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Abuto huddles closer to her mother, listening to their hearts beating in unison. She hopes that the night-men will not come tonight to take her away from Mama. The thought alone brings tears to her eyes, but she blinks them away. Abuto doesn’t want to wake Mama; they both need their rest. The little girl closes her eyes and prays, “No night-men. Don’t let them take me. Don’t let them take Mama.”
She silently chants this over and over again, hoping that someone is listening. The nice priest from faraway America told her that God hears her, but Abuto isn’t so sure. Suddenly, a woman in another tent begins to scream as the first shot is fired…
BAM! The sound of the book hitting the floor jolts Darren out of his daze. Crap, he thinks, was I asleep? He looks at the time on his phone and swears – he only has eight hours left to study for his final.
Darren tries to focus on his textbook, but the words seem to be swimming across the page. It doesn’t help matters when the baby in the apartment next door starts to wail. At least Tim is out tonight. Darren doesn’t think he could put up with his roommate’s plethora of girlfriends and excessive alcohol consumption.
The thought is not enough to console Darren, though. He holds his aching head in his hands, knowing that if he doesn’t cram now, he may not pass the exam – or the class. The crying continues.
At some point, Darren snaps. “Will someone shut that effing baby up?” he roars…
“Shh, shh, mon petit amour,” Gabrielle coos, cradling her tiny son in her arms. “Maman est ici.”
But Mommy isn’t here, not really. Her body is going through the motions, comforting the baby, but her mind is in Calais with Daddy. Who Daddy is, Gabrielle isn’t sure, but she knows that she needs him. She’s too young to be taking care of a child. Despite this, little Olivier is her world. He’s the only one in Paris she knows; the city is large and she hasn’t had much time to make friends. She just wishes Olivier would stop crying.
“Un petit d’un petit,” she sings. “S’ettone au hall…”
“Humpty Dumpty had a great fall!” the man laughs, leaping from the wall. By some miracle of gravity, he lands upright, though he staggers when he tries to walk. This only makes him laugh more.
He lurches down the alleyway, caring only for the half-empty bottle in his hand. He trips, falls on his face, rolls over onto his back, and stares at the sky. Even in their drunken state, the man’s eyes manage to focus on a woman, standing on her balcony, smoking a midnight cigarette…
High as a kite, with smoke still pouring from her mouth, Lisa glanced down at her watch. She curses quietly; her shift starts in two minutes. Lisa gets up and stumbles toward the front of the building. She sits down heavily behind the security desk of the ritzy New York hotel. George, whose shift was just ending, waves at her as he leaves. She knows that he’s going to the alley she just left.
Lisa’s exhausted and stressed, but the weed helps her relax a little easier. She should’ve slept during the day. She leans back in her chair, pretending it’s one of the luxurious beds in a room above her…
David lies on his cot, unable to sleep. He wishes he were back in London with Lily and their unborn child, but he still has six months left in Afghanistan. He wants to cry, to scream, to do something – but he knows he cannot. The gunshots from yesterday’s battle still echo in David’s head, as if a thousand bullets were ricocheting off the inside of his skull.
He hears a man in another bunk scream, surely awaking from a horrible PTSD-induced nightmare. Some semi-insane part of David’s mind is jealous. At least the bloody idiot could sleep a bit, he thinks.
But David just lies awake, staring upward, counting cracks in the ceiling. One, two, three…
Cuatro, cinco, seis. Uno, dos, tres –
Serena watches her ceiling fan, counting the blades five times. When she finishes, she rolls onto her left side, reaches out, and taps the digital clock’s face. Her routine is done; she can sleep now.
But something is wrong. Her quinceñera is in twelve hours. In two minutes, Serena will be fifteen. She’ll be a woman. This should be good news, but Serena doesn’t like change. She has a feeling that tomorrow will be the sixth birthday in a row that she’ll have a panic attack. Realizing this, she begins to shake. She mutters the phrase that her psychiatrist uses: “Todo es bueno. Todo es bueno.” Everything is okay…
“Is everything okay, sir?” the servant asks. Muammar continues to rock back and forth in his chair, eyes closed. The glow of flames seeps in through the window, dimly lighting the large bedroom. Muammar and his servant hear shouts outside, but neither react. After nearly two months of this, they are used to it.
“Down with Qaddafi!” the mob screams. The dictator, the object of their hatred, just smiles. He is confident in his power. He knows that he and his troops will be victorious.
A guard enters the room. “Colonel,” she says, “some rebels are beginning to push through our defenses. What do you want us to do?”
Qaddafi mumbles the beginning of a prayer: “O God, you are my Lord. There is none worthy of worship except You. I rely upon You, and You are the Great Lord of the Throne…” then begins to laugh hysterically. Qaddafi relies on no one…
Lynn wakes up and laughs – one of the cats is licking Lynn’s nose. She pushes Ping away and looks at the clock. She’s disappointed; it’s not even midnight. Tomorrow is nothing special, but she’s tired of today. The rain kept all the cats inside, and Lynn thought they might drive her crazy.
She yawns and stretches, and immediately three furry bodies leap on her legs and stomach. Lynn giggles again, choking a little due to the weight on her lungs. She begins to cough and can’t stop. Seeking her inhaler never crosses her mind. She can’t breathe, she feels her face changing color, she thinks she’s going to die, reaches for the phone, finds empty air…
Jeff steps outside and takes a deep breath of fresh air. Chemical equations float around his mind, some correct, others containing strange formulas invented by his students. Grading tests so late at night always made him feel strange, but there is no other time to do it.
Sighing, Jeff wanders back over to his desk. A city of empty cans sprawls over one corner, carefully avoiding the kids’ papers. Jeff never spares a thought to the idea that the contents of these cans might be the reason for his confusion.
The professor yawns, then opens his laptop. I’m just taking a break, he tells himself. I’ll finish grading later…
The young writer closes her computer, relieved that her story is finally finished. Just on time, too – her phone’s clock reads 11:58PM. “Go to bed at midnight, whether you’re done or not,” her mom had said.
Well, it’s over. Rachel feels a strange combination of joy and grief. It is good that the story is done; the contest deadline is in three days. Even though the stress of finishing on time is gone, Rachel misses her characters. In writing their stories, she had grown to love the men and women whose lives she glimpsed. Without them, she feels oddly lonely. Suddenly, the world shrinks to her little Dallas suburb; she is no longer exploring the world through words.
It’s midnight. Rachel blinks away tears as she heads upstairs to get some rest for the first time in weeks. When she sleeps, she dreams – she is a young girl in Africa. She is a stressed college student. She is a teenage French mother…