From Chapter One:
Last Night, As I Was Sleeping
Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt--marvellous error!--
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey from my past mistakes.
No clear sounds. Just the distant white noise hum of blood in my ears, a signal of sorts that I am still alive, at least. Sometimes, the sense of a song. No vision and no images coming in from the outside world. Just me, alone here, small and frightened, lost in a snowstorm of white light against the black sky of my eyelids.
I don’t know how long I have been here. I am nine years old and I have been in and out of this for days. Only years later will I come to know the name we give to this condition; encephalitis, a virus which attacks the brain. For now, the names and labels are meaningless. All I know is darkness. Nothing moves.
And then, something. A face I think I recognise. An old man who smiles at me as I drift here in the dreamscape, crying the silent, fearful tears of a small boy standing at the edge of a vast drop into the abyss of death. “Nothing to be afraid of, little one,” he says. The words are spoken in German. He takes my hand. Together, we leap into the abyss.
We never land, though. I open my eyes and look into his. They are no longer those of a human being. I am looking into eyes comprised of 26,000 magnificent hexagonal lenses, each one of them able to see deep into my soul. They are the eyes of a bee. And we are flying.
Effortlessly, we arrive at the other side of the abyss and gently float to the earth. I look into those eyes again, and now they are human. They are eyes I recognise, the eyes of a friend. They are the eyes of Herr Professor.
He looks at me and smiles. Kleine bubbe, ales gehst gut. Habst keine angst, he whispers. “Little one, all is well now. Nothing to be afraid of.”
Two days after this “dream,” I am fully conscious and well enough to eat. A week later, I am out of bed and back to being a life-filled little boy.
And so, I decide to visit my friend Herr Professor, after so long away from him. I walk through the woods which separate our two isolated houses, past the beehives he keeps in his garden, up to the dark wood door. Before I can even knock, the door is opened and Herr Professor stands smiling down at me.
“Ah, little one,” he says. “How lovely to see you. There, I told you there was nothing to be afraid of.”
I had met Herr Professor two years before this, when my family had moved from the north of England, to the forests of Vienna Austria. His was the only other house within a mile of our property, if you could call it a house. It was more a marriage between a wooden Tyrollean chalet and a jungle hut. It stood in its forest home, shrouded in creeping undergrowth that he maintained with precise care so that it remained as wild as possible, cultivated to the minimum. He was always a part of his surroundings rather than a master of them. He preferred it that way.
I had first met Herr Professor when my parents had befriended him after we moved into our home. Recognising him as a learned man, they had asked if he would teach me the German language. He had been happy to agree, though in reality we studied little German. Instead, we had adventures together where we would explore the wild forest places of this strange new territory. Or he would allow me to play the many drums he had at his home; huge flat drums from strange-sounding faraway places like Tuva and Lapland. Sometimes, too, he would hold me spellbound with stories of his adventures in the real jungles of Mexico and Peru, illustrating his talk of jaguars and snakes and dug-out canoes, ecstatic rituals and full-moon rites with the exotic curios and “objects of power” he had returned with: spears and shields, stones and vines and, most fascinating to me, a shrunken head brought back from a mysterious Amazonian tribe.
We became immediate friends. In the isolation of the woods, I was glad to have someone to talk to and take walks with. This wise man shared with me his knowledge of both the woods and the world, and exposed the richness of the strange gifts contained therein. Having lived in solitude for so long, the exuberance of youth was a joy to Herr Professor, and my company delivered a source of gentle amusement.
Of course, then I did not know him as Herr Professor (though I always referred to him by this title); I knew him more than anything as a friend. It was later that I learned his “true” identity. He had been a university professor, an extremely well respected man who had lectured to thousands of students for nearly half a century, as well as travelling the world in search of a personal truth. His travels had taken him to the five inhabited continents and the furthest corners of the world. He had lived with indigenous peoples, becoming one with their simple lifestyles until objective scientific study had given way to personal belief and immense respect as he had watched the shamans and wise men and women of these tribes perform their daily miracles which defied the laws of the Western science he had been educated in.