Sleep is a curious thing. There are so many things preferable to it and yet while we’re actually in the middle of it, we dread being pulled away from it. I’m sure you’d rather watch just one more episode of game of thrones before you switch off the light, or finish off that chapter of that book you’re stuck in. One more match on online gaming or ten more minutes judging which cute animal video you should send off to your best friend (because if you send the wrong one, or one too many, that might very well be the end). Sometimes I even don’t sleep at all, choosing instead to drive my body harder for as long it can go before it inevitably crashes into a coma (at which point you inexplicably wake up in Kamiooka of all places and wonder how much further you might have gone had that small child on the train not screamed in your ear just now. Thank you horrible child. Your awful temperament, lack of discipline and shrill french accent has finally been of merit, and for once I don’t need to suppress the desire to push you into an oncoming bus). But when you are asleep, every fibre of your body clings onto that drowsy comfort. You wake because you have to; your stomach cries out for food, your bladder cries for release, your alarm cries out you’re late. In my case, my sister cries out ‘get up Poncho or I’m going to drop kick you. You know it’s not an idle threat’. Even in this case the comfort of sleep is powerful enough to slightly dull the pain of a sibling’s violent tendencies. The fight between wanting consciousness and unconsciousness is something we all go through but when that fight is removed altogether, we become miserable. The summer took away that conundrum from me and I literally wouldn’t rest until I retook the ability to fight and surrender to sleep.
I had thought the library would be my salvation and for many weeks it was. Free air conditioning and a wooden table all to myself. But one evening, as I trudged through the humidity toward the library cutting my way through the air using a rolled up textbook as a makeshift machete, I found with horror the library door locked. Maybe it was a party the other day, or renovations or aliens or the landlady was conspiring against me, that they had decided to close the library. It didn’t matter. I was locked out of my second bedroom! I was forced to return to my bed to sleep. My bed! I felt it radiate warmth beneath me, like I was sleeping on sheets of lava. It was so soft too. So many weeks of sleeping on tables had reshaped my spine into a perfect straight line and now it wouldn’t fit well atop the mattress. I cried in the agony of it all, being cruelly forced to sleep in my own bed in my own bedroom.
From then on I knew I could no longer rely on the library. For whatever reason it could be closed. But not only that, on days when I could return there were other obstacles to overcome. If students studied at night I’d need to wait until they left to be able to switch off the lights to sleep. Some nights they wouldn’t leave at all (Svetlana and her ongoing war against her own body-clock was a particular example of this). On other occasions it would be insects. For some bizarre reason, some complete idiot (and I will unleash the full might of my sarcastic rage upon them if I ever find out who did this), opened every single window despite the fact that there was an air conditioner in the room. They had been open for hours we guessed. The library was packed with cicadas, mosquitos and my favourite, spiders as large as my hand. It didn’t matter how cool it was; I spent the majority of the night flicking them all out of the window with a pad of paper. On one occasion it was something entirely different. The smell. I was sitting in the library with everyone else, studying and chatting, with far more emphasis on the latter, when I detected it. Difficult to describe, weak enough to hide its source but strong enough to be repugnant. I asked everyone else if they could smell it too but they couldn’t. I knew it though. It was sweet and bitter at the same time and far too distinct to be mistaken for anything else.
“Oh my god, I know what it is!” I cried out in shocked whisper.
“Hmm? What is it then?” Elodie asked
“This smell. It’s sex! It’s what you smell when you’re having sex. It’s definitely that!”
“No it can’t be! How would you know what that smells like?”
“What does that mean? How would I know. I know that smell, thank you very much” I exclaimed angrily back at her. “It’s that smell you get from mixing sweat, semen and vaginal fluids”
“Yes eww. And it’s in here somewhere. Oh God, where did it happen!? I sleep in here!”
I did not want to lie down on any table after that. That night when I entered I couldn’t choose a table to sleep on. They all loomed ominously. I was playing a lottery; what if I chose the one place where some couple had been!? I couldn’t take that risk. The smell had dissipated a little but it was still there. Reminding me. Never letting me forget what I might be lying my head on. I went back to my room and brought a sheet to lie on but it wasn’t enough to mend the broken trust between me and the library. It was tainted now. I wanted to start wearing gloves whenever I was in there but it was just too hot. I couldn’t sleep in there with any kind of peace of mind from then on. If the persons responsible for this are reading this blog then screw you for taking my second bedroom away from me! You ruined a good thing I had going!
The next few weeks were tough as I struggled back in my furnace. The summer wasn’t letting up and I was still resorting to nightly cold showers to cool down. But luckily I had other distractions. Tee was leaving. With everyone on such limited funds we couldn’t have so many extravagant outings as we did before but regardless we all wanted to spend time together before everyone went their separate ways. The night before Tee left I wished him goodnight at midnight in the corridor. He was in the process of cleaning his room and said he’d be in bed the next hour. Seven hours later I woke up so I could have breakfast with everyone and see him off before his flight. He was still cleaning his room. In a mad panic all of us helped him throw out things and move luggage about, so that he wouldn’t miss his flight and in the process I entered his room for the first time. It was identical to my own of course, but it was so much cooler than my room was. Tee was the polar opposite to me when it came to electricity consumption. While I even considered switching on the lights as a luxury, Tee was better known for leaving his air conditioner on while he was out. Just so that the room would be cool when he returned. I looked up at his air conditioner fondly as I lifted my next bag of waste to take out and wondered how wonderful it would be to use it that. I wondered. And then I wondered some more.
After saying goodbye to Tee, I formulated my plan on the walk back home. If I got back quickly enough there’d be a chance things would be simple. So gloriously simple. For the first time in ages I sprinted up the stairs, ignoring the heat and hopping over the cicada carcasses, until I got to Tee’s old room. My hand flashed to the door handle and all my rabbit-like excitement immediately perished when the door wouldn’t budge. The landlady had locked up while we were out. The carrot was right before me, just out of reach. A sheet of metal and a lock was all that stood in my way. I wouldn’t allow it to defeat me; it was an empty room with an air conditioner. This prize was too good to let slip away. Now that Tee had left, I would sleep in his room. I could flick the breakers back on, bask in the delight of the air conditioner and finally return to a good night’s sleep. It wasn’t my room so I wouldn’t get charged for the usage and Tee had already paid his final bills so he was in the clear too. I just needed to get inside somehow.
As often with these kinds of obstacles I had a string of success and failures. But each one only galvanised me to strive harder. Tenacity and creative ingenuity were my greatest strengths in such cases:
Although the front door was locked, each room had a balcony with its own glass door. That door had no key; it was a simple latch. But who was to say the latch would be on at all? His room was on the third floor after all. Who would be worried about security, so high up? Besides with how hot it was, maybe he had opened it a lot and never bothered to latch it. I could not get into his room through the front door, so I would get in through the back. As soon as I did, I could unlock his front door for future access. Luckily for me, my room was on the same floor, only 4 rooms away. I wouldn’t have to climb up, like a heat exhausted Romeo. I just needed to shimmy along. I walked onto my balcony and surveyed the route. Every other balcony was connected, but on each a temporary wall had been erected to prevent someone from walking into their neighbours property. In order to make my way over I would need to scale over the railing and cling to each balcony as I edged along the outside. It was hardly daring. I swung one leg over the balcony railing and froze just before I lifted the next leg over. One of the staff members from reception was almost directly below me and just as I spotted her, she spotted me. There’s no easy way to explain why you would be straddling your balcony rail so I needed to act natural fast to avoid suspicion. Most people hung laundry out on a line on their balcony so that seemed to be the most logical thing to do. Maybe I was perched uncomfortably on the railing so that I could reach higher. So I lifted my arms and pretended to reach for the clothes line. Except of course, I had no clothes line. My hands instead dangled above my head, reaching out for it for a second before I remembered this. There was little else I could do but pray she was too far away to see that there was no line above my head. I slowly lowered my arms and gingerly climbed back into my room.
This time around I checked for witnesses before venturing forward. I even chose the timing carefully to avoid other pedestrian traffic. I climbed over the rail and carefully held my footing as I adjusted my grip. The shimmying started well. It wasn’t at all windy and I maintained a slow and steady pace along the edge. At my neighbour’s balcony, I extended one foot onto it and then limb by limb, transferred myself over. Proud of the successful progress I was making, I carried on shimmying without much thought. I was half way toward reaching the next balcony when I caught his eye. My neighbour was sat in his room by his desk, staring in shock at me from behind the glass door. He was Chinese and didn’t speak English, or Japanese for that matter, so explanation was not an option. I smiled weakly at him and shimmied back to my room.
This time I made it as far as two balconies before I had to stop. At each one, I would peer around the wall to check that the occupant wasn’t in to see me pass. I had gradually become more accustomed to traversing the balconies so even though it was windy, I wasn’t deterred by fear of falling. All I had to do was not look down and I could temporarily forget my fear of heights. What I couldn’t forget though, was the skin on my hands tearing. Something on the rails was sharp enough to cut me and now I felt the palm of one of my hands bleed quietly as I wavered between continuing and returning. I wasn’t quite half way yet and my hand stung fiercely so with regret I turned back, believing I could try again another time. Tee’s room wasn’t going to vanish anytime soon after all. Next time I’d bring gloves.
But there was no next time. That evening we all gathered to watch a film together and I relayed my great plan to access free air conditioning once again. Everyone was, suffice to say, not so impressed.
“Don’t try it again! You’ll break your neck” Kara pleaded.
“I won’t break my neck”
“Oh my God, I can’t believe you. You’re going to break your neck” Svetlana chimed in.
“I won’t break my neck”
“If you break your neck, I’m going to kill you!” Elodie yelled at me.
“I won’t break my neck”
“Hmm. Maybe you shouldn’t do that” Tamu warned me, “Tee has left but if they find out that you used electricity in his room they might try to charge him back in America”.
“…damn it. Fine I won’t try again”
“Besides. You’ll break your neck too”
Why does everyone just assume I’ll fall and hurt myself!? I’m extraordinarily careful! I don’t take unnecessary risks and I’ve never needed to see a doctor due to an injury. I have a natural fear of heights which helps me take extra precautions in potentially risky situations. I was already considering getting gloves to ensure my safety but I didn’t bother to explain this.
The rest of the summer went on and in the last month of my stay in Japan, I was forced to endure the over bearing heat every night. There was no hope except for leaving Japan in the coming weeks. At the very earliest I would have the 12 hour plane ride to catch up on my sleep.
On the plane back to the U.K, the air conditioning was on full blast. It was far too cold for me to sleep.