The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep (1)
The Boy Who Couldn't Sleep
On the day that he was born Max slept for most of the time. And in the first weeks of his life he slept like other babies. But when he began to look around him, he didn't sleep so much. He slept for a few hours at night and a little in the daytime. Then he stopped sleeping during the day. He was awake for twenty hours. His eyes were always open!
His mother, Samantha Price, was very surprised. She said that the world was a very interesting place and perhaps Max wanted to see everything. She thought this was because he was intelligent.
The doctors and pediatricians were also very surprised; but they said that they didn't know why Max slept so little. Then a child psychologist studied Max's case. He said that it wasn't a very strange case.
His studies showed that a lot of modern babies were sleeping less. He wasn't sure why, but he had some ideas about it.
'Two hundred years ago people went to bed earlier than today,' he told Samantha. 'Generally, life was slower in the past and people slept longer. They worked a lot and they didn't have much money, so they often stayed at home after work and went to bed when it got dark. You see, there was no television and there weren't any electric lights. Electric light is different from candlelight; it is brighter and it keeps you awake. Babies are influenced in mysterious ways by the world. And if the world is fast, noisy, and bright, and if people often go to bed very late, babies will feel this and they won't sleep so much.'
'Are you sure, Doctor?' Samantha said. 'I think that Max doesn't sleep because he finds the world so interesting. He's very intelligent.'
'Yes, that's possible, Mrs Price. But it's true that our society is becoming more nocturnal.'
The psychologist's words surprised Samantha. She couldn't believe him. But when she told her husband Derek, he said, 'Yes, it seems crazy but our world is crazy! The psychologist may be right. But we'll see. Perhaps it will pass and Max will sleep like other babies.'
When Max was five, the doctors said he was a hyperactive child. Every night Samantha tried to put him to bed at eight-thirty but he wasn't sleepy. Samantha became angry; Derek was angry too. They shouted at Max and finally he went to bed at about half past nine. But he cried and cried, and he never fell asleep before eleven o'clock. Then he woke up between four and five in the morning and he wanted to play. Samantha and Derek were always tired and nervous.
When Max was eight, he slept about two hours at night. Now Samantha and Derek went to bed while he continued to play quietly with his toys or his computer. He did lots of things to pass the time and he didn't often feel bored. He liked the electronic light of the TV or computer. He was always in the light!
If he was always in was in the dark for a while, he became nervous and depressed. It seemed that he needed light.
'I think he's a mutant,' Derek said one day, and he laughed. But he was half serious.
'What do you mean?' asked Samantha.
'Nature is trying to produce a new kind of human and Max is an experiment,' Derek replied, laughing. 'He's a child of the future.'
When Max was a teenager, he was awake for most of the day. At night he went to discos or all-night parties. He watched videos or late-night films on TV, and he listened to music. He went to school every day, but he didn't get up in the morning like other children. At school his friends were surprised because he wasn't sleepy. And he worked hard. He liked learning new things and he read a lot of books. He wanted to know all about life and the world. When his friends asked him about this, he said, 'I want to understand everything. The world is a big, interesting place and life is short. We sleep too much. Sleep is a waste of time.'
Samantha and Derek were feeling better now because they usually slept well. Derek accepted Max's condition more than Samantha. He said it was true that Max was different but in other ways he was normal. He liked sport, clothes, music and girls.
'How can you say he's normal?' said Samantha. 'A normal person can't always live in the light of day or electricity. Normal people can't live without sleep. It's impossible! Max must sleep or one day he will die!'
One evening Samantha put some strong sleeping tablets in Max's tea to see what would happen. When he began to look sleepy, she called Derek.
'Look!' she said excitedly. 'He's going to fall asleep!'
Derek was surprised and happy. 'That's wonderful! Perhaps he's normal after all!'
'Ssh! You'll wake him up!'
After about half an hour Max opened his eyes.
'What's happening?' he said, looking around.
'You fell asleep,' said Derek with a big smile.
'Asleep? Me?' Max looked angry. 'How long?'
'About thirty minutes.'
'Oh no! I don't want to sleep. There's too much to do and see in the world. But how did I fall asleep?'
Samantha said quietly, 'I gave you some sleeping tablets.'
'You - what?' Derek shouted.
'Give them to me, Mum,' said Max.
Samantha looked very unhappy. 'Oh, you must sleep,
Max! Why don't you sleep?'
'I don't need it. When you sleep, you don't know anything. You can die in your sleep and you won't know about it. When you sleep, you can't see or hear anything. I don't like that.'
'But everybody in the world sleeps, Max!'
'I know - but not me. I want to see, hear, and know. Now give the tablets to me, Mum.'
Slowly Samantha put the packet in his hand.
But she couldn't stop herself. She was always thinking about Max's condition. One day she wrote to a famous neurologist who was an expert on sleep. Dr Somaz answered her letter, asking if he could do some tests on Max. Max said yes. After the tests, Dr Somaz said that Max's brain waves were different.
'His brain produces very strong alpha waves,' the doctor explained. 'These are the normal waves when we are awake. But his brain doesn't produce any slow waves, which are normal when we are asleep. It's strange. I've never seen this before.'
'So he really doesn't need sleep?' asked Derek.
'Sometimes perhaps - just a little.'
'And he is a normal, healthy person?' Samantha asked.
'Yes, he is. But there is a problem. Sleep restores the body. If the brain is always awake, the body is not renewed. And so... it will get old faster than normal...'
Samantha was looking at the doctor with big, frightened eyes. 'Do you mean that Max will die young?'
'I don't know, Mrs Price, but it's possible. I would like to do some more tests.'
Dr Somaz's tests showed that Max's body was getting old faster than normal. He was eighteen but he had the body of a man of thirty-five. Samantha and Derek were shocked.
'How long will he live?' Derek asked.
'That's a very difficult question and I don't know the answer.'
'Oh, isn't there anything we can do, Doctor?' Samantha cried. 'How can we help him?'
Dr Somaz was silent for a moment. 'Well, I know of a drug that can make him sleep. But it's a very strong drug. If he takes it for a long time - or if he takes an overdose - it will kill him. And it is addictive. With time he will want more of it.'
Samantha and Derek said nothing. They only looked at each other sadly.
'So if he takes this drug, he will live longer - am I right?' said Derek.
'I'm not sure, Mr Price. You see, he will be a drug addict and the drug will kill him in the end.'
'Oh God, this is terrible!' cried Samantha with big tears in her eyes. 'Which will kill him first - no sleep or the drug?'
'Again I can't be certain,' replied Dr Somaz. 'I can only say that if my calculations are right, it seems probable that without sleep he will die younger than if he takes the drug.'
After a silence, Derek said, 'We must tell poor Max all this and he can decide what he wants to do.'
'He won't take the drug,' said Samantha, shaking her head.
'Are you sure?' asked Dr Somaz.
'Yes. He says he wants to stay awake, he wants to live with his eyes open. He told us that life is too short to sleep because there is so much to learn and do. He will never take any drugs.'
'But you and Mr Price must tell him that it's better to take the drug,' Dr Somaz said. 'When he understands the problem, perhaps he will decide to take it.'
That night Samantha and Derek talked to Max. They told him the situation and said that Dr Somaz thought it would be better for him to take the drug.
'And what do you think?' Max asked them.
'We agree with the doctor,' said Derek.
'No,' said Max. 'I won't take any drugs.'
'Take your time, Max,' said Derek. 'Think about it.'
'The answer is no. I don't want to spend half my life sleeping in darkness. I prefer to live for a short time awake in the light. The world is a miracle and I don't want to miss any of it.'
'But Dr Somaz said you will be dead before you are forty,' said Samantha, beginning to cry.
Max smiled. 'The number of years I live is not important. How I live is more important. What I do and what I am is more important.'
Samantha was very unhappy. 'Oh Max, my darling boy - please take the drug!'
'I'm sorry, Mum, but I can't.' Then Max smiled. 'Will you excuse me now? If I'm going to die young, I haven't got much time.'
So Max continued to work and play and live fast. But he lived a quiet, clean life. He didn't smoke or drink alcohol, and he didn't eat too much. He didn't worry about small things; he didn't think about money. And he didn't waste time. He travelled lot and looked carefully at the world and people. They interested him. And he studied hard. He was always bright and awake; he always wanted to learn new things.
The medical experts said that Max's body and brain were not influenced by the diurnal rhythm, like every animal on earth.
'I'm sure he's from another planet,' laughed Derek.
He liked Max's strange condition now; it was different. But Samantha didn't like it. She did everything possible to make Max normal.
For years, only a few doctors and scientists knew about Max's condition. Samantha and Derek didn't tell anybody. It was a big secret. So Max lived quietly and he was happy. When he left school, he got a job in a bank. Then he met a girl called Wendy and they fell in love and got married. Max was thirty years old. He didn't tell Wendy about his condition so she didn't know anything. But she began to notice things, and one day she told Samantha that Max didn't sleep much but he was never tired. The two women talked, and finally Samantha told Wendy the secret.
Wendy was shocked and amazed. 'Is Max really going to die before he's forty?'
'Nobody knows. Dr Somaz said that if he lives quietly, he will probably live longer. But listen, Wendy! You must not tell anybody about this - not even your friends. Nobody must know. It's a big secret.'
'Why?' said Wendy.
'Because he must live quietly. Then he will be happy and he will live longer. So the world must never know, especially the newspapers and magazines. They must never, never know! Do you understand, Wendy? You must never say anything to the media. Promise?'