by Clara Williams
part 1 of 2
Marc Friedman, 43 years old, Vice-President, Visuals Inc., married, two children.
A slightly bitter smile played on his lips. Yes, that one phrase pretty much summarized his life. No need even to add a line for hobbies. One needs time for hobbies. He led the perfect life of a successful man and had everything to show for it: house, car, children and the perfect wife.
But what about happiness? Did happiness have anything to do with success? Happiness! He must have that too, he supposed. He laid down his pen on top of the contracts he had just signed. As usual Amy, his secretary, briskly whisked them away as if afraid, he sometimes felt, that he might change his mind.
“Will that be all, Amy?”
“No, we still have to talk about your appointments for today.”
He nodded as she went on about the list of the day’s appointments. He was half-listening, glancing at his watch from the corner of his eye. It promised to be another long day...
“Your wife wants to remind you not to forget to get your watch at the watchmaker’s. You might have a moment at lunchtime.”
He felt the burgeoning of a slight irritation but said nothing. Amy was the model of the perfect secretary: efficient, discreet and loyal. He had no reason to take it out on her really. He was actually in a gloomy mood and uncertain about whom he could blame for it. She was through with her litany, at last.
“James would like to see you. He wants to discuss that new client you referred to him.”
He signaled Amy to let him in. Did he have an option? Did he actually have any options left at all other than professional? He sometimes felt that choices were made for him or determined by those he had made years before; that there was almost nothing left for him to decide anymore, as if he was moving along a track, headlong and unquestioningly.
One appointment followed another without his being fully aware of them. Out of habit, he went at it brilliantly, like an automaton doing its work, doing it well but in a rut and rather absent-mindedly. He took the elevator down and found himself in the street. A brief glance at his watch informed him that he barely had 45 minutes to grab a bite, rush to the jeweler’s and come back to see his client. He picked up a sandwich on the way.
“Any change to spare, sir?” asked a vagrant, as he was walking by.
He didn’t stop, didn’t even slow down. “Sorry, no time!”
He kept on walking.
“I have time to spare. We can trade if you wish.”
He smiled but didn’t turn around. We can trade? As stupid as it may sound, that could be an idea. What was the matter with him today? Mid-life crisis hitting late, maybe. Looking at the stony-faced people passing by, he wondered if they too were asking themselves the same questions about the meaning of their busy lives, geared towards the need to provide for their families.
Yes, he was indeed a prisoner: of his life and of all those daily routines it was made of. At that rate, he’d be dead before even realizing that he’d lived. It felt as if his life was swallowing him and, little by little, being taken away from him at the same time. He loved his job, his wife, his children but something, somewhere, just wasn’t right.
He stopped in front of the jewelry store and went in. The saleswoman came to him. “May I help you, sir?”
“If only you could stop time, that might be helpful,” he joked.
She smiled at him. “Be careful, it might just happen. Stopping time is not a good game to play. Just ask Faust.”
He smiled back at her. “Do you have a dog around by any chance?”
She burst out laughing. Cultured people were few and far between these days. “You know,” she continued, “when I was little, my grandmother often said that all you have to do to escape the passing of time is to take your watch off.”
“Good old popular wisdom. In fact, I am here to collect an antique watch that I had brought in for repairs. The order was in the name of Friedman.”
“Let me go get it.”
She went behind the counter, as he got closer.
Time is all about priorities.
He pointed at the sign hanging above the cash register, as the young woman emerged from the back of the shop with his watch.
“It makes plenty of sense.”
“You can say that again! Here it is. The watchmaker managed to repair the winder. Let me set the time for you.”
“Don’t bother, I’m in a hurry. I’ll take it like this.”
He paid and left the shop. He looked at his watch. No time left for a coffee, he’d have one at the office. He hurried up. Back in the office, he took his coat off, sat down and placed the watch in front of him. The intercom rang.
“Yes, Amy?” He could barely disguise the irritation in his voice.
“Your 2 o’clock appointment just checked in at reception. He’ll be here in two minutes.”
He hung up, thanking her a bit tersely. His computer clock indicated 13:58. Not much time left. He sighed and tried to relax. He was clear-minded enough to recognize in himself the symptoms of burnout: chronic fatigue, irritability... His life had become nothing but a sequence of daily chores whose accomplishment now failed to give him pleasure. The one thing to bring him gratification, or rather relief, was striking off one task from his list and moving on to the next.
He looked at the engraving on his watch. Take time to live. His grandfather had had that engraved especially for him before giving him the watch. He smiled. He still missed the old man even though, to be honest with himself, he doubted he would have any time for him were he still alive.
“You will never be happier than you are now,” his wife, Maria, reminded him. She was probably right. He had everything that could make a man happy but the essential: a bit of time, just a bit, just for himself. He shook his head. There was no point in feeling sorry for himself. He just had enough time to set the watch before the client showed up. Might as well enjoy those two minutes of idle luxury.
He checked the time again on his computer: 13:59. He pulled the winder out. The second hand stopped. He started turning the hands of the watch to set the desired time. After all, why couldn’t it be his right to complain? He smiled. His grandfather loved doing that. He said that setting his watch helped him clear out his thoughts.
He sighed. He could still see the old man’s smiling, wrinkled face. He hadn’t had an easy life but he always knew how to look at the good side of things. He had dedicated his life to work, or rather to earning money, considering that factory work was hardly his calling.
Had he also wondered about the meaning of his life? Had he also felt similarly oppressed? Marc doubted it. Henry Friedman senior had essentially lived his life for others. He probably wouldn’t have known what to do with the time Marc was chasing and yearning for.
He sighed once more, shook his head again. He had to stop daydreaming. It was a loss of time. What time was it now anyway? Obstinately, his computer clock still indicated 13:59. He set his watch at 2 o’clock and waited for the digital clock to strike 14:00 before snapping the winder shut. He waited, his finger on the winder, but the digits wouldn’t budge. They remained still. All of a sudden, time seemed to stretch forever.
“That’s my luck, just when I want time to go faster.”
He, who always boasted about being punctuality itself wondered, smiling, whether his client would cross the doorstep before or after the clock struck two. Strangely, never had a minute seemed so long to him. Could it be a problem with the computer? He moved the mouse. The cursor remained still. He practically burst out laughing. He looked smart now, waiting for his misbehaving computer to tell him the time.
He pressed the intercom button. “Amy, you’ll have to call the computer technician. My computer is still acting up.”
No answer. He picked up the handset. No dial tone.
Intrigued, he got up and opened the door between his office and his secretary’s. “Didn’t you hear me? It seems to me that...”
He suddenly fell silent, choking on his words. “What the...???”
Motionless, he stared at the scene in front of him. The office and its people all seemed frozen in action: secretaries on the telephone, others at the photocopier, his client half out of the elevator.
He moved closer to his secretary. “Amy?”
The wax figure did not answer. He waved his hand in front of her eyes. No reaction. Seizing her shoulders, he shook her gently, to no avail.
He went back to his office and opened the blinds. The traffic outside was unmoving. A bird, stopped in flight, appeared to be smiling at him through the window. Not a stir, not a sign of movement anywhere.
He sat at his desk. Either he was really overworked or else something was seriously wrong. To his great surprise and without even trying to understand what was going on, he found the situation rather amusing. Had he been sure that his camera worked, he would have taken a few pictures, he thought, before realizing what a ridiculous, useless idea that was. Who could tell that the subjects, frozen onto the film, were actually frozen in time?
But strangely, instead of being thrown into a panic, he felt entertained at most, oblivious to why or how he’d been spared. It did not even occur to him to be surprised. The only thing he wondered about was how, and to what extent, he might be able to take advantage of the situation. Was it a permanent one? How long was it bound to last? Not that he had any idea how to measure the time passed in order to appreciate the time gained.
Copyright © 2011 by Clara Williams