Insomnia: Chapter 1

 
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     Midnight. I lay naked on a huge bed, a hand wrapped around me. His name is John. Or Josh? It’ll be something like that... Slowly exhaling as he falls asleep after the act, which was not as grand as I expected. And I deserved more, especially today.
     My fifth book release for this year. My fourteenth book overall. And finally, the media are also curious about me. My editor sees me as his magic goose, which regularly lays golden eggs just for him. And I? I get to enjoy only the scraps of plucked feathers. At today’s launch of my book, he was smiling so broadly, I was afraid he’d eat me with joy. But then who would pay for his children’s tuition, huh?
     “You’re leaving?” A mumble comes from behind me as I get out of bed and start looking for my dress on the ground.
     “Yes, I’m working in the morning.”
     “You could stay for the night...” And he’s asleep.
     I put on my underwear and clothes, and grab my stockings in my hand. I sneak out of this huge bedroom of John, Josh or whoever. The marketing guys seem to be doing well these days. Or does he work in management? Who knows... It didn’t matter an hour ago, it doesn’t matter now.
     The apartment is great. Furnished with a touch of luxury. High ceilings, low expectations for the intelligence of the women who follow him up here, I know it. The bright light of the full moon penetrates through the glass window; apart from that, it is darkness everywhere. And silence. The sound of my steps is muffled by the soft carpet as my bare feet bury themselves. I walk slowly past the walls, my fingers outstretched touching the cold white plaster, smoothing the surface until white dust builds up on my fingertips.
     I walk into a large closet with dozens of tailored suits and hand-sewn shoes. I examine several drawers and cabinets. It’s safe, as I can hear his snoring. Lightly, I push against one of the drawers by my side. It pops open to reveal a collection of expensive watches. I try one on and observe the moonlight’s reflection. I know these types of men – expensive accessories, cheap talk.
     I walk into the kitchen and grab an apple from the fruit bowl. Hopping onto the cold marble kitchen counter, I chew on it while rummaging through his opened letters that I found on the table. His account statement displays a nice amount, but when I see what nonsense items he spends his money on, I return the letters. I throw the apple into the trash and lick a few spoons and knives.
     The living room holds a few dusty books on a shelf. I check the book titles – all crap. But the flat-screen TV is huge – well, well... If I could see the remote control, I would hide it. Or at least, I’d remove the batteries.
     I sink into a comfortable designer chair and pull my stockings up, then sit for a while and watch the city through the big glass window. I can see the top of Big Ben and Tower Bridge. They greet me like old acquaintances. Maybe I will come today. The wall clock’s ticks echo within this quiet apartment. Each stroke of the hand sounds like it is mocking me.
     Picking my purse up from the ground, where I had tossed it in a hurry on the way to the bedroom, I fling on my coat, put on my heels and head out. On the wall by the front door hang a university degree and several photos. He’s posing on a white beach in one of them, while the next one features him standing on a mountain slope. Perhaps he is actually an interesting guy. But he is not meant for me. And most importantly – I’m not meant for him.
     Before leaving, I look at him for the last time through the cracks around the door. He is lying on his back with his mouth wide open. Sleeping. I walk out of the apartment and shut the door forcefully. I hear the pictures from the wall hit the ground.

     London is truly alive, considering the late hour. It’s just after one in the morning. Young students are falling out of the doors of the local bars, along with all those who want to let their hair down at the weekend. What is that like? I walk through the familiar streets, that I roam so frequently. I don’t rush. There is no reason to.Stopping at the curb, I wait for the red traffic light for pedestrians to turn green. I stand here all alone. The streets are empty; there are no cars or double-deckers on the roads. Nevertheless, I wait.
     I hear laughter approaching from a distance. A group of about ten young people stops next to me. They are having fun, doubled over with laughter. They are definitely drunk or high. Although I can’t smell alcohol or weed, it has to be so. Who would be out late at night having so much fun? And besides, Halloween is months away, yet they are all wearing masks. One of them is dressed as a pirate, another as Dracula, and one of the girls is wearing a Catwoman mask. Some people really don’t know what to do with themselves.
     They look to the right, then left, and quickly run across the road on a red light. Every time I see people doing this, I wonder what they do with all that extra time. About two seconds later the light turns green. I stroll across the quiet street.

     I enter the residential area where I live. The nice part of London, lots of greenery. It’s quiet here; my steps on the concrete sidewalk echo between buildings. A dark-haired guy with a tattoo on his neck and a ring in his left ear walks past me. He often returns home late at night. He and his girlfriend have one of those expensive talking parrots. A red-haired woman exits from the building on the right. She lives on the third floor diagonally across from my apartment. She likes to cook late at night. The old man from the second floor is outside on the lawn with his poodle – health problems. The poodle, not the man. He’s out with the dog three times each night – at eleven o’clock, at two and at five o’clock. Then his wife takes over. I know them all. But they don’t know me.
     It is a few minutes past two o’clock at night when I get home. My apartment is spacious, quite luxurious. I’ve lived here for several years, but I don’t have lots of furniture. The walls are decorated with pictures of places that I would like to travel to, and I have a decent collection of books. Otherwise, the apartment is furnished in a minimalist style. I don’t like all those stupid trinkets; they are just dust collectors. And you? Do you like to clean them?
     I walk into my large office, where ideas are born to finance my little place. Although, sometimes I have helpers. I pull out a few letters from my purse, letters from fans and stalkers. The boundary between them is so thin it’s difficult to tell. Who is nice and who is creepy?
     Lee often pays my rent. Gary sends flowers every Tuesday. But I don’t like flowers and I have to pay rent. So what is adequate and what is over the line?
     David got the farthest. He writes to me every week. In the last letter, he proposed to me. I might send him my used socks – it always pleases him to get something in jail. I may even include my underwear. Some extra pieces – some for his friends, too.
     I step closer to my big window, slide it open and sit back down in my reading chair. My apartment offers stunning views of London. It was the reason why I picked this place. I can see everything from here. The glow of the London Eye illuminates the dark sky. It faces Big Ben, whose bell can be heard in the distance on quiet nights. The city is slowly falling asleep. Lights are gradually disappearing. And I see everything.
     The married couple living on the second floor in the building opposite me go to bed early; their apartment is usually dark by 10 pm. The yoga teacher from the fourth floor is in bed by one. She practices naked in her bedroom before she goes to bed. How can anyone be so flexible? In the apartment above, a woman leaves at half past eleven in the evening every other week to go to work. Only a few minutes later, her husband’s mistress comes in. They usually say goodbye around 2 am. Every Friday night, the window on the seventh floor opens, and a young girl crawls out and flees via the fire escape. Just like when I was young! She has my respect. She even manages in heels.
     To reach the more distant buildings, I use my telescope. Every night,  the guy on the sixth floor watches porn, the woman below him sitcoms. Next to her lives a young guy who smokes weed and plays video games late into the night. A woman below him has several cats and likes to paint with acrylics on a canvas until dawn.
     Zoos around the world welcome the curious who want to see exotic animals. They press their noses to the glass, stretch out their hands through the bars. And when they are eager to see more, they visit the wild. They take a plastic water bottle, a backpack, annoyingly big shoes and binoculars; they crouch at a distance and wait. They want to see animals in their natural habitat. They are wondering what animals do when they think no-one is watching. That is exactly what happens to people behind the closed doors of their homes. In their natural environment, they throw away their masks and behave like who they truly are. I know it. I see them. During the night.
     Slowly, all the lights go off. They depart to another world, which is not a place for me. Only a few shining lights remain in the otherwise total darkness and silence.
     I sink down onto the couch, peel my stockings off, take off my dress and turn on the TV. My only company is a bucket of chocolate ice cream and a notebook. It’s just a few hours after the launch of my new book and the internet is filled with photos from the event. I glance at them all. I look nice, cute. Exactly how the media and my publisher want me. It’s a game that I enjoy. During the day.
     Three o’clock in the morning. I consider whether to still go somewhere. Are you waiting for me? Do you miss me? There are sitcoms on TV; I have seen them all about a million times already. I know them by heart. On a laptop, I click on the website with the launch photos and live streaming webcams.
     I have discovered streaming webcams during my long nights spent on the internet. I launch my favorite pages and I have virtually the whole world in front of me. Streaming live from places such as Paris, Madrid, Prague, San Francisco... The whole world is online. Within reach.
     I cross a few of my favorite cities. As usual, I begin in Los Angeles, where it is still a hot and sunny day. I could get used to L.A. weather... Then I check out New York, the city that never sleeps. We would be the perfect fit... I visit a few white Caribbean beaches. At the end, I come back to my hometown – London. The webcam shows almost an empty city. Apart from him.
     He has sat there every night for several months, watching the city. Primrose Hill, the top of Regent’s Park. He is sitting with his legs crossed, a hood covering his head. The webcam is behind him while he’s facing towards the center; I have never seen his face. He sits there every night for about three to four hours. And I watch him every time I’m not out for the night.
     He draws my attention, piques my curiosity. Whenever I watch him, I get a strange feeling in my stomach. He is so far and at the same time so close. He is sitting somewhere out there in the night, watching the sleeping city below. It feels like we are spending the night together, even though we are both alone.
     How strange is a stranger to you? When can you consider someone close to you? Where do you draw the line and when do you cross it? When do you get to know his face? His name? His dreams? Or his fears?
     Half past three. I’m out of ice cream. It starts raining. A clear sign that I will stay at home today. I’ll come tomorrow, I have plans.
     I walk up to my library and choose a book to read. You might be thinking, “Who reads at this time? Shouldn’t she go to sleep?” No. Why? Because I have not slept for more than twenty years.