Automatically, my eyes flew open. Without a hint of grogginess, I sat up and turned to my left where the clock flashed 4:00. I climbed out of bed to grab the marker sitting on my chaotic table and added another tally on the mirror.
“Day 356. Congratulations insomnia, you’ve conquered a year of sleepless nights.” I groaned wryly. Well, might as well go pee.
As a habit, I picked up my keys and a light cardigan, and left the house. Furtively of course, mom’s a monster when she’s sleep deprived. Then I made my way to the park two blocks away.
It has been exactly 1 year since this began, and exactly 1 year since I started leaving the house again (other than for class). No matter how long I’ve slept, my body would immediately jolt awake at exactly 4:00 am. In case you’re wondering, daylight savings does not apply here. Through numerous experiments, there’s only one (painless) method to put me back to sleep. Sleeping pills, abstaining from caffeine, getting tipsy none worked. Only one method.
– a walk in the park.
That’s right, my circadian rhythm was overruled by a medically illogical solution. Simply (rather, strangely), a ten minute break in the deserted park just before the break of dawn, is the sole method for my body to succumb to rest. Sighing, I gave into this peculiar malady and continued my 6 minutes and 43 second stroll to the swing set.
Then again, this time of day eventually became my favorite hour. I took a deep breath, filling my lungs with the crisp, summer air. If not for this bizarre sleeping habit, I wouldn’t be able to treasure the tranquility associated with the dead of night.
It was a time after the wolves, but before the birds.
It was a time where only the sound of a passing cricket could be heard.
It was a chilling, yet serene silence.
The moon floated in the sky, preparing to descend, but not yet, as it continued to shine dutifully. I breathed in again appreciating the coolness and breathed out. A sweet mix of pine and evergreen wafted by as I inhaled again. I had arrived at the park.
Coming regularly, the park was as familiar as my own house, probably even more so. The quickest way to the solitary swing set was not by the paved path, but rather, diverging from it and navigating through the trees. It was all too familiar. Not long after, I reached the clearing but…
On that swing set made for two, there sat an unexpected visitor. Unexpected, as this was the first time I had seen someone (excluding me of course) out at 4 in the morning. I stood frozen, wordlessly analyzing the figure who disrupted my moment of solitude. Was this man dangerous? Should I go home before he noticed me? I remained there and quietly inspected this person.
– but I was overwhelmed with a sense of familiarity. Tracing the silhouette, I felt secure. In fact, I should approach him. Gathering up my courage, I slowly made my way to the seat beside him.
“Hello,” he said without turning to look at me, “or should I say ‘Good morning’?” he continued while chuckling to himself.
“Erm. Sure,” I replied awkwardly, and turned curiously to look at the stranger.
– it was the new transfer student!
… Sorry, I was kidding. Life isn’t cliche like that.
It was an anonymous, (but rather attractive) young man who I had never seen before in this small neighborhood. A sudden pain throbbed in the back of my head. Someone I’ve never met before? Then what was that feeling of nostalgia?
“… Please don’t look at me like that,” he whispered, turning a pained expression to me.
“… Sorry, I’m just a bit… Confused…” I replied and quickly looked down in embarrassment.
“It’s okay,” he laughed again, “I’d expect you wouldn’t want to remember me after what happened last year.”
Wait, what happened last year? I attempted to ask, but the words stuck in my throat. Great, even my conscious mind is against me. A lengthy silence followed. After a long struggle, I finally produced sound out of my mouth.
“Why 4 o’clock in the morning?” I blurted unintelligibly. He simply stared into the distance, as if I had never spoken at all. And the silence continued again.
Then a slight squeaking sound broke the lull as he swung up and down the swing set.
“It’s a time after the wolves, but before the birds isn’t it?” he finally answered with a mischievous grin dancing at the ends of his lips.
“… Who are you…?” I asked sharply.
“Your long lost half-brother that was separated from birth,” he replied cheerfully while climbing higher into the night sky.
“At least think of something believable,” I retorted as he continued to laugh.
“A forgotten childhood friend that disappeared and suddenly came back?” he tried again.
“More believable, but impossible. I was home schooled until grade 12.” I rebutted with a sigh.
“Then…” he mumbled as he decelerated, “someone that deserved to be forgotten,” as he slowed to a stop, “and doesn’t deserve forgiveness?” he finished without looking at me.
“I…. I don’t get it…” I tried to catch his glance but he refused to face me.
“It’s better that way,” he rose from his spot, “I should have never came back anyways,” and began to walk off.
“Wait!” I called out, “Why did you come then…. If you think you shouldn’t have came?” Frozen on that spot, he turned to face me.
“I just… Wanted to see how you were doing. To make sure you were…. Okay…” a forlorn stare pierced the night, “Don’t worry, this is the last time you’ll see me. I won’t break my promise with you ever again.”
His lonely figure strode quickly through the park, the somber moonlight his sole companion. The dark drifted back to its frigid stillness. A single tear rolled down my cheek. Part of me wanted to pursue this fleeting enigma, yet my body rejected the idea. I wanted to know, but at the same time, I didn’t. My chaotic state was draining, so I slowly returned home.
I never woke up at 4:00 am anymore. In fact, following that encounter, I slept like a brick. I also decided not to pursue the incident, letting that man’s identity stay a secret. Did I feel regret? Maybe. But there’s honestly no point in grieving over the past.
“Good morning dear,” my mother called as I walked into the kitchen, “how do pancakes sound?”
“Great!” I grinned, while sipping my daily dose of caffeine.
“Oh by the way,” she continued while flipping pancakes, “I heard Cedric came back last week.”
“Who’s Cedric?” I asked uninterested. More importantly, my brow furrowed as I scrolled through thirty-eight unread emails about a group project.
“Your ex…? Well, never mind if you don’t want to talk about it.” I froze mid-sip in revelation, nearly gagging on scalding hot coffee.
“Is he still here?” I hastily demanded.
“Hmm… I think so… From what I’ve heard, he’s back for a week or two… Since when did you ca-”
But I had already left the house with my keys and a light cardigan.