THE MAN WHO COULD GET NO SLEEP
Nothing really important ever happened in my native village, an average small rural community on the plateau of Castile with hardly 2,000 inhabitants. True that a woman had had quintuplets one year, and that it had once rained frogs. But uncommon as these happenings may seem to some, they have been scientifically explained – one as a rare but still possible simultaneous fecundation of several ovules, and the other as having something to do with the sudden evaporation of a small nearby lake. Mine was indeed an ordinary village, where people went about their tasks during the day and quietly slept at night. Well, all except my uncle Nicolás, because my uncle Nicolás never got any sleep. And when I say that he didn’t get any sleep, I don’t mean that he suffered from chronic insomnia or anything like that. What I mean is that he never slept at all. Not an hour, not a minute of his life, ever since he had been born and had cried away in his cot for days and nights on end to his parents’ despair.
This singular inability to sleep on my uncle’s part can truly be said to be something unique, something extraordinary which, as far as I know, has never happened anywhere else in the world before. I once read about a Cuban who got no sleep for forty years. But in his case, there had been inflammation of the inner brain when he was thirteen, and the sleep mechanism had been damaged beyond repair. The Cuban was given drugs that made him drowsy, and he even dreamt sometimes, though his electroencephalograms registered the brain activity of a fully awake person. Moreover, he would feel awfully tired in the mornings, and had to wear dark glasses to protect his sensitive, overworked eyes. Nothing like that in my uncle’s case. He never felt tired, he was always as fresh as a daisy, and when he lay down to rest with closed eyes, he didn’t dream, or if he did, he dreamt awake.
Nicolás led a completely normal life, working in the fields during the day and having a few hours’ wakeful rest on his bed at night. He was the happy father of eight, had no enemies, and was known to be a hard-working, honest man, and one who would good-humouredly take the inevitable jokes about his strange condition. As a child, they would ask him at school if he had seen the Three Wise Men come on January 6th, and on his wedding day the youths kept winking at him, with blunt remarks about the sleepless night ahead. But he didn’t mind a bit, and laughed with the best of them, as he later did every time his wife gave birth to a new child, when they asked him if he had seen the stork arrive.
Uncle Nicolás was not really worried about his lack of sleep, but once, reluctantly, to please the family, he had consented to go to the capital, where a legion of eminent and not so eminent doctors had tried hypnosis, electroshock treatment, acupuncture and experimental drugs on him in order to give him the ability to sleep, but it had all been useless, and good old Nicolás had returned to the village as awake as always.
My uncle lived on for a few years yet, a loving husband and father, fully resigned to his permanent state of conciousness, and when he died of heart failure at the age of 58, though some jokes in bad taste were heard about his now being able to get as much sleep as he liked, he was sincerely mourned by all in the village. In fact, he was so popular that his memory was still alive ten years later when the customary exhumation of his mortal remains took place at the small local cemetery before the eyes of his family and a large group of curious people who had not wanted to miss the ceremony, and the truth is that nobody was actually much surprised when the coffin was opened and he was found to be intact and...wide awake.