Afraid of Sleeping Alone
“Hey, listen up,” whispered the male classmate who sat in front of me. “Fukada likes to sleep around.”
The other male classmate who sat next to him faced to the side, his eyes wide. “Really? How do you know?”
“Because I slept with her yesterday.”
“Wow, how did you persuade her?”
“I didn’t have to. Fukada suddenly came and invited me to an izakaya. After that, she asked me if I wanted to go to a love hotel. So we went and stayed overnight.”
“Wow, you were at it the whole night then?”
“Not really. She fell asleep right after the first round. Anyway, I didn’t need a second one.”
I stroked my chin. Something didn’t quite fit in here.
Fukada didn’t look like the type who slept around. She didn’t wear heavy makeup or provocative clothes. Never flirted, didn’t even talk much to people. She was the kind of girl you’d find in the library or manga club.
Apparently, she was also the kind of girl you’d find in a love hotel.
“Hey, did you know?” murmured the female classmate who sat behind me, “Fukada likes to sleep around. And with girls too.”
“No way!” blurted the female classmate who sat next to her.
“I’m serious. She was my roommate last semester. One day, in the middle of the night, she quietly crawled onto my bed.”
“No way! Did she do anything to you?”
“She didn’t have time. I immediately jumped off the bed and turned on the light. Then I shouted, ‘What the heck are you doing?’ Fukada apologized and went back to bed. She never did anything like that again.”
I rubbed my chin.
My detective instincts had been stirred.
I shared Gender Studies with Fukada. She sat two rows next to me.
I peered at her. She didn’t seem to be paying much attention to the lecture; now and then, her eyes would blink closed, and her head would nod as if she were pretending to agree with the professor. Was she sleepy because she was “active” at night?
A more pressing question: how should I start a conversation with her? Would you like to go to an izakaya?
“Excuse me …”
The voice snapped me out of my pondering. It had the grogginess of someone who had just woken up. A girl who had just woken up.
I refocused my eyes. Fukada was standing in front of me, staring at me as if I were the bed she’d been longing for after an exhausting day.
“Would you like to go to an izakaya?” she asked.
Fukada and I walked next to each other on a sidewalk, joining the evening rush-hour pedestrians, heading to the izakaya she’d recommended.
I turned to her. “Why did you invite me?”
“You were looking at me,” she said in a monotone. “So I assumed you liked me.”
“That’s a bit of a stretch … but even if that were the case, it doesn’t mean you like me.”
“It doesn’t matter whether I like you or not.”
“So you’ll go to bed with anyone?”
Fukada nodded. “It doesn’t matter who I sleep with.”
The izakaya was so tiny and so hidden inside an alley that you’d think the owner hated customers. We were the only ones.
Once we were seated at the counter, we ordered from the wall-hanging menu items. Three yakitori sets and two draft beers.
We ate and drank in silence. It wasn’t like I had nothing to say; on the contrary, I had countless questions to ask Fukada. But I couldn’t find the right timing. Especially since Fukada was chugging her beer as if she were in a drinking competition.
After paying, we were walking in that lonely alley again. This time I wasn’t aware of our destination. Apparently, Fukada knew.
“Do you want to go to a love hotel?” she asked in a totally emotionless voice. With totally emotionless eyes.
I gaped at her. I suspected she’d ask this question. But hearing it from her lips still stunned me. “Are … you sure of this?”
“Not really,” she said. “But I don’t have another choice.”
“What do you mean by I don’t have another choice?”
“I’m tired.” She rubbed her eyes. “Can you leave the questions for later?”
But you’re not tired enough to sleep with someone? I wanted to ask.
What I said instead was, “Okay, let’s go.”
I was more motivated by curiosity than lechery, though.
Fukada led me to a love hotel. One that was so shabby that it could have been mistaken for an abandoned house. She didn’t seem to care; she stepped through its doorless entrance.
At the touchscreen, she tapped a standard room. Then, turning to me, she asked, “Are you okay with an overnight stay?”
“Two or four hours won’t be enough for you?” At least tomorrow was Saturday.
“They won’t,” she replied, stifling a yawn.
I wished I’d eaten more at the izakaya.
The room looked like a dorm room. It had a desk. A closet. No TV. But instead of a bunk bed, it came with a full bed — though it was barely big enough for two people.
Without taking a shower, or even taking off her black jacket, Fukada dropped herself onto the bed, face down on the pillow.
I sat next to her on the edge of the bed, my arms dangling between my legs.
“You don’t want to have sex?” she asked, her voice tired and muffled.
“It looks like you don’t want to.”
I was right; she continued laying face down, her hair spread out on the bed like drying seaweed.
Fearing she’d asphyxiate, I gently turned her around. And I examined her face. She looked peaceful. No, happy. Her lips curled up as if she were dreaming about drifting away on a cloud. Birds flitting by. A rainbow arching majestically in the background.
To make her feel more comfortable, I carefully peeled off her jacket, leaving her in her white blouse. As I did, as her smooth pink skin was revealed, my penis pulsed like a heartbeat.
I shouldn’t think with it — but Fukada was the one who had suggested coming to a love hotel.
My finger traveled from her snow-white legs to her well-rounded hips. From her near-flat stomach to her teardrop-shaped breasts.
From her swan-like neck to her heart-shaped face — her eyes were completely shut, her lips slightly ajar and faintly curving up at the corners. She seemed so serene. So content.
I lay down face up next to her, waiting for my erection to go down, waiting for the blaze inside me to burn out, waiting for sleep to come and claim me.
Waiting for tomorrow — so my questions could be answered.
In the end, sleepiness couldn’t pacify my turbulent mind. So I got up. Then I made a cup of coffee and sipped it while sitting on the chair, facing the bed in the blue dawn, waiting for Fukada’s eyes to flutter open.
They finally did around noon as she sprung to a sitting position, scanning the room as if she’d been kidnapped. Finally, her eyes locked on mine.
And her mouth opened to ask, “Did you …? Did we …?”
I shook my head, stepping to the bed. “Nothing happened.”
Fukada let out a sigh. “I guess you want to know what’s going on.” She pressed the pillow against her face. “The thing is, I’m afraid of sleeping alone.”
Afraid of sleeping alone? But Fukada was what, twenty? Twenty-one?
“More specifically,” she continued, “I’m afraid of monsters.”
“My brother liked to tell me scary stories. Very scary stories. Like there was one about this monster who would sneak into your bedroom while you were asleep and stick his dirty thumb into your mouth. You’d choke. You’d cough. And wake up.
“Then you’d look around — and find nothing. The monster would be gone by then. But you’d know this wasn’t a dream because of the taste of rotten meat in your mouth.”
I gaped at Fukada. “I believe you: those stories were very scary. They must have traumatized you.”
She nodded. “Especially since my brother started telling them to me when I was a little girl. So it became a trauma. Or a disability like that Chinese custom of foot binding.”
Everything was clear now. Except … “How did you manage to sleep before?”
“From elementary school through high school, I shared a bed with my elder sister. But that wasn’t possible anymore after I came to Tokyo to attend university. Fortunately, I lived in the dorm and had roommates. Unfortunately, because of an ‘incident,’ a rumor about me spread. This attracted gossip. Bullies. So I had no choice but to leave the dorm.”
“Maybe you could move in with a boyfriend.”
“I can’t find one with the reputation I have. I can’t even find friends.”
I was out of ideas. Not that I’d proposed many. “This must be a nightmare.”
Fukada lowered the pillow and her head. “It’s ruined my university life. But it’s either that or dying from lack of sleep.”
Her life shouldn’t be this hard. She had the right to sleep peacefully at night — without having to go to bed with different men each time. If only one of them could …
“I know,” I blurted, “I’ll sleep with you from now on. I mean, only sleep.”
Fukada gaped at me. “That would be great. But why would you …?”
“So I can sleep peacefully. I wouldn’t be able to knowing what you’re going through.”
She pressed both hands together as if in prayer. “Thank you. This is like a dream come true.” As if waking up to reality, she asked, “Wait, how are we going to make this work?”
I rubbed my chin. “At what time do you usually sleep?”
“Any time I have a chance — but now that I’ll be able to go to bed at the same time, I guess around midnight.”
“Then let’s meet every day at eleven at night.”
“This is crazy.” Fukada smiled. “But I think it’ll work.”
Going to a love hotel every night would be hard on our pockets. So we decided to sleep in Fukada’s one-bedroom apartment in Shibuya.
“I never brought over the men I slept with.” She sipped her can of beer and set it on the low table. “I didn’t want them to know where I live, because I barely knew them.”
I gulped mine. “But you don’t know me that well either.”
“Well, at least you know me — more than anyone. You’re the only one who knows about my fear of sleeping alone.”
“Speaking of which.” I glanced at the clock. “Should we go to bed now?”
We’d decided to drink and chat for a bit because just going to sleep would feel weird. But as we took turns showering, as we crawled onto the bed, the strangeness lingered on. We looked like a couple who had moved in together. But actually, we weren’t even dating.
“Goodnight,” Fukada said, switching off the light and crawling back to the bed. “And thanks again.” In the darkness, after a brief pause, she added, “Are you sure you don’t want to … you know? I feel like I’m the only one getting something out of this.”
I smiled. “It’s more important for me that you sleep than sleeping with you.”
“Then at least let me give you this.” Fukada wriggled over and hugged me as if I were her favorite teddy bear. My penis twitched. But not as much as my heart.
At first Fukada was still and silent. Then, gradually, her chest began to bob up and down and her faint breathing became audible. She was fast asleep.
Soon I fell asleep too. Maybe because last night, I hadn’t slept at all. Maybe because Fukada could finally sleep in peace.
As the months passed, as we continued this nightly routine, Fukada got better overall. Her under-eye bags deflated until they disappeared. Her voice was no longer groggy but full of energy. She also seemed to be more excited about university, about life. Most importantly, for the first time in her life, she was sleeping well.
Bliss, of course, never lasted forever — at least not for me.
“I’m transferring to Osaka University.”
Fukada’s words made my eyes pop open in the darkness of her room. Made me sit up, turn to her, and ask, “Why all of a sudden?”
“I’ve been thinking about this for a while. I want to go there to start all over again. With a new place, with new people, with a new reputation.”
I understood. In fact, I didn’t know how Fukada had endured living under the weight of her reputation all these years.
Despite this, I didn’t want her to go. But I couldn’t say anything. We weren’t a couple. We weren’t even dating.
“I’ll come back to Tokyo on summer break,” Fukada said, standing on the inner side of the subway ticket gates.
I half smiled. “I’ll be waiting here.” I almost forgot. “Are you going to be okay sleeping alone?”
“I think I’ll be able to from now on. You taught me how to sleep again. And if I’m scared of monsters, I’ll imagine you’re sleeping next to me.”
This put me at ease. “When you come back, let’s sleep together again.”
“I’ll be looking forward to it!” Fukada said, drawing a scowl from the old lady who was having problems inserting her ticket.
When the time came, Fukada stepped onto the elevator, dragging her super-size luggage behind her, waving at me so much I worried her arm would fall off.
I waved back. First at her, then at an empty elevator.
After that, I walked. I walked around a crowded but lonely city. I walked under a moonless night. I walked to wherever my feet took me.
They led me to a love hotel — the same one where Fukada and I had spent the night together.
Without a second thought, or a first one for that matter, I stepped through the doorless entrance and selected a standard room on the touchscreen. Overnight stay.
I headed to the front desk to pay and get the keys. Then I got into the room and lay on the bed, which felt bigger this time, face up. On one side.
Finally, I closed my eyes. For hours and hours. But I couldn’t fall asleep. In fact, I couldn’t sleep a wink that night.
If you liked this story, please check out my novel.