Nadine Yasser: Insomnia

Tereza Zelenkova, from ” Snake That Disappeared Through a Hole in the Wall”, 2018. Source:

The shadows in that room always looked a bit hysterical. It may have had something to do with how tall the walls were. It only had one tiny, too high to reach, which made it look like it was there just to freak you out. Perhaps my brother was right; he said it looked like a prison cell. He wanted me to move into the room with better lighting, but it had two big windows. Windows made me uncomfortable; I was barely okay with one. I could never shake off the feeling of being watched. It’s a bit of an egotistical belief, to think that someone or something would leave everything behind to watch your every move. But, egotistical or not, the feeling never left me.

I’ve been lying in bed for three days straight, only leaving my room when absolutely necessary. A crippling numbness took over my body from time to time, and this was one of those times. What followed this inexplicable numbness was always the same repetitive scenario. Having been in bed for a couple of days, I’d get up after midnight with an urge to escape. I’d feel myself being pushed out of my bed and out the door. Every time, my brother would be waiting for me next to the front door, holding it open, and closing it behind me. I’d start walking; everything would go blank from then on.

I have thirty-two scars on my body. I count them every other day before I go to sleep. Every time I go on one of my midnight walks, I gain a new scar. The only way I find out how I got the scars is by sleeping. I sleep purely out of curiosity and in search of answers, although what I see in my sleep almost always drains me:

Sometimes, I’m lying on my back, the earth beneath me and a circle of people all around. I’m completely surrounded by their bodies and chants. They always know my name, unlike me and my brother, who can never seem to remember ours. Every dream I have is a new attempt to remember my name and the story of a new scar. Sadly, every time I wake up there’s no recollection of my name. Yet the thrill of hearing it being chanted out loud, even if only for a few seconds in a night vision, keeps me going back. I never lose hope of waking up one day with it rolling off my tongue. I’d repeat it till it filled the room, and I’d chant it and scream it till it burst out my small window. Hope is dangerous, is what my brother constantly tells me.

It’s always dark in my dreams; I once asked my brother if his dreams were dark too. I thought maybe his would be in color since he’s so smart. He’d tell me that he doesn’t have any. “Only people like you have dreams,” he’d say.

My brother only leaves the house once a week with a stack of papers filled with his writing. He comes back with food that lasts both of us another week, blank paper, and a new bottle of ink. He always seems to be writing something down. He never lets me read what he writes, which seems unfair, because I always answer his endless questions about my dreams and my memories. It’s hard to read it in his sleep since he barely ever sleeps. One time I stole one of his papers that he’d left lying around somewhere. I hid it in my room and tried to read it at night while I lay in bed. I couldn’t figure out what it said. I knew how to read but the letters he used were unfamiliar to me. I asked him where he’d learned another language. He locked me up in my room.

I’ve been lying in bed for three days, and I haven’t dreamt once. This is a bit unusual. On some weeks I can go without sleep, but never without dreams.

I have been lying in bed for three days and for some odd reason I feel in control of my body and my thoughts. The shadows in my room tell me it is past midnight. They signal me to go, so I do. I get up and make my way to the front door, where my brother is waiting. He is holding it open, gripping it so intensely that it looks like the veins on his hands are about to pop. I wonder how long he’s stood there, he looks so weak. I leave the house. He closes the door behind me. Why am I still so aware of everything around me? I feel lost.

We moved here a few years ago and I wasn’t sure how I felt about the sudden change of scenery. I didn’t like forests, they freaked me out. I started walking and making my way across the road and into the trees. I was hoping things would fade out like they always did, being so conscious made it all a bit chilling. The faint singing voices of the forest weren’t so faint anymore now that I was no longer sheltered by the thick walls of my room or the sweet daze that usually comes over me.

I finally understood why the shadows in my room always looked angry to me. I finally saw the source. The deeper I went into the forest, the more I was surrounded by shadows. They loomed over me, moving in circles. Their movements were threatening but something about them put you in a trance. They made sure you were more enchanted than alarmed. The more I walked with them the more they started looking more upset than angry, more eager and desperate. I couldn’t help feeling concerned for my own shadow; it looked so feeble compared to them, trailing behind me like a tail.

The forest was crying, and it was hard to understand why nobody could hear or nobody helped. I heard familiar chants as I neared a clearing. Something in me told me to stop, but I wanted to make out the words of their song. I tried so hard to listen closely but couldn’t recognize any of the words I was hearing. My certainty that something was being said pushed me out of the trees and into the open.

My eyes were almost blinded by light, as if the darkness of the forest never had been.

I long for a time when I knew my name by heart. My brother says longing is pointless, but I no longer care what my brother says. I have forty-two scars on my body now, and he doesn’t care. My uncovered mattress has big blood stains, like red islands in a gray, dirty sea. He still doesn’t care.

I told my brother that I refuse to ever sleep again. I no longer want to be the one with the dreams. I don’t want to empathize with shadows made of hidden intentions anymore, no matter how alluring. He took his time processing my words. He was writing in his papers like a madman but he paused when he heard what I said. He was so pale and weak from never sleeping, and I was so drained by all the dreams. He told me not to be ungrateful. “If it weren’t for me we’d both be dead by now,” he said. I wish he’d just let us die long ago. Sudden death is so comforting compared to a slow one. As if he could read my thoughts, he continued, “I saved us from so much pain, and I will continue to do so for as long as they let us.”

I asked him who he was talking about. He said I was not making sense. He told me to go to sleep. “You look so tired,” he said.

“And you don’t?”

“Go to your room.”

I was starting to get dizzy. I sat down on the floor. “We can run away. We can go back and look for our family.”

My brother finally looked at me. He put his papers aside. “How far could two people without a name go if they tried to run?”

I didn’t know what to say, not because I agreed, but because I didn’t fully comprehend his question.

“We can try.”

I’d never seen him look so defeated. My brother rarely shows emotions, but looking at him now, I sensed fear. He knew I wouldn’t make it for much longer if things didn’t change. He got up and picked up his papers and his ink. With shaky hands, he gave them to me. I looked at the writing in hopes of understanding what he was trying to tell me, in hopes of understanding anything, actually. It was still in a language unknown to me. He started walking slowly down the dark corridor, his hands leaning on the walls for support. I got up slowly and followed him to my room, where he was headed.

“What are you doing?” I asked shakily as I watched him enter the room he had always avoided at all costs. He didn’t reply. Instead, he walked over to my blood-stained bed and in a swift movement his frail body dropped onto it as if it had awaited this moment for eternity. My hands were now shaking and my breaths short. I went over to him and started shaking his body to wake him up. But it was pointless, he was fast asleep.