What do you hear when you’re going to sleep?
When I was four or five and laid my head down to sleep I could hear the sound of marching. March, march, march, march, march… it was regular, steady, insistent. Every night the same thing. There were little soldiers dressed in red and they would march, march, march inside my head. It kept me awake. It was always the same.
It gave me the lonely feeling.
Then at school one day, the teacher named Meagle asked the class to name things starting with the letter M that you could hear. “Music,” said some kid and other kids said lots of other things. Then the boy named Branagan with whom I was deeply in love said “Marching.”
My heart swelled. I wasn’t alone.
At night, when he laid his lovely head down on his boy-coloured pillow he too heard the soldiers. They marched around him and at him too. He understood.
I smiled at him and he went red.
It was a profound feeling, the connectedness, and it warmed me from every little extremity to the other.
In the playground I asked him about the marching and the soldiers. He stopped playing bat-tennis for a moment and looked at me. He didn’t know what I was talking about.
“But you don’t hear it at night in your bed?” I asked.
“No, on the telly,” he said, and resumed the game.
I hung my head.
Mum didn’t understand the story about the Soldiers and the Marching and the Branagan boy and that just made me even lonelier. And that night the marching was louder. Dratted soldiers. Why couldn’t they go and march somewhere else?
But as years passed the marching slowly died down and eventually I forgot about it.Until today when I was lying in bed having a sunday siesta and heard that same sound, march, march, march, march, march. The pillow was soft and close to my ears and my heartbeat was steady and strong in it.