Early Morning

Shutterstock / Rumdul ©

I’m discovering that the countryside awakes earlier, and just as noisily, as any city… but there’s a difference

Just after four in the morning I jolt awake and before I’m even conscious, I’m groaning in frustration.

It took me two hours to get to sleep, why can’t I stay asleep? I’m desperate for a decent night’s rest!

It’s that same gnawing in the pit of my stomach that has woken me every night for weeks now. That feeling of unresolved panic and impending disaster.

I lie still, feeling it out, and slowly realise that although the gnawing is there, it is not what woke me.

It wasn’t the sudden dreamy remembrance that I forgot to cancel the milk deliveries to my old address or that I’ve got to get the broadband sorted before my online job interview in three days.

What woke me was a noise.

The skylight above the bed shows a blank screen of grey light. I didn’t take much notice of the window when Auntie Bennie first showed me the room, I was too busy worrying about a dozen other things.

But now, as the light lands flat on my face, I realise the problem of sleeping directly under an uncurtained window when dawn comes so early.

Had I made a bad decision in becoming my great aunt’s lodger? Another potential mistake to add to a growing list that includes ending a two-year relationship and giving up a miserable but stable job in retail management.

The noise comes again. It sounds like a question somehow. A low, melodious chirping with an upwards inflection.

I bury my head in my pillow.

Taking my aunt’s spare room seemed my last available option when my flatmate moved out of my old place and I couldn’t afford the rent by myself.

I’d thought I’d be fine. I’d thought Ian would move in; I thought it was inevitable, given the way our relationship was going.

It turned out that Ian was another bad choice on my part.

Auntie Bennie’s cottage was small, decorated with mismatching fabrics and floor-to-ceiling framed pictures; chickens in the back garden; one bathroom; miles away from the nearest chain store.

It was kind of her to take me in, but I couldn’t help feeling like a failure.

Maybe I should have got a new flatmate to fight over the washing machine with, stuck out the job I hated, and given Ian another year or two to change his mind.

Maybe… maybe…

There’s that questioning note again.

A blackbird, I think. And now it’s joined by another voice: a higher, merrier sound, a sound of purpose and busyness.

There’s just too much to think about. My overtired brain is leaping from one thing to another. The shapes of unpacked boxes and overstuffed shelves become clearer in my lightening room.

More birds suddenly join in the ruckus. Who knew there were even this many birds resident in the area? Are we in the middle of some kind of avian holiday camp?

There’s no chance of sleeping through this racket. I’m never going to have a decent night’s sleep again if this is going to happen every morning.

Giving up, I relax my grip on the pillow and to resist making To Do lists in my head, I start to untangle one bird’s call from another.

Gradually, the clamouring begins to sound less like a cacophony and more like communications.

There’s something that sounds like an argument, all sharp fury, and there’s something elsewhere that sounds like a seduction. Defending territory; attracting a mate. Even the birds can do what I can’t.

The more I tune in, the more I can hear the different bird calls.

Trills and chirps and repetitions and short queries, chuckles and ruminations, and also quiet, elegant melodies that sound as if they’re for the singer’s own pleasure.

Imagine talking to yourself in a voice like that.

I kneel up in bed and put back the curtain. The large sycamore at the end of the garden is silhouetted against the sky and I can see the branches are full of birds.

I don’t miss my old morning view of tower blocks, rubbish trucks and busy roads. For all my concerns about the move, my new home nevertheless has one huge plus point: a wide horizon. Here there are fields and trees and natural light. Literal breathing space.

It’s going to be a while before I know whether it was a good idea to come here, but something had to change. Making that change must have been the right thing to do. It had to be.

My body has softened, my annoyance at being awake ebbing.

I climb back under the duvet, leaving the curtains open.

The dawn chorus is going to go on for a while yet. But it’s a lovely sound for all its confusion, and it makes me feel so much less alone in the world that my whole body relaxes.

By the time the sun has fully risen, I’m fast asleep.

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