December in Kalaw is a cold month. The sky is blue and cloudless. The sun wanders from one side of the horizon to the other, but no longer climbs high enough to generate any real warmth. The air is clear and fresh, and only the most sensitive people can still detect any trace of the heavy, sweet scent of the tropical rainy season, when the clouds hang low over the village and the valley, and the water falls unchecked from the skies as if to slake a parched world’s thirst. The rainy season is hot and steamy. The market reeks of rotting meat, while heavy black flies settle on the entrails and skulls of sheep and cattle. The earth itself seems to perspire. Worms and insects crawl out of its pores. Innocent rills turn to rushing torrents that devour careless piglets, lambs, or children, only to disgorge them, lifeless, in the valley below.<br>   But December promises the people of Kalaw a respite from all of this.  December promises cold nights and mercifully cool days. December, thought Mya Mya, is a hypocrite.<br>   She was sitting on a wooden stool in front of her house looking out over the fields and the valley to the hilltops in the distance. The air was so clear that she felt she was looking through a spyglass to the ends of the earth. She did not trust the weather. Although she could not remember ever in her life having seen a cloud in a December sky, she would not rule out the possibility of a sudden downpour. Or of a typhoon even if not a single one in living memory had found its way from the Bay of Bengal into the mountains around Kalaw. It was not impossible. As long as there were typhoons anywhere, one might well devastate Mya Mya’s native soil. Or the earth might quake. Even, or perhaps especially, on a day like today, when nothing foreshadowed catastrophe. Complacency was treacherous, confidence a luxury that Mya Mya could not afford. That much she knew at the bottom of her heart. For her there would be neither peace nor rest. Not in this world. Not in her life. <BR><BR><i>Continues...</i> <!-- copyright notice --> <br></pre> <blockquote><hr noshade size='1'><font size='-2'> Excerpted from <b>The Art of Hearing Heartbeats</b> by <b>Jan-Philipp Sendker</b> Copyright © 2012 by Jan-Philipp Sendker. Excerpted by permission of Other Press, a division of Random House, Inc.<br> All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.<br>Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.