I’m startled awake by a sound on the front deck of my kuti, a little stand alone, elevated, single-room hut. This is a meditation center and there are maybe 5 kutis on this side of the property, separated by 50 feet or so. This side is only women and I believe there are maybe 4 other women staying in the other huts at this time. Why would anyone be coming to my door in the dark? We’re not permitted to speak to one another and it’s 2AM. My mind races for explanations and before I can even expand on any thoughts a rapping sound clips through the dark, a rapid knock knock knock against the wall near the door. I freeze. I don’t want to answer the door or see what anyone needs, because there’s no good reason to be up on my deck at this hour. I stay quiet and listen, pulling the thin “blanket” (which is basically a large towel) tighter around my body as the cold night air pokes at the goosebumps developing on my arms and neck.
I hear walking on the creaky wooden boards that wrap around the circumference of the house. There is a “back door,” directly across from the door next to me and I panic as I hear the sounds approaching it. The screen door is closed, but none of the doors are locked. The tapping on the floorboards accelerates and there’s a scurrying sounds around the next corner of the house, now along the wall just next to my body, and then a thudding sound at the corner of the porch just on the other side of the wall from my head.
When I was a little girl, my mom used to delight my brothers and me with a scary story she’d made up. It was called, “The Black Ball.” In the story, a brother and sister were at home in a cabin in the woods, alone, while their father went out to get a doctor for their mother, who had broken her arm and was in bed in the next room. The children hear something outside the door and don’t answer it because their father is away. This sound outside rolls, slowly, around the outside of the house, pausing at each corner. As a kid that part was so scary; as an adult, living it, it’s terrifying. In the story, the kids go outside and see this giant black ball swallow someone up – maybe their mother – and they chase it through the woods and into a cave. They finally corner it and shine a flashlight on it, causing it to open and reveal their parents or whatever and all is well. I’m remembering this story as the clattering on the deck starts again, faster, as it dashes to the farther corner of the front wall and thuds down again.
I don’t have a flashlight and I’m encouraged by logical thoughts about how the entire mediation center is locked at the front gate at 6PM, meaning anyone or anything on my porch is from within the compound. I’m also slightly courageous because I remember suddenly that I didn’t shut the little gate that sits like a “baby gate” at the top of the stairs to my deck; a piece of metal that’s soul purpose is to keep animals off the deck and there’s one, ONE, very old, very blind, very fat dog and about a million cats that live on the property. It’s probably that dog. We have to sign a contract upon checking in to the meditation center, promising we won’t talk to other visitors (as it takes them out of the present moment), and we won’t feed the animals (because then they will start begging at the kutis and bother later guests). It’s probably the dog, I tell myself, as I pull open the screen door and its metal hinges cry out into the darkness. I step out onto the deck and creep over to the corner of the house. There, not a black ball, but a white, panting, blind and totally thoughtless white dog has thudded down. “Hey,” I say in a whisper, “you’re not supposed to be here.” She doesn’t look at me, but she does stiffen her neck to show she heard me. She doesn’t care though. She makes absolutely no indication of any intention to move. My hand grazes a broom handle, leaning against the side of the wall. Maybe she sniffed that on entry and that’s what “knocked” at the door. I can’t bring myself to pick the broom up and try to shoo her off, so I just tsk at her and then go back to bed.
I crawl onto the thin mattress and kick my feet around until the “blanket” covers them. Content with my new understanding that it’s a dog on my porch, I decide I’ll just be fine with the noise she’s making and go back to sleep. However, for another 20 minutes she periodically gets up, scuttles around a corner of the deck and then thuds down. Even knowing that it’s her, it’s somehow still very disturbing. And she does it infrequently enough that I’m always barely on the edge of sleep and jolted awake by her sprints, every time. Eventually I don’t hear her anymore and she must have gone down the stairs and into the night for a better resting spot. In the morning, I make a mental note to close the gate at the top of my stairs.
Two days later, as I’m checking out, I see this white dog in the corner of the kitchen. I point to her and ask the man who’s chatting with me what is the dog’s name. He thinks for a second before remembering and declaring, “Ouan!” This is a common enough Thai nickname, but it means “fat.” I’ve not really ever seen Ouan outside of the kitchen and surely she only made her way over to my deck in the dead of night because the nuns weren’t cooking. I tell this man the story of Ouan scaring me in the night and he laughs, telling me he’d be scared too. I watch as Ouan gets up from the corner of the kitchen and hobble/runs after a nun who is carrying a bowl. Seeing her gait, the scurrying and arhythmic pattern of her legs as she gets after the nun, I can see why it took me so long to realize that sound was not a nightmare come to life just outside my door. Definitely much less terrifying than if a person had been up there, though.