On a rare occasion when she was awake at three am, unable to decide whether to continue reading the novel or risk sleeping off only to wake up groggy for an early class, he crept into her mind. It was not him per se, having obliterated his existence from her life years ago with a determinedness that turned out to be self-perpetuating, but flashes of a period when it was impossible to categorize what they were, friends sounded inadequate and lovers petrifying.
She knew only what he wanted her to know. He remembered things she forgot she had told him. They had never ventured beyond apparently normal conversations and genial vibes. And eight springs ago, at 3am when the two insomniac quasi-friends had stumbled onto each other online, he suggested “Let’s play a game“. She snorted, but comforted that he couldn’t have heard it asked politely “Trivia?” “Hmm. Let’s talk like lovers. It’d be so funny“, he quipped. She could sense the fake spontaneity and forced (and negligible) humour of the sentence the moment he wrote it.
They had met a year ago and after some unsuccessful and awkward flirting, he gave in to her offer of platonic boundaries. She was eighteen and socially inept, he was twenty-four and an effortless conversationalist. They were strangers whose only mode of communications were infrequent chats on Yahoo messenger and the single text message that he sent everyday that unknown to both had become as essential and routine and taken for granted as breathing. “I watched this movie last night. And I died.”Sending you one of my favourite songs about love. Strangers in the Night by Sinatra. You might have already heard it. But I don’t care.” “There’s this book I read…” “I got a little drunk tonight and walking on the rail tracks with a few friends.

It was just clumsy sharing of everyday moments and occasional exchange of songs or stories that he thought she might like. She found his unpretentiousness charming. It was insomnia that bonded them over books, music, childhood memories, movies, dreams and hopes, innumerable infatuations, significant  individual banks of embarrassing stories and also acted as outlets of ideas and experiences they didn’t share with their friends. They were each other’s talking diaries. At the end of the day, it felt good to talk to someone whose thoughts were on a similar wavelength and with whom there was an undeniable emotional connect. It almost felt illicit to contact each other during the day when they are supposed to be relatively occupied with college, exams, family and the real friends that crowded their lives and barely left any room for interaction.They dared to do so mostly on the pretext of small but relevant queries. An inconsequential text during the busy mornings carried the subtext I am thinking of you but it’s awkward to say so, therefore sending a  lame joke even though we both abhor them.
They cautiously skirted around the word ‘love‘, it could only create complications. Yet there it was, out in the open, he had supposedly joked about talking like lovers; but the words had expanded abruptly in the two rooms separated by a thousand miles and flung them both against the walls.
In the cover of a mocking put-down and ‘😛‘ emoticon, she had fled. He too had retreated aware of crossing some invisible boundary. After two awkward months of dwindling conversations and nervousness, they could no longer ignore love. A good year followed. Then in the cover of a flimsy excuse, he had fled. She too had retreated unaware of the void that would show up unexpectedly seven years later, on a spring day at 3am.



In Calvino’s Difficult Loves, a man tells a woman, “At this hour of the morning, people who are awake fall into two categories: the still and the already.” I used to be ‘already’; but, often nowadays, I am ‘still’ awake at four in the morning.

I sleep fitfully, drifting in and out of it, resistant to any pattern. I am in bed by eleven every night; making the familiar nest of my fluffy pillow, warm quilt, a thick tome, a bottle of water, cherry lip balm; and lying in the yellow cone of light from the reading lamp, I write in my journal before curling into the comfortable fetal position. Last night I read few chapters from Trollope’s Barchester Towers. Often I am distracted by messages from insomniac friends or from those in separate time zones. Sometime before one am, I drift off to sleep; half-smothered by the thick tome lying on my face. I would wake up a few minutes later, surprised at the lethargic pace of time. I reply to messages, read few more pages of the book, alternating with short cycles of sleep.
At four, I would be lying motionless in bed, hearing the particular sounds that interrupt the stillness of the early morning; strange bird calls, cars on a distant road, the rhythmic stride of the watchmen’s feet, tap-tap-tap, mumbled conversations of the couple upstairs as they potter around their kitchen making tea. I sink my head deeper into the pillow and position my limbs in different angles, but sleep would evade me. I try to lull my brain into forced inactivity by shutting my eyes tight and taking deep breaths. Sometimes I count cute, cartoon sheep with cloud like torsos. If my efforts succeed, I often lapse into a dreamless sleep. I finally wake up by six-thirty; feeling rested despite the erratic sleep that doesn’t total up to more than three hours.
I get out of bed, shivering in the pleasant and familiar chill, and head for the nook near the bedroom window where I get the promised uninterrupted 3G signal. I place my phone there to stream delightful songs from old Hindi movies, while I read the news. Today it was Shashi Kapoor crooning “Kehdoon tumhe ya chup rahu”, Rajesh Khanna contemplating “Kahin Door Jab Din Dhal Jaye”, Dev Anand mimicking torticollis to “Gaata Rahe Mera Dil” and Neetu Singh dancing to “Ek main aur ek tu”. I played them in a loop till my mother threatened to throw the phone away. The old songs and the morning cup of coffee are more than enough to wipe away any remnants of my insomnia.
But when would I be able to sleep for the recommended eight hours again? I don’t know. The curse of a restless mind!