A Dance for Two

nonfiction

Image by Shifaaz shamoon

       I woke up in a good mood on one of those early days in March, when the sun tempts you to believe in spring even though the cutting fringes of winter still have a firm grip on the air. If you succumb to temptation and forgo the thick layers of clothing you've long since grown tired of, you'll be punished the moment you step outside and likely catch your first full-blown cold of the year.

       But I know these tricks of the capricious weather goddess. Not me, I thought, and rejoiced when I found the cream turtleneck sweater that I purchased at a clearance sale. My eyes fell on the purple vest that had been hanging from one of the hooks in my dressing closet for months. Worn once, it hadn’t been out often enough to wash, but too little to be put back in the closet. Today would be the big day for its
second use.
       It was the perfect contrast to the sweater.

       I held the vest up in front of the bathroom mirror along with the sweater. Yes, really chic! I thought. Humming softly, I did my morning rituals and got dressed.

       Dark buzzing like a miniature bear sounded from my back as soon as I put on the vest. Startled, I threw it off as quickly as possible.

       A memory struck my mind: as a child, I had visited the beach with my parents. Suddenly, a wasp had stung me twice in the back. I leaped in an involuntary dance as it wiggled free and flew away. I just felt the pain and had no idea what had happened. At that time, my parents thought I had an outburst of spontaneous joy. It took them forever to check that nothing at all was okay and rushed to help me. They had me sit in the sea for ages because they believed the salt water to be good for healing. I don’t know if they were right.

       The yellow and black beast had gotten under my swimsuit and then punished me for its wrongdoing. I never learned how it got there – it must have been when I spent time laying in the sun. Out of the hundreds of people at the beach, the wasp had chosen me. Not that I’m proud of it.

       I first became aware of the existence of wasps then. I knew they were around, but they never approached me so closely again.

       Until now. A two-inch-long, yellow and black creature was also now crawling out of my vest and growling indignantly. I wonder who was more startled, me or this-what was it? Wasp or hornet? It certainly was not a honeybee or bumblebee. I didn’t take the time to watch it more closely, but I saw it was fluffy, like a furry playmate. It almost reminded me of a puppy. Quite beautiful if I hadn’t known it was dangerous.

       I quickly fetched the suitable tools to catch the insect and transported it outside. This creature was frightening, but I knew it must have been afraid of me too. I felt a little nervous releasing it at my terrace: would it be happy to soar again, or would it sting me? Despite the fear, I was glad to help such a great animal. They’re protected here under German law. What a relief it didn’t turn angrily towards me!

       I then examined the vest closely and found no other uninvited guests. To be on the safe side, I put it in the laundry and decided that the turtleneck sweater didn’t need any further accessory at the beginning of March.

       On my way to work, I made a firm decision to thoroughly clean my bedroom as soon as I returned home. Good idea! Never again would I carelessly offer my clothes as winter quarters to buzzing beasts indefinitely.

       I always tell them to move to the other side of the little pond by my home, but every year, they insist on coming back to my place. Do they breed here? I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. I don’t wish them harm. Not knowing is a way of protecting them, and myself.

       I wish I could enjoy my home and terrace without having to be on guard. And protect my cup of coffee every time I go outside. Every buzz makes me look around

until I find out what is making the sound. I haven’t tried to get rid of the wasps, though. They are precious creatures after all. I would just prefer that they not be close enough to touch my skin again.

       We move in a kind of dance, the wasps and I, coming and going as we need to, without disturbing each other. How do you tell insects where they can and cannot be?

       I examined all the clothing that has been in my bedroom unattended for more than three days. So far, no one else has nested in them. This means the problem is solved.

       Or so I thought.

       Several months passed. I woke up to a loud buzzing at my ear. By the light of my bedside lamp, I saw a shadow darting between my bed and the lamp, inches from my face. I recognized a creature as thick and almost as long as my little finger...

As journalist, storyteller and friend of almost all animals Ellen Westphal loves to write fiction and non-fiction about what is truly important in life: friendship with all kinds of species. Mostly she writes in her own language, German, but since some years she also tries to express