Put one foot down. Then pick up the other and move it forward. Repeat. Again. Again. Keep your eyes open. Don’t let your eyes linger closed when they blink. It is indeed possible to fall asleep while standing up. But don’t do it. You might fall down. Keep your eyes open. Put one foot down. Now, move the other.
Last night I flew across the Atlantic, tearing through a sky that bled shades of red I have found on no earthly palette, continuing on after the sun dipped into an infinite horizon, the plane now cloaked in black as deep as sin. As morning rose, and clouds appeared as thick as summer cotton, me so desperately wishing I could feel the clouds pass through my fingers, I flew on, touching down in Stockholm as the sun rose on the last Sunday of August 2008.
My mission for the day: stay awake. Do whatever it takes to make it to nighttime without sleeping. Force myself to adopt a new time in a new place.
There is only one way for me to do this, and that is to walk. Walk and walk and walk.
So we walk over a busy bridge and past shops that have not yet opened on this not-quite-summer, not-quite-autumn Sunday morning. We walk past the city library, where people are actually lined up waiting for the doors to welcome them in at noon. We walk through a sprinkle of rain falling from perfectly sunny skies. We walk past churches with glittering gold domes and doors that crack open to reveal snatches of deep organ music. We walk through a playground, where kids giggle contagiously as they jump on mini trampolines built into the ground.
We pause at a kebab shop for a quick lunch, scarfing down a doner, but not sitting one minute beyond the last bite because that one minute could cause me to fail at my mission.
We walk to a tech store and while Jeff buys a broadband network card, I walk laps around the cell phone displays. We walk through a market, me continuing past old army outfits and antique cameras while Jeff stops and buys tomatoes and photographs a fountain whose figures seem to hold their hands in defensive postures, as if trying to protect themselves from the pigeons that use them as perches. We walk past a T.G.I. Friday’s, where waiters in their mandatory flair take orders from diners seated on a patio. We walk toward the undulating sound of Middle Eastern music, and then walk around an Iraqi cultural festival. We walk past details–a lion’s head door knocker on the entrance to a vocational school, a secret staircase tucked neatly in-between two tall buildings, a sculptured security gate displaying jesters and numbers outside a bank.
In a brave moment, we break at a cafe to drink hot chocolate from tall glasses in a comfy corner booth, but we forces ourselves up before the warmth of the drink can settle in my belly and pull my eyelids down like shades.
We walk through the bottom floor of a department store, past displays of delicate pastries and fragile glass. We take a lap around a gallery, where the art is at best an attempted flattery of other, better art. We walk into an auction house, and keeping our hands forcefully in our pockets, we wander amidst those bidding on early twentieth-century furniture and decorative objects that my untrained eye mistakes for junk. We walk into the supermarket and down aisles of cheeses and breads and a surprisingly broad selection of Asian food. We walk home, market bag now full of food, dinner for the next few nights in hand. We walk to Jeff’s lab, and I walk up and down the hallway trying to read Swedish cartoons while Jeff speaks with his mentor. We walk to what is now home–a small studio in a seven-story building. We two-step in the tiny kitchen, and then walk back and forth between the table and the bed as our pasta dinner cooks.
And then, finally, we stop walking. We sit. We eat. We watch the sun set out our windows, the clouds wisps of navy against a turquoise sky, the tall pines nothing more than dark shadows. I have made it. Nighttime is here. My mission is accomplished. I can quit walking. I can now, finally, sleep.