Sunrise on the plateau
I was sitting at one of the big round candlelit tables at Goan Corner talking to Laura and two of her friends; one an American I’d not met before. We were playing guitar and drinking a beer and chatting about whatever, and we got onto the subject of dreams; Laura doesn’t ever recall her dreams upon waking. She never has. For me, they come and go in phases, but sometimes I will have a dream so vivid and real that, good or bad, it stays with me for years. I remembered a recurring nightmare I used to have when I was little. I don’t know how old really, maybe six or seven. Anyway I remember every detail of this dream like I just woke up from it, and in the flow of the conversation I started recounting it.
I’m in the barn. That’s what we call the upstairs living room of the house I grew up in. It’s night time and it’s just me in the house. The lights are off and I’m scared. I go to the window and outside on the street is a man. He is standing across the road, in the shadows on the edge of the light from the streetlamp. There is this overwhelming feeling of menace and malevolence and I know it comes from him, and I know that he wants inside. I run down to the front door and briefly open it and he’s coming towards me. I slam the door shut and lock it before he reaches me, but then somehow I know he has the key. He has the key to every lock in the world. And the key I just used to lock the door begins to turn back on itself. I run upstairs and jump into my bed, under the covers. But I can hear his feet on the stairs to my room sand I am absolutely frozen with terror. And then I wake up.
The American girl leaned in and asked me ‘Was he wearing a broad-brimmed hat?’
I went cold and I jumped up from my seat in shock. That strange black hat. I’d never met this girl before. How could she know that peculiar detail of a dream I had thirty years ago?
‘And you couldn’t see his face. It was all in shadow.’
What the hell? It’s true. All I can remember is the suggestion of a grin. A sly, wicked grin that told me I was powerless to stop him. Nothing else was clear, like she said. The blackness of night was a part of him. I had goosebumps on my arms in spite of the heat.
‘I’ve never seem him,’ she said, ‘but people all over the world dream of the same figure. They call him The Hat Man. I saw a documentary about it. Some people think he’s some kind of extra-dimensional being. He enters into the dreams of children usually, but some people see him their whole lives. He feeds on their fear.’
I didn’t have much to say to that, except that it’s been a very long time since I had such an encounter. I’ve never been able to watch scary films, and I still get freaked out even if I just see an advert for one, or a trailer. But who knows? Maybe I’m not so much of an easy target than I was when I was a child; or else it was all just a bad dream and nothing more. I was spooked though, and it crossed my mind that I might now have another dream of this evil figure. I’d like to think this time I would be able to stand up to him, and maybe create some fear of my own. So far it hasn’t come to that, though. Since then there have been no such visitors, shadowy or otherwise, to my dreams.
Anyway, I had some other, more tangible scores to settle. A day or two after the fated expedition to the waterfall, Mike informed that, Jess being up and about, they were thinking of hiring a couple of scooters, finding somewhere to get lunch and going to the Temple of Hanamun for sunset. Sigrid and I had already walked to the temple at the summit of Anjaneya Hill a few days before, but I wanted to ride a scooter.
Sigrid and I on our way to the Temple; synchronised t-shirts not planned…
The year after finishing school I went backpacking around Europe with two of my school friends, Richard and Hannah. We were on Lipari; one of the Aeolian Islands off the Sicilian coast, when we decided it would be a good idea to hire some scooters to razz around on. I can still picture the square where we went to hire them – the Mediterranean bustle of the place; cars and bikes and ships unloading cargo on the dock. There was a little test involved; a quick spin round the block. Richard was first up and back in a moment, flushed with satisfaction and worthy of his new ride. It was my turn next. I shouldn’t have been nervous; it’s really no more difficult than riding a pedal-bike, but the bike shop manager was riding pillion and he kept throwing the whole thing off balance. I was lacking in confidence and I wobbled and stopped once, then again. And that was it. He shook his head at me and told me he wasn’t going to let me take the bike. I was gutted. We sought solace in the arms of a gelato but it was no use. That little moment of light humiliation has been bothering me for the last 18 years. I don’t know what it is – maybe it’s just that it would have been so cool for us to be zipping around this sun-kissed island, hopping from beach to beach, wearing sunglasses and saying ‘Ciao!’, and it was entirely down to me that this didn’t happen (though I still blame my wobbly passenger) – anyway, it was a bigger deal to me than it should have been, but now, finally, was my chance for a bit of vindication.
Sigrid rode the scooter when we picked it up from the shop in Hampi Bazaar. I didn’t want a repeat performance of Lipari, and Sigrid had kept a scooter in Goa, so I rode pillion as far as the place we found for lunch (where I ate an exciting dish of boiled rice and nothing and drank a soda water). It may not have been the greatest meal ever, and my visit to the toilet was a grim immersion in a lightless, Stygian world of terrifying smells, unearthly wailing and relentless gnashing of teeth (though all of those things may have been caused by me), but the view of the river was lovely and there was an absurdly cute puppy there who padded around and nuzzled into us at every opportunity.
From there we were headed to a nearby town to find a working ATM, and then on to the temple. It was my turn to drive. With Sigrid sitting behind me I looked at the rough dirt track ahead and thought of how hard it had been to keep my balance in that golden piazza years before. Then I opened up the throttle and felt the bike move forward beneath me. I opened it up some more and we sped forward with the back wheel skidding a little in the sand. I had to break hard to stop us leaving the road and disappearing into the bushes, but nothing bad happened. Of course. After that it was a breeze. We pulled out onto the road and then we were flying along with the wind in our hair, tooting at pedestrians and roadside vendors as we buzzed past in a summery halo.
We parked the bikes at the base of Anjaneya Hill and bought fresh coconuts, while Jack’s myriad tattoos attracted a flurry of attention from the local boys and rickshaw-drivers, then we set off up the several hundred steps leading up to the temple. Before it was Hampi, before it was even Vijayanagar, this place was Kishkinda; the realm of the monkey gods, and the birthplace of Hanamun, a muscular Hindu deity with a large mace and a simian cleft palate.
It’s not a big temple. An antechamber with an elderly baba reclining in an alcove surrounded by pictures of celebrated holy men of yore, and another room with two men sitting in the sweltering heat chanting from scriptures, and then an inner sanctum with the usual blessing procedure for the unenlightened foreigner. You ring a bell over your head as you enter, and place a ten rupee note in a little dish, then a temple attendant daubs your head with orange tikka, and gives you something sweet as puja (in this case some large crystals of sugar) and you are on your way. I’m never sure what I’m doing when I visit Hindu temples; they are hardly there for my benefit of course, but I’ve never felt like I’m learning much by visiting them. Still, I’ll take a blessing and a bit of good luck wherever I can find it.
Outside on the rocks several families of monkeys were making the most of the pilgrims and tourists by soliciting offerings of peanuts, while the sun went down in its usual splendid style. We lingered for a while taking in the beautiful views, before heading back down and riding back to Hampi Island in the dusk.