Who enjoys nightmares? The clue’s in the name. Nightmares wreck sleep, sap confidence and breed an insidious fear. Mine was persistent, and always the same. Ever since I was small, the feeling of falling. Falling out of bed. Falling off a cliff. Falling, for ever. Tumbling over, hair flowing like a flag, and arms and legs spreadeagled like a runaway cartwheel. Soundless screams coming from my lips. Down and down, through the darkness, in an ever-narrowing tunnel. There was no bottom to my fall. There was no medicinal potion to cure my habit. Night after night I fell. There was no relief in the warm comfort of my parents’ bed. My nightmares catapulted me into something like suspended animation. I can’t explain it. Then, in my fifteenth year they stopped [ I can’t explain that either] … well until last night.
He was leaving the next morning and we all decided to have a farewell do at Stephanus’s big house overlooking the harbour. First a meal, then communion, followed by an after-dinner chat. We crowded into the big open room on the third floor. It was late, approaching midnight, and he showed no sign of stopping. I remember too, it was clammy, no wind off the sea, and warm, so warm. The atmosphere became stale; choking and acrid from all the oil lamps. I was glad to be beside the window. Asthma you see.
They say I fell asleep. I didn’t mean to. But after three hours even Paul’s new life perspective can become too much Then, nightmare, I was falling, tumbling, down, down. Deeper and deeper. For ever it seemed. Strange, I could hear distant voices, and cries, like women wailing. All becoming fainter. Then his commanding voice, urgent and nearby, ‘He’s alive.’ I started to clamber back, up that steep tunnel, labouring at first but finding it ever easier as he kept talking.
Opening my eyes, I saw their faces, some sobbing, and others’ mouths wide open with hands pressed against their cheeks. Fear infested their eyes. Far above, beyond the third-floor window, were tiny stars, beautiful, vibrant pinpoints of light like sparkles pinned to a dark board. Oh, how my head ached. What was I doing on the street anyway? As Paul lifted me, I realised this wasn’t a nightmare, this was more. This was a miracle. A strange, inner voice whispered, ‘You’ve just had your life back, so it’s not yours any longer. Now, how are you going to use it?’