As a traveller you know, and even expect, the unknown to occur. You want this; for some it’s the whole point of leaving their home in the first place. It’s usually to do with the fun stuff like walking the Great Wall, eating Sushi in Tokyo Fish Market or jumping off a bridge in New Zealand with only an elastic band to prevent your death.
Those are the known unknown things that you decide to do only when faced with the opportunity. You know you might do them, but you perhaps only have the haziest plan about them. What this story highlights are the complete unknowns; those strange twists of fate and chance that dog everyone’s lives from one end to the other. Perhaps that is being unfair to them as they are the same class of occurrence that led to me meeting my wife, my friends and finding my job.
But, they can also lead to what is to follow…
My tale begins just before we travelled to the (now closing) park of Bandhavgar in India and starts with us trying to go the train station in Varanasi.
Leaving Varanasi is not something I am soon to forget.
Just getting to the station that night was one hell of challenge. I have written before about how Cesca and I played good cop, bad cop with the local Tuk-Tuk drivers to make sure that we were not gouged by excessive charges, facilitated by the driver and friends taking us for a “marks” or as we in the UK call them “mugs”. Our double act, of Cesca walking away in huff followed by myself after sharing an exasperated look with the offending driver, had wowed and convinced all over the east. Indeed, I remember thinking that it was so effective that it must be a simple part of the “play” or “act” of hiring a taxi, Tuk-Tuk or Songthaew anywhere else in the world apart from the bit I came from. I also remember remarking that it would always work…
Cesca and I stopped, our backs to the small group of Tuk-Tuk drivers, and we leaned into each other conspiratorially.
“How many steps have we gone?” I asked, and we both computed the answer in our heads.
“6” we agreed.
“Bugger,” said Cesca, “they’re not going to go for it are they?”
I sneaked a look around at the drivers, coolly watching us walk away. They looked uncaring and if it was acting, it was good acting.
“Thing is darling,” I said, “We don’t have long until our train… Is this time for humble pie?”
Ceca’s eyes met mine and I saw fire in them.
“Never!” She spun to face the group and strode towards them raising an indignant finger.
The trouble was simple. The Tuk-Tuk to the hotel from the train station had been one hell of a journey, but at least it had been a fixed fare set by the government rates system. However, trying to get back to the train station from the hotel was to pick a Tuk-Tuk off the street nearby and this was ungoverned… and five times the price. When the man had first suggested the fare we simply knew it had to be a haggler’s bluff. But, I was now forming the notion that the Tuk-Tuk drivers here are in some sort of price-fixing union or cartel (or mafia!) and won’t haggle at all- they want the foreign visitor to pay a high price!
Cesca took to arguing with the men. I don’t know how good their English was beyond how to simply perform their job, but I could tell that Cesca’s body language was translating perfectly; she was pissed off. I hung back. A big guy standing over her shoulder could illicit the wrong reaction.
After only a few minutes another man, leaning against a wall, detached himself and walked over and offered to take Cesca for the original price on the condition that she stopped shouting and also that he happened to live near the station anyway.
She grinned in triumph all the way to the station forecourt. What a girl!
As we were dropped off I took a look at the station forecourt in the darkness. Surrounding it were tall lampposts throwing out a dirty orangey light that illuminated the dusty ground in pools of colour crossed endlessly with the flashing of insects mistaking the bulbs for the moon.
We put on our backpacks and made our way towards the entrance. Walking under the lamps there was a buzzing of activity and I noticed from the corner of my eye a large moth break formation with the group and dive down to take a closer look. It was a wild winged creature of significant size and my first instinct upon seeing it, heading straight down at my face from the corner of my eye, was to flinch aside Bruce Lee’like.
Unfortunately, the moth also changed direction and I remember hearing its wings buzzing loudly like a dive-bombing Stuka.
I looked around, but couldn’t see it and I thought to myself “where did that go?”
Then I realised the horrifying truth. In a million to one shot the massive Indian flying creature had managed to wedge itself right into my ear canal. I slapped my hand to my ear in shock and the moth responded by buzzing its wings, which inside my ear canal sounded like a recording of 400 cymbals falling down a flight of stairs played through a speaker turned up to 11.
I screamed in pain. Cesca flashed around and for a good few moments couldn’t work out what was wrong.
“Darling?” she asked.
“There’s a bloody great moth in my ear!” I cried. “Help!”
She ran over to help and took a look in my ear, to which the moth responded with the ending of The William Tell overture as heard from 2 inches away from the explosions.
I screamed some more.
“Get it out!”
Now it was at this moment, had this been a film, that the Benny Hill music would have started and everything would have been slightly sped up. We tore off our backpacks and flung everything out on the floor in increasingly desperate attempts to remove said insect from my ear. Each attempt, ear buds; wipes; sticks, was met with desperate struggles from the moth and more screaming from myself. It was wedged in there good and proper and (Cesca told me later) took up the entire ear.
By this time we had drawn the attention of a couple of policemen, who spoke no English and merely stood bemused at Cesca attempts to explain, so I decided that we should get on the train and deal with it there. Cesca told me later that this was the point at which she would have headed to an A&E.
In aural-agony I walked to the train, my hearing on both sides shot to bits and my heart racing as I tried to think of something that would get this bastard out of my ear.
On the train, we took up our little bed area and pulled the curtains across. Cesca then set about thinking hard. The increasingly desperate moth had been seriously battered by my attempts to dig it out with earbuds and my ear canal was now very sore, as was my eardrum against which the moth had been push and squashed. I realised, just as the train pulled out, that this was much worse than we thought.
Cesca hit upon an idea. Ear wax remover.
“Ear wax remover!?” I exclaimed, “You have carried ear wax remover all this way around the world?”
“Yes, for clearing my ears before diving” she said pulling out a small bag from which she took out the tiny dropper-topped bottle. We lay me on my side and she put in a couple of drops.
It smelt very menthol.
The moth, I am ashamed to say, drowned in this stuff and after a few exhausted buzzes that sounded like nuclear explosions passed away from its life. We turned me up the other way and the fluid drained onto a tissue.
But the moth, dead as it was, was still in my ear.
Cesca took a closer look with a torch and gasped slightly.
“What?” I asked, “Is it huge? Can you grab it?”
“Erm, no it’s not huge” she said.
She was clearly lying, the moth was enormous, and it must be to fill my ears. I always had to use the large rubber ear grommets on headphones, I am a big guy, and I have large ear canals. This beast invading my body, probably covered in all sorts of Indian crap, dust, mites, and shit, was the size of a bloody bus! I suddenly thought that I might get an infection if we weren’t careful and that made my skin go into a cold sweat and my brain beat with blood and worry.
Cesca tried to think of something. Then…
“Ah!” she exclaimed, “I have tweezers somewhere, we should pull it out!”
“Tweezers too? What type?”
“They are tick ones, for pulling out ticks” she replied
“Aren’t they sharp at the ends?” I enquired
“A little, yes”
I motioned to the train carriage which was bouncing around us – Indian trains are anything but a smooth ride.
“Well what then?” she asked.
I racked my brain,
“Call your sister”.
I don’t know why calling a vet back in England was supposed to help, she would probably be more concerned for the moth than I, but I wanted to do something and get someone else thinking as well. Arabella tried her best over the line, but her only advice was to sleep on that side of my body and the moth would “pop out”.
“Oh yes,” she said to Cesca down the mobile line from the UK, “Sebastian had a moth in his ear, slipped over-night no problem…”
Cesca latched onto the good news and smiled to me but she wasn’t fooling me for a second. I knew from her face that there was no way this thing was simply going to “pop out” without the application of high explosive.
So I had no choice, I slept the 8 hour journey on my right-side awaiting the moth to extricate itself from my ear canal. I didn’t sleep a moment of that 8 hour journey, not one second.
Eventually we arrived at our stop in the middle of nowhere and then I really did start to worry. What if there were no doctors out here? We were visiting the deep wilds of India; perhaps they wouldn’t have the equipment needed for sorting out ears. You know that bendy thing like a clothes hanger with a camera on the end that doctors jam into children’s ears?
We got off the train and were met by a driver, booked to take us to the safari park we were staying at for the next four days.
“How long is the journey?” I asked.
“Oh quick sir,” he said smilingly, “only 2 hours or so”
I didn’t say anything, but my expression said simply, “!”
I went into that strange mode that people go into when they know their mission. A sort of calm and almost detached view of the world that speaks only in a gentile but swift voice answering all questions exactly and quickly with no elaboration whatsoever.
“I have a moth in my ear” I said to myself, “for at least two more hours,” I continued, “and then we shall remove it”.
Zen monks couldn’t have put it calmer.
We finally arrived at the park as the sun rose over the trees. It was beautiful in the extreme, but I wasn’t really watching it. We quickly checked in and got to our room. Bags were flung into the bed and I grabbed our extensive medical bag and strode purposely into the bathroom.
“Cesca,” I said smartly, handing her the bag, “in there is a syringe.” I bent over the sink. “Please use that with some water to flush this obstacle from my ear”.
Cesca tried, but it didn’t work. The moth was crushed against the ear and the water couldn’t get under it to lift it.
It was time for desperate measures.
“Ok,” I said, “go for the tweezers”
Cesca lifted the large chisel ended tweezers out of the medical kit and approached my ear. She reached out and in.
“Slower!” I said.
“I am going slowly” she protested.
“Then go slower, go glacially”.
The tweezers entering my ear disturbed the moth’s corpse and set off more endless cymbals in my head. I felt her grab hold of the end of the moth and that really hurt. She later told me that her greatest fear at this point was that the moth would come apart and have to be removed in bits.
“I have it,” she said, “ready?”
“Go,” I said.
She pulled and for a moment I too thought the moth wasn’t moving, then suddenly its entire bulk shifted and my hearing returned. It was off the ear drum! The pain stopped and then with the most satisfying, crashing, screaming, noise-filled moment of my life there was an audible, slimy pop and the moth came out.
Cesca immediately flung it into the basin. I stood up and then we did that thing that always happens in the movies, we learned in to take a closer look and both, in unison, cried “urrrg!”
It was huge and slimy and crushed and all legs and wings and, well, “urrrg!”
We looked at each other and then I gave Cesca the biggest hug of her life, lifting her clean off her feet and against the wall.
“THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU!” I exclaimed over and over again, tears coming to my eyes.
The nightmare of the last 10 hours was over, my ear was sore but safe, and Cesca- she was as ever my hero.
So, there you have it. We went on in the next few days to see 9 tigers in their wild habitat and this certainly helped redress that painful journey. My ear did hurt all that time, but I didn’t care since we were having such a great time.
It’s often said that it is the bullet with your name on it that you don’t hear. Well, I went through a long journey to reach the moth with my name on it and I heard it all right. That was got me to flinch. It’s natural to do so, to protect the eyes, but very few people consider their ears!
I sure do now!
Since then I have come to realise that this story highlights perfectly the difference between Courage and Bravery. I had the moth in my ear; there was nothing I could do to get it out. Staying calm was brave. Cesca was in charge of a very sharp set of medical implements which she needed to put into my deepest ear canals. Staying steady at such moments takes courage.
Something she has in spades.