Under The Cover of Darkness
Updated: Jan 28, 2020
Shortlisted in the BBC’s International Wildlife/Travel Writing Competition : April 2007
Central Bali. A cool, bright night in the rice fields. Not a whisper of wind rifling the mosquito net that fell in a waterfall of pale cream cloth from the rafter above my bed. The air filled with night noises; crickets, frogs, birds. A symphony of nature sound that comforted me with its presence. Why then had I woken so suddenly? Sweating, with my heart pounding so hard it was making me breathless.
I sat up, parted the net and peered myopically out into the expanse of my loft bedroom. The adrenaline rushing through my veins had me on full alert. I expected to see an armed intruder standing just feet away. I reached by my pillow for my new pink glasses. Vision restored to its normal clarity, I reassured myself the room was empty.
In the moonlight that shafted through the triangular windows high up in the vaulted ceiling I made my way downstairs. I was definitely alone. Apart from the resident lizard who was staring at me from his favourite perch on the curtain pole above the sliding doors out into the garden, his pink and green head following my every movement.
I wandered back upstairs and climbed into bed. With the sheet tight up to my neck I slipped off my glasses and tried to will myself back to sleep. Dreamtime was elusive, my overactive imagination running at full steam. Night ticked slowly by and seamlessly moved from darkness into the gentle light of dawn.
I rolled over, put on my glasses once more and looked out of the window behind my head. Sheets of cloud with rippled bottoms painted pink lay across parts of the sky, laced through with ribbons of rich incandescent gold and bright turquoise blue, reflecting an artist’s palette of light onto the newly-flooded paddy fields surrounding the house. The sky foretold of the heat that would arrive by mid-afternoon, riding in on the heels of a thick, sticky humidity and rising wind. The screech of a kingfisher sliced through the air, momentarily shattering the stillness as I watched a walnut brown man in tattered grey shorts rapidly planting rice seedlings with a rhythm as ancient as the land itself. On the line of the horizon were Gunungs Agung, Abang and Batur, their volcanic presence strangely comforting after my mysterious fright during the night.
Minutes slipped by into an hour or more as I sat watching the day unfold itself. My reverie was interrupted by an irritating sensation on the bridge of my nose. I removed my glasses and inspected them closely. Quite what I expected to find I really don’t know but silicone nose pads nibbled to half their normal size was certainly a surprise. So much so that I really thought I was seeing things.
Winding a sarong around me I set off through the gardens to find my neighbour, Yusa, thinking as I walked that the teeth marks looked suspiciously like those of a rat. I stopped dead in my tracks under the mango tree … this nibbling can only have happened as I slumbered, with my glasses on the mattress next to my head. Was this the reason I’d woken so suddenly?
“Can’t be,” I confidently thought and carried on walking.
I found Yusa drinking sweet, black coffee on his terrace with some men from the village, the smoke from their clove cigarettes blending with that of jasmine incense. I related the events of the previous night to my captivated audience. They looked closely at my specs and with a good amount of laughter unanimously agreed. A rat had made a silent foray beneath my mosquito net under the cover of darkness and taken a fancy to a little see-through silicone for his evening meal.
“Impossible,” I shrieked, ‘ have never seen rat nor any droppings. Ever!”
“And you still haven’t!” someone giggled.
“And that,” I muttered as I stalked off through smiles, “is precisely the problem.”
Back at home I pondered the night’s events. The reason for my waking in a cold sweat with a pounding heart was now only too clear. Like it or not I, or more properly my glasses, had been the target of a stealth attack by a Ninja Rat. A furry four-legged rodent with pointy yellow teeth and a long, slithery tail had chewed my glasses as they lay on my bed right next to my head whilst I was fast asleep. Sure, some primal instinct had woken me up but only when the intruder had left the scene.
All of which has left me wondering what other wildlife encounters I have had over my quarter of a century in Africa and Asia when I was far away in deep dreamless sleep.
On second thoughts, it's probably best I don’t think too hard!