When I was younger my brain seemed to switch on at night. Most of my talking went on at night. The lights would go out and my brother and I would begin conversation, bringing on the scolding of my parents. Once, twice. Better not push it for three. Whispers became quieter and quieter. We would forget that we weren’t supposed to be talking after a few minutes of conversation. Get a cup of water. My brother would follow. We could tell our plastic yellow mugs apart even in the dark – most of the time. My brother was always infuriated when I would mix up mine and his. He was more germ conscious than I was. In the blackness it was hard to make out the pictures and names drawn in marker on the bottom. Sometimes I would check after I drank, because it was only then that the cup was empty. I tried not to mention it if I got the wrong one. He was contentedly drinking from mine, so why bother with details? It wasn’t so easy when we had toothbrush confusions.
We would wave to my sister as we drank our water. Pulling back the curtain to her window, right by the water cooler, she would wave to us, her smiling face outlined by her blond curls. More often than not, she was far to cheery to have been even attempting to sleep. Get told to go to bed. Explain the need for water. Pitter-patter on bare feet quickly back to bed to lie in silence. Soon a whisper would break it again. Before long we would need to use the bathroom. Then water again. Whispers again… My brother always aspired to be an inventor. I always wanted to be a writer. Unfortunately bed times had no lack of imagination – this was when the greatest plans were laid, the best stories thought out, and the most innovative ideas shared.
Our roof was covered in glow in the dark stars. We made our own constellations with them and gave them names. I used to dream of all the great stories that would involve those imaginary planets and stars – the interplanetary trade, diplomacies and wars that would play out in the pseudo-sky above us. The stars would give the room a glow for a while, like lime coloured moonlight, slowing fading as the night went on. We put a star in the center of the ceiling fan. It would whir, turning its glowing points into a fuzzy circle in the sky, dancing above our heads. It fell off once. We watched it lose its light and grow dark while it lay on the cool marble floor. The next day we put it up again, balancing it on the end of a baseball bat, sticky-tack up, and touched it to the fan. That was how all the stars were put up – those we couldn’t reach with a leap from the beds.
We never really played baseball. The bats, ball and gloves were North American relics that would lie derelict, neglected by their much too Eastern owners. The bats would sit in our blue toy trunk, gathering dust until they were needed on these rare occasions – to put up glow-in-the-dark stars, or to bolster our boyish courage when the door bell rang late at night. I would hold the wooden bat, standing beside the open doorway of our room, peering into the dark house. Watching and listening as my dad answered the door bell, I would run through the scenes of a break-in. I would wait until this nameless, faceless intruder reached the doorway of our room. It would be dark, and he would be big – an adult, so I would have to hit hard and make the first few blows count. Some nights I would have back-up, my little brother with our smaller black nerf bat – both of us ready for the onslaught. Then we would have better chance. Between the two of us we could stun him enough at the outset to overwhelm him together, I was convinced. We never had to use the bats. Instead they stood in for bazookas at times, or oversized rifles in our games.
I used to tell my brother bed time stories some nights. Sometimes he enjoyed them. An island with dragons, a bear and his friends in the forest. Other times I think he bore them for my sake. The stories were really for me. I wanted to tell them – to breathe them into existence. Thankfully he would listen and entertain my story-telling desire, and sometimes he would listen with anticipation. I just wanted the stories to be told, regardless of whether he wanted to hear them. I was always that way. I would write stories and books for him, excitedly giving them to him to read, waiting eagerly to hear what he thought and to see if he enjoyed them. He hates reading. I would put him through the torture all the same, usually ending up telling him the majority of the story in my excitement for him to read them. He did it enjoy it – he tells me this even now about my writing. He enjoys reading what I write. He suffers through each word and phrase for my sake. I am so thankful for his support.
In summer our beds were next to unbearable. Our sheets would stick to our bodies with sweat. When the power went out, we would slowly make our way to my parents room, where a battery kept the fan running above. One by one, as the silence of the fan in our rooms and the heat penetrated our sleep, we would join my parents in their room, slotting one, if not two of us in the middle of the queen sized bed. The third would lie across the bottom, below the four pairs of feet. Being the tallest, I usually had the bottom of the bed. After an hour or two our sleepy ears would hear the power return, and the fan in our rooms begin to crawl sluggishly into motion. Once again we would make the sleepy walk between the rooms and back into our beds, lulled to sleep by the beautiful sound of the fans, whirring in the still night.
Some nights my brother and I would shower with a towel and then take it sopping with water to our beds, where we would drape it over us as a cool wet blanket. This would last for a while until it began to dry, and soon we would be back in the bathroom, soaking the towels again, repeating this until we drifted off too sleep. Some nights I would have two or three showers in the process of going to sleep, letting the water evaporate of my body as hints of breeze would waft in through the open window. Hyderabad was always a breezy city.
When it got even hotter, there was some hope. Days would pass as we watched the thermometer rise, waiting for my dad’s verdict: that it was hot enough for us to use the air conditioning. To be honest, the numbers on the thermometer meant little to me. I couldn’t real tell the difference. It was just hot. Finally, when the blessed day came we would squish into my parents room, our three mattresses surrounding their bed on all sides. We rotated, allowing each of us a turn right underneath the AC. This was heaven, laying in bed to have the arctic winds sweep over you, blasting you in the face before they made their way under the bed to the mattress on the other side.
I soon realized that it was the second mattress that was the best. While arguments would ensue over who would get front row seats to the vents, I would opt for the farthest bed, on the other side, uncontested, cherishing the secret of the channel of cool air that would make its way under my parents’ bed to my mattress. Unfortunately in a few years my siblings were old enough to realize the advantages of the location, and it was back to arbitrary rotation again.
Recalling the memories, I wonder if we ever slept. We did. We must have, for I’m alive to tell the tale. Sometimes I wonder when we did though. I never knew when we stopped talking, and when sleep would finally catch up to us – poor little boys, slaves to our exploding hearts and imaginations that gave no heed to the time of night. My brother and I still talk late into the night when we’re together. But now I’m older and my head dips in and out of consciousness while he talks. I am woken by the silence when he stops talking. I will grope confusedly at the last few words I subconsciously took in. What did he say? Is he asleep? Did he ask a question?
A ‘hm’ was often enough to get me by, enough to encourage the flow of words again – to remind him that I was listening. And I would listen, as his words mixed with my oncoming dreams, which then needed to be pulled apart when the silence came, to decipher what I had just been told or asked. His dreams, ideas and fears melding with mine as I drifted into sleep.