December 23rd and except for a couple of guys from the office, just about everyone I know has headed off the island for the holidays. It’s Wednesday night and even though Christmas and New Year are around the corner, today is just as slow as any other Wednesday.
Paddy’s Bar (or is it “Pub”?) for a few minutes. The five dancing surfers are less entertaining than they think and everyone else seems fairly miserable.
By Midnight, we’re all bored, tired and fading fast — by 1 o’clock, the three of us agree it’s time to go home and save our energy for a better night.
Were we drunk? I’ve been asked this question plenty of times. I’d have to answer we were not. I had the same number of beers as the boys, Heppy & Arie. We drank small bottles of beer spread out over many hours. A very quiet night.
Close. Humid. Wet. The small hours of Christmas Eve in Bali.
I’m happy it’s warm on the bike. The hot air is a comfort and then a rush. I’m enjoying myself too much. Closer to home, the road is narrow but more countryside style. I crouch down low over the gas tank, pull back on the accelerator as hard as I can and open the bike up.
I’m no bike rider. I don’t have the reflexes or the instincts for good control. As the road sweeps left, then right, then left again — I’m gently leaning the bike over.
The bike’s moving fast but I’m in slow motion. Too slow. Not leaning deeply enough, I’m using the whole width of the road, from side-to-side, to make my turns.
And on the next curve, I’m off a degree. Not much. If you were watching from the roadside, you wouldn’t even have noticed. But, I’ve been using the whole road and that one degree, that hair, has taken me from hard road surface down a couple of inches into the wet rice field muck that lines the roads around my home.
No fanfare or flashing lights or screech of brakes but, of course, I know I’m in big trouble. Can’t pretend I’m steering the damn thing. It’s official: I’m the passenger not the pilot and the bike now has control.
And there it is: the Moment of Grace. I believe just about everybody understands that moment. It’s not life passing or “flashing” before our eyes… I’ve never actually experienced that moment. No. This was more your quiet, calm, stuck-in-the-moment, slow time. It’s that life altering pocket of time between feeling your heel slide on the banana peel and watching your feet flying straight up in the air towards your ears. Christ, it really can’t take more than half a second but you’ve already had time to say, “Damn. This is going to hurt and, oh shit, there are so many people watching.”
It’s the Moment of Grace — a passage of time where you sit out the normal scheme of things. A quiet place where you have the enough leisure to ponder how truly screwed you are.
It’s the Loony TunesÂ® moment — those folks really knew what they were doing: their characters don’t hang around over the cliff edge reviewing their lives. No. They just hang. Legs uselessly scrambling for purchase. One long mournful look at the camera. And then they plunge.
Or, in my case, the bike shoots off the road and into the rice field.
Then the bike’s sinking. And I mean really sinking, like a boat, which is weird but, thankfully, also slowing. And I’m wide awake but happily detached and weightless until a giant fist belts me in the stomach and I’m lying in the mud.
I can’t breathe; feels like my chest has caved in. I’m already in a great deal of pain. I try to breathe through it but that isn’t working.
I get up. And, though it may not seem so wild, weird or wonderful to anyone else, it still blows my mind: I get up.
I get up, hurting like hell. And there’s a taxi. In sight. Practically within reach. How lucky is that? Think about it.
I ask one of the guys around me (there are people now) to get my bag. And I ask the taxi to take me to the clinic.
A few hours later, doctors will be opening my stomach; cutting, stitching and draining me to save my life. A day or two later, in Singapore,they’ll open me up again, cut, stitch and drain me again and then I’ll be dying of Sepsis. They’ll stick a pipe in my throat, more in my belly. They’ll tie my wrists to the side of my bed to stop me struggling and pulling out the wires. Then, they will pump me full of Morphine ’till I don’t know night from day, truth from delusion.
But, for now, in this moment, I’m walking to a white taxi in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, asking for my backpack, telling him to get me to the clinic, in perfect agony. Not quite deranged with pain but on the way.
By the time I get to the clinic, all I can do is expel the word ‘pain’. That’s how I breathe. “Pain… pain… pain.” It’s the only sound I make. All I can think of. It’s every thing around me.
After that, I’m unconscious for two weeks and know nothing… or, as Porky might say, “A giddiga, giddiga, giddiga, that’s all folks”.