There is this nightmare I keep having. I can’t seem to escape from it. I have finally figured out why.
Do you remember when Mirdif was once kind of like a ghost town? The sand-flanked roads and dusty villas devoid of any sort of commercial center have now transformed into clogged roundabouts surrounded by new living developments and a few malls.
Our street is still unlit. It’s safe overall, but there are times when it can get a little bit eerie. But you know about that already. That’s what my nightmares are usually about.
Since you’ve left, getting a decent stretch of sleep for longer than 4 or 5 hours is pretty impossible. Rare, actually, unless on some serious drowsiness-inducing medication. My body and mind seem to decide that it’s completely okay to wake up, alert and slightly puzzled, every couple of hours.
Most often, I wake up without any specific thoughts floating around in my head. It’s a neutral feeling, blank, empty and oddly calm. I’d once imagined that to wake up in the middle of the night would leave a person disoriented, but because it happens so frequently, I suppose I’ve learnt to just adapt. Another one of the many features of life after you.
Sometimes, not as often now as a year ago, I wake up fighting for relief. That’s when the nightmare happens, it blankets my consciousness so completely that I struggle to find any way out of slumber. It’s always a variation on one main theme: danger. And the setting always seems to be home, in Mirdif,
There’s always a threat of being attacked physically. There is never any escape, and there is constantly that anxiety that comes with running out of places to hide just having to wait for whatever it is that is out to get me. Sometimes, there are other people at home, Mom or Dad and even Ayana, and in the nightmare, I seem to always make it a priority to ensure their safety first before my own. Usually, though, I am always the one being chased and hunted.
I don’t know who or what is after me in this nightmare. There is never a face, and often not even a distinct figure or silhouette. It’s usually just the idea that there is something after me, something vengeful that will not relent until I am fatally harmed. There is never anyone to protect me. And that’s why I think this nightmare is because of you.
Do you remember that time when I was downstairs making tea at midnight? I think I had an exam at school the next day and was planning to stay up and study. I had thought I’d heard something knocking or tapping at the back door in the kitchen. Everyone else had already gone to bed, but you were awake, as you often were until the wee hours of the morning. I’d come to you, feeling a bit silly and decidedly uneasy, and told you what I’d heard. Out came the cricket bat, and a large steel rod from somewhere in the backyard. With a weapon in each hand, you strode out to have a look-see around the block.
You returned, amused and shaking your head, and told me I’d probably just heard a cat. We did have a cat in our backyard (he’s still there, btw, getting bigger and lazier by the day) but till date, I remain convinced it was something else.
It happened again a couple of times, once around the same time the neighbours got robbed, and another time when someone threw a rock at our living room window. Each time, you would go out around the block, calling out, making a ruckus to scare away whoever it was that tried to threaten our family, even it was just in my head sometimes.
Since you’ve gone though, there’s no one to do that. Your cricket bat lies in a corner of the shed, discoloured with multiple layers of dust. I don’t even know where the steel rod is, probably thrown away, decayed with rust and neglect. There are no weapons, there is no protection, there is no more you, my big brother, to keep me shielded from the big, bad unknown.
It started soon after you left, and plagues me still. I don’t envision it going away anytime soon. I have grown accustomed to clawing and kicking for a way out from my subconscious, to awakening bright-eyed at 3:37 am, to carrying on conversations even in a state of half-sleep because I find it safer and more restful than deep slumber. It takes a while for me to forget the nightmare the next day, I’ve spent mornings feeling haunted, nights dreading going to bed and stalling the final moment of sleep in any way possible, even if it means feeling horrid the next morning. I still keep a night light on.
When I was a kid, you used to scare me with stories of a phantom monster who would come snatch me away. You called it ‘Hawwa Coco’, a name that seems quite comical now that its written down, but would frighten five-year-old me to spluttering tears. Guess what, Bhai? You get to have the last laugh, because even nearly 20 years later, you (or rather the lack of you) can still scare your little sister with the idea of an unknown lurking monster. You got me.