Requiem for Sleep

1.

Under the bright lights of a glass-and-chrome clock, on a black cushioned chair, Cecil is sleeping, his two pieces of black luggage in front of him. A police officer awakens him,

“Excuse me, sir,” he says.

Cecil sits up startled. He is wearing a flannel suit, a luxurious warm cashmere scarf, and an overcoat. Eyes red and puffy, his face gaunt and pale, Cecil sits before the police officer, who studies him with bemusement.

“Please keep your bags close to you,” the police officer says, picking up Cecil’s carry-on and sliding it under his chair, and says, “I have never seen anyone frown so much in their sleep.”

“I will keep that in mind officer,” Cecil retorts with an insincere smile trying to lighten the moment, and watches the law enforcer walk away. He glances at his watch, and then looks at an overhanging clock; check-in for his flight begins in a few minutes. He’s been battling sleepless nights, and this is his only chance to catch up on some much needed snooze. In the silence of the nights, Cecil fights his imaginary battles; his unrealized dreams, corruption and unjust occurrences to which he turned a blind eye, the moments of timidity he manages to conceal from other people, but not from himself – and the love which he lacked the courage to embrace. The thought inevitably occurs: if only I had said or done x instead of y, if only I could do it over. He tosses and turns from side to side on his bed, and still fails to fall asleep. He keeps recalling the day’s events; tomorrow’s planned events, and next week’s planned events. His mind keeps spinning in circles, and though he is exhausted, he simply cannot fall asleep.

He overhears the couple behind him chatting about the weather in Florida, and the possibility of rain. He recognizes the smell of fading perfume that women are wearing, Chanel, clashing with the smell of popcorn and toasted sandwiches. The mechanical, yet pleasant, voice on the public address system starts calling for someone to go to the nearest courtesy phone, then announces that flight 446 is now boarding at gate-4B. He hears snippets of conversation from other passengers passing him on their way to the next gate. Underneath Cecil’s functional surface is an undercurrent of excitement, anticipation and impatience.

If the end of the year is a time to reflect on mistakes made and relationships lost, there may not be a better way to start the New Year than with a long overdue vacation. Airports are passageways to life’s biggest moments: celebrations, weddings, and funerals. Along with overstuffed bags, laptops and treasured souvenirs, travelers carry joy and heartache.

Cecil starts moving through the security screening. It’s a beautiful choreographed ballet of a bag handle collapsing, shoes coming off, a laptop in a separate tray, wallet and watch sliding into a shoe, his boarding pass sliding into his back pocket.

2.

Once up in the celestial clouds, strapped into his tight seat, in the climate-controlled can-like cabin, the seat-belt sign goes off. With the hope that in the end, the destination will be worth the discomfort, the inconvenience, and the anxiety, Cecil decides to watch an epic movie.

The film depicts a fallen hero in a medieval epoch. This hero’s village is destroyed by a rival neighboring clan, his wife and child raped and killed, his friends beheaded, and his puppy roasted on an open spit. Throughout the movie the hero justifies his actions, cloaked in religious rhetoric, claiming that it is justice he is after, not vengeance. One cannot be in a moral position not to root for this hero. All the same, as the movie develops, Cecil notices how the more the hero hunts the cause of his woes; the more he takes on the villain’s personality and mannerisms. Justice is probably a mere feeling.

Cecil is fascinated by this kind of heroism because it evinces a kind of strength he wants to emulate. In reality when a man looks in his heart he doesn’t discover something valiant and dangerous, but instead finds anger, lust, and fear. The heroism Cecil finds in the movie has a melancholic sense to it since the hero is all alone, but keeps fighting because without friendship and love, even the strongest man cannot live long. The human soul needs a kindred, familiar heart, a place to rest and lie down. What a precious flower friendship is; we can never value our friend highly enough if he is a true friend, and can never run away fast enough if he betrays our trust.

“Damn you, Iago!” Cecil mutters under his breath, shaking his head in disappointment.

Man will always be man because there is no new man. Civilization, a culture that promotes democratic values of being fair to one and all, the importance of fitting into a group, and knowing how to cooperate with other people. We strive so hard to create a society that is equal where there is nothing to envy your fellow man. But there is always something to covet: a smile, a friendship, something you don’t have and want to claim as your own. There will always be rich and poor, those fortunate in gifts, and others wretched in affliction. There will always be those blessed in love, and others poor in love. A kiss was to be a sign of love and friendship, Judas came up to Jesus with an act of affection but all the while in his heart he was going to betray Jesus. Cicero once said that a nation can survive its fools, and even the ambitious, but it cannot survive treason within. Cecil died a million times when he heard that she was happy with Iago, and spent sleepless nights wondering why someone so close would turn around, ruin the best part of him, and leave him empty. More troubling and complex, however, are the battles we face with those who are supposedly on our side – “Et tu Brute, then fall Caesar,” as Shakespeare would say. We laugh extra hard at each other’s jokes, since honesty rarely strengthens friendships, one may never know how a friend truly feels.

Cecil resorts to contemplating, over-thinking, and wishing that they suffer the consequences for what they did to his heart, allowing them to hurt him a second time, this time in his mind. Cecil can’t quite remember who he is anymore, and nothing makes any sense. His significant other is no longer significant, and his closest and oldest friend, the very paragon of benevolence, stabbed him in the back with a velvet glove on his hand, and the sweetest of smiles.

3.

The passenger sitting beside Cecil, an old man, presumably a priest by the clerical clothing he is wearing looks at Cecil with confident loving eyes, and asks,

“What’s the issue young man? You seem troubled, unfinished business?”

“No,” Cecil replies. “Everything is tied up just fine, knock on wood,” Cecil says. He smiles positively; mirroring the confidence exuded from the old man, and then says,

“However, I find myself wondering what the chances are for this particular plane we’re sitting in to sending us into a spinning, rotating, and nose-diving spiral of certain death?”

“I presume you are not fond of flying,” the priest says cracking a sardonic smile.

“No, flying is not really my cup of tea,” Cecil replies.

In reality, the priest’s presence made Cecil ponder about heaven and hell. If the plane actually crashed, killing everyone on board, hell! The thought of anyone suffering at all, let alone for eternity makes Cecil’s stomach twist. He then decides to ask the priest a question,

“May I ask you a question about your faith?”

“Yes, you may,” the priest answers.

“Is God really so vengeful?” Cecil asks.

The priest takes a moment of silence to respond, looking at Cecil pensively, and says,

“The Lord hears the prayers of those who ask to put aside hatred, but he is deaf to those who would flee from love.”

Cecil remains quiet, nods at the priest slightly embarrassed, and mutters under his breath a platonic reply, “Interesting!” his voice trailing away weakly. He looks out the oval window to the earth’s landscape covered in clouds and water. He keeps thinking over what the priest said about the conundrum of love.

For some reason Cecil finally manages to fall asleep.

 

END

Published by

lionelntasano

Author of 'Greener on the Other Side' - his fiction has also appeared in 'Pear Drop Journal'. He is at work on a novel that delves into the intricacies, and conundrums of the meaning of manhood in today's world.

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