He stared out into the night with his tired and gritty eyes while shifting his weight from one foot to the other. The cold pavement under his feet felt soothing; a reprieve from the heat of the night and the sweat pooling at the back of his neck. He breathed purposefully slow as he blinked, his eyes adjusting to the darkness until he could see the desolate sand banks across the road from his apartment. He was standing in his front courtyard and he was buck naked. He rolled the fingernail of his left thumb against the pad of his index finger, feeling the calloused skin with each movement. He counted each rotation in his head stopping at seventeen, then starting again from one.
This had become a familiar ritual, one that he did not enjoy but that he accepted. Insomnia had been a persistent issue for him since he was a small child and had become more severe as he entered adulthood. Now, in his late forties he accepted that it would never leave him alone. He thought of it as a sibling of sorts. A blood relative that he didn’t get along with but could never really be rid of. He had a relationship with the thing that woke him from sleep every night and kept his mind and body alert. There had been times that he fought against his insomnia; many nights he had screamed aloud in his bedroom, frustrated at it and angry. He had battled his insomnia with exercise and meditation. He deprived himself of caffeine and sugar; of late night TV and smartphones before bed. Nothing made it go away forever. He had achieved the occasional night of sleep, always surprised when it happened and thoroughly disappointed when he could not repeat it again the following night. In the end he simply accepted this siblings presence in his life, it made it somehow easier than working against it.
For the past year he had woken from a light dosing sleep at 3am greeted enthusiastically by his anti-sleep sibling; removed his clothes and walked out into his courtyard to stare into the void. The ritual had become comforting in its own strange way. He liked the certainty of it, the consistency of it. Not once in that year had the view from his courtyard been different. Just yellow sand, one tall olive green cactus and a far away hill barely visible in the distance.
He looked up into the midnight blue of the sky, staring at the stars and beaming moon. He could feel his face relax under the illumination of the night sky. His insomnia had benefits of its own he considered for a moment, for one thing how many people get a chance to truly stare at the stars everynight and get to know them as friends? He greeted each of the stars above him with a gentle nod, the kind you might give to a colleague as you pass them by on the street outside work hours. He truly knew the darkness more than he knew a single living soul.
Daylight was a much bigger struggle than night time. During the day the world was an inconsistent hustle and bustle. Things changed constantly as people moved to and fro, trying to work out what their life purpose might be. He didn’t feel a purpose, he never felt the need for one and wasn’t upset by the absence of it in his life. All he could focus on was getting through the day in one piece, drawing as little attention to himself as possible. For him, blending in was the only goal. A successful day was one where no one spoke to him directly about anything.
One of the downsides of having such a bond with his anti-sleep sibling, was that during the day he could barely string a sentence together. His brain just didn’t have the energy it needed to do his job and talk to people. He would often forget why he was in a meeting room at work, regularly stared at the large copier machine trying to ascertain what he had planned on copying, and at least three times a day found himself retreating to the safety of the men's restroom to have a power nap whilst seated on the toilet. Making sure he got all of his work done was a challenge and when 5pm came he gladly grabbed his briefcase from under his desk and made his way to his car to begin the 30 minute drive home.
He worked at a global firm in the administration department, and he was content being a cog in a much larger machine. There was safety in numbers as far as he was concerned. He could fly under the radar unnoticed and that made it easy to pass off any of his exhaustion-induced mistakes as someone else's. There was no way to prove he was doing a bad job, nor a good one and that suited him just fine.
Back looking up at the sky again he took one very long breath in, shutting his eyes and listening to the sounds of his neighbourhood. He savoured the silence and felt relieved to hear it again as he did each night. He had noticed that he needed that sense of relief and comfort more and more lately. He found it in odd things, in counting and breathing and in the safety of the always smiling moon. He didn’t know why but he didn’t have the energy to find the answer either.
He had first noticed the naked man a month ago and had been unable to stop looking at him. He had tried to sleep through the night in order to ignore him, but found himself waking up nightly to the view of the naked man diagonally across the street. He had never considered himself as gay or bisexual, and didn’t consciously feel any kind of sexual attraction to the man, but still he could not stop looking. He would leave his sleeping wife in the bed as he climbed out, walking to his bedroom window to stare down and across at the man.
He turned his head gently back behind him to look at his wife sleeping contently in bed. He felt scared of getting caught, although he wasn’t sure why. The man was there again, naked and staring at the sky. His face looked content in the moonlight. He was able to see his full body from up in his third floor apartment. He was skinny but toned, the light of the moon exaggerating the curves around his biceps and stomach muscles. His penis seemed bigger than average, he observed, instinctively comparing his own to the naked mans. He was sure his was about the same size, maybe a tiny bit bigger. He smiled at his own competitiveness.
The night air was thick and warm. It was a balmy summer night with very little breeze. He considered for a moment how much cooler he would feel if he too was naked, but resisted the urge to attempt it. He turned his head again to face his wife in bed. She was still asleep and he felt relieved and deeply guilty at the same time. He turned back to the window once again this time noticing the naked man turn his head in the direction of his apartment. For a moment his heart stopped beating. Could the naked man see him at his window? He instinctively stepped back away from the light till he was sure he was in darkness, and observed the naked man who seemed to be locked in a stare.
He silently laughed to himself that there was no way the man had been able to see him. He was too far up and too far away for that to be an issue. Perhaps the man was simply staring out into the night thinking.
Feeling entirely awake and a little bit amused at his own silliness, he padded back to bed and slid in next to his sleeping wife. He considered for a moment trying to dose back to sleep but felt too charged up to try. Instead he slid closer to his wife, placing his crotch against her bottom, feeling himself become hard. Moving gently against her until she was awakened from her sleep he wondered why he felt the need to have sex with her. Things hadn’t been great between them since the beginning of the year. But now all he desired was her. She shifted and rolled towards him still drunk with sleep but aware of what he wanted. She hesitated for a moment smiling and considering how strange this all was, but pleased, she pulled her nightgown up, and her panties to the side and laid back letting him do all of the work.
It had started as a typical day with very little worth noting about it. He had been busy throughout the day with tasks he barely paid attention to. Had you asked him what he had been typing, copying or binding he would not have been able to tell you. He understood the concepts of the tasks and the associated deadlines and rarely anything more. He didn’t need to know, did not care to ask and it's unlikely it would have ever occurred to him to bother doing so anyway.
On two occasions he had felt his eyes become so heavy he feared he would pass out at his desk. He did not have an office where he could get away with that. His boss was a big believer in the open-plan layout; the idea that this would spark unity and creativity amongst his employees. In reality all it sparked was the abundant use of headphones and people escaping into corridors for private phone calls on their smart phones. People only spoke when they had to and that suited him fine. When the urge to shut his eyes was upon him he made his own escape to the men's restroom. He waited until the one cubicle in the bathroom was free, pacing slowly and adjusting his tie in the mirror, eager to look like he had a reason to be in the bathroom. Smiling politely at a man leaving the cubicle, he entered it and locked the door, undoing his zip and belt so as to make all the noises one might expect of someone using the restroom.
He sat on the toilet lid, never pulling his pants down as he had no intention of using the facilities. He adjusted the large round toilet roll to his right so that it balanced on the metal roll holder, and leaned to the side resting his head against it. Within seconds he was transported to a place that could not be categorised as sleep but one where he was not altogether awake either. Somewhere between his conscious and unconscious self he slipped into a light dream. He was still at work but now he was in the restroom hiding from a puppy. It was white with a large tan spot over its right eye, with small feet and dark brown eyes. Its tail wagged insistently and it jumped in circles outside the cubicle door in anticipation of him leaving. But all he felt was fear. He was petrified of this seemingly adorable animal. He did not know why. He felt trapped inside the bathroom, unable to leave, the sound of the dog whining for his attention making the fair hair on his arms stand on end.
All of a sudden his eyes were open and he was aware that he was in the toilet without a dog waiting for him outside. He lifted his head from the toilet paper pillow and moved his neck from side to side in an attempt to shake off the dream like state he found himself in. He wasn’t worried about the dream he had, because it was the same one he had every single day. He was sure he would have it again in a couple of hours when his eyes grew heavy and he returned to the bathroom for another power nap of sorts.
As he opened the cubicle door, he realised someone had been waiting to use the cubicle. He smiled at them and held the door open respectfully as the relieved man entered. Knowing someone else was in the bathroom with him, he went about all the usual business of washing hands and using the loud hand dryer. Satisfied that his actions had seemed normal enough, he turned on his heel and left the bathroom, re-entering the open plan grey work space that formed the backdrop to his life 40 hours a week.
As lunch approached he realised that he was incredibly hungry which only happened after a nap. Most of the time he felt quite nauseas or without appetite at all. He knew that was all as a gift of his insomnia and didn’t let it worry him. Either way he always ate, he respected that his body needed the food even if he didn’t want it. He made his way to the office canteen, down the white staircase to the left of his desk. The dining area was already quite full with people mingling and chatting over their salads and soups. Some people had brightly coloured tupperware in front of them, clearly the more frugal and prepared of the employees at the company.
He moved to the back of the canteen line and counted that there were 16 people ahead of him. He smiled. Perfect. He relaxed knowing that he would be number 17 and shifted his focus to looking at the daily offerings of the kitchen. He noted the three different types of soup, the two hot meal options as well as the range of salads to choose from. As he moved through the line he watched as people stared at the food, often picking up a plastic container of salad only to put it back down again a moment later swapping it for something else. When he had moved passed the counter with all the fresh food options he saw the cabinet of packaged sandwiches and reached for the ham, cheese and mayo package on wholemeal bread. He had it every single day. It was consistently the same. Somehow the amount of mayo never seemed to change and he wondered if the sandwich was made by man or machine.
As he reached the counter the short fat lady with the curly salt and pepper hair spoke to him nonchalantly whilst chewing her gum “you want a drink with that sugar”? He smiled politely saying yes. She reached to her side retrieving a cold bottle of water from the pre-prepared tub of ice and handed it to him. The condensation from the bottle ran down the side of his hand making the end of his shirt sleeve damp. He winced against the cold and opened his wallet with his other hand, retrieving the black lunch card and handing it to the lady. She took it from him and swiped the card while staring at the display on her register. “You’re pretty consistent with your lunch aren’t you Mr Rogers” she said rhetorically with a wide grin on her face. He looked up at her making eye contact realising she was making a light joke of his eating habits. He faked a smile and said “I like what I like I guess”. She nodded handing back the lunch card and calling out for the next person in line. Their exchange was done for the day.
As he turned and walked away while placing the lunch card back into his wallet, he thought for a moment about the information the company had about him just from that card. The system they had was pretty genius really. Instead of accepting cash payments, they simply recorded what he spent via the card and subtracted it from his pay cheque at the end of the month, emailing him an itemised list prior to billing him. He always spent the same amount each month, $117.24. He liked the number and never varied his eating habits. But it now also occurred to him that they new what he ate and drank every day and the time he did so too.
Unsettled by the pattern they would be able to see, he decided feeling slightly glum, that he should try to eat something different; break the pattern and make it harder for them to track his movements. Maybe he could try bringing something from home. Perhaps if he did that he could spent the $117.24 at the supermarket instead or split that amount between both places. He sighed deeply recognising that a change would need to be made, and knowing what that meant. His sleep sibling would have a field day with this, and he was bound to be taking a few more nap breaks in his work day as a result moving forward.