The ancient Greeks housed Hypnos, the god of sleep, very logically in the Underworld. If sleep were to take concrete form, it would be heavy like iron and subject to gravity twice as much as iron. In likeness of death, it drags the body down, forces forgetfulness, and defines the state of being awake. I have come to appreciate how much sleep rounds up our waking realities, since of late, I am one of the cursed whom night-sleep eludes.
This shift in my sleep patterns seems seasonal. There is something debilitating about the heat that smothers in the monsoon. The still, wet air squats stubbornly in the middle of the day. There is no way around it; it forces helpless victims to get horizontal, unable to resist weighted eyelids, to seep lower and lower down to the very Underworld. The god often reaches out his heavy hand and once it clutches, the eyes surrender.
Night brings no relief from this heat; only Hypnos abandons the red-eyed, sweating victim to the book piles on her bedside table. The air refuses to move, spreading such preternatural stillness, that whirring and sighing of fans becomes necessary noise.
My friends have no sympathy for my condition and tell me in an exasperated voice to switch on the air, for goodness' sake!
However, air conditioning aggravates this condition instead of offering relief. Imagine the stale air circulating through one's living space, stinking of forgotten dust trapped in unreachable crevices, moving over dead insect bodies in vents, through shoe-racks and hampers with unwashed laundry, chilling awkward pockets of rooms, shrouding the house in a false cool that clenches teeth, grates on inner throat linings, swells sinuses, blocks ears, parches the body. Water desperately gulped down also tastes dusty, reminding me of long summer afternoons at my grandparents' old family house, when my grandmother gave us water in glasses she forgot to rinse from their long slumber in glass cabinets during the school year.
So being in air-conditioned spaces makes me feel like a condemned slave trapped in an undisturbed tomb; I must confess my acute discomfort of that musty air.
Besides, I love the fragrance of night blooming flowers outside the window, one of the many gifts this season brings. I had fantasies of drifting off to sleep, borne on that fragrance in gentle rain, when I planted those shrubs. Now, even though I can't sleep when the night jasmine blooms, I seek a little comfort in its keeping me company.
During the day, however, I obsess over sleep. I evoke vivid dreams, try to capture cities, houses, streets, rooms from dream-scapes, and remember to think of them in vain efforts to induce sleep. I spend pointless minutes calculating how many hours' sleep I must catch up with; then, I further slice up leftover time into neat sections, allocating a slice of time to each day. Of course, this adding, subtracting, factoring is to no avail; but counting is a knee-jerk reaction of any mind deprived of night-sleep.
I've tended, then, to snatch naps, in afternoons, mornings, while stirring coffee, watching a TV show, in the elevator, at traffic lights. My family says I've been blessed with this ability to cat nap, and I must say that while these naps don't quite knit up my ravelled sleeve of care, they do offer some respite. Of course, there are times when I can't always tell if I am asleep or awake, but then there is something comforting and restful about blending of these two states, about blurred horizons, as though no distinction is demanded, no clarity made imperative.
Despite everyone thinking me blessed with them, my naps are an acquired skill, one of the many lessons my cats have taught me. I've often stumbled upon sleeping cat bodies in various positions, in unlikely places and the total concentration and commitment to the nap are fascinating to study. Nothing can rouse the napping feline, not the squeaking ducklings outside the window, not the rattle of their treat bag, not opening of cans, nothing. But once awake, the cat is all there, needing no time to transition between states, clear in demands, eyes shining with enviable awareness of his own intelligence and resolve.
I am still learning. I seem to have quite mastered the art of choosing to fall into sudden naps. If only I could also master the art of immediate, complete wakefulness, so the horizon between sleep and not-asleep is more than an illusion!