First Place Essay: Visitors

by Nina Boutsikaris ’09

Before I fall asleep I keep my eye on that spider, his body as big as a dime, legs spread out and gripping the wall of the wooden hut. I’m hot and itchy, and my eyes are swollen from allergies, but I pull the hood of my sweatshirt over my head and push my face against Luke’s shoulder. Someone hits a switch and the single light bulb on the porch turns off. We are in deep jungle darkness, a darkness thick with the unknown. I think of the miles we’ve walked today, all the land we’ve passed, the brick-colored hills and the dusty peanut fields, the banana trees and the women with the dark mouths, teeth dyed blood-red from chewing leaves. The baby toddling along with a balloon, the girl in the faded pajama pants squatting next to her mother in the grass. Everything is still there, far out beyond where I am trying to fall asleep.

The hut sits on high stilts, and beneath me I can still hear feathers ruffling and beaks pecking quickly, with final haste, at the mud-packed ground. Luke puts his arm across my waist and folds over onto his stomach.

 “You cold?” he asks me.

 “No,” I whisper.

The darkness is disconcerting. I think about that spider on the wall. I had watched it all afternoon, since we first arrived at the Karan village. It never moved. Now all the insects take turns with their insane sounds, competing like lunatics, louder and louder, wildly scratching their tiny limbs together.

I stretch my leg slowly and my big toe catches a splinter of wood stuck to the wool blanket, but I don’t dare move. I’m scared of what else I might feel. Down the hill on the other side of the creek, where a bonfire blazed a few hours before, a baby cries and is comforted, its mouth muffled against a warm chest. Earlier in the evening bored-looking women in traditional Karan dresses sang and shuffled their feet for money. The other tourists clapped along to the uninspired drumming, laughing and drinking cans of warm Singha, screaming when a snake slipped silently across the ground at their knees. I watched it all, sad and confused.

In the morning I will wake to a rooster crowing so close I will think he’s inside me. From my spot on the floor I will just make out the outlines of pale arms, almost ghostly in the soft light, draped from three hammocks that hang slack and still beyond the open door. An old man, his eyes underlined with puddles of fatigue, will already be making a sunrise inspection of his village.

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