It was a strange dream. Of course, it was a strange sleep as well—dozing in the middle of the afternoon over Tristram Shandy and half-a-cup of tepid coffee, only to wake to the first signs of dawn at five in the morning. It was, I say, a strange dream. A restaurant in some unknown country, cheap wood-grain paneling on the wall and a sad-faced waitress who spoke only Italian as she delivered the overcooked food to the table. There were eight of us dining—eight people I have not seen in at least two years, seven of whom (myself excepted—for I knew them all from my schooling) had never met each other, though they conversed agreeably enough. We all spoke German, too, at the table—except when talking to the waitress, when we settled into sibilant cadences and sharp vowels. I doubt we could manage this in the waking world.
That was not the strangest thing, though, about the dream. The most unaccountable, the most puzzling, the oddest thing about this dream was that, no matter what language I spoke at the table or, afterwards, when walking along the paving stones towards the train station, I thought in English—there was no escaping it. No matter how much or how accurately I cloaked or masked myself in some new place, new language, new identity, the original self, expressed only in thoughts, remained.
I know this is not accurate; I know that, given enough time, new surroundings subsume the original self entirely—one speaks, one thinks, one dreams in that new language, exists almost entirely in that new world, though a chance word can snag upon the memory or, rather, the fact of one’s essential estrangement. The absence of this consummation (as much as the sheer perversity of dreaming about thinking) made the dream unsettling; it was no nightmare but, nonetheless, I was glad to wake.