Saturday, October 31, 2009


"Here is lemon." She placed a fresh half-lemon in front of me as she set down my coffee, which I didn't understand, but then, this was my first time in Germany. I put stupendous amounts of sugar and copious amounts of cream in my coffee, but never a single pulp of lemon. I frowned puzzled. She grasped the lemon hemisphere and dribbled a trail around my wooden bench table, the path of citrus encircling my bowl of muesli and yogurt. "...And if the bees still don't stay away, just...," she dripped sour onto the furry back of a nibbling bee, "like that."

The portions were huge. My mound of muesli alone would have been enough to smoothe this hangover from a 7AM-night of no food and much, much weissbier. Maybe I shouldn't have ordered a saucer of sausage, cheese, bread, fruit and salad. And an egg. More for the bees, perhaps. They must have felt invited, the way they honed in on my berries. If they knew they weren't welcome, they didn't care, the way they attacked my little packet of honey. The bees were crashing my Berlin brunch by the dozen and I was armed with half a lemon. I dotted my table with more juice and they walked over the drops like I do rain puddles. I dripped their backs and they didn't mind. More bee comrades arrived at the party zzzzzing across my face. I swatted. "No, don't swat. Waft." My bandana-pigtailed server undulated her arm. "Or drip."

I didn't want to drip. These German bees had grown accustomed to the lemon and dripping them was fruitless. I glanced at the other diners savouring this gorgeous August noon in the shade on Choriner Strasse; their conversations flowed uninterruped by bees. Some squeezed lemon nonchalantly, others wafted at the insects gently, as if drawing up the aroma of delicious goulash. I noticed these Berliners had learned how to enjoy their food in the company of friends and bees: by accepting them. And so too would I. I also noticed every woman pushing a baby carriage in Mitte was hardly twenty-five.

I accepted the bees. Moreover, I befriended them. There was no need for six of them to cram themselves together, yellow-black butts throbbing, suckling at the teat that was a packet of honey open a sliver, no. My muesli was honeyed enough, so the rest shall be for bees. Let me help. I tilted the packet to spill forth a golden pool. More bees arrived. I accidentally dowsed one. His wings were syrupy. He tried to cross the glossy pond but one leg was deep in the stickiness. Then two legs. Then all six. He tried to beat his wings but nothing. Every step he'd take would be followed by a stumble. He was drowning in honey. I approached him with the prong of a fork to scoop him out, but his languid thrashing enveloped him in more thickness. I dripped on him, not with juice but water. A wing sprouted away from his abdomen. I dripped more water and the free wing sagged from the drenching. How could I help the guy? First I tried to feed him, then I tried to clean him, yet I had done nothing good. I was concerned for him; I am not a bee murderer. His cleansed wing then vibrated and I rejoiced privately, tentatively. He was still mired in sweet muck, advancing sluggishly, each step a labour. He tried to stay upright as a topple to the side would be execution. I would have poured more water on him but he needed his wing dry. A step. A step. Vibration. A step. He was free. Six minutes to cross two inches of honey.

He was out of the swamp but still in a bad way. One wing was adhered to his body and he was toppled unto himself, a clump of viscous insect. His comrades nibbled at his saccharine limbs, mandibles munching on the fallen friend, freeing him from his coat of honey. But were they helping? The exhausted bee struggled across the wooden table, fleeing from the others as they ravaged his body. They stopped cleansing him, stopped eating off him, allowed him to escape. Was he banished? Was he now deemed too weak to serve the community, a liability? He was not dead but merely covered in honey -- surely his comrades would understand the folly and forgive him, no? If you give him a chance, he will fly. But the bees took no interest in him, only in the berries upon my yogurt and the puddle of honey inches away from my sausages. The unfortunate bee stopped at the edge of the bench. He was less sticky, but he was ostracised. Then he fell.

At this point I knew water was in order. I dribbled onto the concrete where he had fallen three feet yet remained upright and alive. I believed I was replicating rain, and bees know how to deal with rain, yes? He freed his adhered wing, which soon vibrated. Where his legs had been bound, the drops of water now provided him with six distinct, separate legs. He crawled with renewed ease to the plaster exterior of Schwarze Pumpe and climbed the side of the café. I returned with relief to my coffee and flaccid half-lemon. Ate some sausage. Ate some cheese. A mighty spoonful of muesli. Two twenty-three-year-old mothers gossiped while pushing perambulators. I looked at the plaster and the bee had gone.