“Help me! I’m stuck under a bus!” The words were moaned anxiously in the dark. “Help me…”
The cries drew my Mom out of a restless sleep. Was she dreaming? No. She was certainly awake now and she heard the half-hearted cry again. “I can’t get out. I’m stuck under a bus.” Another sound. The scratch of nails against…fabric? What on earth is going on? she asked herself groggily.
In a nearby hammock, Aunt Becky woke as well. “Do you hear that?” she asked in concern. “It sounds like Ruth.”
“It does. Is she okay? Where are the candles?”
“I’m trying to find them. I put them right under my hammock before the lights went out.” Her hammock hooks squeaked as she fumbled about in the blackness. It seemed like a simple task, but the generator was off and the the jungle’s cloudy night sky was dark as tar. Of course, it wouldn’t have made a difference if the sky had been clear and the moon full; the window shutters were closed and latched securely to hold back mosquitos attacks. During the day, closing the windows would have been unbearably stifling, but in the relative cool of the night, the temperature was tolerable, sometimes even chilly.
Mom listened in the dark. Matches bounced about in their box, ticking like an erratic maraca. The box slid open. A match head skidded against the strike strip and a tiny burst of yellow light exploded in the darkness illuminating a faint outline of Aunt Becky, leaning out of her hammock. The flame faded.
“You couldn’t find a candle?” Mom asked as the darkness settled around them again.
“It won’t light.” Aunt Becky struck another match, touched it to the candle end, and moaned as the fire faltered. “The candle keeps going out.”
She tried again and again. After numerous false starts, the candle caught the flame and a warm glow flickered over the tiny living room-sized cabin. Hammocks stretched from wall to wall in an overlapping mess of colors and heights. When space was limited, it was common practice to “bunk” the hammocks, hanging one above the other, and crisscross them as dictated by the placement of hooks around the room. We had ten hammocks to hang in one small room, so we’d squeezed and packed ourselves in like little sardines in a tin can. The fabric web that the swinging beds formed made it hard to move about even in the middle of the day; without light, it was nearly impossible.
Candle lit, hand carefully guarding the flame as she ducked under hammock strings and awkwardly picked her way around bags on the floor and towels and swimsuits hanging up to dry, Aunt Becky made her way to her daughter’s hammock. As one of the older children, Ruth slept near the ground, that way, if her hammock strings happened to break in the night, she wouldn’t land on top of one of the smaller kids. Aunt Becky bent over her mumbling child.
Ruth tossed and turned again, scratching sorrowfully at her little sister who slept above her. “Help me…I’m…stuck…” her voice trailed off.
“You’re having a bad dream. You’re not stuck under a bus. We’re at camp. That’s just Debbie’s hammock; it’s above yours.”
The simple explanation apparently appeased Ruth. She slipped into calm, deep, unlabored breathing and slept.
The next morning, Mom and Aunt Becky recounted the story.
“Me!?!” Ruth asked. “Stuck under a bus? Really? I said that? Wow. I don’t remember that at all! Are you sure YOU weren’t dreaming?”
“We have the candle as proof! That ridiculous candle. Where is it anyway?” Aunt Becky asked. She retrieved the offending stick of wax as evidence of her story’s authenticity, but the procured candle launched her and Mom into peals of laughter.
“Well, that explains it, I guess!” Mom chuckled.
“Did I really do that!?!” Aunt Becky moaned. “I must have been half asleep!”
“What? What is it? What’s wrong? Why are you laughing, Mom? Huh? Huh? Can I see?” By this point, eight little pairs of eyes were crowding in, curious to see what all the fuss was about.
Mom held up the candle. It was melted and misshapen with plenty of dripped wax frozen at strange angles. A tiny stub of blacked wick sat in the center of the mess. Normal enough. But then she pointed to the other end. From it dangled a wick—white, clean and long—just waiting for the slightest touch from a match. Aunt Becky had lit the wrong end of the candle.
© Angela M. Adams