at all; just enough for the door to open, and to fit the “bed” and a small cupboard (a rack, really) with my clothes.

The roof was higher than the partitions. Its zinc sheets made the place unbearably hot in the daytime, and sheltered a colony of bats, that became increasingly aggressive during the rainy season, with their loud howls and frantic flutter. We (I lived with two others) depended on rainwater, or on a diesel pump to fill our 55 gallon tanks to cook, bathe and flush the toilet. With darkness (there was no electric light, either) came the fever, which reached its peaks at 7 every evening while my body cramped around a blue plastic bucket that took the dryness, the emptiness of my heaves.

Yes, I do recall this small house and the stuff we had in it; the place in which I faced truth but for an instant. I realize now that I was leaving in this stupid, simple, ugly house, sad and lonely, yet serene and fully aware of the majesty of the moment. Incredibly, though, as space shrank to its ultimate/real dimensions (those of my heart, at the most) I felt death turn away and leave my chest, like a phantasm.

Reprieved (momentarily, I know) I again recognized the size of the window, looking out into the neighbor’s back yard (home to a pig, that cried horribly), the rotting beams (caving wasps and scorpions), the smell of the petrol used to immunize wood, and the fine, pearly mosquito nets that had not been able to keep the feared malaria (Plasmodium Falciparum) out of my now corrupt blood.

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