It took the man in the sandy-coloured suit no time at all to find the next name on his list.
Alvin Benchway, 32 years old. He lived on the fifth floor of an apartment building that had overlooked the River before the suburb was beaten down, then up, by overeager developers.
When the man in the sandy-coloured suit found him, Alvin was hunched over a computer screen in the dark, the white light illuminating his face and little else. Nothing on the screen was of substance. A thin connection to the web. Content for content’s sake.
The man in the sandy-coloured suit flicked on the light of the small home office. Alvin was slow to react, his eyes gaunt and his mouth agape even staring at a harsh nothing.
“Good evening,” the man in the sandy-coloured suit said. He looked about as Alvin turned, sluggish, as if having to use the weight of one shoulder to twist his body. The sandy-suit man lifted a stack of books off a chair at the back of the room so he could sit.
“Good evening,” Alvin replied.
“How are you, Alvin? Tired?”
“I guess.” Alvin faced the man, the light of the screen fading into the harsh yellow of the bulb in the ceiling.
“I’m here to tell you to get some sleep.”
“It’s been days.”
Alvin’s tired eyes sank and his brow furrowed. “What’s it to you?”
“I lose sleep when you do.”
The sandy-suit man knew better than to expect to catch the sleepless unaware. Their bloodshot eyes wide, bodies thin and weary, but their brains prepared. Inhibitions lowered. He just hoped this wouldn’t dissolve to violence again.
It’s easy to force the tired to sleep, true, but that rest is far less rejuvenating.
“My generosity is self-centred, I assure you,” the sandy-suit man replied, crossing his legs. “I hope you don’t mind me making myself welcome.”
“Only if you’re likely to leave soon.”
“What will you do once I’m gone?”
Alvin blinked. His eyelids seemed to catch for a moment, just too long, before springing back open. A small purple vein disappeared underneath his eyebrow.
“I will keep reading.”
“I always find it difficult to read when I can’t keep my eyes open.”
“You’d do well not to assume we’re the same kind of people.”
“You’d do well, Alvin, not to assume you’re the first I’ve talked off this kind of ledge.”
Alvin turned his head back to the laptop and shut the lid. The white extinguished. The yellow, harsh and burning. Alvin was certain he could hear the electricity humming through the copper. Like a tic. A relic of rest too long ago.
“Can I ask why you’re not sleeping?”
“I don’t feel particularly like wasting time.”
“Then I imagine this is frustrating.”
Alvin twisted his whole body, slowly, with a limbering shuffle of the feet, to face the sandy-suit man. As if he was afraid he would fall apart. As if his brain could keep him speaking at the expense of his fine motor skills. One or the other, not even at the same time.
“I would prefer you tell me why you’re here,” Alvin said, trying to spit it at the stranger in his office. Instead the words slipped out soft.
“I’m here to help you to sleep,” the sandy-suit man replied. “I can’t make you get some shut-eye but I am persistent enough that I have quite a high strike-rate.”
“Who sent you?”
“I sent myself. Consider this a public service, though I’ve never collected the tax I probably deserve.”
“I wouldn’t pay you for this.”
“I don’t tend to find people when they’re in a state to honour an invoice.”
Alvin shut one eye, then the other. The sandy-suit man considered this reluctance.
“If it helps,” the sandy-suit man said, “I’m from the bank.”
He had found this effective in the past. Vague and evocative at the same time, somehow. The weight of money. He wished sometimes he could join the world and absolve himself of responsibility by simply not shutting his eyes for too long. So simple an escape.
Instead, he was here, with Alvin. The latest in a list of names he was certain – truly certain – would never end.
“I’ve never known a banker to wear those colours,” Alvin replied. “Do I owe a debt I don’t know about?”
“You do. Weariness can make you do quite the silly thing. You might not even remember signing for it.”
Alvin’s eyes drooped and he snapped eye contact. His gaze fixed on the shadow of the still-open door. He looked, as if against his will, at the darkness of the hallway. He could walk, without light, straight to his bedroom. Collapse into the unmade mess. Done better than perfect. Asleep, maybe, better than awake when just for its own sake.
“I don’t remember signing for anything,” Alvin confessed. He winced. Reluctance, again, this time to concede information. Inhibitions down. Honesties up.
“Of course you don’t. You’ve put yourself in a quite a state. It’s my job to get you out of it.”
“For no money?”
“For, again, my own restfulness.”
“When was the last time you slept?”
“I don’t have to be good at the sport to be a good coach, Alvin.” The sandy-suit man smiled. “Besides, we’re playing different games. I would suggest a partner. You’ll sleep better together.”
“Not the first time.”
“Not the first time, sure, but afterwards. An investment, Alvin.”
“I’m in no rush to… to settle down,” Alvin said. His head sagged. His eyes unable to rise. His shoulders sliding forward.
“Careful, Alvin. You’ll wake in a most unpleasant place, with blood from the nose and light much harsher than this, if you fall over. This floor is heavy.”
“Your footsteps light.”
“Your mind slipping.”
“This does not make me more sane.”
“Not sanity, Alvin. Sleep.”
“When I’m… ready.” Alvin yawned, his mouth drawing wide, his shoulders pulling back, for a moment, before he sank again. Further down now. A slouch. His spine bearing his weight. An exhaustion unhealthy for the mind and the body.
“I’lll also need you to eat, Alvin. To sleep and to eat. For your own sake, and half for mine.” The sandy-suit man yawned too. The semblance of empathy. A reliable trick. A hallmark of study after study, proof after proof. Alvin rested a hand against his own chair, tested his own weight on his feet.
The sandy-suit man uncrossed his legs, sat forward.
“I can’t get you there, Alvin. You’ll have to do it yourself. But you’re not far away. Just down the corridor. On the left. In the back right corner, where you can’t be seen from the door.”
“How do you – ”
“I’m sure you glean intimate details through your work. I’d even suggest we’ve met before.”
Alvin’s hand slipped and he with it.
The sandman slipped from his own chair, in one moment present and in another gone, beneath Alvin, then about, then all around. Alvin awoke in his own bed with the midday sun crashing through.