SHORT STORY: Escaping reality through sleep

Sunday June 05 2022

“Excuse me,” he was interesting to look at, but she wasn’t interested, “Can I join you?” he smiled. Nana’s head was already shaking no, even before he’d finished. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGA


Nana’s heels clicked rhythmically on a sterile white tiled floor, as she walked briskly to a waiting elevator in a glass, steel and concrete building she worked in, a building style that was as cold and impersonal as the work culture of the day.

Her outward demeanour aloof, Nana’s heart drummed unsteadily as she got off the lift on her floor, only calming down once she’d shut the door of her office. But this was just the beginning and deep down, she knew that whether she was okay or not, the day would power on like a steam engine, puffing it’s way painfully slowly, hour by hour, requiring maximum effort and yielding minimum returns. She was a hamster on wheel that never stopped turning, but then again she always thought, aren’t we all?

“Nana?” it was her colleague Felis, knocking lightly on her door, “We’re ready for you, in the boardroom,” she didn’t bother to try and open Nana’s door, everyone knew she didn’t like intrusions into her space. What they didn’t know was how tightly stretched she was, mentally and emotionally, so taut she felt she was on a tightrope and any slip would cause her house of cards to collapse. They couldn’t see how much she needed companionship, not because of how deeply her anxiety had isolated her, but how well she managed to hide it.

“Be right there,” she called, inhaling deeply to steady tremors in her hands, before assuming her usual façade, confident and detached.

Striding into the boardroom, Nana avoided eye contact with all the expectant faces staring up at her, jumping straight into her presentation, a brilliant one as always, but her manner clinical, as impersonal as the building’s décor.

The clients were impressed, and as they expressed their satisfaction, Nana nodded and smiled blandly, keeping her lips parted in a shark’s grin as the clients and other executives made plans to discuss the brief further over dinner, not bothering to extend her an invite.


Sure, she almost always said no, but as she turned to head back to the safety of her office, the sinking feeling that she would have at least appreciated being asked, sat heavy in her belly.

“I wouldn’t have gone anyway,” she murmured to herself, burying her feelings at being left out again, deep down where they could swim about without hindering her.

She dived into her work, drowning herself in an endless list of to-do’s, avoiding the barrage of thoughts a mere second of idleness would bring.

And so as the dull blue sky spotted with splotches of shapeless, washed out grey clouds turned baby blue, orange and pink, Nana kept her head down; pausing only to refill her cup of coffee and to snack on a fruit over a lunch break spent pouring over her next advertising campaign.

Only the cheerful voices of her colleagues as they left alerted her to the day’s end, and as she continued typing away furiously, determined to get through her list, their raised voices caused Nana to suddenly snap and take a risk. Wasn’t she the only one holding herself back?

She’d heard of a popular live music event, and it was happening tonight. She didn’t have anyone she could call at such short notice, but she shrugged her shoulders as she snapped her laptop shut, she was used to being alone, besides, wasn’t this the way to meet people? Socialising?

The bar was crowded, but not in a bad way. There was ample space to move around, sway and even wave your arms if you got carried away. It was a hip sort of place, with art installations on the walls, old books as décor and an assortment of vintage instruments and succulents in hand-painted pots placed strategically to lend an easy going, fun atmosphere to it.

Despite her formal black skirt suit, Nana felt comfortable, lost in a sea of faces and ensconced comfortably in the anonymity of the crowd. She tapped her foot to the beat, losing herself in the music, until a voice cut in.

“Excuse me,” he was interesting to look at, but she wasn’t interested, “Can I join you?” he smiled.

Nana’s head was already shaking no, even before he’d finished, her attractive wide eyes timid with embarrassment as she mentally kicked herself at how inept she was at social cues. But worse, he’d burst her bubble with his intrusion, kind as it was. Now all she could see were people with their people, camaraderie, laughter, jostling, mouths put close to ears as they shared secrets; and then there was her, drumming her fingers at a table by herself. Had everyone noticed? Were they judging her? Did she look like she was enjoying the music or just pretending to, whiling away the time until someone took pity on her and asked to give her company?

She felt hot, and a flush coloured her cheeks as she hastily picked her bag and left, eyes set downward on her stylish stilettos.

The moon outside was a brilliant silver orb, floating in a sky such a dark shade of blue, you could sense its depth. Nana lay her head on a fluffy pillow, thankful for the weighty fatigue that claimed her before her thoughts did. She was always grateful for it; sleep was an escape from reality from which she couldn’t wake.