Dreamscapes: African Stories
Larry Thompson on the singing
bed of the Sahara
town was in the hot red land on the southern edge of the Sahara.
It was the capital of a region but its pomp and circumstance was
only a few baked-brick buildings surrounded by a scattering of thatched
dwellings ringed by thorny fences.
sunburned earth was bare, eaten to the quick by goats. Acacia, bananas,
and a few large round mangos cast pools of welcome shade. We were travelers,
three young French women and myself, an American dı un certain age,
and our driver, a swarthy rogue whose heritage, so he claimed, included
an Italian soldier and a Tuareg princess.
It was nearly dark when we arrived at the town and by good chance we
encountered the governor of the province who invited us to dinner and
to sleep at his house, there being nothing in the town that served as
a hostel. The governor was a short, jolly black man from the south.
His wife was café-colored and tall and elegant in her flowing robe of
many colors. The governorıs palace was an adobe hut of three rooms and
dinner was set on a low table outside on a small terrace. The menu was
roast goat more bones than meat and millet mixed with
left-over goat parts and cooked in a large roasting pan.
It was an African night such as rarely seen elsewhere. The sky was clear
and dark as it can be only where the nearest electric light is a hundred
miles away. The stars were of undiminished grandeur. It was in the middle
of dinner when the governor rose abruptly and announced, "Excusez-moi.
I promised my second wife that I would spend the night with her and
I must go." With that he climbed into his battered land cruiser and
While we watched him depart we heard the sound of a familiar tune played
on chimes. "Hickery, dickery, dock, the mouse ran up the clock!" The
tune was followed by six tolls: "ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding!"
"What is that?" we asked all together. "That is my bed," said the governo'ıs
first wife or perhaps she was his third, or fourth, wife. "Pardon?"
"My bed. It is a custom here to receive a bed as a wedding present,"
she explained. "And my bed has a clock which plays a song every hour,"
she added proudly. "Unfortunately, the clock is two hours slow and I
do not know how to reset it."
I counted. Yes, I had heard six tolls of the clock and my watch said
that it was eight oıclock. We finished dinner and prepared for bed.
The governorıs wife retired within the house and closed the door behind
her. We would sleep on the ground. One of the French girls had taken
upon herself the task of preventing us from getting malaria and meticulously
hung our mosquito nettings from thorn trees. As we nestled into our
bedding, we heard the clock chime again. "Dum, de, dum, dum! Ding, ding,
ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding." Eight chimes. It was ten oıclock.
I checked my watch to be sure. Yes, ten oıclock. And the tune the bed
had played, I recalled after a moment, was the theme of the television
Our night was not to be pleasant. A sandstorm came up of sufficient
force to blow away the mosquito netting that covered our beds on the
sand. We pulled our blankets for it is always chilly on the bare ground
at night over our heads and endured the blowing sand.
"Frere Jacques, frere Jacques, dormez-vous, dormez-vous," chimed the
bed. "Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. It was eleven
oıclock. It began to rain, at first mixed with the driving sand, and
then the wind ceased, and it was just rain. It was insupportable! Rain
at the very edge of the Sahara! The only shelter was under the narrow
eaves of the governorıs house. We moved our blankets to the terrace
and we crowded beneath the eaves, sitting up, as there was no room for
the five of us to lie down. The rain continued. The driver uttered vile
curses under his breath, which in the close quarters was vile indeed.
The French girls tittered. The American attempted to sleep but it
was impossible. The governorıs wife was not to be seen or heard. Presumably,
she slept peacefully in her marital bed while her husband, the governor,
sported with wife number two.
It was still raining when the bed gave us a stirring rendition of "This
Land is your Land," at midnight. I told the French girls about Woody
Guthrie. I was dozing when the bed played "God Save the Queen" and chimed
an interminable eleven times. The rain had stopped, but the terrace
was still wet. At two oıclock, the thunderous opening of Beethovenıs
Fifth Symphony roused me. No chimes. I puzzled on this for a while.
Yes, of course, at two oıclock in the morning there would be no chime,
because the bed believed it was midnight or and therefore the zero hour.
It seemed dry enough to venture out from the eaves and remake our beds
on the terrace. There was barely room for the five of us to lie down
and the driver was soon snoring in my ear. I was dozing at three oıclock
when the bed woke me with "Hang down your head, Tom Dooley, hang down
your head and cry." A single chime followed. I rolled over and finally
found peace at last.
The bed woke me with "you gotta get up, you gotta get up, you gotta
get up in the mornings. Ding, ding, ding, ding." Six o'clock. I recoiled
from the suppurating nostrils of the driver, carefully lifted the blanket
to avoid waking a lovely Venus coiled at my side, rose slowly and picked
my way over the three girls. It was a cool, beautiful morning. The toilette
was in a far corner of the compound. It was a hole in the ground surrounded
by a wattled wall about four feet tall. One could survey the compound
while squatting. Essentials accomplished, I find a pipe nearby sticking
out of the ground and I opened a valve for water to perform my ablutions.
Soon, the sun got hot and the French girls, the driver, and the governorıs
wife got up. We thanked her and asked her to thank her absent husband
and we piled into our land cruiser and went on our way, churning down
a sandy track cut through the dunes. Then, a question hit me like a
stitch in the side. I had been asleep when the bed chimed twice and
thrice at four a.m. and five a.m. What songs did the bed play at those
hours? It is a mystery that will plague me till the end of my days.
© Larry Thompson 2003
smallchief at aol.com
also by Larry Thompson Hotel
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