The moment at dawn when sleep still lies over your body and pushes you back into the night’s dreams. As you wake, fragments of memory fade too quickly before you can piece together their story; just as you grasp an image, any meaning attached to it is gone. This happens a lot and you are left wondering at the night time world you inhabit, when you are at your most open to it. I don’t often remember my dreams, although I know that I do dream and sometimes I wake suddenly in the middle of the night stiff-limbed and cold.
I know that the things I see during the days, the things that impact enough to remain, will appear eventually although changed; dreams only need a small element of reality, the rest is as if you are looking through a kaleidoscope, warped and surreal.
Last night, during a waking moment, I found a cobra in our garden, large and black and very angry. He had our littlest cat cornered, had his hood flared and was up in the air by at least a third of his body. I shouted at him in the dark, stamped the ground to distract him from my small cat who was naively trying to pat him with her gentle paw. Help came in the lanky form of William, our Maasai askari, who dispatched him with one blow from his knobkerrie stick. I’ve lived in Africa for 16 years but some things still scare me; this was a nightmare which I know I will revisit later.
As a child, I used to slip into a half-state between wakefulness and the stage they call REM sleep. Not yet asleep and still very much aware. I’d open my eyes and see things in my room, a figure sitting at the end of my bed would slowly turn and face me. I don’t remember him as particularly malevolent, but my 13-year-old self was too terrified to do anything but scream and turn on the light. It’s funny what you remember, the man at the end of the bed wore a white hat with a silk band. Other nights I was woken by small winged creatures crawling all over my bed and the more I stared at them, the more they took form and shape. Their wings took on detail and I could see the movements of their legs. I’d hold my nerve for as long as I could before I panicked and turned on the light.
My mother, concerned about the state of my mind, took me to a doctor who dismissed it as an over-active imagination. The bad dreams, for that was what they were referred to – although I wasn’t convinced – pursued me for the next 15 or so years. And then they took a hiatus for a very long time.
I went back to England last year, stayed in our family house in my old room which now, transformed into a smart guest room, bore little resemblance to what it used to be. On the third night, my sister – trying to catch some sleep with a new-born baby at her side – was startled by loud screaming downstairs whilst I, in some in-between place, had found myself facing an army of something, exactly what I don’t remember, and literally thrown myself out of bed, cracking my head on the window seat on the way down.
I am capable of good and deep sleep though and here, in our mountain castle, I feel the karma that flows in and out of the many open windows and doors. This is a house where I have known most, if not all, of its inhabitants over the years and that gives it a familiar feeling, as if they are present in the very fibre of it. And our large free-standing bed, with softly draped netting all around, is a place I like to be in often. I like the view it affords, almost 360 degrees out of all its windows. You can see far, like a look-out place, see whatever is approaching from any direction. I go to sleep with that thought in my mind and light a candle in my dreams.