I blame the fucking mosquito net.
I hated the damn thing from the moment we got to Dakar, four weeks ago: tenuously strung up overhead, from window frames, light fixtures and, on the foot end, the extended grips of our suitcases, now hanging from a ramshackle wooden frame assembled by a local carpenter. You'd be surprised how many times one needs to get up during an average night— especially as a man of a certain age — each time having to perform the mosquito net routine, pulling it up from around the mattress, ducking underneath, and then carefully tucking it back in. It's a pain in the ass, making sure you get a good seal even in the dead of night. But given the threat of malaria, the net's protection is essential.
And so it happened that earlier this week, feeling a little queasy in the stomach after having perhaps not been quite careful enough with the tap water, climbing into bed and wanting nothing more than to curl up with a book, I tossed my Kindle onto the mattress along with the book light, lifted the netting, ducked underneath, and thoughtlessly put my hand on the device's protective cover, leaning on it ever so slightly as I shifted my weight inside.
That was all it took. A tiny crack, more felt than heard.
I knew right away.
I'd broken a Kindle before, in a swim bag thrown in the trunk of a family van outside of an overcrowded public pool in Germany. I'd seen those same thin, crosshatched lines that were now quickly spreading over the disappearing face of Jane Austen, as if Piet Mondrian had gotten hold of an Etch-a-Sketch. Then, in Germany, I'd called Amazon.de, learned that the damage was irreparable (or rather, deemed unworthy of repair) and, through some odd combination of warranties and corporate lock-in loss-leader strategy, was sent a free replacement.
Now, five years later, on the sandy outskirts of Dakar, there was no one to call.