Part 1 – Short Story about time, generations and coping with loss- Koyer Ahmed
Time and Space
Both the clocks in my house malfunctioned around the same time. The one in my bedroom started losing its bearing a week ago, by 10 minutes each day. Every morning, I watched it’s dangly legs, summoning the strength, to drag itself around the diameter of its round silver surface. Pleading to my compassion, to change its batteries and not let it succumb to an agonising death. The Pendulum Clock in the living room, stopped altogether two days ago. It was abrupt and less conspicuous in its demise. No warning signs given of its ultimate fate. Too stubborn to afford me the privilege of watching it die a slow painful death.
“It’s a bad omen,” Grandpa told me. “Clocks have significance; they don’t all just stop working in the same home at the same time.” He didn’t explain what the significance was. I guess he trusted my judgment, to make the correlation between time and space, and that which clocks represent.
“This isn’t something to ignore. Have you been saying your prayers?”
“It’s more common than you think; People don’t bother with wall clocks anymore. We have our phones; they carry out all our functions.” I raised my gold-plated Samsung and gave it a small shake. “I’m sure many homes nowadays have dysfunctional clocks sitting on their walls or mantelpieces.” I added, feeling nonsensical, for retiring the wall clock to a heritage of history and rendering it redundant to Grandpa, in order to account for my laziness of not changing the batteries.
“Let me guess, I need to get with the times?” He shrugged his shoulders and showed me his black Nokia engulfed inside his thick bulging palms, to make a comparison to my smartphone. His narrow eyes and tiny curl in the edge of his mouth told me, he wanted to say more, but thought otherwise than to challenge my new age rejection of the superstitious myths which he lived his life by.
“Everything is common, or there is a message in everything.” He placed his mug of tea next to the bag of fresh bagels he had bought me and handed me his grey coat to help him put it on. Grandpa always chose his debates wisely; not wanting to engage in conversations which he felt won’t get him anywhere.
“How are you ever going to know where to go in life, if you don’t know your own time and space in this world.” It wasn’t a question, just one of his contritely timed statements, he dropped when he saw fit, in the hopes any, or some, of what he was saying, would serve as some sort of wisdom and motivation for me.
“You know, I bought this for your Grandma 40 years ago.” He pointed to the static Pendulum Clock. stuck on my feature wall, above the fireplace. “We were in Lewes for her birthday. We happened to stroll by a shop and she knew she had to have it. She wouldn’t let me go over 50mph on the drive back, in case it broke. It took us an extra hour to get home that day.” His eyes lit up. An annoying memory no doubt, but with time, and her passing, had become a rose-tinted nostalgia.
“£50 it cost, a lot of money for a clock in those days.”
“It’s still a lot of money for a clock.” I winked at him. He cut a look at me with his right eye and head tilted to one side. The small hunch in his back protruded.
“They don’t make them like these anymore. I’m glad you decided to keep it.” He patted my shoulders. “Your Dad’s not much of a heirloom sort of guy. He told me it will just pile up in his garage, as it didn’t fit the deco of his house.”
“Have you spoken to Dad recently?” I shook the strands of grey hair mixed with scalp flakes that had mounted on the shoulder pads of his coat.
“He called me on my birthday. He didn’t speak for long, just a few words. You know, happy birthday and all that… just formalities, as always with him. He said he was Tanzania, is that right?”
“Yeah I think… he was there around that time. He’s in Cairo now.”
“A lot to see there” Grandpa said “I asked him to send a postcard. He said they don’t do them anymore. That he can e-mail me or send me pictures on the phone. Like, I‘m supposed to get the hang of all this new messaging malarkey.” He raised both his eyebrows at me like I should agree with him. “He knows I find it hard to use a computer. It’s just excuses to build a wall between us.”
“He is just busy Grandpa and a little…”
“Selfish, arrogant,” Grandpa finished my sentence.
“He means well.”
“I’m glad you took after your Mum.” He told me. “I always knew she was too good for him. She understood the importance of kinship and family. It’s a big thing in her culture. Much better than that woman he is shacking up with now, in his world travels, what’s her name again?”
“Yeah, I wonder what she is like. He didn’t even mention her to me, I found out about her, from your uncle. Probably digging away at his fortune.”
“He is not that well off.” I reminded him
“Well, he won’t be for too long after she finishes with him.” He cackled and threw an air punch.
“I think this is the first time it stopped.” I pointed at the clock, diverting the conversation away from the turbulent relationship between Dad and Grandpa.
“It stops every now and then, you have to wind the key behind it,” he told me, “I can wind it for you now if you want? Show you how it’s done.”
“It’s ok, it’s too wedged into the wall, maybe next time, or I’ll have a go at it later.”
Grandpa nodded his head, a bit annoyed from my lazy response. He was the ‘get it done straight away’ type of guy, approaching every matter in life with a sense of urgency.
“Well, make sure you do.”
I dusted of the shoulders of his coat as he stretched out his arms.
“You’re always welcome to stay with me for a few days if you like?”
“No, I’m fine, I enjoy my own bed.” He told me, placing his checked top hat perfectly to cover his bald patch. “Besides, I like to know what time of the day it is.”
He winked at me, grabbing the Gazette, and walking towards my front door. “Tell that lovely wife of yours I said hi and oh yeah. . . for her to get some batteries for those clocks.”
He drew in closer to be wrapped around my arms for a goodbye.
I leaned against my door and watched him walk down the stone steps of our porch and tread slowly up the pavement to the Zebra crossing. He lifted his Gazette armed hand and waved at me one last time.
My phone vibrated; it was Zahid from work.
“Rob’s questioning, why you haven’t logged in yet?” He spoke quietly. The echo around his voice, told me he was in the toilet somewhere.
“I told him I’ll be logging in at 10 today.”
“It’s quarter past.”
I glanced at the time on my phone. I was glad Grandpa had gone. It would have proved his point.
“Thanks mate.” I ended the call, opening my Mac book, sitting down on my home desk.
My phone vibrated again, this time with a WhatsApp message from Abi.
You didn’t answer my call this morning, is everything ok?
Sorry. Grandpa came.
I typed with one hand, logging in to my work system with the other.
How is he doing?
He’s ok. He brought bagels. He asked me to send you his regards. Had a go at me about the clocks lol.
Are they still not fixed? I have been telling you for ages to get the batteries
I could sense her tone over the phone, that stern, annoying ordering voice she had.
I’ll get it, don’t worry.
That’s the problem with you. You always put things off. You never do things when you are supposed to. You keep letting everything linger on.
Through the porthole of Whats App, I pictured the angry impressions on her face without the aid of any emojis.
What is this really about?
It’s about everything, you just thinking everything can be fixed without trying.
Look do we realy hav to talk about this now
My fast texting was too much for even auto-correct to come into play.
You know how much I hate texting when I’m working. Rob is on my case because I am already late logging in.
Why can’t we just talk about it at home. When are you coming home?
I’m not. I need more time, I’m sorry. I’m not ready. I’m gonna stay here with Jo for a bit longer.
How much longer?
I gritted my teeth.
Why you being like this? Why can’t we just sit down and work it out.
As long as it takes
What do you want?
You know what I want. I want a family and stability. I want all the promises you made. Just marrying me wasn’t going to shut me up and not want anything more.
Can’t we just talk about it at a time when I am not busy with work?
She was no longer online.
I miss you
The double blue tick came up, but she didn’t reply.
Maybe Grandpa was right, I didn’t know my time and place or had a sense of direction. Twenty Five emails had already surfaced in my inbox. I sorted through the rummage of office announcements and IT updates. I opened Rob’s e-mail.
I am looking into the Working from Home policy. In order to ensure more effective cover in the office. From now on, everyone’s request to work from home will be approved by me. I am under no obligation to approve any, if I don’t feel the need to.
Being familiar with Rob’s passive aggressive tendencies, I knew that e-mail was targeted at me. His lack of trust, that I can sit at home and sell insurance at the same pace and time I do in the office.
Two days later, we are all celebrating at Barcelona Tapas Bar and Restaurant, our regular hang out after work. Rob buys the first round. He is happy but giving me the silent treatment.
“Well done for a great quarter and being a great team. Thank you for all your hard work.” He lifted his glass with a raucous roar from the team. He winked and pointed at Zahid, standing next to me. Zahid in return raised his glass of coke with ice, wedged with a lemon.
I decided to go and speak to Rob, through the noise of my colleagues muttering, whilst others stayed stiff in their suave blazers and swept back hair, doing their best pretend act to keep up with chatter on how to spend their bonuses. Rob seemed annoyed at my attempt to strike a conversation. He was alone facing the bar, but didn’t seem to want my company.
“Any plans for the weekend?”
“There is only one plan, when you have kids.” He took a sip of the lager in his hands and unbuttoned his tie.
“Yeah,” I muttered like I understood.
I took a deep breath and addressed the elephant in the room. “Look Rob, I’ve been meaning to talk to you. Lately, I feel things are not right between us. Did I do something?”
He raised his eyebrow, a drop of sweat from his red forehead trickled down. He took the napkin from the top of the bar to wipe it.
“You know what? I didn’t think you even deserved that bonus I gave you today.” He gulped his beer. “I just couldn’t let you be the only one in the team, not to have one. That’s why I gave you the lowest one.”
I was startled by his revelation.
“Your mind hasn’t been in it for a while now. Your numbers are low.” He took another gulp and looked me in the eye, his jaws squared in. “You say you work from home, but you log in late. You keep quiet in team meetings and quite frankly, it sucks. You got to decide whether or not you want this job.”
I couldn’t get any words out. I knew my motivation was slipping but I didn’t know it was that obvious. Sitting behind a desk and looking at spreadsheets was never my career plan.
“I mean you still bring in a fair amount of business for us, don’t get me wrong. But your attitude isn’t the same as when you first started.”
“Robert,” He corrected me.
“Robert, I don’t like the name Rob”
“Sorry, I … always called you Rob”
“Well, I don’t like the name.”
I wasn’t sure, what to make of the walls he was building.
“I’ve just had a lot on.”
“Leave it; I’ve heard it all before.” He interrupted me.
“We all have a lot on. I can tell you that much, an ex-wife and 4 kids later. But we leave our shit at home and come here to do our jobs. We are not a fricking therapy group. You have Yoga and Pilates for all of that or whatever it is that you all do.”
He turned his back to me, as Raj and Steve came and shook his shoulders, in their mild drunkard state.
I ran through the dry grass of Hyde Park. My conversation with Robert from yesterday still fresh. I wanted to feel the presence of the ground on my feet and that sore burn in my chest. The more I ran, the more my thoughts became clear, my controlled breathing, beating against the sound of cyclists and other runners. My tracker app spoke to me through my Air Pods. I was doing a four -minute KM. Linking Park and Jay Z providing the much-needed soundtrack to the scenery. A hipster couple with their buggy moved out of my way at the sound of my thudding steps and heavy breathing.
I ran up the pavement to the road of my house, kneeling over with my hands on my knees, retiring my run. There, on the steps was Abi, tapping on her phone frantically, looking relieved as soon as she spotted me.
“Hey, you’re back?” I looked for luggage around her.
“I’ve been trying to call you all this time, why haven’t you been picking up?”
I slipped my phone out the pockets of my shorts and saw six missed calls.
“What’s happened?” My heart started racing at a different pace then from my running.
“It’s Grandpa.” She blurted.