Sleepy head

This story took place early autumn last year. To tell the truth, I had forgotten about it all this time. Quite recently, giving in to my eight year old daughter’s nagging requests, we went to the forest to pick mushrooms and where this unexpected meeting happened, which will never be forgotten or at least will be remembered for a long time. This meeting was a continuation of last year’s story, as both of us wanted it to be so and possibly it was thus. It began on one of those nasty days…

It was only yesterday that the soft air, fermented over summer, was transparent and gentle. Weightless, yellow leaves floatedeasily and naturally over the wakening street and the warm, but already sleepy ground. Lying on the pavement, and from time to time, sighing under the heavy steps of the first passerby each leaf seemed to whisper: Please, be careful. Oh, please, please…But when the number of pedestrians grew, all that could be heard from every direction was the rustling of dried leaves. Yet today the voices of the weakened leaves were so quiet that they got lost in the crying cold wind.

Naira, jumping over puddles, every now and then adjusting the strap on her backpack, which was slipping from the left shoulder of her soaked jacket, turned up at the crossroads well before me and now, impatiently shifting from one foot to the other, was glancing from side to side.

Her school was close, but since it was on my way to work, my daughter and I always walked together. Today I hesitated and now, with all of her behavior, Naira hurried me.
All of a sudden, pointing at the haggard maple, she cried out shrilly:

— Daddy, daddy! Look!
Nearby, a six-month-old puppy, licked by the rain to such an extent that it seemed he would melt completely, funnily and clumsily jumping on the spot, shook his head from side to side. His teeth tightly clenched the wing of some bird, while its other wing, occasionally quivering, dangled helplessly. Without saying a word, we ran to the puppy.
 He was so busy with his prey that he didn’t notice our approach in time. Without letting the bird go, he pushed himself against the fence and growled.
Naira stopped in hesitation, and then took a sandwich out of her backpack, broke it in half and sat next to the puppy. He looked stupidly for a long time at the thin slices of sausage and finally let the bird go.
It was a dove. Its entire fragile wrinkled body shivered, and its eyes looked dim, yet alive.
My daughter, having fed the whole sandwich to the puppy, looked at me attentively:
— What shall we do with the bird?
— We will probably take it home.
The puppy barked irritably and whined.

By the evening the dove got used to our apartment enough to allow itself to limp around its designated area on the cupboard for a short while, stopping every minute to put its dry feathers back in order with its beak. Then, snuggling up to the plate of seeds, without touching its food, it fell asleep.
The dove did not touch its food the next day either: it spent most of its time sleeping.
— Daddy, why doesn’t it eat? Naira asked with worry in her voice.
 This question bugged me until Naira bought some buckwheat.
— I am not hungry, she announced in a hurry, as if trying to prevent my anger about the fact that she did not have lunch at school.
She filled her palm with seeds and stretched it out to the dove.
— Have some, Sleepy Head.
— Why Sleepy Head? — I asked in surprise.
— Because it sleeps nearly all the time, — Naira reasoned back. Here, Sleepy Head, — she repeated.
The dove opened its beady eyes and squinted at the palm. Then unwillingly it pecked once, twice…And then, jumping on its feet it started to greedily grab the seeds. Naira happily burst into laughter.
Having finished eating, it stooped and fell asleep again. Its sleep was short and restless. Twitching, it produced somewhat unclear sounds, which bounced off various objects and dissolved in the silence of the room.
— Is Sleepy Head crying? Is that right, daddy?
— I don’t know. It might be dreaming.
— About the way the dog tortured it?
Naira looked pitifully at the grey twitching ball and teardrops of sincere compassion glistened in her big dark eyes.
— Sleepy Head, Sleepy Head, — she called out.
The dove, now twitching even more, all of a sudden, stretching out its wings, flew in the direction of the sunrays, which penetrated the big windows and reached the cupboard.
The knock was sharp and strong. Naira picked up the dove and began to cry:
— Daddy, please, let Sleepy Head out!
— But where, here? In the city?
— I don’t know…


The dove lived with us for a few more days. There was constant twilight in the room. Naira kept the blinds closed. The dove could only fly under the ceiling. On the weekend, we decided to take the bird to the forest, far away from the city.
The entire trip, Naira didn’t trust me with the bag in which Iput the dove. Only in a clearing, where I made a stop, she exhaustedly sat down on the lemon-coloured birch leaf carpet woven by the wind and opened the bag. The dove did not move. But when Naira put it on her lap, it woke up and soared into the thick apprehensive autumn silence. The slow flapping of the wings carried the bird further and further away from us. And soon, we lost sight of the dove.


How clean and light it is in the forest! In this season it is always easy to breathe peacefully. The webs of Indian summer slide easily from somewhere up above; either from the springy branches of the trees beginning to unwillingly and shamefully strip, or from the silent sky, barely covered by a noticeable shadow of approaching loneliness. Here comes the last flock of bird-travellers, forming a familiar wedge, and striping the blueness of the cooling skies with sweet aching pain, rushing into the unknown with anxious cries.

In the autumn forest you can’t help being surprised by what you’ve already seen. Within the dozing nature there are yet unspent forces. Here in the helpless amber leaves, having once joyfully rung in the wind, now obediently leaning intoearth, the bellflowers stubbornly sway. There are very few of them. Naira and I came across them so unexpectedly that I, leaning towards them, carefully touched this blue miracle with my finger. They are real!
— Aren’t we going to pick them?
— No, let them grow. The best flowers are the untouched ones. Somebody else might get to see them too.
My daughter put down her basket full of mushrooms, and crouched in front of the flowers.
— Time to go back, — I reminded Naira unwillingly that we were only guests here.
— Daddy, look! What is it?
I turned my eyes to where she pointed and except for the balding hazel I noticed nothing.
— …How come you can’t see… — from disappointment or possibly from agitation Naira’s voice turned to a quiet whisper. —There. Really close. Yes, that, that..
Passing the hazel bush, she rushed to the birch filling the detached silence of the forest with festive childish certainty:
— Sleepy Head! Sleepy Head!
Indeed on one of the branches near the trunk was a dove. It was looking at my jubilant daughter and wouldn’t fly away.
— Daddy, this is our Sleepy Head, isn’t it? — Naira choked on her words and swallowed them in a hurry. — She heard our voice…She flew back here… She has been looking for us for a long time and we’ve just now come back to the forest…with no present…not even with bread…What do we do? Sleepy Head, next time I will definitely bring you something…Daddy, why are you silent? Say something…
…I was not sure that thiswas the same dove that we released last year.How could I be certain, if all doves have the same plumage?Although I had never come across a dove who allowed someone to approach it this close… yet…
Meanwhile the dove climbed lower, not appearing to be particularly worried.
— Do you believe now that it’s Sleepy Head?
— I do believe it is her, Naira, I really do.
I truly wanted to believe with the naivety of a child.But I was much older. And now I clearly sensed that there was something missing within my longing and understanding soul. In the past everything was different. It was left behind in my childhood.
It’s as thoughwith age, we find ourselves in a different world, in a circle of different people, civilized to such an extent that eventually you start to think that looking in the mirror of forgotten time is shameful because you may see something on your face, or even in your soul, which is unfavourable to display.
— I believe you, Naira, I believe you, — I repeated and stretched my hand out towards the bird.
The dove slid off the tree branch, flying right near my face. It disappeared. The vibrating air breathed out something familiar and distant.  Everything froze again. If it wasn’t for the swinging tree branch, it would be easy to believe that the bird was never there.

Перевод на английский Т. Варфоломеевой