Three o’clock in the morning.
The words on the page had started a funny dance, jumping up and down, messing up the orderly lines of the fine print, switching places and mocking him as Seth tried to get them to stay still, so he could get to the end of the paragraph.
He was sure they were laughing.
Seth leaned his elbows on the desk, in the dim light of the lamp resting in one corner of the work space, among the piles of books and papers that covered it. He held his head and inhaled deeply.
Three o’clock in the morning.
Thoughts of sleep were clouding his brain. He tried to shake them, to stop them from taking over, fighting tiredness by squeezing it out of his head with his hands.
One more hour… two at the most. He had made it without sleep for nearly twenty, a couple more would not kill him.
It will kill me.
Maybe he could grab an hour…
Seth passed his hands over his face.
The night before he had fallen asleep for five, when he only had meant to have a short nap. He had woken up at midnight and had just kept going since then, all through the morning, the afternoon and evening, well into the night, surviving on coffee, water and pills.
Dina had come to his aid around four o’clock in the afternoon, when he thought he was just about ready to collapse.
“I’ve got them,” she told him, extracting a white, cylindrical, small plastic container from the pocket of her military green jacket. With the clothes she wore, her short, bleached spiky hair, the lack of make up on her pale freckled face, there was very little femininity in Dina’s appearance, so much so, that the five boys who shared with her the old student apartment had grown to think of her as one of the guys.
Seth had closed his fingers around the small box, the rattling sound it made playing like music to his ears.
“Great, you’re a saviour. How much do I owe you?”
“Twelve? It was eight last time.”
“Look, mate, those are prescription. It ain’t easy to get them without one. If you want them, it’s twelve quid.”
“Alright.” Seth stopped her explanations to hand her the cash.
He went back to his room and swallowed a couple, before sitting at his desk to reprise his studies.
It had become a routine, in the past couple of months. Coffee was great, but the pills would keep him going for hours. He would not feel tired or hungry or needing to relieve himself. He could just sit and go through the work he had neglected for too long.
He really had been given a prison sentence.
He had been cooped up in his room for weeks with very little sleep or food. If hadn’t been for Dina and her miracle pills, he would not have made it, though Seth suspected he had probably turned a dangerous corner. In the last week or so he had found himself taking them more often or in larger doses. Alarm bells had gone off in his head and he had forced himself to close them in a drawer and forget about them. But he had already developed some form of dependence, whether physical or psychological, he was not sure. He just needed to take one more. And then one after that. As soon as he stopped taking them, tiredness would assault him and punch him into submission, rendering him a wreck in permanent slumbers.
Seth lifted his head.
He had fallen asleep at the desk, his head slumped on the open book, and the clock on the wall just above him was now telling him it was quarter past four in the morning.
Slowly, he straightened up. He only needed one more hour… two at the most.
He opened the drawer on his right and out came the white plastic container. For a few minutes he held it in his hand, waiting for his brain to reconnect with his thoughts. Then he unscrewed the top and dropped a pill on the palm of his hand.
The last one.
He’d sleep tomorrow night.
Seth placed it on his tongue, tilted his head backward and swallowed.