In a Hammock

by Erika Byrne-Ludwig

Has it ever happened to you to fall asleep standing in a bus a hand on the bar? It has to me and not just once. Usually on an early morning after a late night when just about all elements have joined in to make my mind give in to sleep. Think of yourself in a bus on a day when your senses are more sensitive, and you'll know what I mean.

In my case it's a question of noise, smells and overall bus life. The engine's humming gets in my ears, the rocking makes me dizzy and the fleeting images of the outside overwhelm my eyes. Some passenger's warm breath chokes my nose, as well as does, of course, the usual stuffiness with its characteristic blend of whiffy odours.

Napping standing up had so far only occurred in the confined body of a bus. But then this changed. One morning, I was walking uphill to the corner shop aviary. The dazzling sun forced me to blink several times, my eyes already being in a fragile state of tears. I was in mourning.

Deep in weary thoughts after a few agitated nights, I believed that for a few seconds I fell asleep. Not a big dive, just a suspended one as in a hammock. As far as I was aware, I was still putting a foot forward, advancing step by step, facing the bright sun. And during this very short break from reality I had an encounter.

On his head, quite incongruously, stood my yellow straw hat with its fluff canary pinned on the side and twisted around his neck my chain of coloured wooden beads. He was walking upright downhill towards me with an air of nonchalance till we met. Taller than I, robust, white-chested, hairy. It was a black bear.

I wasn't frightened when he came close to me. There were tiny orangy crystals, arranged in circles in his eyes, that sent comforting rays into mine. Perhaps he was bringing me solace. Instead of a handshake, as I almost expected, the mighty bear put a paw on my cheek. This touch interrupted the scene. I spontaneously woke up.

He was gone. The footpath I was walking on continued its winding towards the shops. The gracious bear had walked out of my dream and disappeared in the ether, yet still remained in my mind. I was alone. Alone with the now invisible apparition.

I kept on going uphill, in a somewhat sleepy way, the image of the bear having replaced my thoughts with a vision of a soothing world. New musical notes. A diversion.In the aviary I gradually recovered from my surreal experience. So many wings fluttering and whistling in the cages. Having to make a choice, I walked from cage to cage, talking and whistling with the birds, under their spell as I always tended to be.

I chose a canary which I called Gino to replace mine. Birds die too. To my sorrow, I had found Rico a few days earlier lying on the ground in his garden, his mate Nina flapping her wings beside him. Strange having to stare at a lifeless plumage. I liked to believe he had reached a yellow-winged world where he could still sing the tunes he sang for me.

In the under-cover garden, sharing it with Nina, Rico was a free bird. Perhaps not quite. Days for them seemed to be filled with a never-ending flight and, when picked up, Rico would gently peck my face. No need for many words. Yes, give Riri a kiss or two, I would say to him.

Gino, my freshly bought canary, is now with me in a box, all quiet and delicate, probably trembling slightly, feathers ruffled I'd say, even though I keep talking to him about wild birds, about Rico, Nina and the small garden that he will now share with her. I even recount in some detail my meeting with the bear. Uncanny how affection can spill over to others quickly.

As I tried to sleep the same evening I felt the bear's paw with its leathery pads against my skin, the prickle of its curled claws, the tickling tuft of hairs between the toes.

With my birds now sharing sleepy sounds, I put my hand on the bear's paw and left it there a while, closed my eyes to feel its wild strangeness and perhaps hear his thoughts. One day I might again fall asleep, a deep dive this time, not in a hammock, one that lasts longer, and meet my suave black bear for a few more minutes. And, since all is possible in dreams, I would ask him to walk down the hill again and visit us here.