First Night’s Dream

Somewhere, an image of me hangs in the bedroom of a certain computer software company exec’s home. He–I assume it’s he–doesn’t know it’s me. I heard he is head of encryption for this company.

It’s a painting by two talented artist friends, who did a long series of works inspired by dreams. The painting was based on the dream I had, the first night I fell asleep in Buryatia.

To reach Buryatia, you can fly from Moscow for five hours. Or you can ride the Trans-Siberian for five days. I took the train. I arrived in the city of Ulan-Ude, as one would expected, pretty drained and exhausted by the tedium. My friends met us at the station, whisked us here and there in the city, and stuffed us so full of meat dumplings and vodka we could barely move. Finally, I was tucked into a bed that seemed ridiculously large, after the narrow berth of the sleeping compartment.

I dreamed I was standing on a balcony, looking across the Selenga River toward a series of tall hills. The evening before, a friend had mentioned the Hun burial mounds that had been excavated there. I dreamed a finger pointed from the balcony, over toward the hills. I heard a voice say “You’re buried there.” Then, I was flying toward the hills, circling their crowns with a flock of black birds. Circling, circling, I heard dozens of voices chanting low.

They all said the same thing: Aya, Aya.

Aya, I learned the next morning, is the name of a sky deity the Western Buryats sing hymns to. Lord Aya.

“You were here in a past life,” concluded this friend, in a matter-of-fact tone.

What is true in once place, what feels absolutely real, seems absurd in another. This felt true then, not necessarily the facile notion that I had been there before. But that I had stumbled into the spirit of something else, that I had unwittingly heard voices not meant for me, that felt true. The message was sent, yet it was hopelessly encrypted. I still struggle to make it out.

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