I was ill in the mountains. That surprised me almost endlessly, my usual susceptibility to jungle fevers being overthrown by a sickness from the heights, landing me in the back seat of a taxi as my girlfriend of the time sat in the front threatening the driver with dire consequences if he did indeed stop to toss me in the nearest ditch rather than have me die in his car, threatening his livelihood by bringing the police to his car wondering why the dead European inside. She insisted the driver get me to the local hospital; and by some miracle I did make it, landing in the hallway some age later, writhing and agonizing and screaming from the pain in my innards, not, for once, worried about having been overcharged for the taxi ride. No, the dollar paid was of small consequence. I felt that I was paying with my life for having made yet another absurd foray into the heart of darkness, my own, as always. I recall lying in the corridor of the hospital, groaning, twisting from the pain, fairly sure I'd finally reached the end of my own long and winding road. The pain was more than I could bear, and I can bear a lot without screaming, as I know from terrible experience. And there I laid on the stone floor of the hospital while a woman looked down at me, she holding a clipboard, tsk-tsking, my girlfriend negotiating a price for my admission to a bed and treatment of some sort.
I came to wakefulness some nightmare time later, done up in i.v. bags and laid out like a patient etherized upon a table, a couple of local girls checking out my parts, laughing and giggling at the sight of unfamiliar color and such, not bothering further to go through the pockets of my already rifled pants pockets, my loose change having gone the way of all flesh long before. My girlfriend returned, telling me I needed more things from the local pharmacy, that she'd go buy them and would return later, that I should amuse myself as well as I was able till then. The girls left, and my girlfriend left, and I turned on the bed to face the door, seeing in the bed next to me a man laying on his back, Don Ernesto, pale and wheezing, his face collapsed from sickness and age, he being perhaps forty or so, past his time. So we chatted as well as he was able, no one else of his being able to take the time to visit, work-needs prevailing in the world of the living.
"Yes, don Ernesto, the pathetic story of my tragic life began when I was born at an early age; and it became ever more fascinating as the day progressed," I think I told him, hoping to keep him happy and entertained. But it didn't work. Don Ernesto didn't make much response other than to give a long wheeze as he died. I called out to the nurse, calling out that don Ernesto had died, that she could come and wheel him away from me, that she should take him from the bed by the door and down the hallway to anywhere but next to me.
The nurse finally arrived to find out why I made so much noise for a sick man. Motioning to don Ernesto I told her he was dead, it finally occurring to her that he was dead. I found that bit of information at least vaguely important, if not to don Ernesto, then to me and the orderly running of the ward I was in, four beds in a row from the doorway down. "Ah," she said, "he's gone." But no, he wasn't gone, he was right there beside me, stone dead and too damned close. The nurse beckoned a mate and together they twisted a sheet around the body and hauled him like a fish out the door and out of my life, thank the gods. And when I awoke, finding my girlfriend returned with morphine, I saw another man in don Ernesto's bed behind her. "He's dead," she said. "I know," I replied, "I saw them take him out just a few moments ago." But I was mistaken, the corpse being a new guy, one I'd missed as I was passed out from a shot of dope. My girlfriend told me the low-down: "You fall asleep and they come and steal the things I have to buy for you at the pharmacy! They return to sell it. Why should I bother if you won't protect your medicine?" Yes, that charmer is my ex. Lovely girl in many ways. Not overly sensitive. She did manage to get the staff to remove the new stiff. I looked nervously at the empty bed by the door. I could see a pattern emerging. It was black and carried a long scythe.
I woke a number of times over the next three days, each time as bad or worse than the time before, sometimes a body in the bed, sometimes not, the bed being empty, waiting for the next guy not going home again. The other beds beside me filled up with guys who had injuries not so bad, from what I could see, except for the guy who came in burned to stumps and who died. And then another died. And then the bed by the door filled up and I went to the emptiness of a deserted dreamland, waking to find I was subjected to an enema, my girlfriend explaining impatiently that she would not go again to buy the same things if I let this batch get stolen like I had the others. She said that if I didn't get my innards x-rayed they couldn't see the trouble, and therefore I would die. It was up to me. So I fought to stay awake through the morphine drip and the motor vehicle accident guy's demise till the enema came washing out into a bed pan, filled to the brim. I feared to move. The nurse returned, took up the pan, and part way across the floor, slipped, sending the pan and contents sloshing across the remainder of the floor and up the wall. Ever the professional, she whipped the sheet off the nearest body, being mine, and used her foot to wipe the sheet through the muck, kicking the result into a corner with the panache of a Pele. Soon after I was wheeled into the x-ray room, and from there, sometime later, I heard the medical staff, boys and girls, discussing my problem with my girlfriend: "It's that big round white thing there," said one doctor. And then another said no, it had to be the small black thing over there. They all agreed that whatever the problem was the only way to fix it would be to open me up and take a look so they could be sure. I didn't see any chickens in the operating room but something must have tipped off my girlfriend that something wasn't quite right because she said no, they would not operate on me at all. Back to the ward. To the bed by the door!
I have this fear, not of death but of dying in a bed. I don't want to do that even once. It just ain't for me. So I got up and walked out. My girlfriend complained the whole way to the marketplace where we stopped for coffee and mangoes and a bowl full of fried bugs. I hadn't eaten for a week, so the bugs were mighty tasty. I kept on going. I survived because I'm strong and fairly healthy, because I have an attitude that keeps me away from the bed by the door, and that make me get up and leave that bed when I land in it anyway. I also have the twenty bucks a week that I need to pay for first-rate medical attention in a Third World shit-hole hospital. Them as don't dies.
I don't know what it was that got me there that time. I survived and carried on to further adventures that brought me close to death. Those other encounters were from people bent on violence, not simple things from Nature. I shrug. Death is all around us all the time. It's only a problem for me when I see clearly that it takes those who needn't really go. It bothers me deeply when I see people dying because they don't have clean water to drink, to bathe in, to wash their clothes in. It bothers me when I see two foot long coffins daily, often clusters of them, bobbing down the street atop the bent-over backs of the sick and the dying. It bothers me when I see a mosquito land on a child, knowing as I do that disease is sure to follow, and from that a needless death. I survive because of cleaning products and alcohol wipes and anti-biotics and enough knowledge of germs that I can avoid most of the things that would otherwise kill me within weeks, the things that carry off peasant kids and old folks and those too sick to survive a common cold. I survive because no matter where I am I still live in the Modern world. I know about Lysol and Tidy-Bowl. I want my sister to marry Mr. Clean. Mother Nature? Nope, ain't no friend of mine. Gas that bitch.
Last summer we encountered a death hippy who claimed to be personally responsible for the death of a million Viet-Namese, her moralistic hubris not making her at all sickened; she didn't do enough to stop the war in Vietnam, or something, or whatever. She emoted righteously on the sidewalk for us so we would see her sincerity. She's probably on television if you care to watch. Or perhaps she's now on about the evils of environmental destruction. Today she's likely protesting about the use of fertiliser and pesticides and synthetics. When I clear away the visions of dead peasants I see in my fascistic mind that woman hanging from a lamp post. She, and not just she, is responsible for the death of far more than a million people. Anyone who denies the right of the quality of life Modernity provides to the rest of us is guilty of the murder of billions. Anyone who cries out against the use of Lysol is a killer of children. No, I have no sympathy. I have only hatred for those who sit in the clean well-lighted cappuccino bars of modern suburbia while they pose and preen and condemn the world to death by disease eradicable by TidyBowl.
There are many who would condemn the world to death to satisfy some phantasy about the beauties of Nature and harmony therewith. They assault me with hysterias on global warming and mining and oil exploration and conspiracies of capitalist nature. Yes, I want to choke them to death. I want to see Mr. Clean and Aunt Jemima stomp them into the ground. Be at one with Nature, you rotten self-satisfied Body Shop bastards. I've been close, and I've seen people placed in the bed by the door. They're there because they are denied global warming and Lysol. Kill them, Mr. Clean, kill the dhimmi fascists who condemn the world's ignorant to disease for the sake of a pose and organic breakfast cereals.
Every night when I go to my bed by the door I roll over and run my hand over the ceramic tiles of my bedroom floor. I laugh. Fuck me, I laugh till I fall asleep. I dream of my beautiful flush toilet. My Modern world. My clean bed by the door.