This is not a superhero story. But it does involve a superpower, if you will. Our protagonist might disagree. Occasionally. Depending upon the side of the bed he woke up on. (We’re only half kidding.)
The first time it happened, he was a squiggly little thing swathed in the warmth of his fluffed-up bed and his mother’s soft voice reading to him. Determined to fight the tendrils of sleep so he could find out if the froggie was reunited with his family, he kept his eyes on his mother’s leisurely moving mouth. And then, suddenly, unbidden, even escaping his blinkering consciousness, his own mouth opened in imitation, and then wider, stretching around an “AAAA” so powerful it pulled the muscles of his entire face taut, eyes snapping shut as if they couldn’t help.
He had yawned. Barely four, he couldn’t quite figure out that nature had just side-stepped a little. He had only ever been a normal, average, even mundane at times, (but good nevertheless) boy.
His mother, flustered, had only hastened to dump the blue blanket over him in a sort of a daze and left the room. That was the first time in his brief life he had come to know loss- that of the daily goodnight kiss, and an ending deferred.
When grandma found out, she was loud and proud about it, buzzing with the excitement of watching the little miracle that was to be able to bodily express the exhaustion creeping right up to one’s bones. It came to him so perfectly, so naturally, like he was born with it. When his little mouth fell open in a tell-tale sigh, he put those elaborate descriptions of indulgent, cat-like yawns in books to shame.
But granny was also a gossip. And soon, the neighbours knew. And then they began to pry. His solitary bedtime story sessions transformed into a book reading club of sorts, mothers from even two streets away dragging their kids into his little pastel blue room in hopes his marvellous yawn would inject lethargy into their tiny bodies as well on nights they were being too difficult. The things young mothers would do for a peaceful night’s sleep.
What had begun as rather innocuous, like most parasitic terrors of life do, slowly grew to consume any and every hour of the family of three. Requests, birthday party invitations and babies, all dropped at the house inordinately. Grandma entertained them, mother tolerated them and little Danny luxuriated in attention befitting a special kid, the kind his prior mediocrity had never known.
As the glitter of novelty started to rub off, suspicions, fears and even conspiracy theories curdled around the oddity of the unprecedented kind. “It’s amazing he can do that” became “It’s weird he can do that.” The star that was born, looked destined for a short life. But mother would have none of that. Dying stars were uncontainable catastrophes, she knew. So they preemptively improvised one of an infinitesimal magnitude in comparison.
Oh dear! Danny could yawn no more. Must have been a kink in one of those ‘growing up’ phases. The family made a great show of their grief before packing their bags and moving to the other side of the town, across the river. And he was told to don the cloak of normality like it was his actual skin. It didn’t matter that he felt like ugly duckling hiding beneath the brown paper bag. He was a big boy by then, which meant he had to suck it up.
But then one day, everything changed. He was thirteen and the basic geometry class, in his own lousy defense, had been going on for way too long and the minutes were beginning to bear heavily on both his brain and eyelids. Reclined half over a forgotten notebook, one palm cupping his chin, Danny gave into the tap-tap-tap of ennui, the same that had always stewed just under the surface and took the first chance to boil over in what could only be called an explosion. Casualties? None. That is, if you’re not counting our poor little protagonist’s chance at being the bestest boy. But it was okay, Danny rushed to console himself. Santa isn’t real anyway. He’d figured it out two Christmases back.
There were witnesses though. And then came the whispers in a threatening countenance at par with all of the one thousand one hundred and eighty six ships that set sail for Troy. The teacher, seeing potential, intervened with advice: prospects for fame, special schooling, government funding and the like.
Mother, indignant, nearly burst a vein. “I will not let my son be treated like a lab rat.”
And mommy knows best, right? So he started stuffing his suitcase as neatly as he can (he’d only recently learned to fold) and the trio left the town to migrate to a bustling metropolis in hopes that the crowd would be able to hide him. That he, with his silly coconut head and drab Pokemon shirts, would be too uninteresting amid all the pomp and glitter of the postmodern dusk to be spared any attention.
Powers, if not regimented, develop minds of their own, with a tendency to run amok in the manner of landslides. Exhibit A: The most ordinary workday in one crowded office among the 376 others in the building. Sunlight, banal and unrelenting, needlessly warming up Daniel’s desk. He’s only ever Daniel these days, not Danny. The weariness that often accompanies impersonality and corporate drudgery crashes over him in one fell swoop. He’s awkwardly bent over the keyboard to catch a minute’s rest in the impractically compact cubicle (human needs considered) when his mouth drops open in a yawn. It’s a disaster so meticulously choreographed by the universe, in perfect synchrony with nearly a dozen wandering eyes in the room stopping in sight of him, including the team manager’s.
What begins as a string of gasps finishes in reverberating yawns
“Daniel!” His name is a booming threat. “In my office, right now!”
It’s nothing he hasn’t anticipated, the awed fear dissipating
“But Sir, what have I done wrong?”
“That- that thing, the thing with that mouth of yours that you did,” the manager rushes in astounding clarity. Turning to his boss, he runs on like a leaky faucet, torrential in its brokenness, “I saw it with my own two eyes, Sir!”
The verdict is out faster than a tree catches lightning.
Mother had little Danny promise that he would always use his superpower wisely. “Heroes and villains both have powers in common. It is a choice what you wish to do with it”
She’d never told him he needed to be a hero. He just wanted to be himself.
A yawn can be many things. A profound inhale-exhale, a hushed gasp, a soft, lingering sigh. But in his hands, Daniel realizes the power can be more than what has been made of it in fantastic tales shelved away. In his hands (mouth, for veracity’s sake), the ability is a weapon of protest against the ruthless mechanization of white-collar workers cowering under the dehumanizing demands of the system.
What he’s been taught so far is superhuman, even inhuman in its uncanny frequency and contagion, is in fact, a way to reclaim his humanity. Enervation, boredom and frustration from repetition are among a myriad other things that make one human. To be expected to pack that side of oneself away in the name of professionalism and competence is only another one of capitalism’s white lies. And Daniel’s had enough of playing second, fifth, seventeenth fiddle to the boss’s whims.
“So, you’re saying I should hand in my resignation?” He clarifies.
His boss’s boss beams in a heady rush of power, the power to end his career. “What else do you expect, Mr. Daniel, in the face of such unacceptable behavior? You should be rather glad I haven’t already reported you to the authorities for what could certainly amount to an occupational hazard.”
Unwittingly, Daniel snorts. “An occupational hazard, you say?”
And he explodes. The yawns he’s been suppressing, collecting like coins in a piggy bank till its bursting at the seams, come forth intensified tenfold, as if all they were ever waiting for was this moment. How’s that for an occupational hazard, he sparingly wonders, watching his superiors give in to the mighty pull of slumber, standing no chance against the hypnotizing yawns that come for them, mercilessly.
If he’s been deemed a wrench in the machinery, he might as well own it. Daniel walks away, walks out, without once looking back, whistling a half-forgotten tune.
An hour (or two, who’s to say?) later, when the veil of drowsiness lifts from the complex, the two men drooling away awaken with startled gasps of their own. One says, “I had a rather strange dream.”
The other seems to echo, still in a daze, “But it isn’t possible.”
Or is it?