Monday, June 1, 2009

Tennis in the Jungle

We walk onto the tennis court in the darkness, breathing in the heavy, soup-thick night air. Our sweat pools, helpless in the lack of breeze. We are grateful for the absence of the sun, but even without it the temperature matches that of our bodies.

When we were still new to this place, we learned quickly that to play in the daytime, scorched by the sun and slowly steamed by the surrounding air, is simply not possible. Instead, we schedule our games to catch the precious few hours during which Singapore is magical: before 8 a.m. and after the regular sunset at 7 p.m. Often, as we play, a cooling breeze brings blessed relief from the heat of the day future or past, and the clouds drift lazily across the sky in the twilight. Beyond that, we play on into darkness, hidden at last from the equatorial sun.

Yet to be hidden from the sun is not always to be hidden from the heat, and tonight the heat presses down on us inexorably. We heave heavy, damp balls back and forth across the net with labored movements and measured steps, each breath taking in more water than oxygen in the tropical humidity.

A storm must be brewing somewhere off the coast, to bring such density to the air; the moths realize it, too, and suddenly they are out in force around the bright lights of the court. Some venture lower, flying across the court, darting in front of our faces with utter disregard. As one flies across the court on a collision course with my racket, I duck, and the ball goes flying by me. Trudging to the backcourt to retrieve it, I brush away furry wings swarming around my head. We try not to open our mouths.

But relief has arrived: we hear the high-pitched squeaks in the trees, and now the bats are awake and swooping through the courts. Their tiny, dark bodies dive through the air, catching a moth in the bright-lit air of the court before disappearing upward into the darkness to start again. The bats work quickly; minutes later, the moths have disappeared, except for a hardy half-dozen or so still trying to singe themselves on the tall fluorescent lights. The bats have disappeared, too, their job of nightly pest control only just begun.

Slowly we begin to breathe easier in the now-clear air and, finally, the slowly dissipating heat. We gradually settle into our usual pace, relaxing to the regular rhythm of our shots and the bounce of the ball. Later, as we drag our sweat-laden bodies off the court into the shocking cold of air-conditioning, we smile sadly, knowing all of this—the heat, the moths, the bats—will soon be just a memory.

It was our last night of tennis in the jungle.


Cheryl said...

I have goosebumps from reading this. Lovely prose. I can't help but be sad. I will miss you!

Jacqueline said...

we would like to use some of your
articles on Singapore on our blog

let me know, if you like to to have a contributor account for our new blog

You can post and link to your site/blog.

Jacqueline Reischel

travels said...

i will try tennis in the jungle, i think its fantastic

Anonymous said...

We would like to use a couple of your old articles in our Singapore expat newspaper.
Would you be interested in content sharing?